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Earth mother eco teacher

autumn 16

Talking a mile a minute, with her bright blue eyes dancing, when Morag Gamble speaks of permaculture and sustainability, she visually lights up; an articulate, informed whirling dervish of unbridled passion.
Morag is an ecological ambassador, a permaculture promoter, a living demonstration of what sustainable living looks like, sounds like, acts like. And she wants to pay it forward, setting up a learning organisation, the Ethos Foundation, to help others find positive ways to do it too.
There is an educational eco-farm in the heart of Crystal Waters in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where she lives. She takes interns, runs permaculture workshops, runs tours and facilitates arts and music in the garden events.
She runs a Young Ethos Scholars program for gifted and talented kids, encouraging them to embrace ecological and social justice principles (earth and people care) in their decision-making.  
Of course, this means Morag, 46, has a full dance card, where her partners in grooving often overlap and one piece of music blends into the next.
And the music keeps building: this year her son Hugh, 7, joins daughter Maia, 9, in being home schooled. 
Morag says both children elected to be schooled in the breeze of the home veranda rather than a classroom after each had been accelerated a year at school and were feeling unstimulated and stifled.
First thing in the morning, the children attend to the animals and help with making their own breakfast.
They do stretching and yoga before they start two hours of core learning. The rest of the day is spent on projects – and it can be heady stuff.
“An example is that the other day they decided they wanted to build a tree house,” Morag says.
“In order to do that, they had to consider structural elements, design elements, they had to think of the engineering, the measurements, the maths. Hugh decided the roof needed to be on an angle to catch the rainwater, so he realised he had to assess the drop from one side to the other and the width of the treehouse so that he could work out how big the piece of tin needed to be.
“To do that, I pointed out that a formula was required, so we explored Pythagoras and angles and lengths.” The children also regularly attend programs at the University of the Sunshine Coast with other home-schooled students. 
Morag also has Monty, 2, to tend to, a garden to care for, a household to organise and the Ethos Foundation to run. But she says she likes it that way.
“Home schooling is influencing my work. I am learning how to juggle things and weave things together,” she says.
“I have tried for a long time to make my life my work and my work my life. It is built around what I am passionate about – and my family is central to that. I do not want to and can’t imagine leaving my family behind to go off to work and do something else.”
Morag was raised in outer suburban Melbourne by environmentally-conscious parents who discussed ethics and permaculture in a home that had natural food, but no sugar, salt, meat or caffeine. 
Morag says she was always going to raise her own family that way, too, a notion that solidified as husband Evan Raymond – also an Ethos Foundation board member and permaculture teacher and designer – incrementally built their self-sufficient, off-the-grid home at the Crystal Waters ecovillage. 
“Everyone knows your children and kids play across properties.
There are no fences. It is amazing, really, without the stress of anxiety of worry about your children,” Morag says.
“It is a simple life and you can live well on less, so you work part time and the quality of life is accelerated.” 
Morag says as a peace and environmental activist as a teen, she might not have been so upbeat. 
“I felt deeply angry about the damage we were doing to the planet,” she says.
“I probably browbeat people about what was wrong, but then I realised a lot of people were turning off and I had to come from a more positive perspective: if not that, then what? What does the world we are trying to create look like?
What does it feel like? How do you communicate that to people? You can’t just tell them – you need to live it, show it, and invite them to experience it.”
She studied landscape architecture and environmental planning at university, and at 21 she was in a time of transition when she came across writing that made her realise she was no island in her desire to build sustainable, nourishing communities.
“I found this clarity of purpose that popped out. Something happened that gave me the chance to sit back and question what I was doing and why I was here and what made me feel energetic and valued, and then I decided to learn directly from the scholars who were at Schumacher College in England,” she says. 
Morag worked with physicist Fritjof Capra, a leading authority in systems theory; environmentalist Vandana Shiva and other ecological leaders including Helena Norberg-Hodge.
One led to another and Morag says she felt her mind expanding. Morag worked in 20 different countries, and has worked on permaculture projects in places as diverse as the Himalayas and England.
“Where I have seen happiness and a functional community, most of the time that has meant a simple life and connectedness – to other people, to the earth,” she says.
“It is not about going backwards and wearing hair shirts and living a prehistoric life. It is about how I can live in a way that is meaningful, connected, that leaves the world improved rather than less damaged or even undamaged.”
Morag says that after deeply exploring permaculture and ecologically-sound practices around the world, she chooses to live in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
“I feel connected to the place and the land – and I understand it,” she says. “I have a sense that I do not need to solve all the world’s problems, but I do what I can where I can in my local community, where I understand the place and the community and have a deep connection to it. Without doubt, that has a ripple effect.”
For information about a nature kids school holiday program or permaculture courses, contact the Ethos Foundation on  5494 4833 or
words jane fynes-clinton photo claire plush