Chapter Five - Connecting Sustainable Agriculture and Psychosocial Transition





This Chapter explores the research question, ‘What were the theoretical and action precursors firstly, to Neville Yeomans evolving the therapeutic community psychiatric unit Fraser House, and secondly, to the ways of being and acting that Neville Yeomans used in his life work?’ 


Some aspects of Neville Yeomans’ way of thinking, processing and acting are detailed, and their origins are firstly traced to the innovative work that Neville did with his father Percival A. Yeomans and brother Allan (and later with the younger brother Ken) in evolving Keyline, a set of processes and practices for harvesting water and creating sustainable agriculture. The chapter then details the influence on the Yeomans of Australasia Oceania and East Asia Indigenous and grassroots ways.




Neville’s two traumatic incidents mentioned in Chapter One also had a profound, though different impact on P.A. Yeomans, his father (Mulligan and Hill 2001, p. 193). Neville’s father was, at the time Neville was lost, a mine assayer and a keen observer of landscapes and landforms. His father was deeply impressed by the Aboriginal tracker’s profound knowledge of the minutiae of his local land, such that, in that harsh dry rocky climate with compacted soils, he could so readily follow the minute traces left as evidence of the movements of a little boy. The other thing was that upon finding little Neville, the tracker was so intimately connected to the local land and its form, he knew exactly where to go to find water. It was not that this tracker knew where a creek or a water hole was, as there was no surface water. He knew how to find water whenever he wanted it, and wherever he was in his homeland. He and his people ‘be long’ there (40,000 plus years). They were an integral part of the land. They were never apart from it. The tracker and his community saw the Earth as a loving Mother that provided well for them continually (‘The Earth Loves us’ – from Neville’s Inma poem). The tracker was ‘of the land’. As soon as the tracker found Neville, he had to find the right kind of spot for a short easy dig. Because of Neville’s dehydration, the tracker needed water for Neville fast. He used his knowledge of his place and quickly had Neville sipping water.


Mulligan and Hill report that:


According to Neville, it was probably this incident that gave his father his enduring interest in the movement of water through Australian landscapes, because he could see that an understanding of this would be a huge advantage for people living in the driest inhabited continent on Earth (2001, p. 193).


In the years after leaving mine assaying, P.A. Yeomans had moved on to having his own earth-moving company. P. A. had just purchased the Nevallan and Yobarnie properties in Richmond, NSW with his brother-in-law Jim Barnes in 1943 - a year before the fire.




P. A. emulated the Aboriginal tracker in becoming familiar with the landform of his two properties. P.A. wanted to store or use all of the water that landed on the properties. In the Forties, P.A. wanted to be able to water his two properties so they were so lush and green all year round, they would be virtually fireproof. When the families acquired the properties the soil was ‘low grade’. It was undulating hill country with plenty of ridges that were composed of low-fertility shale strewn with stones. The following photo taken at Nevallan, one of the Yeomans’ farms, shows the original poor shale and rock ‘soil’ throughout the two properties when the properties were acquired.



Photo 1The low fertility shale strewn with stones on P.A’s farm - from Plate 30 in P.A.’s book ‘Challenge of Landscape’ – used with permission (Yeomans 1958b; Yeomans 1958a)


Photo 11 shows a spade full of fertile soil after two years of the processes evolved by P.A. and his sons. To clearly show the difference in the soil, a clump of the fertile soil has been placed beside earth on the base of a tree stump that became exposed when the tree fell over. This lighter low-grade soil had not been involved in the processes the Yeoman’s evolved.



Photo 2 Fertile soil after two years compared to the original soil - a copy of Plate 30 in P.A.’s book ‘Challenge of Landscape’ - Used with permission


Within three years, Yeomans and his sons had energized what conventional wisdom said was impossible; they had altered the natural system so that the natural emergent properties of the farm, as ‘living system’, created ten centimetres (4 inches) of lush dark fertile soil over most of the property. What is important is that the local natural ecosystem did the work. P.A. enabled emergent aspects in nature to self-organize towards increased fertility. With the interventions that P.A. introduced, the property became lush and green twelve months of the year. It was virtually fireproofed!


In 1974, P. A described processes whereby 4 inches (10.16 cms) of deep fertile soil could be created within three years (Yeomans and Murray Valley Development League 1974).


The balance of this chapter will specify the processes the Yeomans evolved and applied on their farms and the Indigenous precursors they drew upon. It then briefly introduces the ways Neville evolved in adapting his family’s farming processes to psychosocial change.


