Living Waters, a 60 acre property which is being developed into an eco-village high above the town of Denmark, is mostly still covered with Jarrah, Karri and Tingle trees. Natural springs bubble up from beneath the rich brown earth and are pumped to the houses and vegetable gardens dotted through the forest. I could not touch the sea but I could see the deep blue glint of the Southern Ocean as I sat on the balcony of our classroom and gazed across the folds of the Nullaki peninsula to West Cape Howe, the most southerly point of Western Australia.
I had wanted to study permaculture for years and now, before we became land-owners once more, seemed like the right time to hone my gardening and design skills. But I came away from that fortnight of learning with so much more than I had imagined - my head full of botanical knowledge; sustainable design concepts; how to make biodynamic compost; save and store heirloom seeds; slaughter and skin a rooster.
After six and a half years of being a stay-at-home mother it felt so liberating to wave goodbye to my family each morning and share my days with people to whom the world of mothers and children is completely foreign. People who would never cross paths with me as I shuttle children to school and peg out laundry with a toddler clinging to my ankles. And coming home to a house full of happy children and a home-cooked meal at the end of each day felt like the ultimate reward.
Living Waters is a ramshackle place, where the permaculture principles of reusing and recycling materials with multiple uses translates into piles of washing machines and composting toilets dotted through the bush, waiting to be given a new life as they slowly rust back into the landscape. It challenged my need for neatness and order in the same way that mothering does nearly every day. At its heart, permaculture is such a fluid, organic system. It demands a certain degree of disorder, of mess. Don't over design is one of the central principles, and one that I find hard to follow.
Back home in our own patch of forest I am already putting my new-found knowledge to the test and finding that some things just don't work in a suburban setting. The local dogs dug the decomposing chicken carcasses out of my freshly built compost heap and spread the stench across our backyard. Next time I will dig a hole. I am starting to recognise the limitations of living amongst the trees - where even a good sunny patch of earth is criss-crossed with the extensive root networks of heavy feeding Karris happy to steal the nutrients from my scant few tomatoes and zucchinis. I am now feeling better equipped to choose a good patch of earth to call home and plant a garden.
But perhaps the best thing I took away from my two week mothering sabbatical was a fresh perspective on our lives. Stepping away from the role of stay-at-home mother messed up our family dynamic and forced us into new roles for the first time. We were all changed by the experience, and for the better. It strengthened our relationships with each other and gave us fresh enthusiasm for the life we are creating for ourselves here. Coming home I felt like I was falling in love with my family all over again.