Growing Sense Of Place

An Australian Catchment and Bioregional Organisers Handbook



Michael Petter

Traditional Owner Acknowledgement

The author would like to acknowledge the traditional lands, law and people of the country where I work and the other areas where this handbook was written. In South East Queensland: Gorenpal, Ngugi, Jagera, Mununjarlie, Dhuganda, Undambi, Kombumerri, Wangerriburra, Dulungbara, Jinabara, Jandowie, Gubbi Gubbi, Yugembeh, Ningy Ningy and Turrbal clans. In the Snowy Mountains Region, NSW: Yuin, Ngarigo-Moneroo, Wollgalu and Bidawal clans. In the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria the Bunarong clans.




Supported by Land and Water Australia

Community Fellowship Grants


I like to thank Mt Oak Community Association and the IDEAS Cooperative Society Ltd for their ongoing and fulsome support.

I would also like to thank

Veronica Martin, Shane Coghill, Di Connolly, Dave Beckwith, Wayne Cameron, Greg Spilsbury, Edward Fensom, Gidja Walker, Susanna Vall, Strider and Peter Berg for their support and inspiration.

Thanks to the Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee, Brisbane City Council, Maroochy Landcare, Commerce Queensland, Queensland Conservation Council, South Queensland Traditional Owners’ Federation for their support of my Community Fellowship Application



















Copyright 1991-2003 M. Petter

Apendices 1&2 Copyright 1991 M. Petter & V. Martin

"Howe Strategy" Copyright 1986 R. Howe

Used with permission

Introduction *

People care! *

The Earth in context *

Humans and The Bionomy. *

Why Care About Catchments *

What is a catchment? *

Water is the vital resource. *

The rules of water. *

What's a bioregion and what has it got to do with catchments? *

To find the common ground look between your feet *

Where does the water in a river come from when it is not raining anywhere? *

What is organising? *

Why organise a whole community? *

Why Organise by Catchments? *

How to Organise Your Catchment *

Principles of catchment organising *

Example - Involving First Nations and Traditional Owners *

Legitimacy, Competency & Accountability. *

Growing Alliances and Power *

People's Power. *

Power is limited by the level of mutual agreement reached. *

Government can't do everything. *

What's in the soup? Nourishing members. *

Whatever is not prohibited is permitted! *

Structural Power. *

Elected Power and its limits *

Partners not pets. *

Example Norman Creek - Know Your Catchment *

Developing Common Strategies. *

Implementation/Action Plans. *

Fundraising. Cash, Kind or Borrow. *

Example Boggy Creek -Getting Bigger Getting Smaller *

Example Bulimba Creek - Building up by Numbers *

Some final thoughts *

Appendix 1 - The Earth in context *

The atmosphere *

The lithosphere *

The hydrosphere *

The Biosphere *

The Bionomic System *

1. Variety and Change: *

2. Cyclic & Chaotic Change *

3. Consequences: *

4. Growth Processes: *

5.Communities: *

Appendix 2 - Development and Ecodevelopment *




1. Change *

2. Consequences *

3. Conservative Budgeting *

4. Investment *

5. Foreign Exchange *

6. A web of Localised economies *

Features of Ecodevelopment *

Flexible infrastructure: *

Durability: *

Flexible production processes: *

Dampened effects of rapid change: *

Planning for change: *

Conservative Budgeting: *

Equitable trade: *

A web of Localised Economies: *

A planet of Bioregional Economies: *

Appendix 3 - Where Are You? A Bioregional Test. *

Appendix 4 - The Howe Strategy *

Appendix 5 - For More Information *





In the western workaday world, the place around us can be a green and grey blur. We can live our lives surrounded by nameless places, plants and animals walking through places whose history we have no idea about.

As a bioregional and catchment organiser what I do is give people new eyes to see and feel the world around them and also to help them understand where and when they are. This leads to people identifying more closely with the place they live and its nature, and taking greater action on their part to protect, conserve and look after that place.

This booklet is my story of how and why I have worked, for over the last twenty years in the South East of Queensland in Australia, to give people "new eyes" to see their local environment. This story is not unique: there are thousands of people doing similar actions around the planet. Every catchment is different, the actors and methods are varied and reflect local situations. The story of local people understanding and caring for their environment, however, stays the same. A lot of the ideas in this booklet come from people I have worked with and places I have travelled. I am grateful that I have been able to hear about those ideas, principles and methods and apply them in my local catchments.

The catchment organisations I will talk about in this booklet are NOT catchment management boards or committees set up by governments under legislation. The catchment organisations I am talking about are community organisations independent of government or a legislative mandate; they are people's organisations.

People care!

In Australia we have a landcare movement involving over 100,000 people on a regular basis. We have bushcare, coastcare and catchment-care groups. We have waterwatch, streamwatch and coast watch groups. We have Clean Up Australia days that involve millions of people. People do care, and will put their heads, hands and bodies towards good works. However, they won't care if they feel powerless and disconnected.

There is a great thirst in people to know more about where they live and to reconnect themselves with its nature. Catchment organisations can help quench this thirst and empower people to act and to build their own better future.


Ecological 3 Rs - Battery Analogy.

Planetary systems, ecosystems and catchments need to be healthy which means they need to be resistant, resilient and robust.

Resilience How quickly the battery charges up again.

Resistance How long before the battery voltage drops under load.

Robustness How many times a battery can be used and recharged before failing.


The Earth in context

A wise friend of mine was of the opinion that for humanity to survive and thrive it needed to master a basic ecological vocabulary. We all need to understand the earth and its ecology, that means you!

The earth has the only breathable atmosphere of any planet we can yet detect anywhere in all of space. There are no backups, no life rafts, it’s the only planet we have.

Our planet is a rock in orbit around a star called Sol. It has a thin (less than 100km) layer of air and water clinging to it. This thin layer is home to more than two million life forms. This assembly of living things is called the biosphere, the air above them is the atmosphere, the ground under them is the lithosphere and the water around them is the hydrosphere. Care of the earth involves working within all four of these spheres of existence. The bionomy, or natural economy, is the sum of these spheres and their interactions. The integrity and health of these spheres is necessary to the functioning of the bionomy, and thus to human existence. The air we breathe is not stable in itself, but is continually replenished by the biosphere. The biosphere is organised into zones, biomes, communities and niches.

The way the earth is organised offers useful models for catchment organisers to copy and a fuller discussion of these patterns can be found in the appendices.

Humans and The Bionomy.

Humans have become a special case in the bionomy. We are a species that makes constant withdrawals of useful materials and additions of "non-useful" materials to our bionomy. In the western world, even in death, we humans lock our nutrients up in coffins, to keep them from returning to the common pool. Our relationship with the bionomy is usually a one way, exploitative one. We are not content to leave something alone if we cannot use it. We try to turn so-called non-productive systems into productive systems. Our behaviour of non-cooperation and non- coexistence goes against the processes found in the bionomy. In fact our behaviour goes beyond non-cooperation and borders on hostility, as humans have reversed the onus of proof towards other life. We say, prove that you’re useful to us or we will destroy you!

We are just one species among many others, but we are not the same as other species. In fact, every form of life has unique characteristics. Many people say that because we invent and plan we are not an animal and our societies are insulated from the rest of life. We still eat, breathe, excrete and reproduce like any other animal. Look between your feet to find the common ground between yourself and the rest of the environment. We and all our works are the result of a natural process.

Our natural ability to invent and to adapt, to either the present or an imagined future, inevitably has consequences for the rest of our ecosystem. Our species can become more aware of the consequences of our natural behaviour and can invent a society that is in harmony with the rest of our environments.

Why Care About Catchments

What is a catchment?

A catchment, watershed or drainage basin is an area of land from which water will drain to collect into a common channel. A catchments’ boundary is determined by its highest ground and by its lowest point. Most catchments drain to the sea, although some like Lake Eyre in Australia, drain inland. A catchment can be defined at many levels from oceans down to little creeks but its edges are always the highest ground at that scale.

The waterways we see are a product of their catchment. So, to understand a waterway we must understand its entire catchment from the ridges down to the banks. We must understand it from its source to its mouth. We must understand it from the top of the soil down to its bedrock.

Water is the vital resource.

Water is a vital resource in maintaining life and the processes that support it. An understanding of water is fundamental for a catchment organiser. To have a continuing supply of clean water we rely on our water catchments remaining healthy. Some Australian water catchments have crossed the line and are unable to maintain clean water, other catchments are on the edge but very few are free of negative human impacts.

The rules of water.

For one millimetre of rain you get one litre of water per square metre of ground.

For one inch of rain you get six gallons of water per square yard

Three times the amount of rain comes from evaporation from the oceans as comes from the land.

There is forty times the amount of freshwater in the soil as there is in all the rivers and lakes.

Water is driven by gravity and/or pressure to find the lowest point or pressure.

Water is organised into atmospheric, surface and underground catchments, water bodies and waterways.

What's a bioregion and what has it got to do with catchments?

Bioregionalism is a system which uses identifiable natural regions as the basis for self-managed political units. Bioregionalists believe that our political structure should reflect natural patterns and that we should reinhabit our life spaces using the bioregion concept. The demarcation of bioregions takes into account climate, soils, drainage, vegetation, mineral resources, and importantly, the cultures and societies that occur in these regions. A bioregion is thus an identifiable unit that integrates the human systems with non-human systems.

A bioregion can vary in size and shape depending on circumstances. Initially, people can think of their bioregion as their local catchment. We can also think about our bioregions’ groundwater connections, or we can think about a whole ocean basin as a bioregion. For a catchment organiser, a bioregion is a way of grouping similar watersheds or catchments together into a multi-catchment structure.

To find the common ground look between your feet

Any given catchment or sub-catchment has people in it with connections, involvement or experience spanning most sectors in society. Working for the benefit of that catchment is a purpose that will mobilise those people, connections, involvement and experience. The catchment literally is the common ground we share. A catchment organisation should be fundamentally based on people or organisations grouped by sub catchments. Thematic or special purpose groupings are also used when nurturing new sub catchments or as the catchment organisation matures. Everyone needs freshwater every day, everyone has a stake in keeping our waters fresh and clean. A catchment organisation relies on the fact that no one escapes waters' inexorable connections and influences. Everyone lives in a watershed/catchment.

Oceans are Atmospheric or Where does rain come from?

Aside from the whole planet itself, oceans are the largest scale of catchment organisation that needs to be thought about. Why does a catchment organisation need to think about oceans anyway? Firstly, a majority of rainfall comes from the oceans. It is both the ultimate source and sink for water. Secondly the oceans both drive and help make the atmosphere and weather.

The health of the oceans is fundamental for our long-term survival. The ocean currents determine inland climate, rainfall and temperature. Furthermore, the presence of diatoms and the elements such as calcium and silicon which they regulate in the oceans, seem to play a vital role in keeping the earth’s air temperature generally above freezing. The ocean also plays a role in the production of a wide range of gases that help clean the atmosphere to make new fresh air.

When ocean systems are destroyed or disrupted, the effects are profound and long lasting. One clear example of this comes from ancient history. Some 220 million years ago oxygen levels plummeted, probably caused by some drastic disruption to ocean life. The ocean took many thousands of years to recover from this disruption and resulted in the deaths of most species over a couple of hundred grams in body weight through lack of oxygen. Recent research seems to indicate that pollution coming from the land into the oceans after asteroid impacts also drastically interrupts the oxygen generation the ocean provides. This shows one way in which the land can alter the seas around it for the worse.

In many ways the air that we breathe and the rain we enjoy relies on the actions of tiny plants, the food chains they support and the oceans where they live.

Where does the water in a river come from when it is not raining anywhere?

When rain falls in a catchment, a certain amount will run off over the surface and find its way directly into streams, while some is stored within the catchment. In colder climates with high mountains water can be stored in snow and released in the warmer months. Another amount of water finds it way into the soils and rocks in the catchment: in fact there is forty times the amount of freshwater stored in the soil than in lakes and rivers. Some of the water is also stored in the living tissues of plants in the catchment.

Of the water that finds it way into waterways, some is pushed (during floods) into the soils and gravel in the floodplains. This water will slowly be released as the water level falls over time.

The water which finds its way into the soils and floodplains makes the water table that trees and grasses rely on in dry times.

A lot of the water that finds its way into the soil in coastal areas flows into the sea without going into a waterway. The Newcastle University of Technology in NSW found that in some river deltas twenty times more water comes directly out of the coastlines in "submarine flows" than comes out of rivers and lakes!

These facts have profound implications for catchment organisers working on water quality and water source issues. If your water quality strategy isn't looking at soil and groundwater quality you are missing out most of the water in your thinking. Likewise coastal organisers working on water quality need to be very aware of the large role played by "submarine flows" on their coastal waters.

What is organising?

"Organisers organise organisations!" is one view of this issue. My view is that organisers organise ideas, information, people, groups, coalitions, cultures and societies if that is what is required to get the job done. Organising involves giving purpose to actions. As well as giving purpose, organisers ensure the mechanics of those actions happen more or less according to plan, using known methods. For example an organiser gets some information about a local problem and uses methods to get that information to people and groups likely to act on it. These methods can include visits, networking, talks, tours, posters, pamphlets, and stunts. When some action arises from that information like a meeting, working bee, rally or fundraiser etc. a different set of methods is used. For example timelines, rosters, phone-trees, transport pools, role allocations, project charts, coordination offices, and project officers.

Why organise a whole community?

Firstly, the scale and nature of the problems faced means that no one government, one sector or group of people has the resources to tackle them alone. Secondly, the catchment is one thing that everyone shares in common with his or her neighbours. This common interest can help form disparate interests into a recognisable community where everyone has a place and a role. Thirdly, it takes a whole of community coalition to induce changes in political realities against powerful vested interests. Political leaders are capable of doing good and even great things, if they are empowered by their community.

Why Organise by Catchments?

Catchments are a fundamental unit of the water cycle and wider landscape ecology. All life needs access to freshwater. Water is the transport medium for most of the materials and nutrients which keep natural systems functioning.

One of the critical problems we face is the impact we are having on ecological systems and people. Another problem that flows from the first one is our society's inability to be sensitive to, or integrate with, those ecological systems.

Tied with these two problems we have the global problem of disempowerment and alienation felt by people and communities buffeted by change decided in far away places by remote sometimes faceless individuals or groups.

Catchments and Bioregions provide multi-scale place based whole of community organising tools to try to address some of these problems.

For our societies to be ecologically sustainable, we must understand the processes within and between catchments as though our lives depend on it. Our economic, social and cultural systems have to be aware of the ecological processes. We have to protect and nurture those systems in order to sustain life.

Currently we have few cultural practices that make us aware of the world around us and how it works. The stock market gets no reports on phosphorous, water and other ecological cycles. Government policy only weakly defines food webs and food chains, evolution, materials and energy cycles, let alone provides for their protection.

The process of catchment organising has as one of its goals making each catchment awake and self-aware through its peoples.

How to Organise Your Catchment

Principles of catchment organising


An organiser needs to respect an individual or community's right to be involved in decision making. An organiser must also respect an individual, group or community’s wish not to be involved, or to hold a different position/perspective. An organiser should as a matter of social justice, respect the first nations and traditional owners of the area where they operate. An organiser should also respect the land itself.

Respect doesn't mean backing down or agreeing with everyone. Respect is based on understanding and a realisation that all sides in a relationship have their own values, beliefs and priorities.

