Meet the BPG Committee

Thanks for checking out your local permaculture group. Our current committee are:

James Hosking

James has long been a fan of pottering in his garden and bushwalking amongst trees, but lockdowns through 2020-21 (fingers crossed not 2022...) provided an opportunity to further this interest by completing his Permaculture Design Course (2021) as well as a Diploma of Sustainable Living (online through UTAS). He's currently undertaking a sustainable renovation to his miner's cottage in Ballarat and hopes to use what he's learned to expand his garden and live a greener, more sustainable life.

James works in IT, undertaking data analysis and building reports for a national retailer. He loves getting into details, figuring out why things are the way they are, and probably consumes more news and analysis than is healthy (useful for quizzes though!).


Rhea Thorn

I completed a PDC in Thailand while there on holiday in 2017 and became interested in the ways permaculture can help build resilient communities in a way that respects the greater natural world. 2023 I am undertaking the PDC with the BPG, such a great way to build local knowledge and connection. 

I grew up in New Zealand on a small orchard/hobby farm, I have a background in nursing and moved to Australia in 2010. I’m now on a large bush block outside of Ballarat and live surrounded by wildlife. 

The gardens are expanding year by year and I have recently taken up a healthy obsession with mushroom growing. I am excited about ways to have a more sustainable food system and how that can connect us to the land. 

I have a vast array of hobbies including guitar, singing, fermenting/preserving, archery, art and bush walking.


Fiona Williamson
Vice President

Fiona has been a keen gardener, bushwalker and rewilder for most of her life, but finally committed to a PDC in 2021 (with a side course of holistic decision making) through the trials and tribulations of lockdowns. She is currently studying a Diploma in Ecosystem Management to transition across to a full time offgrid life with two different farm businesses in development. Using the retrosuburbia real estate checklist and a strong holistic decision making frame, she found the perfect retrofittable (affordable, miracles of miracles) 1/2 acre in the Pyrenees for herself, the rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks and chickens. Fiona is now renovating the 1940s farmhouse for passive solar design, and deep into a year long 'observe and interact' phase while the land unfolds its secrets to her- all part of creating a great permaculture design for the little ecosystem she now belongs to. 
Fiona's  current day job is in economic and social policy and research, undertaking ecological justice and community development projects. She loves community building and the idea of placemaking as a way to belonging and stronger more resilient people and places. 

Ellen Burns
President of The Hidden Orchard

Ellen is the co-founder and president of The Hidden Orchard, a volunteer group that is auspiced by BPG. They harvest fruit from private property and public land that would otherwise go to waste and redistribute it to the community through food relief charities.

Ellen also runs her own business, We Bar None, which was the first business in Victoria to use ABA Certified home compostable packaging. Her snack range is also carbon neutral, plant based, gluten free, and run in line with the Permaculture principles. 
When she's not running her business or volunteer group, Ellen loves cooking, eating, travelling, hiking, camping and dancing at music festivals with her husband Michael.

Ellen is Steve's daughter, so has grown up with Permaculture. She also completed the Permaculture Design Course in 2021.

Steve Burns

After a long interest in permaculture, Steve completed a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in 2000 with David Holmgren & Fiona Buining. As part of his work on the founding committee of BREAZE, Steve called together the team that developed the original Ballarat-based PDC in 2009. This group was the core of the first BPG committee. Steve has had continuous roles on the BPG committee since and has been on the organising team of all but one of our PDC’s.
Steve manages the Ballarat Farmers Market, which operates on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month at Zoo Drive, Wendouree. He lives on Chestnut Farm, an 8 acre property on the edge of town. Steve is particularly keen on building with recycled materials, forest gardens and grafting heritage fruit trees.


Rene de Jong

“At the prime of my experiential life, I have a combination of scientific knowledge and practical experience to fullfil my life objectives of living sustainably, with nutritious food and in relative comfort whilst offering some of this back to my community through things like the Ballarat Permaculture Guild”
After working more than 30 years in public and private agriculture roles, René currently enjoys growing about ¾ of his fresh food from his food garden on a 1000 square metre block on a red ferrosol soil type (otherwise known as volcanic kraznozem soils) at Buninyong. He continues to use learnings from his participation in several agriculture industry conferences and training programs around food production and nutrition. I want to focus on low input, organic methods to grow food now.
René says his own-produced food is the best option for their family, not because of money savings, but because he thinks it is more nutritious than commercial produce when grown in biologically active soils he is focussed on. Lower greenhous gas-emitting food production is also strong driver. Everything is watered by a drip system that is from water collected off building roofs and pumped when the sun shines (from power collected from solar panels). The soil must be managed with nutrient and pH amelioration techniques to allow for growing food year round. Total area under food production, including fruit trees is more than 216 square metres.
Living sustainably, being connected to a vibrant permaculture community in the Ballarat area and sharing experiences and knowledge, perhaps over a coffee or a glass of red wine are my reasons for jumping out of bed each day.

Barry Gibson

As a father and husband with 3 children in primary and secondary school I think the permaculture ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share are important for all people to ensure the next generation get to enjoy a more sustainable future.
We live on a small farm and have a range of animals and plants for both produce and lifestyle purposes including bees, sheep, horses and chickens as well as a wide range of perennial and annual plants. We are using permaculture principles and regenerative farming techniques to attempt to leave our small farm and surrounding community in a better place socially and ecologically than it was when we moved here.

Michael McKenna

After an initial introduction to permaculture from friends whilst studying Landscape architecture and Urban planning, Michael was properly introduced to Permaculture by his now wife and father-in-law. Making the move back to Ballarat in late 2020 and taking part in the BPG Permaculture Design Course in 2021 solidified an interest in Permaculture and its application to ourselves in the way we live and the places we inhabit. Michael enjoys getting into the details of how and why, forever researching and applying that knowledge to new projects.
Michael enjoys the outdoors, camping, hiking and mountain biking.
Professionally Michael works for a small local distillery, working in production and product development.