Trish Allen Interviews her Neighbours - Story 1

Trish Allen Interviews her Neighbours - Story 1

Introducing Ewan Briggs

When did you hear about permaculture and what inspired you about it?  When did you do your PDC and where?

I first heard about permaculture when I was living in Sydney in about 2010. I was working as a sustainability consultant specializing in carbon and energy advice and had been getting somewhat frustrated about my personal ability to effect positive change within the organizations we were working with. To me permaculture offered almost the complete opposite approach to that which I had been pursuing through my work. The bottom-up taking more responsibility for your environment and being the change, we want to see was very inspiring to me. We’d been looking at moving to New Zealand and to the Matakana area more specifically, and so it made sense to do a PDC there, rather than in Australia.

I did my PDC in late 2011 at Rainbow Valley Farm with Trish Allen and Daniel Tohill. It was an incredible couple of weeks, learning so much. I loved every minute.  

When did you move to Matakana and buy your land?  What was your vision for it?  Tell us about your family and how they got involved?

We moved to Matakana in December 2012, and after quite a bit of searching bought 18acres (about 4 times the size we were originally looking for) in August 2013. It was mostly neglected paddock within a pretty well-established subdivision of other lifestyle blocks – plenty of gorse to deal with and very few trees.

Our vision is to create a low impact home and lifestyle block or homestead, to produce some of our own food, to restore the soil and ecological health of our land, and to provide a great environment for our kids to enjoy and grow up in.

Early on my wife Jemima and I agreed that she was much better at earning money, and I was likely better at building houses, so I put a pause on my career and now split my time between the kids and building the house and developing our land, whilst she commutes to Auckland four days a week to keep us all clothed and fed.

Can you tell us about your property and how you put permaculture into practice?

I have an academic background in materials engineering and later in sustainable building design and renewable energy. As a result of that, I had pretty specific ideas about what I wanted out of a house in terms of thermal and energy performance. My vision for our house was a passive solar natural build that would be thermally comfortable year-round without any active heating or cooling. That way we could have a house that was low impact in terms of the materials used to build it, energy efficient throughout its use, and then would not create a waste legacy issue when it comes to the end of its life.

Once we’d developed the design, I was able to run it through some modeling software that gives you temperature and humidity hour by hour, room by room for a whole year. Using this we made a few tweaks, which are much easier to do on the drawing board than later! The house is a straw bale infill with clay plaster internally and lime plaster externally. We’ve used macrocarpa framing and have an earth or clay floor.


We’ve used the principles of permaculture throughout really. For me, once permaculture gets inside your head it affects the way you approach most things. In particular, I’ve found myself thinking about functions and elements. I’ve been working on having multiple elements able to provide the important functions and ensuring that wherever possible, each element you add provides multiple functions. I think this approach is going to enable us to build up an efficient and resilient environment to meet our vision.