Keyline Emerges


Over thousands of years, if this continent’s Aborigines wanted to spear fish in the shallow creeks and rivers, they would copy the behaviour of the wading birds that wade slowly, and then react extremely fast with their long beaks. The Aboriginal hunter with his spear mimics these waders. Resonant with the continent’s Indigenous ways, P.A. and his sons engaged in bio-mimicry - letting the water, the landforms, the soil biota, and the balance of the local eco-system tell them what to do. Neville told me (July 1998) that P.A. would take Neville and Neville’s younger brother Allen out onto the farms as they were growing up whenever it rained so they all could learn to see directly how the rain soaked in at different times, how long before run-off would occur on different land forms, and what paths down the slopes the run-off moved on different land shapes. Like the Aborigines, they were learning to have all of their senses focused in the here-and-now, attending to all that was happening in nature. As action researchers, they became connoisseurs of their land and all life on it (Eisner 1991, p. 176).  Whatever action P.A. and his sons did, they always observed how nature responded.


P. A. obtained contour line maps with a useful scale of his property to further aid his understanding of landform. According to Ken Yeomans in an October 2003 phone discussion, the map scale was typically 1 in 25,000 with 5 metre contours. Neville said that his father constantly referred to the three primary landscape features - the main ridge (elevated from the horizontal), the primary ridge (lateral to the main ridge) and the primary valleys (lateral vertical cleavages). The farm was perceived by P.A. as a cleavered unity, a feature pervasive in nature. P. A. discovered where the best places were to store run-off water for maximum later distribution using the free energy of gravity feed. It was high in a special place in the primary valleys. Overflow from dams high in the primary valleys were linked by gravity-based over-flow channels to lower dams.

Below is the most succinct statement I have found written by P.A. Yeomans about what he called ‘Keyline’. I have extracted it from P.A.’s speech at the UN Habitat ‘On Human Settlements’ Forum in Vancouver, Canada during 27th May to 11th June 1976. P.A.’s speech was entitled ‘The Australian Keyline Plan for the Enrichment of Human Settlements(1976, p. 5-6).

Keyline relates to a special feature of topography namely, the break of slope that occurs in any primary valley. Primary valleys are the highest series of valleys in every water catchment region and lie on either side of a main or water divide ridge. They are widely observed as the generally smooth or grassed over valleys of farming and grazing land but are often overlooked and disguised in the city. On either side of the primary valley is a primary ridge. Of the three basic shapes of land, namely, main ridge, primary valley and primary ridge, the primary valley shape occupies the smallest area of land and the primary ridge shape, the largest. In the rural situation irrigation is a matter of watering the large primary ridge shapes, even on land which appears flat.


All of the structures, processes and practices that P. A. Yeomans evolved he also called Keyline (Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a). Diagram 1 shows the main ridge (the dotted line along the left), two primary ridges (with the arrows) and two primary valleys.



keyline from ken 


Diagram 1 – Photo from P.A.’s UN Habitat Speech (1976, p. 9)


Note that the Keypoint is on the fall line on the contour above the first wider gap between the contours. The fall line is marked on Diagram 1 above as the dotted line through the Keypoint. This wider space between contours indicates less steepness on the slope.


Above the Keypoint is typically an armchair-shaped land form that directs the water run-off so that most of it ends up arriving in an area that may be as small as a square metre (the Keypoint) – sometimes the very start of the typical creek as creek.


P.A. found that the optimal locations for dams along the Keyline are where it crosses the drainage lines within primary valleys. As stated, he called these the Keypoint for that primary valley.


P.A.’s ‘On Human Settlements’ Forum speech contains another description of Keyline:


It will be observed that in the primary valleys the first slope falling from the ridge above is short and steep – usually the steepest slope in the immediate environs – while the second slope is flatter, much longer and extends to the watercourse below. The point at which the change occurs between these two slopes is named the Keypoint; the Keyline extends on the same level on either side of this Keypoint and partly encloses a concave shape on the land. Only primary valleys have Keylines (see contour diagram above) (Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a; 1976, p. 7-8).


Ken Yeomans in a December 2005 email referred to the above quote:

I question the technical accuracy of saying it ‘partially’ encloses a concave shape on the land. Actually the Keyline occupies all of the concave shape of the contour line curve. The change of direction of the contour from concave through the valley to the convex curve of the ridge defines the end of the Keyline on either side of each primary valley.

Diagram 1 above shows Ken Yeomans point mentioned above - that the Keyline extends either side of the Keypoint for a particular distance along the contour line running through the Keypoint.


P.A then goes on to give a key point summary (1976, p. 9):


The Keyline is significant because:


1.    It is the first place in any valley where rain run-off water, concentrated from the higher slopes, can form a stream.

2.    It is also the first place where run-off water disappears when the rain stops unless the water is contained.

3.    It is the highest possible storage site in any valley of the land.

4.    It is often the highest point at which good construction material for earth dams is available (higher up the earth may be less decomposed and less suitable for dam building).

5.    It is the essential starting point for a water control system in any landscape that produces run-off; and

6.    It is the line of change when the three shapes of the land merge and readily disclose the geometry of land contours and the behaviour of surface flowing waters.

The Keyline is thus of major significance to any concept that aims to enrich the environment by controlling and using all available water.