Example - Involving First Nations and Traditional Owners

Traditional owner involvement is achieved through following proper protocols and by engaging their interest.

Each traditional owner ancestral estate should be regarded as a sovereign nation. The elders are the equivalent of cabinet ministers. The senior elders, male and female, are the equivalent of the heads of state. The next circle of men and women around the elders are the equivalent of department heads. Each traditional owner group can only speak on behalf of their own homeland estate. Each traditional owner group is comprised of extended families. Traditional owners all have ongoing responsibilities for country and creatures even in an area where formal native title has been extinguished. Within these nations and families there are also people, in addition to the elders, who are knowledge holders about practices, animals, plants or places.

The traditional owner involvement process is the equivalent of establishing diplomatic relations with another country, with all its risks and benefits.

Diplomats talk about confidence building measures, and given the history of Australia these measures have to be undertaken in a step by step process, to help breakdown centuries of exploitation and mistrust.

As a start as many of the elders of the traditional owners should be contacted in the preliminary round to gauge their interest and any involvement opportunities. Commitments should NOT be sought at this stage as it is designed to let the traditional owners get to know you and what you are on about. This should include all known elders not just those with native title claims.

After initial contact and responses have been favourable you can move further into the confidence building stage, This should be undertaken in a series of reciprocal steps. Usually the elders will provide some guidance on what they need you to do first. After that you could also request an initial small task or information from them. The process is repeated with the nature of the tasks and process getting more complex.

Pauses and delays will always be a feature of this growing relationship.

Cross -cultural awareness training by local traditional owners is often a good early step to take. Memorandums Of Understanding and written agreements will come later. Some traditional owners believe that you must do something first and then put it into a written agreement, rather than write it first and then do it.

Example Continued

If the traditional owners decide to become involved , funding is then required to facilitate family meetings and the appointment of accountable family representatives. This funding should assist with phone calls and transport costs. The elders should then be assisted to meet together and focus on your requests. Elders should be paid sitting fees for attending meetings.

As early as possible aboriginal people, male and female, should be employed to facilitate the involvement process, making sure that they are able to connect with all the families, not just one.

Some further principles about traditional owners involvement in natural resource management and planning are outlined below adapted from the SEQ Regional Framework for Growth Management 2000 and other expert advice;

  1. The knowledge of Traditional Owners to be respected and their continuing intellectual ownership of such knowledge recognized and supported.
  2. The practice of culture by Traditional Owners and their efforts to reclaim language, dance stories and connections to Country enriches the community as a whole and adds to the region’s identity, cultural values and economic well-being.
  3. Identify Traditional Owners cultural resource requirements for the continuance of their living culture and that sufficient nature conservation values and natural resources remain to do so.
  4. The involvement of Traditional Owners in the NRM planning processes acknowledges that Aboriginal people have traditional associations with the ancestral homeland estate and custodial obligations to their land, water and air country.
  5. It is recognized that only Traditional Owners speak on behalf of their ancestral homeland estate on Traditional Owner issues, including traditional and cultural activities.
  6. There is a diversity of Aboriginal groups in the region with different aspirations and interests and this should be recognised in the regional planning process.
  7. Aboriginal peoples have a right to be involved in a culturally appropriate way in regional planning and implementation processes.
  8. Traditional owner involvement seeks to empower the traditional owner community to identify its own issues, strategic directions and solutions.

NB Under the terms of the MOU between M. Petter and the South Queensland Traditional Owners Federation this advice was reviewed by a panel of traditional owners and approved for use in this handbook.


Needs Driven.

A catchment organisation needs to be driven by the needs of its members and strategic priorities. A catchment organisation that can address its members immediate needs will have a more credible voice when encouraging them to take action about the bigger issues. The organisation must be attentive to its members needs and continually seek to nourish its members and allies.

Strategically Opportunistic.

Patience is a virtue especially for a catchment organiser. As an organiser you have to have an in-depth understanding of the issues, as well as an idea of where you are going, what the solutions are.

The community you are working with may not have that perspective and understanding initially. So you have to wait until the right person or issue that will allow you to progress your strategy comes along.

You have to take opportunities when they arise and be able to weave that opportunity into your strategy.

Time isn’t after us -The Long Haul

A catchment organisation or organiser needs to be prepared for a long haul. This means having a realistic sense of timeframes and pacing themselves accordingly. Sustainability is a long-term project whose success can only be really measured over thousands of years! Building a self-aware catchment is a generational project, it won’t happen next week. This awareness doesn’t mean you can just kick back and watch it happen. It also doesn’t mean you can expect to be finished in a year or two. It means that you have to pace yourself, have to keep reserves and pay attention to who will follow you in your role.

Catchment organisations are cellular

Just as an animal is made up of cells organised into organs and networks, a catchment organisation is made up of groups, networks, task groups and individuals. A catchment organisation should always seek to devolve or retain power in its constituents. It shouldn't try to replace those roles but instead should nurture its members to do those roles better.

It should constantly try to give its members higher and larger purposes. If a catchment organisation tries to do things by itself alone, and takes power away from its members, it will become a shell that is an end in itself rather than fulfilling its true organising role.

Like in a body the mind can't replace the organs and hope to survive.

Win, Lose or Draw.

A catchment organiser or organisation needs to demonstrate commitment and loyalty to its community.

Some organisations fall into the trap of only supporting issues they think they can win. Local communities don't have that choice. They must struggle to defend their place and live with any consequences day in and day out.

An organiser can be strategic in the level of support they offer and should always seek to empower a local group rather than do everything for them. However an organiser must support the members, the local communities and their issues, win, lose or draw. An organiser doesn't have to win to have credibility, but they do have to at least try.

Knowledge and commitment can't be fudged

A catchment organisation or organiser can't pretend to know about a catchment. They must do the creek walks, ridge walks and other research before starting to organise. They should visit as much of the catchment as possible. They should make contact with local people and groups, read local newspapers and notice boards.

This will give the organiser the background they need to organise and netweave.

These things can't be fudged or subjected to short cuts.


Sense of Place, sense of identity and local action.

Why is a sense of place important? How can it make things better by having this sense? One of the major causes of the degradation in catchments is the lack of connection people have with them. If you don't even know you are driving past a local stream how can you care about its health?

People need to reconnect with their local environment. People want to know about where they live. People want to feel that they have power in their lives and local communities. I believe that he more people know about where they live the more they will take action to fix that place’s problems or enhance its strengths. The opportunities to understand and help the natural world can bring people and groups together and give social cohesion. Knowing more about the bigger natural systems we rely on can give us a broader perspective that can get us through adversity. Finally, the more you become aware of and meshed with your local environment, the more grounded you feel, more at home, more settled. This positively reinforcing process of discovery can also be channelled into greater personal action to fix problems when they are encountered.

Naming things.

There is power in naming things. A concrete drain is seen to have no value, but if you name it as a local stream it will be valued. A hill on a road is insignificant. but if it is signed as a catchment boundary it acquires significance. A road cutting can be just a blur passing by, but if you know the name of the rocks and the soils each cutting can be a window to understanding. A tree is just a tree but if you know it is a fir tree or an ironbark or an important habitat for your favourite bird species it starts to be real thing of value.

One of the first chores of a catchment organisation is to name things in the catchment. Name the creeks and streams, name the ridges. Print a brochure with pictures and names of local plants and animals. Discover who the traditional owners of the catchment are and what their tribes’ names are. Take people on walks and name the places and things you see.

It is this basic awareness that will lead to other changes in attitudes and actions.

History History

History is a very important tool in growing a sense of place. It provides the "when you are" to fill in other information about where you are. History maps the human story of your catchment and how people related to it. In one catchment we asked some 60,70 and 80- year old people to reminisce about the local creeks when they were young and answer questions from a small audience. Current activists came away with a different sense of the catchment : knowing what it was like in the past.

Historical sources are also used to find names of now buried or altered streams, waterholes and wetlands. They can also give some guidance to rehabilitation efforts by providing information about local plants and animals. History is an important part of coming to understand and respect the first nations and their traditional connections to the catchment.

Knowledge and Awareness is Contagious!

If a person finds out an interesting fact or perspective they will invariably try to pass this on to other people. If those other people find interest in that fact or perspective it will continue to spread. That fact that other people are interested will reinforce with the first person that they should find out more.

This "bush telegraph" effect is the mainstay of catchment organising. The key is that a catchment organiser needs to find out which things about a catchment t a particular local community finds interesting.

Some of the tools used by organisers such as the "Where are you test" are self-reinforcing. Once people acquire a new way of seeing their catchment, they will see more every time they go into it. Once they know the name of a tree or animal they will notice it more and become aware of where it is and where it isn't.

Pers. Comm.

Where information comes from is important. If you hear something from a relative or friend it carries more weight than news or advertising. Recent studies in election outcomes have reaffirmed the importance and relevance of personal communication.

A catchment organisation should design its messages and communications to be easily absorbed, assimilated and replicated by its members. In doing this, information will spread through networks and families, person to person, with a high degree of credibility.

While media and publicity are important for talking to people you don't know, it is personal communication that has the real power to change attitudes and actions.

Growing Activists - empowering local people.

I have found that you can start the process of growing an activist with whatever interests them and you can grow that interest to cover a catchment. The first step is to listen to what some one is saying and find out what they are interested in. You can then work out what common starting point can be used. For example, someone interested in gardening can be encouraged to work with a local bush rehabilitation group. This will grow their awareness of the bigger issues. Someone interested in opposing a property development can have their awareness of planning issues upstream or downstream increased.

Every contact offers a possibility to deal with the person's immediate concerns and needs first, and then to grow their awareness of the bigger catchment issues. A catchment organisation must invest in growing people’s skills and knowledge to achieve its aims. It should try to grow their awareness of the whole catchment and what's happening in it.

Catchment enterprise - involving business

Looking after a local catchment is something everyone, including local business, can get involved in. Businesses are there to make money, but their owners have to live somewhere and like most people they want its environment to be protected. Most businesses in the catchment carry out their activity without many direct impacts.

In a catchment organisation there has to be place for business. They can be involved in one on one discussions, special meetings and briefings, workplace bushcare schemes, local waterways activities and lastly through seeking in-kind support for local and catchment wide activities. Even with very damaging industries such as road construction and housing development, there have occasionally been opportunities for jointly beneficial projects.

In areas were the catchment organisation has worked well, you can get a majority of small local businesses displaying a message about local issues such as the "Clean Ocean" campaign on the Mornington Peninsula in coastal Victoria. There, it is obvious to local business people that the tourist trade survives because of the area’s natural features and a clean ocean. They are aware of the widespread support the campaign receives and are happy to attract custom by displaying the Clean Ocean sign.

In Bulimba Creek in Brisbane we have received support from local business in the form of office space, native plants, designing and building a customised bush rehabilitation trailer, use of car parks for sausage sizzles and other fundraisers, discount equipment and use of business equipment. We have also received financial support from a number of local and national firms. Such support is for specific outcomes at the discretion of the catchment organisation and has not stopped the organisation publicly criticising such corporate partners when needed.

Get Out of Your Car!

Cars are both a boon and bane to modern society. It is difficult to live without them. However, while offering mobility and increased distance of activities, cars can destroy our sense of geography if used too much. It is easy to ignore hills, ridges and creeks if all you notice of them is how much pressure you put on the accelerator or brake.

Cars can be used to explore catchments, but walking, skating or cycling is best for regaining a feel for the "lay of the land". Waterways are best explored in human powered watercraft such as canoes and rafts.

As any biker can tell you, a car is as much a mobile cage as a mobile room.

If the community leads the government can follow

I believe that the community should always be able to lead the government. Often a government can't take up an issue until a broad public mandate is created to do something about it. Governments are often very bad at doing this. A community organisation can float ideas and solutions ahead of public thinking and build up a consensus that the ideas have merit. An elected official who runs ahead of public opinion is taking political risks: something they are often loath to do. A community organisation can transcend political affiliations, which allows it to build a whole- of-community consensus. When confronted by a united community, local power and other structures can be made to change their tune rather than come up with reasons why something shouldn't be done.

Role of elected officials.

Organising a whole community within a catchment involves engaging with politicians and other public elected officials. These officials often feel threatened by a broad-based geographic entity because it superficially resembles their own power structure. A catchment organisation needs to address these fears in two main ways. It must be visibly non-party political and it must give elected officials positive opportunities to work with the organisation.

It is these positive opportunities that will keep some sort of relationship going, in between the fights that will happen.

In catchment organisations I have been involved in establishing, politicians and other local elected officials can only be non-voting members. They are encouraged to access or address the organisation when they need to. The elected officials will, over time, understand that the organisation can deliver to them the political imperative or mandate to propose positive change.

The Role of dissidents.

A healthy civil society needs people who dare to be different. It needs people to challenge conventions, to say no and to thumb their noses at local power structures. The dissident plays an important role in providing unpalatable advice and inventing new futures.

Dissidents need support from other dissidents to retain their vigour. They need support to avoid dilution through peer pressure from the conventional people around them.

Within an organisation or network, dissidents are required to avoid "group think" problems. They can stop unreality bubbles forming within the organisation if it starts to acquire too many "yes people".

They say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so a people's organisation must nurture its dissidents least it squeaks too softly.

What is regulatory capture?

This occurs when an agency or organisation responsible for monitoring or regulating something starts to rely on the opinions of those it is trying to regulate to judge its performance, and not on what the wider community thinks. This can lead to weak and ineffective regulation of these activities.

What is the antidote to capture?

The antidote is that someone has to maintain the public watchdog role to keep the matter in the public eye. A trained, informed and active civil society is the only long-term antidote to this problem.

Sign and shame or a picture says a thousand words.

The essence of this tactic is to publicly expose, or bear witness to, that which others would prefer to hide or ignore. One example of this that I recently heard about was to put up a sign in front of houses, where foreshore trees had been illegally cut down to enhance the view, "tree vandals operating in this area".

Using web sites to document and expose bad practices is another tool. It is important however to avoid litigation when doing so. Qualifying words such as "appears to", "we believe", "could be" are essential. Avoid naming names directly because it’s the issue and its solution that is important, not the individuals.

Another tactic is put a caption that means the opposite of what is shown in the picture. For example, a picture of environmental devastation could be captioned "Best Practice".

The scenic shores around the Port of Brisbane?

Legitimacy, Competency & Accountability.

Legitimacy and credibility.

Elected officials will often ask, "Why should an organisation not elected by universal mandate have the power to shadow government?" I will often reply "Why can't we?"

A community catchment organisation's power comes from its legitimacy and credibility. Its legitimacy relies on the fidelity, integrity and accuracy of its representation of its members. Its accountability has to be demonstrated through annual reports and annual election of office bearers. Its credibility derives from the ability to deliver accurate, practical and constructive advice; to mobilise community action and its ability to deliver support and advice to members. It must have transparent and open operating processes and must be operated for genuine not-for-profit public benefits. It must be a non-party political entity.

If it can't maintain credibility and legitimacy, a catchment organisation will never develop the power it needs to change things for the better.

We are not from the Government and we are not selling anything.

It is important for community catchment organisers to establish that they are there for public benefit and not for pure self-interest. Most communities are suspicious of flim flam sales people and oily politicians and political operatives or even ‘enlightened’ do-gooders.

