David Holmgren is an ecologist, ecological design engineer and writer. He was born in Western Australia in 1955 and studied at the College of Advanced Education in Hobart, Tasmania, where in 1972 he met Bill Mollison, who was then a lecturer at the University of Tasmania. The two found they shared a strong interest in the relationship between human and natural systems. Their wide-ranging conversations and gardening experiences encouraged Holmgren to write the manuscript that was to be published in 1978 as Permaculture One.
The book was a mixture of insights relating to agriculture, landscape architecture and ecology. Holmgren's chief theoretical inspiration was the energy dynamics of American ecologist Howard T. Odum (Environment, Power and Society, 1971). The same book was promoted by David M. Scienceman as a platform for a scientific political party.
According to Holmgren, 'the word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and myself in the mid-1970s to describe an "integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man"'.
'A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is "Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs". People, their buildings and the ways they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent (sustainable) agriculture has evolved into one of permanent (sustainable) culture.' (Holmgren, 2002a: xix)
While Bill Mollison travelled the world teaching and promoting permaculture, Holmgren was more circumspect about the potential of permaculture to live up to the promises sometimes made about it. He concentrated his efforts on testing and refining his brainchild, first on his mother's property in southern New South Wales (Permaculture in the Bush, 1985; 1993), then at his own property, Melliodora, Hepburn Permaculture Gardens, at Hepburn Springs, Victoria, which he developed with his partner, Su Dennett (Melliodora, Hepburn Permaculture Gardens - Ten Years of Sustainable Living, 1996a; Payne, 2003).
A recent major project has been the Fryers Forest eco-village, which aims to create a model of sustainable housing and financially viable sustainable forest management, on a site near Castlemaine, Victoria (Holmgren, 1996b).