Note point six above - the Keypoint in nature is saturated with information carrying capacity. On this typically square metre of land is the junction of all three land forms. Information distributed through each landform is present at the Keypoint. The Keypoint, for those with eyes to see, is the place that reveals the interaction of water with land. There is a confluence at the Keypoint of all the water runoff from the main ridge and adjacent primary ridges down the curved slope at the head of the primary valley.


Lincoln and Guba made a similar point about distribution of information within a system (quoted in Chapter Four):


Information is distributed throughout the system rather than concentrated at specific points. At each point information about the whole is contained in the part. Not only can the entire reality be found in the part, but also the part can be found in the whole. What is detected in any part must also characterize the whole. Everything is interconnected (1985, p. 59).


The Yeomans’ genius was that they spotted the information distributed throughout the three landform systems and saw how the distributed information inter-connects and interacts at the Keypoint. Keypoints are saturated with information that is distributed in the system. Sensing and observing the Keypoint may reveal insights as to how the whole complex dynamic system works.


Resonant with the above, Neuman also makes the observation that at each point in a living system, information about the whole is contained in the part (1997, p. 433). Not only can the entire reality be found in the part, but also the part can be found in the whole. What is detected in any part must also characterize the whole. Everything is interconnected, inter-dependent, inter-related and inter-woven.


Also resonant with Yeomans and Neuman, Joseph Jaworski (1998, p. 80) writes of a conversation with theoretical physicist Dr. David Bohm:


We were talking about a radical, disorientating new view of reality which we couldn’t ignore. We were talking about the awareness of the essential inter-relatedness of all phenomena – physiological, social, and cultural. We were talking about a systems view of life and a systems view of the universe. Nothing could be understood in isolation, everything had to be seen as a part of the unified whole.


Jaworski writes of Bohm saying that it’s an abstraction to talk of nonliving matter:


Different people are not separate, they are all enfolded into the whole, and they are all a manifestation of the whole. It is only through an abstraction that they look separate. Everything is included in everything else.


Yourself is actually the whole of mankind. That’s the idea of implicate order – that everything is enfolded in everything.


While Jaworski and Bohm were talking about a ‘radical, disorientating new view of reality’, this view has been the natural view of Australian Aborigines since antiquity, and it was this view that the Yeoman’s used to perceive inter-related things that Western farmers had never seen before. Barabasi (2003) in his book ‘Linked - How Everything is Linked to Everything and What it Means’ also explores the same theme. Consistent with the foregoing, for the Yeomans, the farm was a living system made up of interconnected, inter-related, inter-dependent and interwoven living systems and associated inorganics. I have been referring to this as ‘connexity’; this term was not used by Neville or the other Yeomans, although it connotes their understanding of system linkages well.


Where the context around a Keypoint made it possible P.A. placed a dam wall so that the dam could fill to that Keypoint. He designed his farms Nevallan and Yobarnie to fit nature. All of the dams were placed so as to simultaneously get water run-off, pass overflow to a dam below by gravity, and by gravity-based irrigation, pass on the water to the soil when desired. Neville (August 1998) and Allan (May 2002) both confirmed that they were with their father at the moment when they recognized what he called the Keypoint and the Keyline in landform – the central concepts in Keyline (Yeomans 1955a, p. 118). The very spot where they realised the significance of the Keypoint is where the closest water is in the closest dam in photo 12 below; the primary ridges are on the left and right of the primary valley.


P.A. wrote:


Once the eye becomes trained to see these simple land shapes, and the mind has selected and classified one or two, there is a fascination in the continuous broadening of one’s understanding and appreciation of the landscape (1958, p. 56)


In December 2005 Allan Yeomans told me that the special properties and significance of Keypoints and Keylines as well as the associated design principles such pattern cultivation, and placement of roads, fences and irrigation channels were slowly realised over a number of years. Photo 14 below shows strategic design of tree plantings as windbreaks and shade for livestock.


The Social Ecologist, Stuart Hill and I visited Nevallan for the first time in 2001 and I took photo 15 below showing the place where P.A. and Neville first spotted the Keypoint and Keyline. Like all Keypoints, the one in the photo is on the drainage line. Photo 15 shows one of the primary ridges on the left near the top of the primary valley. Photo 3 in Chapter One was taken looking up towards where photo 15 taken.


Stuart Hill, in Chapter Eight of his book on Australia’s Ecological Pioneers, outlines some aspects of the process P. A. and his sons used (Mulligan and Hill 2001, p. 193):


What Yeomans senior discovered through such patient observation was that there is a line across the slope of a hillside where the water table is closest to the surface. The ground along this line looks wettest and is reflective when it rains heavily. 



keyline trees


Photo 3(Yeomans, A. 2005, p. 137) – Used with permission




Photo 4 down towards the Keypoint at the top of the dam.



It is the line along which it makes most sense to locate the highest irrigation dams within the landscape, because this is where the run-off water from above can most effectively be collected and subsequently used at the most appropriate time to irrigate the more gently sloping land below. Yeomans called this line the Keyline.