Catchment organisers need to transcend political and corporate allegiances to be effective. This allows them to organise disparate, sometimes warring, groups and people by being seen as a trustworthy non-aligned person.

If this trust can be achieved, communities can be organised to get what they want from any government. They can be organised to make any corporation change its ways because the whole of the community can be mobilised.

Are catchment organisations all sweetness and light?

A catchment organisation needs to be prepared, when necessary, to aggressively defend vital catchment interests. This must be done even if it involves criticising or taking legal action against powerful interests, member groups, partners and funding sources.

If a catchment organisation fails to defend catchment interests and relies solely on not rocking the boat, it will fail to gain sufficient credibility to achieve its objects.

It's more effective to be sparing in praise and to wield a big stick, but to always be constructive in its uses.

Members of catchment organisations will not always see eye to eye and will sometimes feud with each other. The organisation and organisers should be aware of this and have formal and informal dispute resolution processes and mechanisms in place and active.

Growing Alliances and Power

Netweaving, Networking.

Before a net can work it must be woven. Netweaving is the initial steps in setting up a network. Directories, gatherings and small one-to-one meetings are some of the tools used to weave a net.

You can have someone's name and phone number, but unless you have had some prior contact with them you will be reluctant to ring it. Something or someone needs to bring you and that person together. An organiser can be a gluon, that is someone who sticks people and/or different organisations together.


Networking. see also Appendix Four

A network, by definition, is made of nodes and links. Networking can be grass roots or trunk networking. Grass roots networking is peer to peer from node to node with little structure. Trunk networking is organised in trees that then feed out into grass roots networks. A catchment organisation needs to promote capacity for grass roots networks as well as playing a role in trunk networking from wider information sources.

Warp and weft.

Current power structures are vertically organised or siloed. A catchment organisation with broad membership can play a vital role in cross-linking vertical government or corporate structures.

Cross linking ideas, information and policy is the only practical way of achieving the integrated and coordinated policies and actions required to address catchment issues.

This cross linkage is a role that can't be done by governments or business but can be done by a community organisation.

Wrangling volunteer field staff or herding cats.

Volunteer field staff are a natural resource that exists in every community. They are usually to be found bucking the status quo. They are usually contrary, wilful and somewhat driven people. They are the ones who say no more often. They are the doorknockers, the last one at an action, the first to lend a hand and the first to spot issues on the ground. These volunteer field staff are not all the same and no one method exists for dealing with them.

A catchment organisation needs to find and assist these people. Field staff are the fizz in the organisation. Organising volunteer field staff has been described as like herding cats. Volunteers like this can't be ordered, but they can be cajoled and enticed to all head in roughly the same direction, albeit with wild digressions.

Recruiting and organising these people is a frustrating, stressful but a very rewarding job for a catchment organiser.

Growing Understanding - In Tuition.

A catchment organisation should strive to increase understanding of the catchment in local communities. It is this understanding which will motivate action to fix catchment problems.

This growth in understanding has two main streams: growing understanding in the wider community and growing understanding in local activists/dissidents.

The first stream of action is done through events and actions such as catchment days, catchment walks and rehabilitation actions such as bushcare groups and clean-up days. The use of catchment signs, brochures and pamphlets showing local plants and animals and "Know your Catchment" displays are other important tools.

The second stream of action is growing the understanding of local activists about their catchment. This stream involves intensive tours, workshops, forums, gatherings and small group briefings. Mentoring is another very important method of growing local activists’ understanding.

Growing information and knowledge.

Catchment organising has the aim of involving an informed and active community in addressing catchment issues. Maps, charts, data and information of all kinds is a key ingredient in this process. A catchment organisation should be dripping with information and data. You can't fix what you don't know about. You can't plan without basic tools like maps and other data.

Early priorities of basic information about catchments, waterways, local plants and animals grow into individual field guides, site plans and maps, corridors plans, rehabilitation reports, water monitoring reports, town planning maps, pollutant inventories and whole of catchment strategies and reports. The member groups of the catchment organisation have their own sources of information and expertise that can be networked on an "as needs" basis.

Having a good "data wrangler", someone who can keep the information up too date and accessible, is essential for a catchment organisation. Having someone who can interpret and explain the information is also essential, good science is nothing if no-one knows about it. A lot of the information can be condensed into public "Know Your Catchment" booklets, displays, maps and brochures.

Getting information out of most Australian governments is like pulling teeth. A catchment organisation will spend a fair amount of time dealing with DDR(difficult data recovery). This involves using "freedom of information", legal objections to planning decisions, and other statutory third party rights. Then there are leaks and inside contacts. Sometimes individual agencies will try to cooperate and their support is always welcome. It is always best to ask the agency involved about access to the information you need in the first instance. Local governments have often been more forthcoming in providing information support to catchment organisations.

Growing Plans.

A catchment organisation should try to grow its planning organically. Backyard plans can grow into creek plans. Creek plans can grow into corridor plans. Corridor plans can grow into river plans. River plans with bushland plans can grow into catchment plans. Catchment plans can grow into bioregional plans.

Planning can't get ahead of its grassroots capacity. Before a plan can be grown up to the next level the base has to be built. Planning often has to move at the speed of its slowest member. Understanding and organisations have to be grown. Activists have to be found and nurtured. A catchment organisation has to be patient, do its weaving, building and growing well. Once there is a solid foundation, it can truly begin planning a better future for its members and the local environment.


The essence of an alliance is a common interest or purpose. Allies can be long-term or short-term. They can be close or distant allies.

Some allies will only share a single common interest, others will share many interests. Alliances covering many groups and people with many common interests are rare but very influential.

For a catchment organisation allies can also be local governments; separate units within governments or corporations; or individual dissidents in the system or landscape.

A catchment organisation itself should be built as an alliance of its members and member groups.


Growing Mutual Actions - In Formation.

It is a catchment organisation’s responsibility to look at all the individual issues in the catchment, find the common threads, and weave an alliance to coordinate an effective response. Start small and build up, the people appear one by one in connection to local issues. When you have enough people with similar underlying problems, you can start growing mutual actions.

The first step is to build mutual awareness and to bring them together face to face. A friend of mine joked that in addition to the World Wide Web we needed a world wide deck for activists and organisers. It’s good to have a small informal space for activists to gather and discuss common problems. A deck is the perfect inside/outside small space for face to face small gatherings.

Having grown understanding and networks, coordinated actions can be initiated. Small bushcare groups can be bought together to rehabilitate a larger area of important land. Local water watch groups can be bought together to watch and monitor a bigger part of the waterway. Local birdwatchers can be bought together to survey and plan the rehabilitation of a bigger piece of habitat. The same groups can write letters to their local and state politicians urging greater protection and resources for their local natural areas.

Catchment days can provide a good focus for groups to come together, united by a common interest in publicity for their group or cause. While there, the individuals and groups can get to know each other and help hatch mutual actions.

For larger actions we have used small working groups of allies to kick-start actions through a brochure or report for media release. Using this kick-start we have gone on to organise a public summit on the issue. Media coverage about the summit encouraged local groups to start local actions and campaigns to work towards the common aims we had grown.

Coordinators not CEO's.

There comes a time when a catchment organisation needs a full-time person to help it do its job. This person should be employed as a coordinator, not a CEO.

A coordinator is not a superhero who can be everywhere and do everything for everyone. A coordinator is just another node in the network , not the whole network. A coordinator is there to grow local capacity and to give it a common purpose. A coordinator, unlike a CEO, can't order anyone to do anything.

A coordinator’s tools are to understand, to assist, to share, to bind and when required, to lead. What they do can't be a secret to members: they must act openly, cooperatively and accountably. They must acquire an overview of the catchment, and its issues, and share that with members to bind them to a common purpose.

A coordinator with the respect of members, talent, good training and support will acquire the influence they need to coordinate planning and actions.

Getting Bigger, Getting Smaller.

A property of groups, alliances and coalitions is that they change. Sometimes conditions are right for them to grow. When aims have been achieved, or stalled, organisations need to become smaller and occasionally they will have to contract to a ‘mere’ caretaking role. An organiser needs to realise this and have plans for both growth and contraction. The role of caretaker for dormant issues/groups is an important one, as that person needs to nurse ideas and information until the next opportunity. Growing smaller can be a deliberate act. Growing smaller is not a disbanding, its more like a sports team in the off season. People and groups stay in contact and skills are retained till they are needed again. Sometimes alliances disperse into smaller alliances that keep working on smaller issues and actions.

In general a catchment organisation should be outward looking and seeking to broaden and deepen is networks and groups. Sometimes however it is wise to pause, contract slightly, and marshal the groups' power and resources until the next window of opportunity opens.


Holding ground.

As a geographic entity, a catchment organisation should aim to be able to take action or influence the whole of the catchment, or any part of it. This is why it must be organised sub catchment by sub catchment.

It must build groups, activate individuals and make allies across the whole catchment. If it does this respectfully in a credible and practical way it will build a network that allows it to know what is going on. If it has the trust of its members and allies it will resist most standard "divide and conquer" challenges by vested interests.

Building up "By Numbers".

Catchment organisations and groups grow gradually and an organiser needs be aware of how they grow. It takes three people to form a core group. It takes five people to give that core outreach capacity. If you have five groups in an area you could form a sub catchment group/network. If you have ten groups in a small-medium catchment you can form an interim catchment committee. If you have three groups in a majority of sub catchments you can form a formal catchment-wide coordinating committee or alliance.

These numbers are only guides but indicate how you can go about building up your catchment organisation. See also appendix four "The Howe Strategy"

Bottom Up Top Down.

While many grassroots activities are invisible to local power structures there comes a time when they have to hook-up with formal processes.

An organiser has to build local capacity to a sufficient level first. When there are a number of local groups an organiser has to weave them into bigger groupings. With these larger alliances sub catchment and catchment plans can be developed. When enough local groups, alliances and community strategies are in place, its time to hook-up with top down processes. Using the catchment organisations democratic processes and the political muscle of its member groups, mandated and accountable representatives can be inserted into the formal planning processes.

Inside the tent or outside? Cosying up.

When engaging with governments, corporations or institutions a catchment organisation needs to be aware of the potential for co-option or silencing as a result. The best way to avoid co-option is to always have an inside and an outside strategy. Yes put members on committees, but no don't stop doing what you were doing before. Support the person on the inside and maintain regular contact and debriefing to help them avoid being co-opted through groupthink and other co-option techniques. Sometimes the representatives inside the process are relying on outside pressure to keep it from turning into a stalemate or talkfest. To avoid being silenced, insist that all the information has to be referred back to the catchment organisation to allow proper canvassing of members views. Don't agree to any process that insists on absolute confidentiality.


Just say No - Shunning.

When linking with existing processes or institutions a catchment organisation has to ask itself some fundamental questions. The question of whether an institution wants to, or can, change has to be asked. Some institutions, such as the World Bank, are not their own masters. Governments can change it but it can't really change itself. In these situations any engagement is likely to be aimed at co-option or silencing critics, so a catchment organisation should avoid engagement and focus on the real point of change: the governments involved. Some corporations and institutions have such a poor track record of co-option and deceit that it is best to just say no and focus on marshalling outside pressure to effect changes, rather than risk co-option.

Rules of Engagement.

Someone once told me the Chinese have a saying "If you trust me put it in writing". The traditional owners of my area have another twist to this one, they say " Before we put our agreement in writing, do it first!"

Catchment organisers and organisations need protocols and rules of engagement to keep them honest. But a written protocol isn't worth much if you aren't already doing it.

Sometimes the rules apply to members and sometimes they apply to other independent bodies. A simple example of one of these rules of engagement is "Don’t take action or even hold discussions about an area, without contacting or involving members or allies in that area".

Other important rules cover relations with corporations, elected officials, traditional owners/first nations, state-based and national groups.

The reason for these rules is:

Charters, protocols, memorandums of understanding.

Sometimes it is appropriate for rules of engagement to be expressed in written charters, protocols and memorandums of understanding to make the underlying assumptions and protocols clear to all parties. Charters are useful for crystallising a common purpose to bind a group or alliance together.

Written MOUs are generally between organisations and are usually a time- or purpose-limited form of alliance. The main organisation I work for "The Web Incorporated" has an ethical charter that sets out our broad aims and aspirations. It also has an MOU with the traditional owners of the region we operate in, which details how we will carry out joint activities with them. MOUs can also be used to help with specific projects an example of which is provided below.

EXAMPLES of a Charter and Memorandum of Understanding

The Web Incorporated

Ethical Charter

Care of the Earth

Expressed as:

• Creating and maintaining clean water, clean air and an unpoisoned land.

• Supporting the variety and abundance of life.

• Adopting and promoting ecologically sound technologies and sustainable use of resources.

Care of People

Expressed as:

• Creating lifestyles which fulfil basic needs and which promote self-expression, self-empowerment, social equity and health.

• Involving all people affected by the decision in the decision making process.

• Encouraging equal opportunity for all to their own livelihood, regardless of age, race, marital status, disability, religion or gender.

Care of Community

Expressed as:

• Promoting the local community as the central basis of the economy and society.

• Caring for aged, ill, disabled and poor people with a respect, which enables them to maintain their integrity as human beings.

• Minimising the separation between workplace and lifestyle.

• Recognising and promoting co-operative enterprise as an integral part of community.

South East Queensland Integrated Natural Resource Consortium (SEQINRC)

Memorandum of Understanding for SEQ Regional Funding Bid


A self-sustaining and cohesive regional group which offers support to each other and seeks avenues of funding which may be applied for as a consortium.

Ground rules for participation in regional funding bid

* Participation is by active involvement and cooperation

* All participants retain autonomy

* The regional bid will bring together bid components from community based natural resource management groups in the South East Queensland Natural Resource Management Strategy Region

* Components will only be amalgamated with the agreement of all affected groups

Individual groups will be responsible for developing their component of the regional bid

* The bid will require funding to be allocated directly to participating groups

* Participating groups will be responsible for their own project reporting

* The bid will be signed-off by all participants

* Groups may cease participation at any time by ceasing their active involvement and cooperation.

We would like to participate in the South East Queensland Integrated Natural Resource Consortium Regional Funding Bid in accordance with the above vision and ground rules

Signed by Office bearers


Escape Hatch.

When struggling with a catchment issue or campaign it is important to leave your opposition an escape hatch. If your opposition has no escape hatch it has no option but to resist until the bitter end.

When planning a campaign, design escape hatches to take the opposition where you want them to go. There are at least three main types of escape hatches. The honey hatch offers a win-win end for the conflict. The vortex hatch is designed to be initially attractive and then, suck them where you want them to go through the inexorable consequences of the first decision. The last resort hatch implies they must force a change on someone else to escape the conflict. They must be forced to do what they don't want to do.

Enclosing ground.

Once a catchment organisation identifies and area of interest such as a piece of bushland, lake or river it should try to ring it with local activists and groups. Every reserve or waterway needs a "friends of" group with a name like the Friends of Bulimba Ck or Friends of Our Local Reserve to protect its interests.

Initiating these groups can involve door knocking surrounding residences to gauge interest in local rehabilitation work next to their backyard. It can also involve producing and distributing leaflets outlining the values and opportunities of the area. Tours and walks of the area also increase local knowledge about it.

