A heritage vision for sustainable housing goes to ICAC

yobarnie aerial photo

I recently wrote an article for The Conversation about the controversial plans to redevelop PA Yeomans’ historic Yobarnie, in North Richmond. We’ve previously discussed the attempts to get Yobarnie heritage listed in this blog.

It has emerged via the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that the approval for the housing development was granted following an $18,000 donation to Bart Bassett, former Hawkesbury Councillor and state MP for Londonderry.

You can read my article on the matter over here.

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Field Trip to Oaks Organics


Come with us on a day-long field-trip to a working Yeomans Keyline farm at The Oaks near Camden
9.30am – 4pm Sunday 4 May 2014
Meet at National Art School front entrance Forbes Street Darlinghurst

Bookings essential as places are limited, cost $40 per person.

Click here to book tickets online

Early booking recommended as past tours have been booked out quickly.

PA Yeomans regarded the promotion of his Keyline principles as an essential part of his farming practice. His weekend tours of his property Yobarnie at North Richmond would occasionally turn into field trips lasting several days during which he would offer lessons on sustainable farming and social infrastructure.

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Following this tradition, join artists Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss, and members of PA Yeomans family in a day-long field trip to Oaks Organics for a chance to discuss Yeomans’ ideas and see a Keyline farm which still operates on his original principles.

Oaks Organics is run by Peter and Julie Clinch and the farm was redesigned as a Keyline Farm by Peter’s father in the 1960s. He was inspired by one of PA Yeomans field days at his original farm Yobarnie at North Richmond.


We will explore not just this farm and Yeomans’ farm design principles and their implications for a sustainable agricultural future but also discuss why Yeomans’ approach to problem solving can be seen as a model for understanding cultural change and the radical re-interpretation of the role of the artist.

The bus leaves from the National Art School at 9.30am and will return around 4:30pm.

BYO picnic lunch, thermos and picnic blanket and suitable clothes and boots for hiking around a farm.

Posted in Art, Farming, History, Permaculture, Sustainable agriculture, Yeomans | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Responses

Videos in the Yeomans Project exhibition

yeomans project exhibition photo by louise anderson

In the above photo, you can see the “Yobarnie Map Wall” at the Yeomans Project exhibition at AGNSW.

There are four digital video screens hung on the wall, amongst a range of photographs taken from PA Yeomans’ books. None of the videos was made by us.

From left to right, these are the videos used in the show:

This is a short clip of “gopro” footage of a Yeomans Keyline Plow in action. It was made by Mark Russell & Nate Mitchell from Adventure Artists, and uploaded by Darren Doherty. I really love how the plow carves up the soil effortlessly, and the lovely metallic sound of it slicing through the turf.

Darren features in the next video as well, which is a kind of pegagogical doco in 5 parts called “Keyline Design at the Beach”. Even though the video is “rough and ready”, I found it gives one of the most tangible explanations of the way that Keyline design works that I’ve come across (compared to say, diagrams in books). The video was made by Jill Clautier and Carol Hirashima from Sustainable World Media:

Next along the wall was a video which directly related to the big maps of Yobarnie. It is called “Yeomans Property Threat from Development – Part 1″ and it was made by Gary Caganoff of Lysis Films. The film was made back in 2009, when bits of the iconic Yobarnie began to be sold off for housing developments and a retirement village:

Sadly, much of the battle to save Yobarnie from this banal fate has been lost by now, but there is still a substantial portion that hasn’t yet been built over. We explored these issues on our recent Field Trip to North Richmond, where we met and were introduced to the complex tangle of real estate versus heritage by some of the members of the North Richmond and Districts Community Action Association, NRDCAA.

The final video at the right hand side of the wall was from 1955. It was a “Rural Bank” sponsored film which puts forward PA Yeomans as a heroic man of the land with ideas to save Australia from the drought. It’s a ripper (thanks to the archiving work of Geoffrey Booth for keeping this one alive):

There were a few more videos that we would have liked to include in the show, but we didn’t because they belong to the ABC, which would have charged us upwards of sixty dollars a minute. The strange thing about this is that both of these ABC clips are already freely available on the internet! Go figure.

The ABC videos, which are really quite good, are these:

“Keyline in the Kiewa Valley”:

and a clip from the 7:30 Report which discusses the Yobarnie property development issue:

Here’s a direct link to the TV programme.

Posted in History, Politics, Yeomans | 2 Responses

Finally after so many years

The Art Gallery of NSW exhibition has finally happened after so many years and by all accounts has been a great success. One of the things that has made us most proud is that most of Yeomans direct family saw it and all seem to have really enjoyed it – in fact the last talk by Wendy Yeomans turned into an impromptu family reunion.