Yeomans first outlined his ideas about water movement and how to detect Keypoints in a book entitled, ‘The Keyline Plan’ (1954). The books, ‘Challenge of Landscape’ (Yeomans 1958a), ‘Water for Every Farm’ (Yeomans, P. A. 1965), and ‘The City Forest’ (Yeomans, P. A. 1971a) followed. Three of P.A. Yeomans’ books, ‘The Challenge of Landscape’ (Yeomans 1958b), The Keyline Plan’ (Yeomans, P. A. 1955), and the ‘City Forest : The Keyline Plan for the Human Environment Revolution’ (Yeomans, P. A. 1971b), including all of their diagrams and photos, are now on-line on the Internet through the Soil and Health Organization.


In 1993, Ken Yeomans, Neville’s younger brother published his book, ‘Water for Every Farm: Yeoman’s Keyline Plant’ (Yeomans and Yeomans 1993). This book clarified some aspects of Keyline.


Alan Yeomans in a phone conversation (December 2005) noted that the Keypoint and Keyline in successive primary valleys along a ridge have an ascending (or descending) elevation as occurs in Diagram 1 above. Allan spoke of regular patterns in nature; as an example, the Yeomans’ experience was that often the height of the bottom of a dam wall below a keypoint in a primary valley been the height of the top of the dam wall in the next lower primary valley (refer Diagram 1 above). This has implications for linking the two dams by over-flow channel along a contour.


A key aspect of Keyline was how the Yeomans changed the interaction between water and soil. P. A. used chisel ploughing parallel to the Keyline, allowing the natural self-organizing flow of water to run into these chiselled grooves. This is not the same as contour ploughing as ploughing parallel to the Keyline soon goes ‘off contour’ in a gentle downhill direction with an important effect. This chisel ploughing results in shifting the direction of flow of surface water around 85 degrees to flow down hill more slowly along the sides of the primary ridges on each side of the primary valley. In contrast, contour ploughing has the reverse effect, namely directing water towards the bottom of the primary valley (from a phone conversation with Alan Yeomans Dec, 2005). Keyline ploughing stops an eroding rush of surface water down to the valley floor, slows the flow, spreads the soaking, and allows for a massive increase in the moisture levels in the soil without water-logging. Consequently, water is ‘stored’ as it slowly filters through the soil, as well as being kept in all the dams. The chisel plough that the Yeoman’s developed was called the Bunyip Slipper Imp with Shakaerator (that is it shakes and aerates). This shaking action reduces soil compaction. P. A. Yeomans won the Prince Phillip Agricultural Design Award in 1974 for his design of this plough shown in photo 16.


The plough has the effect of placing a loose cap on a chisel groove so there is air and space for water run-off to run along in the grooves underground. This cap on the top of the groove minimises evaporation by sun and wind (Foster 2003). These changes to the soil and water interaction are vital in the driest inhabited country in the World. P. A. did not use ploughing that inverted the soil as he found that it damaged soil ecology.


In Diagram 2below, the red lines depict rainwater run-off as it happens without the chisel ploughing. Once the run-off hits the chisel ploughing it is turned around (approximately) 85% and runs out along the ridges on both sides of the valley.


On the ridges, chisel ploughing is carried out parallel to a selected contour line as depicted in Diagram 4. Notice that the fall-line and the chisel grooves are again at around 85 degrees to each other. This ploughing pattern on the ridges also turns the rain or irrigation water flowing on the ridges from running straight off the sides of the ridge. The chisel cuts have the water again turned so that it runs at a much shallower slope along the side of the ridge. This again slows the speed of run-off and allows the water to be stored as it passes through the soil.


Creating Deep Soil Fast


There is fractal like repetition in nature (Mandelbrot 1983) and in the Yeomans’ designs. Neville said that one of his father’s design principles was ‘work with the free energy in the system’ (Dec 1993, July 1998). This was evident in the Yeomans use of gravity and the design layout that maximized the capacity to use gravity. Another example of thriving free energy is creating the context for the massive increase in detritivores (worms and other organisms that break down detritus - decaying organic matter) for generating new soil (discussed later).


P.A and Neville did not rest with the notion prevailing in most quarters, that it can take up to 800 years to make ten centimetres of soil by rock erosion and other breaking-down processes. They asked how they could create ten centimetres or more of new topsoil in a few years. They reasoned that soil could be created by constituting an underground context/environment bringing together detritivores with ideal combinations of air, moisture, seasonal warmth and a steady supply of organic detritus (dead organic matter).