If you are successful in encouraging local action and the number of surrounding groups grows you can attempt to bring these groups together to think about an overall plan for that whole area. A working group could then be established to draft a community action plan about local desires for that area of interest.

In doing this the catchment organisation will enclose the ground and provide a solid base for future planning and action to protect and restore that area. In one local catchment we did this and set up many small bushcare groups around a local bushland reserve who came together and developed a community plan. When the bushland was threatened by inappropriate use, the local politician received hundreds of letters in just a couple of days and the planned use was scrapped.

Mind your own patch.

In wider catchment organising you can begin by getting people to work on a patch next to their backyard. By starting where people are and working outwards from there a catchment organisation can help people understand their whole catchment with immediate local benefits.

For a large project or area, giving each group a patch to look after breaks the job into easy parts. When groups each adopt a patch you maximise involvement while requiring a smaller commitment from each group. It gives groups a clear autonomous path of action. It allows them to work within their skills and strengths and to share these with others.

It brings groups together for a common purpose, which helps with netweaving and alliance building.

Community Memory. Like Elephants.

Companies and governments often have high turnover in staff. Local community often have a slower turnover and have more memory. The local community has often been through many consultations while the consultants are often first timers in that area. Local groups and activists often have extensive archives of reports, manuals and brochures. The local community has local knowledge about old proposals and issues. These archives and experience are useful for what's worked in the past and for "training" new bureaucrats about past studies, policies and actions.

A catchment organisation should use community memory to act against the corporate alzheimers in government and to keep a consistency of purpose and policies over the long term.

What’s a Dissident? (reprise)

Some people complain all the time, but not all of these could be called dissidents in the way I am using the word. To my mind dissidents are activists/thinkers who dare to be different to the mainstream or seek changes in the way things are. When the change is achieved they often bow out from their dissident role. It’s their genuine constructive desire and consistency of purpose that makes them different from just whingers.

Bulimba Creek Organiser Wayne Cameron discovering where his garbage goes.

People's Power.

Power comes in many forms, from structural to peoples power.

Structural power comes from a person's or organisation’s position, like a department head or elected official.

People power is a diffuse form of power that relies on building alliances, mobilising the community and achieving community influence.

People's power is usually time-limited and need-driven. The level of agreement reached by that alliance/coalition determines its strength.

An organisation's enduring form of diffuse power is influence. Maintaining this form of power relies on its representativeness, legitimacy, credibility and accountability.

Power is limited by the level of mutual agreement reached.

People power can vary in its strength and duration. As a basic rule, the amount of power is limited by the level of agreement between members of an alliance. The broader the agreement across sectors and areas is, the more power. This broad and powerful form is very transient, as large coalitions are hard to keep together. Another form of people power is where the focus is much tighter in the issues or area of land covered. This form is very common among most non-government lobby groups and will last as long as the issue is unresolved.

A catchment organisation can span both these forms of people power but should aim to be a broad geographically focussed alliance. This will put the organisation into a good position to coordinate long term special interest groups as well as being able to build larger coalitions on specific short term common issues as they arise.

Government can't do everything.

Catchment issues are so broad and so complex that they are beyond the resources of governments to understand or resolve. To address the issues requires the mobilisation of the whole of community's expertise, goodwill and resources. A broad community organisation can access far more innovation, experience and expertise than any organisation that has to pay for its advice. Governments are under-resourced to address the issues both financially and intellectually. It is up to community organisations to access the required resources and then to have enough clout to change government policies and actions. Not only governments can be influenced by catchment organisations: individuals, groups and corporations can also be motivated to change their policies and actions in ways that the governments cannot achieve. Indeed catchment organisations have to play a role in changing our very culture if true environmental change is to happen.

What's in the soup? Nourishing members.

A catchment organisation should seek not only to find funding for itself, but also for its member groups. This applies not only to funding but also to publicity, exposure and acknowledgment.

By nourishing its members, a catchment organisation will build a solid base for achieving its aims. Alliances receive as much as they give to their members both in power and ideas.

The more resourced, trained and confident its members are, the better they can work to achieve their local aims. The more empowered they are locally the more likely they are to buy into bigger issues and campaigns. Working with members to build up their skills in publicity, organising and fundraising will strengthen the catchment organisation and help bind it together. It will allow members to see real and tangible benefits from working together on a common purpose.

Whatever is not prohibited is permitted!

The strength of a whole of community catchment group is that it doesn't have to wait for the government. There is no law that says a community can't do what the government is not doing, or can't think about things the government isn’t or won't think about. For that matter, there is no law that says the community can't shadow or parallel government activities. The community must lead if the government isn't. If your local government doesn't have catchment policies write them and put them on the World Wide Web. If there is no water quality monitoring, set up a group to do so and publish your result in a local newspaper. If your government doesn't have a conservation plan for an area, put together an alliance and write one. Don’t wait. There are few limits to what you can do if a need to do something exists.

Structural Power.

Structural power is power gained through constitutions, laws, policy, political judgement and legal precedent. This form of power can also be created by tenure, job description, articles of association, policy, statute, corporations' laws and management. Some structural power is place limited, like a local or state government, and this works against thinking about whole catchments.

The essence of structural power, as different from peoples power, is that it exists by virtue of a position or structure that will disappear if the person or group is no longer in that position or structure.

A catchment organisation needs to focus on building peoples power not structural power. A well-organised catchment organisation can achieve a measure of structural power by sitting on committees and advisory boards. This structural power should be viewed as temporary and not the real power the catchment organisation has. Its real power lies in building enduring influence in the wider community.

Elected Power and its limits

Elected power is a form of structural power where the power is up for grabs every 3-4 years. Elected public officials, like it or not, are the ones who get to set most of the rules we all have to live by. Having grown up under a corrupt right-wing government I share the widespread public distrust of the electoral process and who ends up with the jobs. But working with elected officials is something that has to be done if you want to improve catchments or change government policy. An elected official is after all a person who lives somewhere and who might do the "right thing" if the opportunity presents itself.

Elected power has a number of properties that work against catchment organisations. The first is the three to four year election timeframe, which leads to short term thinking and a culture of instant results. The second is that to get elected power you must answer to many stakeholders with competing and conflicting interests and it is often safer to do nothing than to disrupt the balance of interests and risk electoral loss.

A catchment organisation should have a relationship with all the elected public officials in its catchment and should assume that those people could help them if required. A catchment organisation should also be aware of the limits and features of elected power so it can apply political pressure if required.

Partners not pets.

A catchment organisation can play a vital role in linking between citizens and government. It can't achieve this aim if it is seen as anyone's pet to be trotted out when greenwash is needed.

A catchment organisation must see itself as an equal partner in any process. It should be prepared to use its power and to bite the hands that feed it. To be a valued partner, it needs practical ideas on how to solve issues. If it can demonstrate its power and its usefulness, a catchment organisation can be a powerful partner to other groups and governments.

Example Norman Creek - Know Your Catchment

The Norman Creek catchment is a small very urbanised one in the middle of the city of Brisbane. Most of the tributaries have been concreted, piped or put underground. However, the lower catchment still has intact floodplains and mangrove wetlands, thanks to the work of the Norman Creek Flood Action Group. The upper catchment still has some forested lands thanks to the tireless efforts of local residents and the Toohey Forest Protection Committee.

The hidden nature of the catchment’s streams meant the catchment committee had to spend a lot of energy making people aware that the creek still existed and was worth protecting. The catchment committee was started as a project of the then Residents Action Group for the Environment (RAGE) after I made a presentation to them about using catchments as a tool for sustainable development. RAGE successfully applied for a grant from the Brisbane River Management Group to develop a ‘know your catchment’ display to tour schools and shopping centres. The display included both historical and recent maps of the catchment to show its general features and the issues. It had colour drawings of some local animals and plants, a local history of the catchment, and information about problems such as pollution and vegetation clearing. RAGE also received a small grant from the Geographical Society to assist a volunteer to laboriously construct a awesome plywood 3D model of the catchment. This model tours schools and shopping centres and people are asked to locate where they live just using geographic landmarks such as hills, ridges and creeks rather than streets.

RAGE also organised Know ‘n Grow days at local schools. The days were focussed on bringing school environment groups from around the catchment to a host school. Each school group was encouraged to give a presentation about their activities to the other groups. We also had specialist people with skills in water quality and conservation, soil erosion, wildlife and plant communities to share their skills with the students on the day. The students were then encouraged to trace a local stream through its pipes to where the water reached the open air. They would stencil signs on local gutters saying "Dump No Waste. Flows to Local Creek" to raise local awareness. They would do hands-on water quality testing and observe amounts of pollution, litter and remnant vegetation. A newsletter would be written up and distributed to the students which recorded the day’s activities and presentations.

After RAGE did this for about two years, established a number of rehabilitation sites and campaigned on local issues, the local government agreed to help develop a Norman Creek Catchment Plan. When the plan was released RAGE established the Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee (N4C) to help with the plan’s implementation and to carry on awareness raising work. The N4C is still operating and its website is

Developing Common Strategies.

Community Plans.

The power of a community plan lies in its ability to propose constructive alternatives with community support. These plans can cut across political, departmental and policy barriers as they are unconstrained by formal strictures.

Community plans can mobilise expertise far more effectively than formal government plans. They can move in the community without the resistance a government process attracts. With trust and credibility established, people will give their time and expertise to their local catchment organisation in a way they won’t for the government.

The plan develops a high degree of local ownership, which can mobilise community members to defend it and campaign ceaselessly for its implementation, regardless of who is in power politically.

Site/Property Plans.

Every piece of land can be managed to the benefit of the catchment. By designing our yards, paddocks and pastures well, we can save water, minimise erosion, maintain infiltration, control runoff and provide habitat for native plants and animals. A catchment organisation can help people by providing expertise to help plan their property with the catchment in mind. The catchment organisation can also link these property plans into existing sub-catchment community corridor plans. In the Bulimba Creek for example, we have a "1/3 For Nature" program where the catchment group provides advice and shares the costs of some materials with property owners in the catchment who agree, in writing, to keep at least 1/3 of their property for natural purposes. Priority is given to land in strategic areas as mapped in the Bulimba Creek Vegetation Strategy. Every yard or property that controls its runoff, saves water, uses native plants and has appropriate habitat helps the catchment.

Community Remnant/Corridor plans

Each large bushland area needs a plan before any rehabilitation work is done. These community bushland plans should be developed in conjunction with surrounding residents and other interested community groups. In the Whites Hill bushland in Brisbane, the catchment organisation and a regional environment group worked with the local community to describe the bushland’s animals and plants, map different parts of the reserve, and to make recommendations about acceptable uses: managing tracks and domestic animals among other things. This plan was then printed, distributed to the public and governments, and published on a website. The community’s plan was used to change the local Governments plan for the area and to guide rehabilitation and recovery efforts. The plan has helped the local community attract funds for bushland rehabilitation and threatened species research. The bushland now enjoys a higher level of environmental protection in local government planning.

As the number of sites a catchment organisation is working in grows, it needs to sit back and think about how these areas are connected. By bringing people from the different areas and local groups together, along with relevant local experts, they can develop a common plan for restoring and enhancing local waterways and bushlands. This plan can guide the groups in building a network of core natural areas and connecting links of vegetation across and down the sub-catchments and waterways. The catchment organisation could organise the meeting, provide the venue, the maps and other information required.

Community Catchment Plans.

This level of community planning should be the 3-5 year goal of most catchment organisations. It is wise to have an interim plan from day one, to guide your actions in a strategic way, but it takes time to fully appreciate the detail, and the information grows richer the more you organise local groups.

Community catchment plans allow the organisation, its members and allies to amalgamate all the smaller plans and actions they have done into one plan where they can think about the catchment as a whole. This plan should detail the next phases of the activities to fill strategic gaps in knowledge or on-ground action. It should give a common purpose to local groups and help them coordinate with each other. The plan needs to be credible and practical if you want wider support. It needs to take into account actions by others as well as government plans. It needs to have a way of measuring its progress and giving positive feedback. The plan needs to cover the whole catchment’s water cycle, water quality, animals and plants, human health and enhancing the community’s ability to act positively on those features. The plan should exist to guide community action primarily, but should also seek to involve governments and agencies in supporting the plan. The quality of the plan and the public support it enjoys will determine its impact on formal government planning.

Community Regional Plans.

Governments normally do regional planning. These plans generally focus on government needs and desires. They are also generally done in an unintegrated way ie the transport plan is done in isolation from the conservation strategy and so on.

A catchment organisation can help correct these plans. A catchment organisation can build up from site plans, native vegetation plans and catchment plans and its work in empowering local communities to develop alternate regional or bioregional plans. This gives local communities and groups an avenue to articulate their own needs and desires in an integrated way.

These community regional plans can help guide local actions and projects. They can also be a platform to beneficially change existing government regional plans.

It represents local communities taking power to define their own future and to work towards that future unencumbered by party political constraints.

Implementation/Action Plans.

Having developed a local, catchment or regional plan the next step is implementation. A well -crafted plan will contain actions that can be done by individuals, groups, industry and governments. A plan that only relies on corporate or government implementation, without an active role for the wider community, will stall in a mire of procrastination, bureaucratic deliberations and evasions. I call this the gunnamirra syndrome (gunna look into it).

A catchment organisation can avoid this by moving ahead with local and catchment wide community based actions. The organisation can also help mobilise local communities to press corporations and governments to keep progressing their part of the plan.

Look at each of the actions in your plan and find out what it would take to do it. Look at your resources and identify the things you can do now. Find out what you don't have and make a plan of how to get it. Be patient, some actions will have to wait till the right opportunity. Funding can be a piecemeal affair, with a bit from here and a bit from there, and often a mixture of cash and in-kind support.

I guess the summary of implementation is - do a realistic plan, get going, do what you can, go around roadblocks and find common cause with allies and funders when the opportunity arises.

If the catchment organisation and local community are out there publicly doing their bit of the plan the political pressure is great for governments and corporations to do their bit.

Fundraising. Cash, Kind or Borrow.

Money is only one means to an end, if you can get what you need without cash it is even better.

For things you need occasionally it is better to borrow than to buy. Skills and resource lists of members are one tool that you can use to assess what you can borrow if you need to.

When cash is needed, the local community should be looked to first. Asking for money directly is generally more effective than stalls or other fundraising events.

Grant funding is also useful, but can make a catchment organisation dependant on outside groups and their aims if used too much.

In-kind support is one way many companies and people will help, even if they can't or won’t help with cash or personal effort.

The funding base for a catchment organisation should be based in the local catchment community with other sources of funding used sparingly and strategically. A funding base should also be developed for the organisation’s member groups (see What's in the Soup?).

Types of Funding.

Government Funding: this is sometimes available to catchment organisations but has the feature of changing its criteria in response to political or managerial fads. This can distract a catchment organisation from its mission as it tries to follow changing guidelines. This sort of funding is generally suitable for short-term 1-3 year projects.

Local government funding and In-Kind support has proved very useful for nourishing smaller groups.

Philanthropic Funding: this is more available in some countries than others. The criteria and guidelines tend to change more slowly than government programs. Philanthropic sources of funding are often better for slightly longer-term projects. They are often very narrow in their focus so it’s a bit of pot luck if your issue matches their criteria.

Both government and philanthropic funding sources require relatively high levels of administrative compliance and regulation.

