This month we lost a Permaculture elder, author, teacher & educator. Dr Ross Mars was many of those thing’s but he was also a husband, father, pop, brother, uncle, friend and mentor to many. We have studied permaculture with Ross, then taken over much of the teaching when Ross started thinking about retiring. For years, Candlelight Farm was like a second home for us, where we spent at least one weekend a month, if not more.
Ross’ contributions to permaculture were numerous, and if we tried to list them all, we’d be here until tomorrow and would probably still forget some.
Not many people know, but we actually have Ross’ wife Jenny to thank for bringing permaculture to Ross. It was JENNY who first went and did a Permaculture Design Course and from this that Ross was inspired to do one himself. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the past three decades Ross wrote and co-authored twenty books for the beginner Permie, the permaculture classroom, Permaculture disguised as Science in the Garden and his last one on Regenerative Agriculture which only went to the publisher this August.
He taught numerous courses – Introductions to Permaculture, short workshops, PDCs, Advanced Courses, Teacher Trainings, Permaculture Earthwork Courses and all levels of the accredited training sector. He wrote and established the accredited training for Permaculture from the Certificate I to Diploma level and made WA the forefront of accredited Permaculture training in Australia.
He was one of the main organisers for the 2016 Australasian Permaculture Convergence here in Perth and contributed to many others. He has designed and consulted to numerous schools, colleges and community gardens through Western Australia and worked with many property owners helping them achieve their dreams.
We could go on, but what we really want to talk about is how many lives Ross touched in doing all this. How many people felt that he changed the direction they were travelling in. Reading all the condolence messages online, you can see how many of the comments refer to his influence on their life. He changed not only people’s properties, but also their world views, and in many cases the directions of their life.
We are the best examples of that and neither of us would be where we are today without Ross. He taught us much of what we know and encouraged us to go out, start our own business and to teach others – sometimes with a (not so) gentle kick in the behind.
He supported our baby steps with patience, and trusted us when we grew wings and found our own teaching styles. We could also question and disagree with Ross and he would listen and take on our point of view or differences in opinions. We always knew we were still mates.
How many weekends did many of us here spend at Candlelight Farm learning from him? Financially, it was never worth it for him. He did it to inspire others and because of his love of teaching and his belief in what Permaculture could do for a community. He would say to us on more than one occasion, “When it comes down to it, Permaculture is about Community, Soil and Water” and although we’ve tried to think him wrong, he had a point. Permaculture is about Community and that was what Ross fostered by his actions and innate generosity.
For a course around 2011 and he brought in MASSIVE Bunya pine cones, happily declaring he was going to harvest the seeds and make a gluten free, Bunya Pine Nut Chocolate Mud Cake for the next teaching session. True to his word he did and we're yet to find a better chocolate mud cake than Ross’ “Bunya Pine Nut Chocolate Mud Cake”. He was onto gluten free before we even knew what gluten was. That was the lengths Ross would go to for his students – to harvest enough pine seeds to make us a chocolate cake, just so we could experience it.
We like to think our countless hours of fixing his reticulation, propagating new plants, making mudbricks, building straw bales, sanding, concreting or building something while learning the hands-on technique from him counted for something. Most likely he spent more time fixing it up afterwards, but you would never hear him complain.
Ross had an uncanny sense of smell for cake and a knack for materializing out of thin air whenever it appeared. If we needed to speak to him, all we had to do was announce morning tea to our students and his cheeky grin would poke around the corner under the pretence of “selling” books, or needing to talk to our students about something.
His occupational health and safety measures were sometimes precarious and often questionable with a “she’ll be right!” attitude towards most endeavours.
Teaching was carried out in a refitted shed with the ablutions consisting of a homemade composting toilet with a bucket, a toilet seat and a container of sawdust. This proved a little too overwhelming for many students, and in the end it was upgraded to a “normal toilet” that flushed.
Basics of welding was done on your knees in front of the teaching shed, with only some of us wearing visors while the others looked away from the light and waited their turn. When he delivered a water tank to a friend, he let it roll down the hill with someone standing in the way to catch it. Drop saws were used on the ground outside the Candlelight Farm “She Shed” and a bamboo construction built by a Diploma course was abandoned half-way through by students too scared for their safety to continue.
What his approach taught us though, was that it was okay to have a go and learn on the job. To use tools we weren’t naturally comfortable with, and that circumstances didn’t need to be perfect to work. More importantly, we must mention that no one EVER got hurt.
Two themes keep coming up when speaking with people about Ross: His humour and his generosity.
Not everyone got his sometimes inappropriate jokes and dry wit. But we remember many laughs with him, especially the corny “Dad” jokes that were so bad you laughed out of pity some of the time and rewarded him with another lamington. He was an easy bloke to keep happy most of the time, although we learnt that the more the “F” bombs were dropped, the more something had irritated him. Fortunately, this wasn’t often.
We could ask Ross for anything. Apart from working many weekends for next to nothing in monetary return, he would gift us plants, lend us tools and equipment, and gave us access to teaching resources and books accumulated over many years. On the rare occasion he would accept chocolate for a borrowed car, a loaned dumpy level or some other piece of equipment we needed and couldn’t yet afford. We could even make use of one of his strawbale houses when we needed it.
Ross was our teacher and mentor, but to us, and many more in the permaculture community – he was much more than that. He was our friend and he will be greatly missed.
If you would like to do something to remember Ross, we ask that you plant a few sunflower seeds. Enjoy their smiling faces and remember Ross. When the flowers are done, harvest and share the seeds just like Ross did all those years ago through his Bunya Pine Nut Chocolate Mud Cake. Alternatively, donate some dollars to MND Australia to increase funding for this important not-for-profit.
Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share.
That’s what Ross was about.