They knew that cropping a certain height off grasses and plants just before flowering/seeding either by grazing or cutting created a shock to the plant and a comparable size of dieback in root systems. The energy that the plant had geared up for flowering and seeding is diverted into rapid growth for survival. The roots that die create the organic material for decomposing. What’s more, the dead organic root matter is already spread underground through the soil where it is needed. The space previously taken up by the roots become air chambers. The cut vegetation material was also recycled into the soil. The plant responds with vigorous new growth that is strategically irrigated. Keyline chisel ploughing and flood-flow irrigation would increase soil moisture content and reduce compaction. This combination supplied the conditions for a massive increase in detritivores (Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a; Yeomans and Murray Valley Development League 1974; Yeomans 1976).


Ten centimetres of new topsoil was created in three years – something that was previously thought to take around 800 years! Earthworms emerged in abundance, the size of which (over 60 cm or 24 inches) had never been seen before in the region. The Riverland Journal carried an article stating that H. Schenk, head of the Farm Bureau of America described Nevallan earthworms as being among the best he had seen. His words were, ‘Boy this must be the best soil ever was’ (Yeomans 1956; Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a). Neville told me (December 1993) he heard one well-travelled visitor saying that the only other place he had seen comparable worms was in the fertile fields of the Nile delta in Egypt.


Thirty years after P.A.'s death, the system he established on the farm still works by itself with little maintenance required. As can be seen from Photo 18 below that I took in July 2001 when I walked the farm with Stuart Hill, the farm still looks like sweeping gardens or a golf course. The surrounding farms were covered with dry brown grass.


Photo 5



Photo 6 effect and the water harvesting achieved – Photo from P.A. Yeoman’s book ‘City Forest Plate 1 – used with permission




Diagram 2 – adapted diagram from P. A. Yeomans’ book ‘Water for Every Farm’ (1965, p. 60) – used with permission







Diagram 3 Rain and irrigation water being turned towards or away from ridges – adapted diagram from P. A. Yeomans’ book ‘Challenge of Landscape (1958b, Chap 6, Fig. 5) – used with permission


In Diagram 3 note that the contour lines above the Keyline are closer to each other in the middle of the valley and get wider apart as they go towards the primary ridges. Below the Keyline is the reverse pattern. The contour lines are wider apart in the middle of the valley and get closer towards the primary ridges. This difference in form gives the Keyline a property that no other contour line has. Note that in the upper section of Diagram 3 contour cultivation is parallel downward from a Keyline contour and the furrows track water (the direction of surface water flow is depicted in top left of diagram 3) out towards the ridges. Note also that the second set of furrows upward from a lower marked contour results in water flowing towards the centre of the valley and that this would create the potential of erosion. Any ploughing parallel to any contour above or below the Keyline in the valley has the effect of tracking water towards the bottom of the valley rather than out towards the ridges.  The lower segment of Diagram 3 shows the effect of Keyline cultivation working parallel to the Keyline both up the slope and down the slope of the primary valley. All of these furrows track water out along the ridges aiding the slow passage of water through the farm. The arrows in both diagrams show the downhill direction of the furrows.




Diagram 4 Keyline Ploughing Process for Ridges - from P. A. Yeomans’ book ‘Water for Every Farm’ (Yeomans, P. A. 1965, p. 60) – used with permission.


In his 1971 ‘City Forest’ Book P. A. acknowledges the seminal supporting role Neville played in the forming of his ideas, ‘as psychiatrist and sociologist, for keeping me up to date on the social and community implications’. He had Neville write the forward (Appendix 4) to this last book – The City Forest – about adapting his ideas to the design and layout of a city (Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a).



Photo 7 at the left of the dam


Neville had evolved Fraser House back in 1959 when P. A. had Keyline well under way. Neville worked closely with his father throughout Neville’s years at Fraser House and Fraser House outreach in the years 1968 through 1971 when the City Forest Book was published. In the Forward to the City Forest Neville sums up Keyline’s soil approach in these terms:


‘The soil which gives us life must be developed in its own living processes so that it grows richer year by year rather than poorer.’


In the 1970’s, Neville wrote a weekly column in the Now Newspaper (a Sydney suburban paper) called ‘Yeomans Omens’ (Various Newspaper Journalists 1959-1974). In this column he wrote that between 20,000 and 50,000 acres of Keyline forest could totally absorb and purify the liquid effluent of Sydney. From this City Forest clean water would re-enter the rivers and dams or the sea. A natural by-product would be copious new fertile soil.





Photo 8The Header to Neville’s Newspaper column in the Now Newspaper


The Yeomans let nature tell them what to do. They always attended to nature and respected the design in nature, and designed and redesigned their interventions in a way that melded in with nature’s design, ‘design principles’ and emergent properties (Capra 1997, p.28). The Yeomans used ‘dynamic living systems’ as a strategic frame in their thinking, design work and action. They also used bio-mimicry (mimicking nature) (Suzuki and Dressel 2002, p. 66, 110) in their designs. They engaged with all of the inherent aspects of the farm as a holarchical living system (Holonic Manufacturing Systems 2000). They were ever aware that the ‘wholes’ in the living systems of the farms were made up of parts, and these parts were themselves wholes made up of parts. The Yeomans were very connected to this web of linkages.