Corporate Funding: Most funds for community projects DO NOT come from this source. Corporate funding also brings the possibility of co-option or greenwash. Support, both funding and in-kind, can be available for specific activities or events. This is generally done on a fee for service basis in that they are in effect paying you to advertise them to a particular audience.

Community Funding: This is done through a direct appeal to potential donors or to the public. A public appeal normally involves extra administration and legal compliance costs. Groups can also try their hands at hosting events and hopefully making a profit. A community organisation can often get discounts, or network the goods and services it needs, from supporters. Groups should also consider having a commercial arm which can provide specialist environmental services. Commercial activities should also be at arms length ie a subsidiary.

I have used all of the sorts of funding over the years and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The mix I have relied on more than any other is a small amount of seed funding from local governments and a base of community funding. The strength of catchment organisations and community funding is that you can deliver tangible benefits to donors and supporters, right before their eyes, and in their local catchment. Remember that if you don't have money you can still get what you want by asking to borrow what you need through community networks. Research has confirmed that in the e-mail age you are only five people away from anything.

Example Boggy Creek -Getting Bigger Getting Smaller

The Boggy Creek catchment is a very industrial catchment on the mouth of the Brisbane River, ringed by airports, seaports, industry and oil refineries. For a number of years the local community who lived in the small village of Pinkenba struggled to have a say and to stop inappropriate industry. They established a local group called "Bayside Residents Against Toxic Sites (BRATS)" which successfully fought off a hazardous waste treatment facility being foisted on them. When confronted by a welter of industrial developments as the port was expanded, they approached me/BREC? for help in coordinating a response. Together we established a catchment committee involving the local government, environment groups, local residents and local industry to develop a common plan to protect natural areas and address water and air quality issues. BRATS continued to play its very active opposition role while the catchment committee worked on seeking cooperative solutions. The catchment committee used a community plan (the Boggy Ck Ecological protection plan) as its strategic guide. It also worked to gain industry agreement for some form of joint air and water quality monitoring projects. It found that the larger industries such as the refinery were very supportive of restricting development around them on safety grounds. Other industries were also very receptive because a large number of their workforce either lived in Pinkenba or nearby. After successfully protecting most of the river banks, mangroves and some wetland areas the need for the committee waned. While I thought there was still more scope for work on water and air quality, the immediate needs of the community were addressed and without the support of the local residents things could have become counter productive. The Boggy Ck committee was scaled back and eventually wound up before any damage to goodwill was done. The work it did is still available and I suspect as air quality worsens there may be a desire to restart it and I hope the local community won’t hesitate to ask for outside support again. The Pinkenba ecological protection plan can be viewed at

Example Bulimba Creek - Building up by Numbers

Bulimba Creek is medium sized urban catchment with large forests in its upper catchment and extensive floodplains and wetlands in its lower catchment. The area is rapidly changing from semi rural to almost fully urban. The catchment committee got its start when a local activist contacted me about saving some bushland near their home in a new housing development in the middle catchment. I advised them on tactics and encouraged them to start a local bushland rehabilitation group using in-kind funding from the local government. The activist was so enthusiastic and skilful that they established not one but three groups, and this was followed quickly by another three, all in the surrounds of the WhitesHill-PineMountain bushland reserve. These groups were involved in lobbying the city council to increase the protection of the reserve and add more threatened patches of bushland to the reserve. They realised that this bushland wasn't the only one threatened and the animals they were trying to protect followed local creeks and waterways to Bulimba creek and on to other larger forests on the eastern and southern sides of the catchment. With some advice on strategy and technical support, they started a two pronged campaign. Firstly, they organised the local resident and bushcare groups along with the WhitesHill-PineMountain Community group into a committee to develop an ecological protection plan for the reserve and change how the local government managed the reserve and its key linkages. Secondly, they formed a group called Save Care and Regenerate Urban Bushland (SCRUB) to establish more community bushcare groups from the reserve and other forests to the Bulimba Creek following identified key linkages. Having developed the reserve and corridor plan they encouraged all the groups to write or visit local politicians to get the plans recommendations adopted. The city council responded by releasing the Whites Hill management plan, starting the Bulimba Creek waterways management plan and published the Bulimba Creek - Know Your Creek Booklet. Building an alliance between the now numerous bushcare groups, SCRUB, the existing Belmont Hills Group, the Karawatha Forest Protection Society, the Brisbane Region Environment Council and the Rivermouth Action Group, the interim catchment coordinating committee was established. This group successfully applied for funds to develop a Bulimba Creek strategic vegetation plan for the whole catchment. Further funds where sought from local and federal governments to implement this plan. The Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee (B4C) was then established and continues to campaign for protection of bushlands and waterways as well as carrying out on-ground rehabilitation actions. Eventually the B4C established over twenty bushcare groups and assisted with forming a number of local action groups to campaign for specific sites. A waterwatch program was established and a schools program was launched. The B4C lobbied to make sure these smaller groups were funded and supported in these activities. The B4C has a commercial arm that carries out the mid-week bushcare program and supports SCRUB with its weekend volunteer activities. It has an office donated by a local firm and enjoys wide support from local residents and businesses. The Whites Hill ecological protection plan can be viewed at The B4C is going strong and its website can be viewed at


Some final thoughts

Well that seems to very briefly cover the basics of organising catchments. This handbook should have just enough in it to get you going and provide some help in working out what you are supposed to be doing.

Every catchment is different and every organiser has a different style. I have included a list of books and websites at the end of the handbook. I have also tried to link you to real examples which you can study in detail.

The appendices contain some of the more technical theory and principles about the earth, ecodevelopment and organising I rely on in my work. These appendices were written in the early 1990s and I have only slightly updated them for this book so they might show their age a bit. I hope they give a feel for where I think we should be heading.

Its been good to have some time off to write this handbook but I hear the ridges, creeks and roads calling me again, so I’d better get out there and get back on the job.

If you feel motivated to get into catchment organising you might run in to me "round the ridges".


Michael Petter

Brisbane, Australia

December 2003

A web version of this handbook can be found at



Appendix 1 - The Earth in context

A wise friend of mine was of the opinion that for humanity to survive and thrive it needed to master a basic ecological vocabulary. We need to understand the earth and its ecology, and that means you! So here is my attempt from 10 years ago to share this vocabulary.

The earth has the only breathable atmosphere of any planet we can yet detect anywhere in all of space there are no backups, no life rafts, it’s the only planet we have.

Our planet is a rock in orbit around a star called Sol. It has a thin (less than 100km) layer of air and water clinging to it. This thin layer is home to more than two million life-forms. This assembly of living things is called the biosphere, the air above them is the atmosphere, the ground under them is the lithosphere and the water around them is the hydrosphere. Care of the earth involves working within all four of these spheres of existence. Their integrity and health is necessary to the functioning of the bionomy and thus too human existence.

The atmosphere

The thin layer of gas covering our planet is the atmosphere. It provides the air needed by most organisms for respiration as well as insulating them from harmful solar and cosmic radiation. The combination of gases in the atmosphere has changed dramatically since the earth was formed. Research by James Lovelock has shown that in recent times the composition of the atmosphere has stayed in relative equilibrium. This equilibrium is created and maintained by living things. If the micro-organisms in the coastal waters and soil are disturbed or destroyed, our atmosphere may become hostile to our form of life. The protection of these life-forms and the quality of their environment are thus critical to the quality of the atmosphere.

The lithosphere

The lithosphere is the core of rock, the molten mantle, and the thin skin of rocks and soil on the surface of the planet. The skin on top, the continental and seafloor plates, moves around much like a piece of bark in a boiling billy.

The continents are submerged at the edges to form shallow seas, home to most of the life in the ocean. On the surface of these continents is a thin skin that contains life, the soil. The soil is a product of the decomposition of the rocks underneath it and the deposition of organisms and their wastes on top of it. The soil is a living system made up of minerals and millions of living micro-organisms, other animals and plants. It is the major source of nutrients for plants and hence the animals which feed on them. Agricultural practices, particularly pesticide and herbicide use, can destroy the life in the soil. Landclearing can lead to erosion and salting. Soil forms very slowly and is very costly to replace once eroded away.

The hydrosphere

The hydrosphere covers most of the surface of the earth as seas. Water circulates through the atmosphere in clouds, over and through the lithosphere as rivers and groundwater, and then drains back to the seas. The oceans receive the nutrient outflows from the continents and return some of them to the western sides of continents many thousands of years later. The organisms, which help to maintain our atmosphere, inhabit the continental edges of the oceans. The oceans also drive the weather and are crucial in maintaining the temperature of the bionomy.

Water is stored in the oceans, artesian basins, lakes and icecaps as well as within the soil. It is critical to the maintenance of life. As most life-forms are up to 90% water, they need clean unpolluted water to survive.

The Biosphere

The biosphere occurs in the lower parts of the atmosphere, the upper parts of the lithosphere, and in the hydrosphere. Life occurs mainly in the top 30cm of the soil, the top 20m of the seas and the bottom 7 000m of the air.

The biosphere consists of two main sorts of life forms, those which produce living material using the sun’s energy directly (autotrophs) and those which produce it by consuming other living things or their by-products (heterotrophs). Plants are the primary solar collectors of the biosphere and other life-forms depend on them for their energy.

Life does not occur uniformly across the face of the planet but varies with the major climatic zones such as the artic, temperate, sub-tropical and tropical zones. The number and type of organisms occurring within these climatic zones varies due to the variation in soils, landform and history. The interactions between these factors of climate, resources available and the organisms define the broad groupings of life into biomes such as wet forest, dry forest, tundra, swamp, and estuaries.

Within these biomes, life is organised into communities. A community is a recognisable and self-maintaining assemblage of life forms in a given environment. For example, we can speak about coastal communities such as mangrove swamps. The mangrove swamp community is not only the various types of mangroves themselves, but also the fish, shellfish, birds, fruit bats and insects, which live among them. Natural communities rarely have distinct edges, but merge from one to the other to create mosaics of different communities within each region.

Each community is many different life-forms, each within it’s own niche. A niche is the area of time and space in which a life-form lives. One organism may occupy the same space at a different time to another, for example when different animals use the same waterhole at different times of day. The waterhole is part of the niche of every animal that uses it.

The biosphere is thus classified into climatic zones, biomes, communities and niches.

Having briefly introduced some basic features of our planet and its four spheres we will look at how the whole bionomic system works..

The Bionomic System

The interactions within the biosphere, and between the biosphere and the atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere, make up the bionomy. In the following discussions about the bionomy we will examine how the general features of living systems influence the bionomy.

We can make some general observations about the bionomy from the limited evidence available. Four of the major features of living systems are as follows:

1. Variety and Change:

" Living nature is essentially dynamic... All biological systems are open and unstable, since life is a process and nothing would happen in life if living systems were completely closed and stable." (Sjors 1980)

"Global change is the most natural thing on Earth and our planet has been in a state of perpetual change since it began some 4.6 billion years ago." (Quilty 1989)

Everything comes from somewhere and goes somewhere, things or energy don’t disappear, they just change. The presence of change is a vital feature of the bionomy. Life processes create change and species are created and destroyed by it. Confronted by ever changing circumstances, organisms and the species they make up are required to make genetic, behavioural and conscious choices in order to accommodate themselves to each new environment. As they make these adaptations, they affect other organisms within their environment. Organisms also affect, or change, their environment by consuming resources to grow and maintain themselves. They return most of these resources to their environment when they die.

Each time something changes it provides a potential habitat for a life-form. Variety in the bionomy is a reflection of the variety of habitats for life. This variety allows living systems to explore the possibilities of their time and place.

The variety of life-forms and their relationships assist communities and species to survive in the face of change. This is because there always seem to be a few individuals who can cope with the change. Most species show variety either within the species as a whole, such as different behaviours in different circumstances; or within their populations, such as size variations. Sexual reproduction is a popular strategy with organisms as it promotes variation within species. Without this diversity, species would be less able to colonise new habitats or develop new behaviours to cope with changes in the environment.

Changes in the environment can also destroy habitats and in so doing destroy whole species or ecosystems. When these changes are widespread and too rapid or profound to allow adaptation by the species affected, they cause extinction. The rise of oxygen-emitting organisms for example, changed the composition of the atmosphere and caused the extinction of the previously existing anaerobic organisms over most of the planet.

2. Cyclic & Chaotic Change

There are recognisable global cycles in the bionomy. These include the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and other nutrients. Each of these larger, global cycles is the made up of smaller cycles in the regional or local bionomies. Over time, life on earth has colonised most available niches and has organised itself into cycles of material and energy. These cycles have persisted for some time and can be said to have achieved a persistent and dynamic equilibrium. The amounts of material cycled and the pathways of the cycle have varied over time but the overall pattern of cyclic change persists.

In addition to global cycling of nutrients, there is cyclic behaviour in weather and climate, such as the seasonal cycles. The study of climate and weather cycles has given us a useful insight into all global cycles. Although these cycles appear to be regular and predictable, similar from year to year or day to day, they are not exactly the same each time and can sometimes vary wildly from what we expect. The timing of these variations in cyclic patterns can now be mathematically predicted, but not the exact form of the variations. This chaotic behaviour can appear and disappear unexpectedly even in the most apparently regular of things. Studies have shown that seemingly regular events such as heartbeats and revolutions of waterwheels can suddenly behave in a chaotic fashion.

The implication of the chaotic nature of the universe is that any life-form should expect the unexpected and will survive if it is sufficiently flexible. There is no way to ensure that any species or individual will survive, prosper or be happy for ever. Evolution of life is an open, unstable and essentially unpredictable process. It is going nowhere in particular, it is a journey without a destination. Organisms are not more highly evolved, they are merely adapted to their present circumstances.

3. Consequences:

The results of any change or action are very difficult to fully predict. As the study of influence and change in the bionomy indicates, the factors that directly affect an organism are the result of many thousands of cumulative, often distant, effects such as winds, rains, land movements, erosion and the activities of other organisms. A web of influence extends through time and space around an organism. No human, or any other organism, is an island.

The tendency of organisms to colonise available living space has resulted in the complex webs of mutual support we find in the bionomy. The organism has to become part of a community to be able to create a niche within it. As a simple example, the leaves of a tree provide food for the organisms in the soil underneath it when they fall. These organisms enrich the soil with nutrients that are then used by the tree to create more leaves. The soil organisms and the plant are mutually supportive.

Not all relationships in the bionomy are as close or as obvious as those described above. The soil organisms also affect the birds. They support the growth of trees that provide nesting sites and food for birds. This food includes fruit, nectar, or insects that live on the trees. In turn the birds prevent insects defoliating the trees and thus starving the soil organisms. If the soil can no longer support the trees, then the birds will also disappear. Put another way, soil erosion and the removal of soil organisms can cause extinction of bird species. Further, the absence of insectivorous birds can result in dieback, through insect attack, of any trees planted to prevent that erosion.

The web of relationships extends beyond those immediately obvious, so that a small change can greatly affect organisms far away in space or time. The unintended consequences of an action can thus far outweigh the intended ones.


4. Growth Processes:

Life, and thus the bionomy, is a process that organises and conserves materials and energy. It collects, forms and recycles water, nutrients and the other requirements to sustain its processes. Individual organisms will die but the system will persist as long as it is in balance. Balanced living systems regulate their losses and conserve their imports of nutrients and energy. The amount of materials in circulation in the bionomy is small compared to the available reserves in the soil and vegetation. The major source of energy driving the bionomy is the sun. This energy is captured and converted by plants. This solar economy, in good years, makes a small gain through tight conservation and extensive reuse of materials.