So we are now already planning the next exhibition, different to this, an exploration of the way that Keyline farming principles could be used in yet another unexpectedly creative way, this time to save the Great Barrier Reef. But first here is a gallery of photos of the exhibition that our brilliant assistant Louise Anderson took on the last day of the exhibition, and some more from the bus tour a few days earlier.

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(all photos © Louise Anderson)

Posted in Art, Farming, History, Sustainable agriculture, Yeomans | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response

Yeomans Project on the Radio

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On Monday 13 January, I spent an hour with Leah Haynes of Eastside Radio discussing the Yeomans Project, and listening to some farming songs I’d brought along with me.

You can listen to the podcast of the show here:

Posted in Art, Sustainable agriculture, Yeomans | 1 Response

Art Life Chooks

When I first met Annette Hughes many years ago she was an art dealer. She has remade herself several times since then – literary agent, author, musician, farmer. But what I hadn’t realised until recently is that she had become an avid permaculturist. 


In 2004 I made the difficult decision to leave the city and move with my partner to his family’s farm where I hoped to find the time to make my own art after a lifetime of being the handmaiden to others. Writing, like any art, takes time. It is a laborious, solitary practice. The first book to emerge was a memoir entitled Art Life Chooks published by Harper Collins 4th Estate.

In the book I use painting as a metaphor for my practice – ‘the work’ of art. I think the real work of the artist is perception. The expression of that perception in whatever form the artist chooses to make is the prism through which the perception is transmitted to an other. I thought I wanted to be a painter when I was young which led me to art school. I have since found that all the arts have equal potential. I am currently working in music and planting my 10th Summer crop. Both require the same devotion to practice.

Annette Hughes

What follows is a series of excerpts from chapter one of Art Life Chooks.
Read More »

Posted in Art, Farming, Permaculture, Sustainable agriculture | Tagged , | 1 Response

The Yeomans Project Newspaper

The following is a post by Louise Kate Anderson, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, supporting Ian and me, making The Yeomans Project possible. Louise works with me at Big Fag Press, and is a young artist, designer and arts manager.

In this post, purloined from her own blog, Louise discusses the process of designing and managing the printing of the Yeomans Project Newspaper, which is available for free at the AGNSW exhibition. Louise also produced the “website screenshot” digital prints of Milkwood, f(route), Diego Bonetto and Artist as Family which are featured in the show.

Louise Anderson at the Big Fag Press

Louise Kate Anderson at the Big Fag Press

In 2011, I started working on printing a series of works by Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss for the Yeomans Project on the Big Fag Press which was to be exhibited at ACCA in Melbourne. You can see I wrote a post about it in my blog here. The prints went on to win the 2012 Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award.
Read More »

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Permaculture in the Practice

When I first argued in the early 1970s that PA Yeomans could be regarded as an artist it was treated as an absurd proposition yet we now find many artists who use farming, food production and permaculture (developed from Yeomans work) as part of their practice, as just some of the many media available to them. Several artists are featured in the AGNSW exhibition while others will  be seen here in the blog over coming weeks. First is Rhonda Ayliffe, an artist and farmer from Cobargo, NSW.

Rhonda Ayliffe – one sunflower with repaired/ replaced petal and some bees

Rhonda Ayliffe – one sunflower with repaired/ replaced petal and some bees

Can permaculture be used as the philosophical foundation of an arts practice? This was a question I posed in my Higher Degree research project ‘codex infinitum – the infinite book’ that ostensibly investigated the future of books and knowledge in a digital world but incorporated permaculture ethics and principles to guide my studio operations. Permaculture has been used in organic horticulture, small and larger scale agriculture, in relocalisation movements such as Transition Towns, and by individuals seeking more sustainable and ecologically responsible lifestyles. What could permaculture offer to an individual art practice and what changes would the adoption of permaculture’s ethics and principles cause to art making became key questions I wanted to address within my research. My essay Permaculture in the practice is an informal account in part drawing on my MFA exegesis.

I was born, raised and remain in a small community on the far south coast of NSW. Generations of my family have occupied this same small territory, a tight 10km radius around the tiny township of Cobargo; traditional country of the Yuin people. For the past 25 years I’ve lived on my family’s 360 acre beef property at Sams Creek. I married the neighboring dairy farmer and his 800 acres, and inadvertently have found myself a custodian of a significant swathe of farmland nestled at the outer foothills of Gulaga, the mother mountain. The combined farms are bordered to the west by the Kooraban National Park, with its small and highly vulnerable yet genetically significant koala population, and they encompasses Sams Creek, a small waterway that eventually empties to the east into Wallaga Lake, Batemans Marine Park. The farms feature varied productive pasturelands, remnant temperate rainforest, woodland and indigenous grass species, vital bird and marsupial habitats and wildlife corridors. The combined farming properties are of cultural, historical, economic and environmental importance.
Read More »

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The Culture in Agriculture

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Wild Food Map project by Diego Bonetto, Adrian O-Doherty and Boris Gordon

In 1975 when this exhibition was first proposed it seemed absurd to suggest that a farmer and engineer like Yeomans could be regarded as an artist. So absurd in fact that the Art Gallery of NSW Trustees intervened to cancel the exhibition on the basis that it wasn’t art.

