Taking a Quick Peek at Djanbung Gardens

A couple of days ago I had opportunity to briefly visit Djanbung Gardens, which is just outside the infamous little village of Nimbin, in NSW’s Nothern Rivers region. I thought I’d tag along and so you guys can take a peek..

Djanbung Gardens is the host site for Erda Institute Incorporated, a Permaculture training centre. The site and training centre were established in 1993 by one of Australia’s best known Permaculturists, Robyn Francis. Robyn has worked hard to make Djanbung gardens a good example of Permaculture in action, and although I was visiting in the dead of Winter, and only stopped by for a couple of hours, the design aspects of the site spoke volumes. I’d like to visit again when I have more time – perhaps in the Spring or Summer, when the growth phase is in full swing.

Robyn was working internationally when I visited, but Janelle Schafer, Erda’s head tutor and administrator, kindly volunteered to show me around. Here are a few photos to give those who haven’t had opportunity to visit Djanbung Gardens a bit of a glimpse of the site.

The first thing that struck me was the very unique accommodations – recycled railway carriages! There were three carriages in total – one of which was complete with railway sleepers and tracks underneath.

The carriage pictured above was the ‘utilities’ carriage (kitchen and bathroom). The other two are the sleeping quarters – with each able to accommodate four people. The three carriages are positioned in a U shape, forming a very pleasant central courtyard area as you can see below. The layout protects the courtyard from extremes of heat and cold, thus making it possible to grow more sensitive plants in this area.

Greywater from the carriage ablution block goes through a reed bed biological cleaning process (see below). This doubles as a very aesthetic feature for the grounds, and helps hydrate the site. Human waste is dealt with via the Rivercare 2000 Award Winning composting toilet – called a ‘Closet Deposit’.

There was a good mix of edible plants in a decent sized vegetable garden – raised beds being the favourite here – surrounded in wire mesh to discourage wallabies and bandicoots.

Several healthy looking ducks roam freely in an orchard well decorated in citrus fruit – keeping insects and ‘weeds’ under control, and fertilising the soil as they go. I literally started salivating at the sight of the tangelos below. (I meant to take some with me on my way out, but it later slipped my mind – so, Djanbung Gardens officially owes me a couple of Tangelos!)

Aside from the tangelos (that I’m especially sore about), the ducks get to wander around under some particularly stunning looking lemons, as well as grapefruit, pomegranates and more.

Energy-wise, the site runs off the regional power supply – although has just had some solar panels added. The panels don’t supply power to the site directly, however, but are hooked up to a ‘grid interactive’ system – they feed energy into the grid when the sun shines, earning credits, and then in the evenings or on darker days, their energy usage is subtracted from what they’ve earned. The disadvantage of such a system is of course that they’re still dependent on the centralised energy system – if there’s a power outage, they’re left in the dark along with everyone else. But, the advantage is they don’t have to purchase expensive batteries – expensive in terms of both financial and environmental cost (batteries are not the most environmentally friendly product we’ve ever made…). Energy consumption is also minimised due to the intelligent passive solar design of the main site buildings and minimal use of very energy efficient appliances.


Ludwig the turkey didn’t want me photographing his harem. He boomed as he walked, while keeping a cool stare on me.


Someone had to notify Polly (in shadow at left) and Pudge (at right) of my visit after the fact…


This lagoon is just one of several bodies of water on the site. Aside from hydrating the landscape, water is of course a great equaliser of temperature, and creates a lot more ‘edges’ (the boundary between two elements). This allows for extra biodiversity, which adds stability to the site’s ecosystem by providing habitat for beneficial predators, as well as beauty for the human spirit to appreciate.

No doubt I’ll be back sometime for a longer visit to Djanbung Gardens. I may even master pronounciation of the name. By the way – ‘Djanbung’ means platypus in the local aboriginal tongue. This creature has special significance according to ancient lore – symbolising harmony and equality between all of earth’s creatures. An appropriate concept for a Permaculture site.

This entry was posted in Demonstration Sites, Permaculture.

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