Living systems exhibit growth in pulses, that is, growth in any area or organism is not continuous but episodic. They grow rapidly and use many resources while they are colonising a niche. They reach a balance with their environment and then use only the resources necessary to maintain that position. Eventually they die or some external factor changes so that a new balance becomes necessary and a new growth phase begins. Organisms such as algal blooms that consume resources rapidly lead spectacular but short lives.

There are three main types of ecosystems in the bionomy. These types of growth curves are illustrated in Figure 1.The first is a system that has a slow episodic growth and persists for long periods of time, for example the wet forests(fig 1d). Secondly, there are those systems that establish and grow rapidly and then maintain themselves in a steady state, for example the savannas (fig 1c and 1d). Thirdly, there is a group that colonise and progress to a peak production and then decline over time, such as sand dune ecosystems and some high latitude forests (fig 1a and 1b). The natural wealth affects the type of bionomy possible in each region. Some regions are poor in natural wealth or have critical limiting factors and thus can only have a low level of productivity. These "poor" regions are characterised by stress tolerant and opportunistic species. The stress tolerators have low growth rates, intermittent reproduction and a capacity to lie dormant when times are hard. The opportunistic species have resistant seeds, high growth rates and short life cycles, so they can complete their life cycle in one good season. They have episodic and often short-lived growth spurts, the classic boom-bust cycle.

The bionomy is also characterised by seasonal production peaks for its various sectors. Withdrawals from the bank of stored resources are not ever growing; they are high in the start-up phase and lower as the system matures. Each organism within the system also consumes more while it is growing than during the rest of its lifecycle. If inputs are reasonable and reliable and conservation is high, net gains of energy and materials can be made every year. These gains are the natural wage and become the pool of nutrients and energy available for use within the ecosystem during that time. By investing this wage in living things (the biomass) and nutrient savings in the soil, the bionomy builds up its natural wealth.

Systems with a strict budget cannot sustain withdrawals of natural wealth. For example, a rainforest relies on minimal loss of biomass and high recycling to maintain itself on its infertile tropical soils. If its reserves of biomass are removed, there is little nutrient left in the soil and the same ecosystem will not regenerate. It is difficult to get re-financing if you deplete your savings in the bionomy.

No system can completely stop outflow. Sustainable communities operate to conserve their resources and to minimise outflow of their natural wealth by recycling the nutrients in their system. The conservative budget of a mature plant community is an example. The proportion of material in circulation compared to the material held in fixed reserves is small. The proportion of nutrients entering the system almost balances those leaving.

Eventually even the most conservative ecosystem uses up its natural wealth, or circumstances change, and it dies. Death is a natural and necessary feature of bionomic systems. Decomposers occupy a large and important niche in the bionomy because they return the resources locked up in infrastructure to the pool of natural wealth. While plants are the major income earners in the bionomy, decomposers are the liquidators, they are the conservers and redistributors of natural wealth. For example, in some woodlands the weight of decomposer organisms below the soil can equal the weight of material above the soil. The bionomy as we know it would fail without decomposers because they allow resources to be used again and again. They allow the community of organisms to live in balance with the natural wealth of their system.


Communities are systems of species in the bionomy. They conserve resources and tend to create the conditions for an increase in the variety and abundance of life, in balance with their surroundings. In the mosaic of non-human communities, each community will usually conserve, recycle and form its own requirements. Most land communities are based in a particular locality and are reliant on the resources available in that locality, because they are dependent on immobile plants as their primary energy source. This doesn’t imply that non-human communities are completely self-reliant. The relationships between communities are important for the movement of life’s requirements around the biosphere. When each community receives these requirements it conserves them for as long as possible by circulating them through their system. Non- human communities have a solar economy that is in fact economical in the sense of being thrifty, frugal and non-wasteful.

The relationships between the organisms within communities rely on a balance of power between the species. No one species can irrevocably destroy the environment of the other species in its community and survive itself. Species such as algae that have population explosions in response to improved food sources, also have rapid declines in population as their food sources become depleted. When predator species start to build up greater numbers than their prey, the system will be rebalanced by a famine reducing predator numbers. In environments with a variety of predators and prey these imbalances are unlikely to occur.

The relationships between species in communities are constantly changing in response to changes in their surroundings.

The present make up of communities is the result of their past adaptations to their environment, that is, the evolution of each of the species within them. Evolution has previously been thought of as a selection process in which the struggle between an organism and its environment shapes the species. A more recent theory, co-evolution, recognises that the evolution of each species is also linked to that of the other species it lives with and that whole communities co-evolve together over time. The relationship with other species is as important in evolution as individual relationships with the non-living environment and members of their own species.

Competition, once seen as the major driving force of evolution, which would lead to survival of the fittest, is not as important as the interactions of the organism with the rest of its environment. Competition implies that two species or individuals are trying to use the same resource, at the same time, in the same place. This can happen within social animal species, where individuals with the same requirements move around together. However, the chance of direct competition between two separate species or isolated individuals is slight, as they are less likely to be in the same place at the same time. Field studies have increasingly demonstrated that organisms tend to be separated in time and space even if they use the same resource.

Co-evolution results when an organism changes in response to a change in an organism with which it has a close relationship. These relationships can be negative interactions such as predation and parasitism or positive interactions such as mutualism and commensalism.

The organism evolves protective behaviours or structures, usually involving camouflage or chemical deterrents such as smells or taste, in response to predation. Parasites such as viral and bacterial diseases may cause adaptations in the form of immune reactions in their hosts.

The close relationships between flowers and insect pollinators demonstrate co-evolution. Many plants such as orchids and figs rely on a specific insect to pollinate them. Their flowers are structurally adapted to the behaviour of the insect. In turn the insect’s lifecycle and behaviour is adapted to that particular plant.

The ant vine of the wet forests of northern Australia has co-evolved with the type of ant that lives within it. The vine is a parasite high up in the canopy of trees. It has large bulbs containing many holes and tunnels. The ants live within these tunnels and feed on the nectar exuded by the vine. In return, the ants protect the vine. These two species are so dependant on and closely adapted to each other that they must have co-evolved.

Communities are reliant mainly on the co-operation and co-existence of many forms of life. The networks of co-operation, co-existence and predation within communities are dynamic, both in the short and long term. Populations within communities vary from season to season and in the long term the nature of a species changes in line with evolutionary pressures. Any community is a dynamic system that changes over time and space, just as species evolve so do communities and regions. The whole biosphere can be thought of as one large coevolving system.


Appendix 2 - Development and Ecodevelopment




1. Change *

2. Consequences *

3. Conservative Budgeting *

4. Investment *

5. Foreign Exchange *

6. A web of Localised economies *

Features of Ecodevelopment *

Flexible infrastructure:


Flexible production processes:

Dampened effects of rapid change:

Planning for change:

Conservative Budgeting:

Equitable trade:

A web of Localised Economies:

A planet of Bioregional Economies:


"Development is seen as the process by which individuals identify themselves as a community and collectively acquire the necessary knowledge, power, values and organisational skills to irreversibly share and expand that community’s resources for the benefit of all its members without being at the expense of other communities or of the environment."

(Community Aid Abroad 1980’s)

Development is the process that improves the quality of life of all the members of a community. Quality of life is measured by how well each person’s total needs are being met. Development to meet the human needs of creativity, identity, autonomy, togetherness, participation, self-fulfillment and meaning will take place in the social, cultural and political spheres as well as in the economic sphere. I see positive development as a process which aims towards allowing humans to fulfil their creative potential as part of the planetary ecosystem.

The present profit-driven development only attempts to meet the most basic survival needs and the advertising-created wants of the people it is meant to serve. Private profits are developed without an overall benefit to the community, in fact, often to the detriment of the community. Profit in itself is not the problem, rather it is the lack of social and environmental responsibility of solely profit-motivated enterprises. Profit is hoarded or squandered by individuals, not redistributed to benefit the community or the environment.


‘Development’ is popularly thought to be about economic growth and increasing industrialisation. Economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product measures the expense of present lifestyles, not the sum of goods and services provided. Productivity is measured by the output per worker, so that productivity increases are gained by reducing the workforce while producing the same quantity of goods. Productivity does not measure the improvement in the quality of life of the community.

The growth economy assumes that an increase in cash and an increase in numbers of goods will make people happy. From this perspective all growth is good and all industry is good. This line of reasoning misses the point that the distribution of wealth is as important as the size of the wealth. Many third world countries have experienced economic growth and industrial growth at the same time as having increased poverty. Their industrialisation has benefited the rich and powerful within the country more than the needy.

We should ask questions about the direction of current development. Producing gimmicks and wasteful items to get the cash to buy food is a misdirection of human energy. Anthropological studies have shown that some so-called primitive people only had to work one day in three to support themselves and three other people. Surely our society with its advanced labour saving technology could do better than that. Development based on innovative technology could free more time for humanity to explore its creativity and potential.

The present economy uses labour-saving devices not to save peoples’ worktime but to increase the amount produced by each person. This results in the glut of material goods we see around us. Do we need a second television and car in every home? The growth economy has addicted both itself and those who work in it to this glut system because its industrial techniques rely on mass production. The industrial infrastructure doesn’t allow enterprises to survive on reduced levels of production or to quickly change what they produce to adapt to market or environmental changes.

We should also ask questions about the amount of resources consumed by current development. Ever-growing amounts of resources are consumed with little attempt to reuse or recycle products. Competition between enterprises often leads to a needless proliferation of ‘styles’ and ‘models’ with last year's model being consigned to the nearest tip.

Current economic planning assumes that growth must happen and when it doesn’t, panic sets in. Economists predict that, without growth economies, we will all be poor and see a return to pre-industrial conditions of health and sanitation. Poverty is generally regarded as being a lack of material resources such as housing or food. These are symptoms of extreme poverty, but poverty is more than that. Poverty is about a lack of the power to make decisions. In extreme cases decisions about what to eat, if to eat, and where to live cannot be made. In these cases the situation is often the result of the decisions made by other people, or of circumstances such as drought. It is not enough to send food or money to resolve these situations of poverty, rather the causes of poverty must be tackled. These are often political issues such as land ownership, restrictive social practices and external economic domination.

I believe that poverty on earth can be challenged and eliminated. This will require the development of self-reliant local economies over the whole planet. To be sustainable, each economy would primarily live within the limits of its support base, the resources available in its area. At present the economy is in conflict with the bionomy because of a lack of attention to the interactions between them. Planning is based on lowest cost, highest profit economic analysis, rather than on examining the costs and benefits as a whole. The effects on the resource base, the environment, are not accounted for. The consequences of industry are as important as the benefits. Consequences such as deforestation, desertification and increases in poisonous wastes need to be weighed up against the benefits of industrialisation.

Environmental protection is presently viewed as a luxury that you can have when you can afford it. It is argued that poor countries can’t afford to protect their environment. The poor countries must put all their energy into economic growth so that when their economy is running smoothly they might be able to afford to fix the environment. Thirty years down the industrialisation track these countries have more poor people than previously and can look forward to having to maintain another 30-50 years of growth to catch up with consumption levels in the West. At the end of this time they will be in the position the West is in now. They will have exhausted their land, its water and its air, pollution and related disease rates will be high.

Instead, environmental protection should be seen as a global issue, which requires co-operative action by all local communities. Direct aid from community to community will ensure the development of vital local economies rather than the growth of a rich elite in poor nations. Aid should foster projects that lead to the development of self-reliant localised economies. If land in poor nations was no longer used to feed export markets it could be returned to its rightful inhabitants, the local people. There would then be less need to clear remaining forests for agriculture and more incentive to protect the environment.

Genuine development is a process of choosing how humans can beneficially relate to each other and their environment. It is not a process of making decisions that permanently reduce the natural wealth of a country and quality of life of its inhabitants. Development, according to our definition, creates the organisational skills and motivation for people to build self-reliant sustainable economies. It is as much an educational process as an economic one. I call the type of development which develops both human society and its economy within the context of their environment ecodevelopment.



Ecology is an important part of development, for if an economy bankrupts its natural wealth and development does not pay heed to its natural basis, it will collapse. The receivers appointed to places that bankrupt nature are death, disease, war and famine.

Ecodevelopment is a fusion of the needs of the bionomy, human society and its economy. Ecodevelopment works towards fulfilling needs first and wants second through a sustainable economy that works within the limits of the bionomy.

The core idea of working with nature is that instead of trying to modify and simplify the environment to our expectations, we examine what exists, and modify our techniques to mimic and blend with those already existing systems. In addition to mimicking features of the bionomy in its structures and processes, the human economy must preserve those life-forms that maintain our air, water and soil, that is, our resource base.

It is important to remember that the world of living things that we see around us has survived volcanoes, earthquakes, ice ages, sea rises and many other hair-raising experiences without the help or even, until recently, the existence of humans. The natural systems have much more accumulated knowledge about survival and sustainability than we as an individual species have.

If we mimic non-human systems and if we let our systems find their own balance, the amount of human energy needed to maintain them should decrease. In order to do this, we need to resist the temptation to control everything and allow the non-human beings we benefit from to manage themselves. The idea that humans can control natural systems and improve on them is widespread. This improvement of natural systems is often an illusion. The unexpected consequences of our manipulations are often dangerous, expensive to repair and create bigger problems. This is not to say that we shouldn't modify natural systems, just that we should minimise our interference, and exercise some care and prudence. For example, no-till agriculture allows the soil micro-organisms to help to maintain the soil fertility, thus avoiding the necessity for processed fertilisers. The human energy required to process, distribute and apply the fertilisers is saved by simply allowing the soil organisms to manage themselves.

While I believe that mimicking non-human systems allows us the use of greater collective survival knowledge, humans have their own ability to create the new that should also be heeded. We need a balance between non-human conservatism and human invention. While the human economy cannot escape non-human forces, it does not have to be a slave to them, nor vice versa. The human and non-human economies are in a process of co-evolution and dynamic tension.

The process of ecodevelopment is as yet ill-defined, but some thoughts on the features of this new economy are becoming clearer. The features of the bionomy that we should allow for in our structures and processes are as follows:

* The presence of change and through this, the creation and destruction of variety.

* Every change has consequences.

* Life is a process which collects, forms and recycles water, soils, nutrients and the other requirements to sustain life.

* Living systems organise themselves into localised self-reliant communities.

1. Change

Ecodevelopment doesn’t assume that things will be better, worse or the same forever, it assumes the presence of change in its planning and mimics the bionomic strategies for coping with change. The bionomy relies on adaptability and variety to cope with the constantly changing environment.

The way in which enterprises operate can be adapted to changes in the economy. Enterprises which produce limited runs of a range of durable goods or services can adapt easily to changing markets. Markets for durable goods become saturated in time, so each enterprise will need to change its products from time to time. Manufacturing can survive in these smaller, fixed markets if there is an emphasis on a variety of products manufactured sequentially or concurrently.

Rich diversity of enterprises within the local economy allows for greater flexibility in coping with change. An economy which is reliant on only one or two sectors (e.g. agriculture and mining for export) is in a very vulnerable position when these sectors experience a downturn. An economy which is made up of a web of enterprises serving most local needs will be resilient in the face of change.