After the Yeomans had introduced some changes to the soil environment the massive changes were self-organizing. The soil, organic matter, water and detritivores, as naturally occurring integrated systems, had emergent qualities; that is, aspects started emerging, or coming into being, which had not being present at lower levels of organization.

Designing Farms


A fundamental aspect of Keyline is that it involves design, and not just any design; rather, a design guided by nature in the local place and context, such that the resultant design superbly fits the local natural system.


Keyline insights and design principles guide placement of paddocks, rows of trees as windbreaks and shade for stock (see Photo 14), fences, gates, and roads. Landform and flood irrigation flow are also taken into account in designing where paddock boundaries are placed. Before P. A. and his sons’ work, Australian (and other) farms had rarely been designed. They tended to evolve in a haphazard or ‘traditional’ way – ‘this is the way we always do it’. Farmers would impose their will on nature (‘dominion over’ in the Jewish and Christian tradition). If something was ‘in the way’, farmers would ‘bulldoze’ it out of the way.


In designing and using Keyline, things are placed relative to other system parts and place for maximizing working well with nature, functionality, emergence, inter-related fit, and use of free energy in the system (for example, using gravity and the transformative energy of the detritivores that break down organic matter). Neville spoke to me (Dec 1993) of his father constantly fine-tuning things till they would fit. Neville described this as ‘the survival of the fitting’. This is discussed more fully in other places (Yeomans 1954; Yeomans, Percival. A. 1955; Yeomans 1958b; Yeomans 1958a; Holmes 1960; Yeomans, P. A. 1965; Yeomans, P. A. 1971b; Yeomans, P. A. 1971a; Yeomans 1976; Yeomans and Yeomans 1993; Hill 2000; Holmgren 2001; Yeomans 2001; The Development Of Narrow Tyned Plows 2002).


Neville’s father made repeated use of ‘do the opposite’ type lateral thinking. For example, P.A. experimented with putting a pipe through dam walls – something conventional wisdom said was never done because of ‘inevitable’ wash out along the outside of the pipe.


Neville’s father solved this problem by putting baffles along the outside of the pipe. Water running along the outside would carry with it small gravel and soil particles that would be trapped by the baffles and fill in any gaps and compact the soil around the outside of the pipe and therefore strengthen the seal around it. All the Yeomans had to do was turn on the valve on the outside base of the dam wall and they had gravity fed flowing water.


Diagram 5 marked by the square


So far in this chapter we have summarised the Yeomans family’s evolving of Keyline and discussed aspects of their farm designing and the way they worked with nature to foster the self-organizing emergence of abundant fertility. The next section explores some of the Indigenous origins of the Yeomans’ ways.




Indigenous influences on the Yeomans’ ways will now be considered.  Through P.A.’s work in remote areas across the Top End of Australia and Western Queensland the Yeomans family came in to contact with Aboriginal communities. Given Neville’s nurturing following trauma in his youth, in times of personal struggle with psychosocial survival, Neville was drawn to Indigenous Healing Ways. Neville would take every opportunity to experience Aboriginal and Islander nurturing, sociohealing and social cohesion practices. A brief overview of some of these practices follows.


For Indigenous people living as nomadic hunter-gatherers on this continent, social cohesion is a central component of healing and vice versa. The concept of Indigenous ‘sociomedicine’ is implicit in psychiatrist Cawte's book, ‘Medicine is the Law’ and other writings (Cawte 1974; 2001).


Neville spoke (Dec 1993) about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living traditional lives – for them, bush remedies for a wide range of troubles are both widely known and widely used. This was confirmed by Geoff Guest (Aug 2004). However, if in these contexts sickness is deemed to have its source in social trouble - if social cohesion is under threat - sociomedicine is used by only a few law people who know the ways.


Neville understood the pervasive way Aboriginal sociomedicine is linked into social cohesion. The focus for healing or prevention is the whole group, and all become involved (Cawte 1974; Cawte 2001). Neville had firsthand experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistry - stories, sand drawings, rock paintings, songs and dances - and how all are used to maintain social cohesion in being well together in community. Neville evolved his social action on his understanding that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, social cohesion among one's people is paramount and isomorphic with the cooperative inter-relationships found in nature.


Neville and his father had been linked into these ways of thinking and experiencing each other and the World. Through his life Neville had been accepted into Yolgnu Aboriginal Communities living traditional lives in their homelands in Arnhemland in the Australia Top End. Neville told me (July 1994), he had experienced the storytelling and the singing and the corroborees. He had gone hunting with them and participated in ancient ceremonies associated with a person’s death, as well as other ceremonies. Neville said that these psycho-physical and metaphysical experiences profoundly linked him into extremely rich antiquities. Neville described these experiences as equalling any of the wisdom literatures he had read, and certainly having the richness of the mythologies of Grecian, Indian, Mayan and other cultures.


