Permaculture Pedals, Part 1: My Back Story – A Bush Kid from the City

This is the first in a 4-part series telling the story of Mick Crear’s decision to leave his job, and all the baggage that came with it, to pursue a simpler, richer life as a permaculturist cycling around Australia.

“I’m going to ride a bike from Brisbane down to Melbourne with everything I need to live there”, I told Tallara, my girlfriend at the time, who was living in Melbourne. The suggestion that she come with me was swiftly rejected and followed by a series of questions regarding the impracticality of such foolish thought. To me, the details of such a trip were unimportant. I had planted the seed of adventure, and like a nutgrass tuber, nothing would stop it. It was April 2017 and I was camping by a creek somewhere in outback South Australia with my mate Edmund while I tried to sway my girlfriend’s opinion over the phone. Edmund and I had been driving across the continent from Western Australia back to Central Queensland where I had been employed by his family as a farm hand on their free-range pig farm. Over the course of our trip, we had seen a number of touring cyclists riding across the Nullarbor. There was one old fella in particular who radiated simplicity and freedom. I wanted my life to be more like his.

Up until then I’d followed the path laid out for me. I’d studied hard, I had a degree, so wasn’t I destined to get a good job and settle down? Where did it all change?

I was born and raised in Bris Vegas (Brisbane) in a well-off, middle-class family. I loved the outdoors and spent most of my time out in the paddock or exploring nearby bushland. I was good at school and university and, eventually, after too many major injuries, I gave up of my dream to play Rugby League for Queensland. Instead I chose to pursue a professional career as a Project Engineer in the civil construction industry. I was ticking all the boxes: promotions, pay rises, the lot. I even had suppliers bringing me coffee. I paid off my university loan and bought an overpriced apartment with a socially acceptable debt. I was doing everything we’re told we are supposed to do and I was well on my way to becoming just like the senior engineers in the company I worked for: rich, successful, stressed, boring, divorced, and mowing their lawns every weekend.

One day, something clicked. I nervously went to my boss (and friend) and told him I was resigning to take a job on a pig farm. A $70k pay cut. It was the proudest decision of my life, and one of the hardest. My work colleagues weren’t overly supportive: “He’ll be back”, they said as I left. Only one of my colleagues understood why I was leaving. Beno, who I still call a friend, said to me, “mate, they’re only saying that because they haven’t got the guts to do what you’re doing”. Those words really stuck with me.

At the pig farm I felt like the stars had aligned. I was living in the bush, working hard, and was surrounded by healthy animals that were well cared for. We were also repairing the same land that I felt such a strong symbiotic connection to. At that farm I was introduced to holistic management, cell grazing, carbon sequestration, low stress stock handling and Permaculture.

The people who introduced me to Permaculture

The people who introduced me to Permaculture: Kim, Me, Lucy and Edmund

I left the farm in June 2016 to work a short-term project for a marine piling company on a barge in Samoa. I’m not exaggerating when I call that island “The best place in the world” and I know I will miss it till the day I die. But it also became clear to me that I had ‘seen the light’ and I would never again be able to sell my life to such a meaningless and unfulfilling bureaucratic industry. I’d caught the infectious disease of Permaculture. In that air-conditioned office I passed the hours researching Permaculture and planning my bicycle trip.

I left Samoa and booked into a two-week residential Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at a beautiful property in Kin Kin, Queensland, followed by another in Thailand. I was aware of the irony of flying overseas to learn Permaculture, but I felt like it might just be my last ever overseas flight. The PDCs encapsulated and communicated the essence of what I had been feeling about the world and finally gave me a direction. I also felt like I was with my tribe: a network of like-minded people doing amazing things that I could connect with wherever my travels took me. This course was the first of many experiences that made me question the mainstream world I’d previously been living in.

I had been thinking about the political left’s agenda to increase wages for young people. It was hailed as though it were the only pathway to a meaningful life. It seemed like each political party had different strategies to increase incomes but no one was talking about spending less. Consumerism is the nuts and bolts of capitalism. It’s much harder to get a 5% pay rise than it is to reduce what you spend by 20%. This led me to my grand plan of riding a bicycle around Australia for under $1000. Yep, don’t worry, I had done the maths and I was out to prove to the young folks of Australia that the only thing stopping them from such an adventure was not the government, not inequality, but their own addictions to the rat race. Now, I’m not saying I’m immune to this; I spent 3-times my budget just purchasing my bicycle. But in a way, spending so much on a bicycle meant that, despite having not sat on one for nearly 10 years, there was no backing out. After one week of practice and gently reminding mum that “the safest ships are those in harbour, but that’s not what ships were built for”, I passed my last night at home by watching Jon Muir’s Alone Across Australia.

Watch out for the next installation of this 4-part series in next month’s issue of NENA Journal.