One of the aims of ecodevelopment is to protect the human economy from too much dramatic change. The present system acts as an uncontrolled amplifier to change. When things are good it grows explosively and then collapses when things are bad. In ecodevelopment the growth response to change should be lower than the rate of change. This gives the economy less distinct peaks and troughs and smooths the transition between ups and downs. Ecodevelopment can be our filter on change, rather than an amplifier, by planning for medium and long term directions rather than relying on short term decisions.

The bionomy features chaotic, unpredictable change. The only way that ecodevelopment will survive chaotic changes is to rely on a process approach rather than a blueprint approach. There is no point to drawing up blueprints, that is, minutely detailed and fixed plans, when we recognise that the unpredictable is a feature of life. Instead, plans and the structures they define will focus on general directions rather than specific long term goals, and on flexibility rather than preconceived methods. The means can be defined but not the ends.

The process approach has the following features:

* All those involved in the project are involved in setting overall goals and defining work schedules. There is provision for those affected by the project to have input at the goal setting stage.

* The project is defined in terms of separate actions and stages.

* Each action is undertaken by a self-managed work team, action group or subcommittee which can respond quickly to changes as they arise.

* All involved in the project are part of one or more action groups. There is no separation between managers and workers.

* The end of each stage is marked by a period of review and assessment. Those affected by the project have an opportunity to give feedback on its effectiveness. The results of these reviews are taken into account in defining the next stage.

2. Consequences

Every life-form on the planet, through its process of living, has impacts on the bionomy. Our current biosphere is the sum total of all those impacts. The question to be asked in ecodevelopment is not whether the economy will have impacts, but what sort of impacts our economy can have on the bionomy while still being able to sustain itself indefinitely. The choices we make during the process of ecodevelopment will define the impacts we have on the bionomy.

The consequences of the choices we make can never be fully predicted, in fact the bionomy shows that the unpredicted consequences usually far outweigh the predicted ones. The impacts of decisions, whether predicted or unpredicted, may not be obvious for some time.

For this reason, the number of irreversible decisions should be minimised. Practice and policy can then be changed to meet new circumstances and harmful practices, once they become obvious can be stopped. Irreversible decisions like clearing mangrove swamps to build housing may have unexpected consequences like destroying the local fishing industry. Other than bulldozing the houses, filling in the canals, and removing all the rubble, there is little that can be done to reverse the decision. We should follow the example of life in the bionomy, we should keep our options as open as possible.

As well as avoiding irreversible decisions whenever possible, ecodevelopment avoids reducing future options. Finite resources, such as oil, which we use today, cannot be used by future generations. They will no longer have the option of an economy based on naturally occurring oil. Similarly, coal, iron and other minerals; animals, plants and whole environments we destroy will limit the options for future generations. The choices we make now will have consequences stretching far into the future.

However we still need to make decisions, but they need to be made with as broad a basis of understanding as possible. The aim of education should be to promote awareness of the choices that need to be made and the techniques for making them. As ecodevelopment is a process of making choices that define the culture, education for ecodevelopment is the process of questioning the culture, assessing its validity and then creating a new culture. Each generation is the designer of its present and future society rather than a spectator of it.

People educated in this way will work with nature by conscious choice. They will understand the basis of ecodevelopment and be able to make appropriate decisions on how to adapt to their changing environment. They will also have the power and ability to learn from and correct their mistakes, the negative consequences of decisions they have made.

3. Conservative Budgeting

The bionomy drives ecodevelopment , as it cannot escape the fluctuations in the ecosystem it is part of. Growth occurs only if conditions, social or environmental, are suitable. As in the bionomy, this occurs mainly after major changes in the environment. There is not continuous growth in the amounts, and types of goods and services produced. In fact, there are fewer, more durable goods produced as the economy consumes less if we establish a harmony with the bionomy and budget our resources so as to conserve them.

The growth economy has most of its resources invested in inflexible infrastructure, which has to be completely replaced when the environment changes. Ecodevelopment, like the bionomy, relies on a variety of flexible enterprises and has a large pool of wealth in reserve. This reserve is maintained by returning materials to it by recycling, or by cutting consumption through reuse.

Ecodevelopment also has more flexible infrastructure. This means that each element of the infrastructure, or artifact, is designed for multiple functions, reuse and recycling. This flexibility allows for major adaptations, without large scale destruction and reconstruction, when the inevitable changes in the economy occur.

Basic and costly items such as transport systems are made durable so that they are a long-term investment. Renewable resources are used for items that will last as long as it takes to grow their replacement, for example, hardwood timber is used for furniture or building rather than for paper. Other items, while less durable are designed to be easy to reuse or recycle. For example, buildings built of timber screwed or bolted together are easier to dismantle and recycle than those nailed together, as anyone who has tried de-nailing timber will testify. In ecodevelopment, consumption of resources is cut by each artifact serving more than one function. For example, a house may have north-facing windows for passive solar heating to avoid the necessity for a wood stove and to increase light levels enough to avoid the necessity for daytime artificial lighting, as well as to give cross-ventilation so that fans or air-conditioners are unnecessary.

Those items which are expected to change are designed to be reusable and recyclable. Consumption of resources is reduced by reusing items as they are, or by reassembling their parts into new items.

Some areas of technological innovation change so rapidly that frequent changes in products are necessary. These products especially, are designed to facilitate reuse of their components and with future advances in mind. Most computers already use flexible hardware that allows for future innovations to be slotted in. The innovations are also designed to use existing hardware. Computer designers talk of upgrade pathways, which means that each innovation builds on the previous ones. The result is that there is no need to produce a completely new machine every time there is a technological advance.

As ecodevelopment becomes more widespread, many more machines will use this resource-saving technology. Although restructuring the existing infrastructure may seem a daunting task, we have all of time ahead of us to live, create and develop our societies and their technological resources. Eventually we will change most of the existing infrastructure to be either more durable or more flexible. Technological change is necessary and desirable, but it should not be at the expense of either our social or biophysical environments.

Ecodevelopment also features a cyclic pattern of growth which reflects the seasonal production peaks of the various sectors of the bionomy. The size and number of withdrawals from the bank of stored resources are not ever-growing, they are high in the start-up phase and lower as the business or community matures. They have a large amount of their raw material held in reserve, a lesser amount held in infrastructure and a moderate amount in circulation.

The type of lifecycles designed into enterprises depends on their focus. As in the bionomy, some sectors occur in pulses, some end up in a steady state and some experience slow growth for a long time. Planning includes ongoing maintenance and periods of decline and as well as growth. Some of the possible growth curves in the economy are illustrated in Figure 1.

In ecodevelopment, enterprises attempt to utilise their resources more fully. The people resources within an enterprise are used in flexible and empowering ways as decided by those involved, for example, each member can have a variety of tasks if they wish. There is an emphasis on quality of work environment as well as on quality of products or services.

Ecodevelopment encourages less distinction between industrial sectors, with enterprises being involved in all areas of the process from raw material to finished products. Enterprises increase their flexibility by forming alliances with other enterprises. Business planning gives more emphasis to co-operation and co-existence than to competition. The local economy will be a web of enterprises acting together to collect, form and conserve the requirements of its owners and participants, the local community.

4. Investment

The bionomy invests wealth into maintenance as well as into growth. Ecodevelopment invests wealth back into the bionomy to maintain its resources and safeguard medium to long-term returns. It applies wealth to earth repair and the rebuilding of natural wealth. This wealth is drawn from areas currently being applied to growth. The growth economy has too much specific and fixed infrastructure, making it difficult to change strategic emphasis without running into barriers of vested interest. In order to promote ecodevelopment, capital will need to be diverted from the growth economy into flexible infrastructure and earth repair. Ethical investment funds and land trusts will become the vehicle for using money generated in the growth economy to fund the changeover to ecodevelopment and earth repair.

5. Foreign Exchange

Ecodevelopment has a bias towards small-scale decentralised systems because its aim is to meet the needs of the population through local economies. However, decentralisation should occur where appropriate and not be a rigid criterion for planning.

Some services such as smelting benefit from being concentrated around their raw material sources. Other services such as specialist medical support require a concentration of resources that couldn’t be achieved in every region. Trade, transport and communication between regions will be necessary in these cases.

Trade will be need to be limited, as economies which rely heavily on trade increase the unpredictable effects on them of distant decisions over which they have no control.

In a sustainable local economy the system of exchange with other regions needs to observe the rules of biomass and nutrient conservation. Money does not help food plants to grow, nutrients do. The region’s store of non-renewables must be budgeted and managed for long term use. The continual export of crops and minerals without equitable exchange in the form of nutrients and non-renewable resources will eventually lead to bankruptcy of the local natural wealth. Ecodevelopment requires ecological accounting to be included in trade figures. The total influences on a product or industry such as energy, materials, information, decision making and control are assessed. The costs of trade to both the bionomy and the economy are then weighed against its benefits.

Natural investment in stored resources, once depleted, can take thousands of years to replace. The Australian government talks about spending thirty million dollars a year on earthcare while conservative land repair bills have been estimated at six billion dollars immediately. At the government's rate it would take our system at least two hundred years to repair the damage we have done already, and that assumes we do no more in the meantime. Of course we must do more damage, if we want to keep our present lifestyles. Those figures assume that the repairs can be done and that they work first time. However, some resources such as phosphorous cannot be replaced in our time as the source rock takes millions of years to form on the seabed.

This needless waste of natural wealth and accumulation of future debt can be stopped. We only need to look around us, learn from the bionomy and apply this knowledge to our own economy and communities. This process of ecodevelopment will help repair the bionomy and lead to the genuine development and enrichment of human economies and communities.

6. A web of Localised economies

Enterprises and communities are linked together in a co-evolutionary web. Change in one will often affect others. As in the bionomy, these effects can be harmful or beneficial. For this reason, development is a common project of human communities, both on a local and on a global scale. There are no simple and easy solutions to our present crisis. It will require the collective will and participation of most of the planet’s population to achieve the necessary fundamental changes. Broad scale participation in the definition and process of development is critical.

This sort of participation is best achieved and maintained at a local level. As the bionomy is made up of many largely independent self managed local ecosystems, so a vital and self managed system of localised economies is an essential feature of ecodevelopment. A localised economy is an economic system owned, managed and controlled by people living within a particular bioregion. A sustainable local economy is conservative in its use of resources, meets the real needs of the people within it and recycles its capital reserves internally. Self-reliance and variety insulate local economies from harmful flow-ons from other regions.

A localised sustainable economy differs fundamentally from a policy of decentralisation within the growth economy. Decentralisation that is imposed from outside often focuses on equalising the economic activities over the whole nation. Industries which may be unsustainable, given the climate and resources of a region, are propped up by subsidies and concessions from the central government. The local population may receive some benefits in increased employment opportunities, but the profits from the enterprise usually leave the region in the form of loan repayments or share dividends to outside investors.

A localised economy has a number of advantages, not least of which is that it insulates the community from the effects of the changes in fortune of multinational corporations and stock exchange high fliers. These institutions can withdraw from an economy almost overnight, leaving their ex-employees and their local community in ruins.

A local economy has a human face. The enterprises are smaller as each serves a defined population. Consumers can deal directly with the producers. It is easier for them to give feedback as they are not dealing with a branch office that can shift responsibility to a head office overseas. The buck stops in the local community.

Capital remains within the system that has provided it. A necessary part of developing local economies is to set up institutions to facilitate the movement of capital within those local economies. These institutions have taken a variety of forms depending on local circumstances. They have included banks, friendly societies, credit unions and revolving loan funds working in federal currency, and community-wide trading systems such as the LETsystem.

A vibrant local economy canreduce its imports. It improves its own self-reliance as well as that of the Third-World communities that are presently robbed of their land and natural wealth to feed the export market.

Localised economies are smaller economies, at a scale understandable and manageable by local people. Self-management and self-regulation, to be effective, rely on information and education as well as on regional political structures such as councils and standards associations. However, no legislation can ensure that goods and services will be appropriate at all times. More effective protection is gained by educating people to become willful consumers, to assess the quality and necessity for products before they purchase them. Willful consumption involves looking past a slick package or marketing campaign to make an informed judgement on the price and quality of products, as well as on standards of enterprises. Education which gives people an understanding of the bionomy and the economy, allows them to make these decisions. The practice of willful consumption can remove the dependence on regional councils and associations for regulation of the marketplace. If local enterprises produce harmful wastes or exploit their workers no-one will buy their products.

The advantages of small-scale local economies include:

*Increasing the possibility of participatory decision making as there is less need for delegation of responsibility;

*Increasing the possibility of being aware of, and responding to, environmental feedback;

*Reducing the risk of inappropriate decisions having global effects as each group’s decisions are only likely to affect their local area.

However, a small-scale system does not ensure:

* decisions will be benign;

*participation will occur;

* recognition of environmental feedback;

* everyone’s needs and wants will be met.

There is no way to ensure that all the positive aspects of localised economies will happen, we can only increase the possibility. Localism can lead to small minded, self serving autocratic communities that suppress dissent (the small town blues). It can also lead to an ignorance of larger scale concerns. While I advocate the focus on local affairs, I also advocate that people should be aware of their connections with the greater environment. As the now old saying goes - ‘ Think globally, act locally ‘.

Communication between regions is of critical importance if we are to address the potential shortfalls of a localist focus. This process of communication should be resistant to seizure by elites. It should be accessible, if required, by all members of the community.

Travelers and the news they bring are one of the most reliable and accessible mediums of communication between regions. Local newsletters, regional and continental magazines and computer networks can also become forums for discussions between bioregions.

Inter-regional collective efforts and nonviolent conflict resolution cannot be achieved without a commitment to communication. For example, people in the lower end of the Murray Darling basin who are concerned about salt pollution in their water will need to communicate their concern to people living further upstream. Firstly, they would send a query through communication channels such as computer networks, newsletters or travelers, to find out if anyone upstream is aware of, or likely to be interested in, their problem. Having established a community of interest about the problem, they all then focus on communicating and discussing the problem in their bioregions. The results of these discussions are then shared via the network. This establishes a support group for future actions to resolve the problem. This type of communication network and "lobbying" process forms a mechanism for decentralised co-operation and co-ordination between bioregions. The networks and infrastructures need to be established to facilitate this communication before it is required for conflict resolution.

The question then arises of what to do if a bioregion refuses to co-operate with those affected. The answer lies in the fact that no economy, human or non human, is completely self reliant -we are all in some way dependent on each other. Those affected by the problem then have to make an assessment of whether this non-cooperation is serious or minor. If it is serious, they can follow the same networking process as before, this time with two problems, the original one and the one of non-compliance. Individual regions can then make decisions about how they will pressure the dissident region into compliance. Suitable tactics could be the use of argument, trade boycotts, social exchanges or physical actions such as blockades, occupations or demonstrations. However, there is no guarantee that any of these tactics will work, just as there is no guarantee that other methods or centralised enforcement of laws, will solve the original problem.

Just as we need a philosophical commitment to our local community as our primary focus, we should be committed to communication and co-operation between regions. We will then be able to build a mosaic of local economies over the whole planet. The small-scale will become the large scale. These local economies will form the basis of ecodevelopment, and our integration with the bionomy.