In 2013, the idea is not only understandable enough to make the exhibition possible, but it’s also been quite easy to find a number of artists who use farming, food gathering and systems-design, not only as the subject of their work, but also as their media.

Artist as Family website

From the beginning, Yeomans’ ideas were being extended into other activities. In the 1960s his son Neville used the underlying principles of Keyline in his psychiatric practice, developing a revolutionary contextual approach that treated psychiatric disease on a family and community basis, instead of treating just the individual.

At the time Neville was vilified for being out of step with the psychiatric mainstream. 40 years later, his approach to psychiatric treatment has become the norm rather than the exception.

But that’s not all. The social ecology theories of Professor Stuart Hill, which we have outlined in one of our prints, envelope Yeomans’ principles. And permaculture, the Australian farming and gardening technique that has now spread worldwide, had its roots in Yeomans’ work.

milkwood website

Milkwood Website

It was inevitable therefore that artists would be attracted to the elegance of Keyline ideas and practice. Rix Wright, the son of the painter Hilda Rix Nicholas, completely restructured his family property “Knockalong” (near the NSW-Victoria border) according to Keyline principles. It was this example that provided AGNSW curator Daniel Thomas with an insight into my 1975 proposal. And although I never succeeded in curating an exhibition of Yeomans’ work in exactly the way that a conventional contemporary artist would be presented, in the decades since then many artists have come to recognise farming and food production systems as their artmaking media.

Take Milkwood Permaculture, for instance. Set up by Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar (previously working as video and multi-media artists), Milkwood is not only a family farm run on Keyline and permaculture principles, it is also an educational hub engaging dozens of niche practitioners. Milkwood is an ongoing experiment in designing farming and rural living techniques of the future.

On a completely different scale, Artist as Family document their various investigations of living a life of slow and frugal abundance in a peri-urban environment, without the resources that most of us consume so wastefully. Their radical redesign of their own family living situation, carried out as an artwork, is another snapshot of the future.

(F)route website

Diego Bonetto, whose “Weedy Connections” and “Wild Stories” have for more than a decade taught us the value of weeds and other overlooked gourmet foods and botanical medicines, is now creating web based applications to help us locate, celebrate and preserve alternative food resources.

And (f)route is a social enterprise developing, packaging and marketing a trail of foraged fruit as a tourist experience. Combining exploration and foraging, food and accommodation into art tours and camps is also a model with a future.

…we’ll be posting about a number of other artists’ agri-projects on our blog during this exhibition.

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Yeomans Project at the Art Gallery of NSW

ian milliss at milkwood farm

Ian Milliss comes in from the wilderness… (at Milkwood Farm, Mudgee, NSW)

…and so it has come to pass. After thirty eight years of wandering in the wilderness, the Yeomans Project is finally coming to rest at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Exhibition Dates: 28 November 2013 to 27 January 2014.

The exhibition, which is an updated and enlarged version of what we showed at ACCA in 2011, will include:

  • a big old Yeomans Plow
  • display cases including books and artefacts lent by PA Yeomans’ daughters
  • videos showing Keyline design in action
  • prints produced on the Big Fag Press
  • a large chalk map of one of Yeomans’ properties
  • the original Art Gallery of NSW Trustees’ Minutes book which shows the decision NOT to exhibit Ian Milliss’s Yeomans exhibition back in 1976.

The show will also be making links to some contemporary artists who demonstrate that things have come full circle since the Art Gallery of NSW rejected the original Yeomans exhibition. In other words, unlike back in 1976, it’s now totally acceptable for the works of an artist (or art collective) to consist almost entirely of agricultural, botanical and permacultural processes. (Artists featured include Taranaki Farm, Milkwood Permaculture, Diego Bonetto and collaborators, f(ROUTE) and Artist as Family.)


…we’ll be hosting some discussions with the following luminaries, touching on different aspects of Yeomans’ life and work:

  • Kirsten Bradley of Milkwood Permaculture (on the impact of Yeomans on contemporary permaculture practices)
  • Joanna Mendelssohn, College of Fine Arts (on the history of the AGNSW Trustees and their very “hands-on” approach to exhibition planning in the 1970s)
  • Stuart Hill, Professor of Social Ecology at UWS (on the usefulness of Yeomans’ work for the philosophy of Social Ecology)
  • Wendy Yeomans, PA Yeomans’ daughter and a researcher at the Institute of Sustainable Futures at UTS (on her father’s life and work, and her own)

And if that wasn’t enough, we also invite you to hop on a bus for our Field Trip to an early Yeomans experimental farm outside of Sydney (free, but bookings required).




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  • This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

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