Shanty Towns Rule

January 20, 2006

I recorded a talk by Joe Polaisher – an Austrian born permaculturist – at the Ecoshow last year in Auckland (New Zealand) He’s lived all over the place but has spent the last 17 years in New Zealand with his partner Trish Allen turning a formerly dodgy piece of land into a permaculture paradise and using it to educate people about permaculture.

It’s useful to have some real experiences to refer to – He talked about what happened during WWII when people had their houses bombed and he talked about an experience in South America in a shanty town – it’s a great story but unfortunately it didn’t get recorded – Joe isn’t used to holding a microphone when he talks and some of the talk was missed. I’ll try to remember what he said but I will also try to interview him soon and get him to re tell the story.

Here’s his experience as a boy after WWII in Austria (starts 20:16)
My first 10 years in Austria after the war, the first 10 years that shaped me – on a peasant farm that was so isolated we had no road access, we had no electricity,  no fossil fuels, for my first 10 years – and it was an excellent time because we were functioning up there self sufficiently.

“We had all of a sudden all these relatives came out of Vienna and all the big cities because they were bombed and they had nothing to eat. And they all said ‘we are related, do you remember we’re second and third so and so’ and we said ‘bugger you, we never saw you – what do you want?’ – (They said) ‘I’m hungry, can I stay here’ and ‘our house was bombed’ and we said ‘OK’ and all of a sudden we had 15 to 20 people in that household and then we said we can’t actually support you, move on’ so people started moving and then we got into trouble.

That was after the war – because we had no infrastructure, no economy, no money in the lat 40’s and into the 50’s  – we were occupied by the British where I grew up until 1956. So. It was interesting then, those people became dangerous – they turned the necks of our free range chooks and they disappeared. We planted potatoes, it was our staple food – we planted them in daylight and the people were siting in the forest waiting for darkness – came out, dug out the seed potatoes, boiled them and ate them and we waited for our staple food crop to come up and they wouldn’t sprout – potatoes didn’t come through the soil and we looked – No potatoes! – and the same thing through the rest of the neighbourhood.

That’s what I remember very well – that these became dangerous unsustainable cities – like in New Zealand 86% of all the people live in an urban environment – that will keel over with the end of cheap energy. Those people will be helping themselves  – I can’t sit there with a shotgun on my edible landscape and say bugger off. – NO help yourself, sure, I go under with society…”

As for the South America story. Joe was over there and was invited to dinner by a guy he had met who lived in a shanty town and the guy said come to dinner but don’t enter into the ‘town’ until my friend comes to get you or you will be beaten up. So Joe gets ready to go and then realises; ‘hey these are poor people living in a shanty town, they have nothing, I can’t just turn up and eat their food’. So he goes to the supermarket and buys enough food to feed everybody for the evening. When he gets to the tiny house that his friend and his family live in he finds a table laid out with food for dinner and he says ‘Please, you can’t give me all your food and they insist that there is no problem. Joe explains that being a naïve westerner he thinks they have no food so they take him out the back to a tiny back yard where Joe is astonished to discover a full on high intensity permaculture system supplying the family’s food needs.

I’m definitely going to interview Joe, he’ll tell the story much better.


  1. Wow… interesting story. Naive person… You have to interview him for sure.

    Posted by: flykoo | 11/01/2006

  2. […] also had this comment to add to a story I posted earlier about life in Austria after the […]

  3. […] people are going to come knocking on your door for help and if you don’t give it they will likely make your life difficult. I mean, how many extra people can a village cope with? I don’t want to see friends and family […]

  4. […] wrote about Joe here and here and in one of my most popular interviews on Raglan Community Radio I discussed all manner of issues […]

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