Features of Ecodevelopment

Flexible infrastructure:


Flexible production processes:

Dampened effects of rapid change:

Planning for change:

Conservative Budgeting:

Equitable trade:

A web of Localised Economies:

A planet of Bioregional Economies:


Appendix 3 - Where Are You? A Bioregional Test.

What follows is a self- scoring quiz on basic environmental perception of place. It is a tool used to help you define your bioregion. The quiz is culture bound, favouring those who live in the country, over city dwellers, who are less likely to notice their environment.

1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2. How many days till the moon is full (plus or minus a couple of days)?

3. Describe the soil around your home.

4. Where is the food you eat grown?

5. Name five native grasses in your local area?

6. Name five native, edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.

7. From which direction do summer storms generally come in your bioregion?

8. Where does your garbage go?

9. On what day of the year are the shadows shortest where you live?

10. Name five trees in your area. Are any of them native? (if you can’t name them describe them)

11. How long is the growing season where you live?

12. Name five resident, and any migratory, birds in your bioregion.

13. What is the land use history of humans in your bioregion during the last century?

14. What species have become extinct in your bioregion?

15. What are the major plant associations in your bioregion?

16. From where you are reading this point north.

17. What spring wildflower is consistently first to bloom?

18. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?

19. Were the stars out last night?

20. Name some beings (non-human) which share your shelter.

21. Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstices?

22. How many people live next door to you? What are their names?

23. How many creeks are in walking distance of your shelter and what are they called?

24. What are the names of the First Nations or Traditional Owners where you live?

Adapted from a quiz by Jim Dodge and others first published in "Coevolution Quarterly" Winter 1981.


Appendix 4 - The Howe Strategy

The Howe Strategy was first distributed in 1984 by Dr. Ron (Wouba) Howe of Dingo Creek, New South Wales, as a strategy for carrying out group actions, particularly at festivals and confests. The strategy was based on local and overseas experiences with organising festivals and protest actions. Groups such as the Clamshell Alliance in the USA and the Tasmanian Wilderness Society had used a similar system, based on affinity groups, in their protest actions. The Howe Strategy is an expanded version of the affinity group strategy and can be applied to structuring any group activity from the workplace to community action groups to associations such as the Web.

The strategy involves decentralised, self-managed action groups. They may work independently, or in parallel with other action groups to achieve a common goal. Holding a successful confest, for example, involves action groups for publicity, organising workshops, construction of facilities, organising food vendors, first aid and security.

The distinguishing features of this strategy are that it allows groups to limit their activities to those actions that are achievable with the number of people at hand. It encourages action when there are very few people available, as well as giving a means of constructively coping with rapid growth in numbers. It provides a way to integrate new members into the action rapidly. The Howe Strategy is not a blueprint for action, rather it is a process.

Duration of group actions

The Howe strategy applies to group activity where the group has an agreed common goal. If the group no longer has agreement on its goals, or if it has achieved its goals, then it dissolves. The life span of the group may thus be of short, medium or long duration. The members of the group may decide to undertake further actions together but as they then have new goals they become a new action group.

In short actions, the management of a synchronised presentation is critical. They have a specific deadline and thus a defined duration. Short actions are managed through the use of planning and co-ordination. Examples of common short-term actions are performances or concerts, market stalls, marches or rallies and open days.

In medium term actions process becomes important. They have defined goals but often no precise deadline. These actions are managed by an "operations group" approach in which the overall goal is achieved by self managed action groups working in parallel. The process needs to be flexible to cope with emerging situations. Examples of this type of action are festivals, campaigns or tours.

Short and medium term actions must be terminated in a way that adds to the effect of the action. In particular, an action should have no lasting negative effects. Possible negative effects of large gatherings include pollution, land degradation and damaged relations with neighbours. Post-action evaluation sessions can be used to define and learn from mistakes and to improve strategies. They provide an opportunity for members to reward each other, thus increasing their confidence. These sessions also create a sense of finality that makes it easier for members to let go of the issues and move on to a new action.

In long term actions sustainability is critical. They have no specific duration and broader or several different goals. The actions must be incorporated into a movement or organisation in a way that finds enduring favour with its membership. These actions thus need to have prearranged methods for recognising feedback from the community and a structure that allows for flexibility and change. Feedback helps to ensure that the action group is not working at odds with the movement which supports it. Long term actions are in essence self-managing but benefit from individual or group catalytic interactions with the outside community.

The way in which a long term action retains integrity within a movement or organisation must emulate organic solutions to the problems of sustained viability and self management. Organic systems are constantly changing in response to their environment. They are not following a blueprint. A blueprint assumes that the details of the final outcome are known at the start of the action so it allows no creative input to solve problems as they arise. Further, although the blueprint may have been successful at one time and place, each situation will require a slightly different strategy.

The role of the support group.

The support group is the group of people who can be called on to actively participate in the action. The support group may be the membership of an organisation, a movement, or a community. It may support the work of the action group by donations or membership fees or by patronising the activities of the action group. It also serves as a source of new members for the action groups. In fact, the support group of any particular action group is often made up of the members of other parallel action groups. The support group is then a web, or network, of action groups. In this situation the support group may co-ordinate the action groups or provide the basic guidelines for action through its policy decisions.

Functional roles in action groups.

An action group is simply a group attempting some activity. In practice an action group does not have a fixed membership. The number and composition of the action group membership changes with time, particularly in long-term actions.

Attrition of group numbers occurs when the action lasts long enough to deplete the group’s resources. The effects of attrition are often seen in medium term actions such as festivals, blockades or strikes. Attrition can also be caused by boredom through unchanging functional roles or conversely through burnout by attempting too many functional roles. The Howe Strategy is based on this natural change in group composition.

As the number of active members of a group changes, so does what that group can achieve. Appropriate functions for those members present also depends on the number of members present. The following table ascribes names to the different functional states of groups and functions of members, for groups of zero to five members.

The table is not intended to prescribe functions or suggest that groups should be overly conscious of their state. Switching functions whenever a member leaves or joins would be disruptive to the action. Usually, people will switch functions to adapt to the changed group composition without much thought or effort.

Table of Number of Members and Functional roles

in Action groups

No. of

State of


Types of


action group

of members

actions possible



All Absent





Maintain name & physical resources



Caretaker, Gopher

Recruit new members




Undertake actions



Core Gopher,

Action, recruiting, networking



Core, 2 Gophers

Action & expand range of activities


Two Functioning

2 Cores

Action & new action

The functional roles necessary to maintain group actions depend on the state of the action group, which is in turn dependant on the number of members present. These functional roles are briefly described below.

Caretaker: The caretaker role is simply that of minding equipment, tidying up, collecting mail and the like. Requests for action can be serviced only to the extent possible without reducing the caretaker’s main function of maintaining the group’s physical resources.

Gopher (Go For): The gopher’s function is to run messages, get things, leave and return. As the less experienced members are trained through this function, they need to be given a basic understanding of the issues involved, and the strategies being used in the action by the caretaker or core. Action groups need a gopher training scheme and job specifications.

Core: The function of the core is to further the agreed upon action. It has the capability to make decisions in the use of the resources at hand. The core is a triad. It can make decisions relatively easily, meet often and keep all members up to date on all aspects of the action. It avoids the false dichotomies that often occur between two people working closely. The basis of the core is equality of skills and experience between the people in it, and the ability to rotate tasks.

Whenever an action group has six members, either a member decides to leave or the group decides to split into two action groups. One group continues the original action while the second devises or continues another action in support of the original action. New members first undergo a period as gophers and then take on one of the core roles. If numbers increase rapidly the existing cores may need to split, or new actions and groups to carry them out, need to be devised. The strategy of splitting into core groups allows for differing interests to be followed when each core becomes an "interest group". It can also defuse irreconcilable disputes by allowing each faction to act as a core to carry out the action their way. A lone dissenter would become the caretaker for a new group. The policy guidelines or job specifications provided by the support group will usually prevent one action group working counter to another. If a group does persist in such actions the support group will withdraw its support.

Decision making in action groups.

Most actions involve two types of decisions - policy decisions and action decisions.

Policy decisions: This type of decision cannot be made as part of the action. It is made before, between actions, or in the light of actions. Policy decisions are often made by the membership of an organisation, the support group, to define the boundaries of the action groups within it. They take the form of ethical charters, job specifications, statements of obligations or constitutions.

Action decisions: These are decisions relating to the furtherance of the agreed action. They are made only by the active members of the action group within the boundaries of previously defined policies. As functioning action groups within the Howe Strategy have only 3 to 5 members, consensus can usually be arrived at quickly and easily. Policy decisions from outside are inappropriate as the basis for the strategy of long term actions, for the goal of a long term action constantly recedes into the future, rainbow like. The goals and strategies may need to change in response to the effects of the action. Once embarked upon, a long term action cannot be halted or redirected without literally dismembering the action group. It can only retain its integrity through use of action decision making.

Job specifications.

Job specifications are a way of transferring experience to new group members (gophers), or defining the policy guidelines from an organisation. Clear definition of functions is an important way of minimising internal conflict in all types of action groups. However, the functions in new situations cannot be predetermined so the job specifications may need to be broad e.g. "publicity" rather than "give radio interviews". As the functions within an action are learned in new situations, records should be kept. Formalisation, by logging and writing manuals, is important in long term actions, helping to further the action in the following ways :by accumulation of experience in an accessible way; by speeding up the training of new members; by allowing the action group to replicate itself easily; by allowing self-management by replacing managers; by encouraging attention to detail; by improving accountability to any outside authorities.

Size of the support group.

The duration of the action and the number of hours per day the activity can occur depend on the number of members present and on the size of the group from which these members can be drawn. The size of the support group will need to be greater when the action is unpaid and members need to leave to earn their living. The longer the duration of the action, the larger the support group needed. When the action is to earn a living for the members, then only the number that can be financially supported by the action should be involved.

In short actions most, or all, of the support group can be present. A group of five people can provide the resources necessary for a short action .In medium term actions the support necessary can be estimated by allowing that volunteer members will be willing to work an 8 hr shift every second day, for up to a week before attrition sets in.

In long term actions one may estimate on the basis that the long term energy available from the volunteer members of the support group amounts to about one shift per fortnight. Some members may be willing to work more but they are at risk of burnout.

The size of the volunteer support group necessary to carry out an action is summarised below. The column labeled 24hr action assumes that four shifts are required for such an operation.

Table of staffing needed for

different action timescales


Hours of Operation


9am to 5pm

24 hr

Short Term



Medium Term



Long Term



Most actions can be completed by the numbers of people shown above. There is little to be gained from wasting resources to continually expand the support group. The success of a group is in its actions, not in the size of its membership. When there is a balance between the number of members present and the type of action undertaken then new members need only be recruited when new action groups are necessary.

Rostering: There is tendency for the level of attendance to be too high at the start of an action and too low later. Other factors such as weather, counter actions, or the need to return to other commitments, also cause irregularities in the level of attendance. A major function of rosters is to prevent the action lapsing occasionally. Rosters are very important in medium term actions. In any support group of the sizes described above, there will be enough members willing to co-operate in being present at prearranged times. A roster is often organised before the start of the action at a support group meeting, but the action group can arrange its own roster if communication with the support group is available.



Networking is communication between action groups, or communication between action groups and their support groups. The former is called trunk networking and the latter grass roots networking.

Trunk networking uses existing mail, telephone and computer networks, as well as visiting and gatherings. It communicates the type of action, the issues involved and the strategies employed. It empowers those already active in similar actions and builds solidarity.

Grass roots networking uses meetings, newsletters, posters, information offices, local bulletin boards, social events and the action itself to communicate with the support group and the community. Public access radio is also becoming an important medium for communication between community groups and their supporters. Grass roots networking is closely related to community empowerment as it informs the support group of the issues underlying the action and ways in which the supporters can become involved. It is thus also the major recruiting device both for action groups and the support group itself.


Live mail: visiting, speaking face to face.

Snail mail: writing a letter.

Voice mail:speaking on the telephone.

E-mail: speaking through a computer and modem.

(From ANSAnet 1985.)

The Howe Strategy is a process for forming action groups no matter how many people are present. It relies on the support group to provide the guidelines for action and small, self managed core groups to work out and implement the actual action. This process allows participation by all members of the group even if they are newly joined. It emphasises the importance of job specifications and clear guidelines from a support group to the action groups which carry out its goals. Networking and meetings provide the action groups with a means of communication with the support group and the wider community.

This strategy could be used throughout society, from the home to the workplace to community groups.


Appendix 5 - For More Information


Catchment Information

Australia Weather Satellite Image Home Page

Australia National Government National Land & Water Resources Audit

Australia Queensland Museum - Nature

Australia Queensland Herbarium Botany links

Australia Queensland Government Endangered wildlife

Australia Queensland Government State of the River Reports

Australia Queensland Government Mapping

Australia Queensland Government The Long Paddock - Climate Management Information for Rural Australia

Australia New South Wales Government Community Access to Natural Resource Information NSW

Australia Victorian Government Victorian Resources Online Home Page

World SSEC - Satellite Composite Images

World Animations of SeaWinds Wind Field

World CCAR Near Real-Time Altimetry Data Homepage

World List of World Data Centers by type

World Conservation Ecology - Index

World ScienceDaily Magazine: Your Source For The Latest Research News

Useful Groups

Australia Queensland Landcare and Catchment Management Network Queensland Landcare and Catchment Management

Australia South East Queensland Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee

Australia South East Queensland Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee

Australia South East Queensland Brisbane Region Environment Council

Australia Mornington Peninsula Victoria Clean Oceans

Australia Victoria Friends of Merri Creek

Australia Victoria Merri Creek

Australia Victoria Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association (IFFA)

Australia Queensland Government Catchment and Natural Resources Groups List Regional Bodies

USA Great Lakes EcoCity Cleveland | Designing Cities in Balance with Nature

USA Bioregionalism Planet Drum Home Page

USACatchments River Related Environmental Organizations

USA Activism Center for Health Environment and Justice

Canada Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership

Canada New Brunswick Environment Network NBEN-RENB Home Page , NBEN-RENB Find a group

USA Organizing COMM-ORG Home

USA Organizing NOA - The National Organizers Alliance - Links

USA Organizing .:Resource Guides:Organizing-Where to Learn More



Participation 1983 Ann Richardson Concepts in Social Policy One

A Ladder of Citizen Participation 1969 Sherry R Arnstein AIP Journal July

HOME! A Bioregional Reader 1990 Ed. V Andruss, C Plant, J Plant & E Wright

The Earth System An Introduction to Earth Sciences 1991 David Laing

The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine James Lovelock

Ecosystems - Energy and Materials in the Australian Context 1981 M. Sabbath & S Quinell

The Australian Climatic Environment E Linacre and J Hobbs

Riparian Land Management Technical Guidelines Vol 1 Land and Water Australia

Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook RC McDonald, RF Isabell, JG Speight, J Walker & MS Hopkins

A Guidebook to Field Geology in South East Queensland NC Stevens

Wildlife Of Greater Brisbane Queensland Museum

The Brisbane River - A Source Book for the Future Ed. P Davie, E Stock & D Low Choy

State of South-east Queensland Waterways Report 2001 Ed. E Abal, K Moore, B Gibbes & B Dennison

South East Queensland Nature Conservation Strategy 2003 Qld Environmental Protection Agency

The Mornington Peninsula A field guide to the flora fauna and walking tracks Ilma Dunn Stefanie Rennick Caroline Grayley