Getting to Know Nandor Tanczos

Getting to Know Nandor Tanczos

What’s your number one saying?

Give thanks for life.

I think an attitude of gratitude is very important. It helps us remember to focus on what we have rather than what we do not. It helps us to be thankful rather than resentful. It helps us remember that we didn’t create ourselves - our life is a precious gift. Counting our blessings every day, even those blessings that come disguised as challenges helps us to remember what a privilege it is to be alive in this extraordinary time. 

Where are you based, how long for, and where were you before that? 

I live in Whakatāne, in the rohe of Ngāti Awa and the broader Mataatua waka. We moved here about 7 years ago from Ngāruawāhia in our bus, although we live in a house now. I’m married to Ngāhuia Murphy, who is from Murupara not far from here and have 2 children, one of whom still lives at home.

This is an area I’ve been drawn to since I was a teenager, and I’m not completely sure why –maybe because I would one day marry a local. Certainly, it’s an awesome place – the Eastern Bay of Plenty is geologically very active with regular rumblings and an active volcano just out to sea. We have oceans, lakes, and ancient forests all within a short distance. I see stingrays and bronze whaler sharks in the waters and we have kiwi living within the urban boundary. It’s a reo speaking stronghold with a very high proportion of living marae. It’s one of the oldest Māori settlements and one of the oldest Pākeha settlements too, so it is rich in history. It’s warm, friendly but still kind of wild.

What led you to permaculture?

In 1992 I was part of a small collective touring around the country in a Bedford SB3 bus with “Legalise Cannabis'' painted in enormous letters down the side. One of our crew, Gary Clarkson, and a mate of ours, Mark Servian, had signed up for a PDC on the East Coast and so we passed through to pick him up. I hadn’t heard of permaculture before but after hearing about it from them I bought Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designers Manual and read it cover to cover. A bit later I did my PDC with Jim and Miriam Tyler at Tāheke Tree Farm in Te Tai Tokerau. I think what I loved about permaculture was not so much that it taught me new things, although it did that, but more that it gave me a coherent framework for thinking about the things I already felt – around the need for a biophilic and nature mimicking approach to life.

I got particularly interested in ‘social permaculture’ when after many years of being disconnected from the permaculture movement I was invited to a PiNZ hui as a speaker. I think because at the time I was the only MP anywhere with a PDC. I was quite intimidated because although I felt that permaculture had guided my thinking and political activism for a long time, what could I say to a room of permaculturalists? People like Trish Allen, Gary Williams, Graeme North, Jo and Bryan and other elders of the movement. In the end, I decided to do a thought experiment and apply Holmgren’s design principles to cannabis law reform. It was actually really useful and illuminating and since then I’ve been really interested in how we can consciously apply a permaculture design approach to the political economy.

What is your profession and who are the people you share this with?

Most of my working time is spent as a District Councillor. I chair the Strategy and Policy Committee and have been driving a series of work programs, including on climate change, community development and strategic visioning. It can be an isolated and lonely road because not many councillors share my viewpoint, although quite a few staff are at least aware of permaculture, and we have some really amazing people active on food sovereignty and other elements of permaculture action in our communities. The strategic visioning work has been 

interesting because it has given staff a directive to focus on quite specific outcomes, including our part in creating a circular economy, building community resilience, collaborating with whānau, hapū and iwi, and putting ecosystems at the centre of our decision-making.

When we appointed our new CEO about 3 years ago one of the questions I put to candidates was how they think an organisation like our council needs to position itself for the challenges of the 21st century. We had a range of presentations about that, ranging from informed to incoherent, but the successful candidate, Steph O’Sullivan, talked about permaculture and transition towns. That gave me a lot of optimism that this kind of holistic and nature centred systems thinking is starting to permeate the machine and I think we can do a lot to further that. But it’s a challenge to bring that on a day to day basis into our planning frameworks and priority setting.

What's your personal take on Permaculture in New Zealand? 

I think that PiNZ plays an important role now, and has the potential to be much more than it is. The constraint is resources I think – PiNZ has never had a lot of money and now the hui has been postponed for so long, which is the main source of income, I don’t know how it keeps struggling along. Money means the possibility of investing into catalytic projects that can really fire up the movement – such as properly recording the rich history of the movement, producing challenging and thought-provoking videos and podcasts etc.

But even at its current level, PiNZ gives a solid basis for things like the Facebook group, the website. It has a mandate to provide a unified platform and to moderate it.

What lesson in life stands out the most for you?

It’s hard to not sound like a walking cliche. I’m 55 years old. I get a shock when I look in the mirror because I still feel like a youngster. Time is so precious, we think we have all the time in the world but we only have a brief flaming moment before our light in this world is extinguished. We live in the most incredible time in history and we are here now with a chance to turn the world. Thousands of generations of people would have given anything to live in these times, just so they could play a part in it.

The other thing that I keep trying to remember is the importance of compassion. Even when we disagree with people, treating them with respect and compassion is so important, not just for their sakes, but for our own.

If you could pick a favourite plant, what would you choose?

All plants are amazing, even the noxious ones. But the Queen of them all is Ganja.

What changes would you like to see for permaculture in the future?

These are not original ideas but still things I’d like to see:

1. More work on the interface between permaculture and Te Ao Māori: decolonising permaculture and getting a bit more consistency in how permaculturalists across the country orient to the Māori world, how mātauranga Māori is addressed within PDCs and more conceptual work to understand what it means to do permaculture on stolen land, which most of us do.

2. Related to that, more rigour around the education framework so that a PDC and a PDD carry more weight than I think they do now. This needs to go hand in hand with funding so that PDCs are accessible to all. It also offers an opportunity to bring permaculture modules into other professional training, such as planning degrees, resource management etc

3. a body for professional designers, to share skills, offer opportunities for collaboration and tendering bigger contracts, peer support and an accountability/complaints process so that people who contract (co)designers to work with them on their plans and strategies can have confidence that the work meets a standard of professionalism and integrity.

My website:


Twitter: @NandorTanczos


Articles Nandor has done for the PiNZ website:

Natural Succession in Social Permaculture

A Circular Economy for a Better Future

Permaculture for a World in Transition

Talking about Permaculture on Access Radio

Permaculture as a Social Science Methodology