It is very easy to get lost in the Australia bush; people may be in the Australia bush and have no idea where they are. To know exactly where you are in relation to other places near and far is a pervasively different experience - to have a loving familiarity (as in ‘being among family’) with the land. Local Australian Indigenous people living in essential relatedness (Pert, 1997) with their homeland, and essential connexity with their land, know where they are in their locality. They have an intrinsic knowingness, and know how to travel well through various terrains. Indigenous psycho-social-mindbody and local land merge and become one. Indigenous mindbody can wander both the landscape within inner embodied landforms, and the outer landscape. At some levels, these inner and outer landscapes merge - people feel the land they be-long in – within and without.


Indigenous people constantly ‘absorb’ their land through all of their senses. Being in their land has emotional tone; the land is in them and they are in it, and of it. Neville acted from deep within this rich sensuous emotional consciousness of connexity to and with land.


Neville spoke of all manner of artistic expression and borrowing from nature being used by Indigenous people of the Australasia Oceania Region to sustain and enhance the social cohesion in their way of life. This artistic expression and social action is called by some Indigenous people in the Region, especially those in Vanuatu, ‘cultural action’, a term now being used throughout the Oceania Australasia East Asia Region (CIDA 2002; Queensland Community Arts Network 2002). Neville adapted this ‘cultural action’ into ‘cultural healing action’ (Yeomans and Spencer 1993). Neville described (December, 1993) Cultural Healing Action to me as combining and embracing the healing artistry of music making, percussion, singing, chanting, dancing, reading poetry, storytelling, artistry, sculpting, puppetry, model making and the like - and using any and all of these for increasing wellbeing. Neville was adept at using and enabling Cultural Healing Action and he enabled me to gain competences in using it as well.


Before, during and after Fraser House, Neville had an increasing realization of the resonance between Keyline, Cultural Keyline and Indigenous Self-Earth Mother unity, and unity between and within all human and non-human life forms. All of this experience was melded into the way Neville and his father used in evolving their farms. As well, Neville’s experience with Indigenous people had helped in the forming of his way-of-being-in-the-world (Wolff 1976, p. 20) and social action in Fraser House and beyond. Neville constantly engaged his way towards evolving diverse social life worlds while enacting values that were based upon mutual caring, loving respect between the sexes and the generations, peacefulness, economic equity, social and political dignity and ecological balance (Yeomans 1974; Plumwood 1993; Plumwood 2002).


Neville had firsthand experience of the destructive social fragmentation occurring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities; the aggression, the abuse of women and children, alcoholism, destructive eating habits, high mortality rates, criminal and psychiatric incarceration and the like. And yet for all this, Neville saw in their traditional life-ways, processes that may have the potency to have Indigenous peoples transform themselves towards being well, and in addition, for this to be a model for fostering transition towards a humane caring Global Epoch.




Inspired by the community feel of small village life (Tönnies and Loomis 1963), Neville searched the anthropological and social psychological literature for models of ‘community’ that were constituting and sustaining a way of life (culture) based on social cohesion and well-being. He found that the Tikopians were exemplars. It was the healing feel of the communal village life on Tikopia depicted by Firth and its resonance with Neville’s notions of Cultural Keyline and his own childhood experiences of Indigenous healing ways that so attracted Neville to use Tikopia as a model for setting up Fraser House like a small Tikopia Village. None of staff and residents I interviewed knew of this Tikopia connection except Margaret Cockett; however, Neville’s younger brother Ken’s first wife Stephanie Yeomans confirmed to me personally in 2001 in Cairns that Neville regularly spoke to her about his evolving Fraser House based on Tikopia lifeways. Stephanie was a psychiatric nurse at Ryde Psychiatric Hospital. Like the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Tikopians have socio-healing and social wellbeing woven into the fabric of everyday life-ways. Approximately three miles long, Tikopia’s dominant feature is the remnants of a volcano surrounding a fresh water lake. Two large rocky pyramids rise up from the shoreline, left when the balance of the volcano blew away.



The Island of Tikopia


Tikopia Island has an intricate system of reciprocal exchange spread as a network over the whole community of communities. Firth stated that this reciprocity was continually ‘binding people of different villages and both sides of the island (the two major regions) in close alliance’ (1957, p. 88). The Tikopia celebrated difference to maintain unity. Firth speaks of unifying processes among the Tikopia that recognize, acknowledge, play with, respect and celebrate cleavages (difference/diversity) - that is, ‘unifying cleavage’. The word ‘cleave’ means to hold fast or cling to, and ‘cleavage’ means the act of cleaving or dividing (Heinemann Australian Dictionary 1976).


Firth wrote that Tikopian community processes repeatedly involved ‘unifying-cleavage’. For example, they would engage in ceremonial distributions of property, where the principle was that as far as possible, goods go to the villages on the opposite side of the island - to those most different. There would be periodic friendly inter-generational competitive assemblies among those from differing villages, clans, and valleys. At these periodic friendly competitive gatherings and assemblies among those differing from them, the Tikopians would engage in competitive dancing, games and dart matches, as well as share food and friendly fireside banter – what we have referred to as ‘cultural action’. An orchard of one clan group would be within the territory of another clan group, bringing regular contact in day-to-day life. There were multiple unifying links between valleys and across ridges.

According to Firth (1957, p. 88):


Still further are the cohesive factors of everyday operation, the use of a common language, and the sharing of a common culture…


The men from the East could only marry the women of the West. The opposite applied to the men of the West. That is, people could only marry those most different. The new brides would live with their husband’s family. As all land was passed from mother to daughter, the couple would set up gardens on land belonging to the wife’s mother (Matrilineal) - that is, on the opposite side to where the couple were living. Each morning all the gardening couples from the East would get up at sunrise, bath and have breakfast. They would then make the climb through gaps in the volcanic ridge. They would also exchange news and banter with couples going in the opposite direction before going to their respective gardens. The process was reversed in the evening. The sun would set first for those gardening in the East. So they would climb first and again meet people going in the opposite direction. There would be more chatting, drumming and dancing in the late afternoon light. As the tropical sun set in the West, they would all return to their respective villages. There they would have exchanges of vegetables for fish with the villagers who were the seafarers - another different group to celebrate with. Often these beach exchanges were occasions for more dancing and friendly play. After dinner, the interaction would resume on the beach, or perhaps some would walk across the smaller ridges to visit villagers in the neighbouring valleys.


Firth made no comment throughout his book that the Tickopian communal village life and mores may be helping to constitute and sustain individual and communal psychosocial wellbeing. More importantly in the context of this thesis, Firth makes no comment about the potential of the Tikopian’s way of life as a practical working model for restoring psychosocial health and wellbeing in dysfunctional people, families and communities. This possibility was recognized by Neville.


Firth discussed cohesiveness within the exploration of clan membership as one framework for having an anthropological understanding of the Tikopians. Firth uses notions of unity and cleavage in his book, ‘We the Tikopia’ (1957, p. 88):


A still further complicating factor is the recognition of two social strata, chiefs and commoners, which provides a measure of horizontal unity in the face of vertical cleavage between clans and between districts. In former times there was even a feeling that marriage should take place only within the appropriate clan. Important, again are the intricate systems of reciprocal exchange spread like a network over the whole community, binding people of different villages and both sides of the island (the two major regions) in close alliance (my italics).




During Neville’s 1963 trip around the World he had exchanges with Indigenous people about global epochal transition. Neville said that he tapped into a very advanced discourse on global futures among Indigenous people around the globe. An example of this discourse in action connecting land, sustainable agriculture, water, food, and social wellbeing is the paper ‘Land Moves and Behaves’ (Zinck and Barrera-Bassols 2005).


During the 1970s Neville had studied spoken and written Chinese as well as Chinese painting. Neville was familiar with and drew upon Confucian and Taoist thought and way. Another resonant East Asia conceptual link for Neville was the Chinese Yin/Yang concepts especially the difference/diversity and unity aspects. With humane healing nurturing being very much part of the Yin nature. Neville was always exploring the Yin energies and how they may temper Yang energies. Neville was also familiar with the Balinese notion of balance between good and evil and how this influenced their life and artistry. In the Eighties, Neville studied Chinese painting and painted in this style.


Neville told me (Dec 1993, July 1998) that he drew many understandings about society from Talcot Parson’s writings and that these understanding influenced his psychosocial approach. Neville had meetings with Talcot Parsons during his 1963 world trip and Neville said that these meetings further clarified Neville’s frameworks linking Fraser House and cultural/societal transition.




Neville, in researching epochs and epoch making, knew that an epoch was a highly significant keypoint – a turning point in human affairs. Neville (Dec, 1993) made the connexion between his fathers ‘Keypoint’ and epochs being keypoints. All of his father’s work was seminal in Neville’s epochal quest. Neville recognised that in his father’s Keyline and the Indigenous wisdoms and lifeways of the Region there were ways for energising a new cultural synthesis – and Cultural Keyline could be a core process.


In evolving micro-models of epochal transition Neville blended together Tikopian community sustaining ways, Aboriginal and Islander social cohesion based socio-medicine, and the design principles of Keyline.




This Chapter has traced the precursors of Neville Yeomans’ way of being-in-the-world and the action research he used in his life work. It traced the evolving of Neville’s way firstly, from the joint work he did with his father and brothers Allan and Ken in evolving Keyline sustainable agriculture practice, and secondly, from prior links that the Yeomans family had to Australasia Oceania Indigenous way. Neville’s East Asia influences were introduced. The next chapter is the first of five chapters on Neville’s evolving of Cultural Keyline in the psychosocial sphere in designing and evolving the structures and processes of Fraser House.