Mad about Dirt, May 11 2019

Saturday May 11 2019

“Mad About Dirt” . On Saturday May 11, was a day dedicated to:

  • celebrating the importance of soil in our world, and
  • discovering heaps more about “dirt” (mainly, but not only, soil).

Some photos below.

MAD exhibitors view SKN

You can also see the wonderful video that Sam Freeman made with Angus and Tino at:

Bendigo Bank, one of our sponsors, featured Mad About Dirt in this video:

News: 600 people go MAD in Narara.

21 May 2019.

Over 600 people went mad in Narara. It happened at the Mad about Dirt event, at the Narara Valley High School and the Narara Ecovillage, on Saturday May 11.

Keynote speaker Angus Stewart described the event as “brilliant” and exhibitor Paul Harvey said “thank you for putting on such a fantastic ‘Mad About Dirt’ event on Saturday. It was terrific to see so many passionate individuals all working together for a common cause”.  

Organiser Joan Cassels said “Soil is the miraculous carpet of life that covers much of our planet- and yet we often treat it like “dirt”!”

“It turns out that there are a lot of people passionate about “dirt” (mainly soil), whether it’s gardeners and professional horticulturalists, soil scientists, soil contamination experts, plant lovers, microbiologists, permaculturists, regenerative and biodynamic farmers, or natural earth home builders. The  energy created by having them all together was amazing”.

“The bottom line is that if more people will see soil as a living and miraculous carpet of life, instead of just seeing “ground with ‘dirt’ on it”, then we are winning”.

Led by ABC TV Gardening Australia personalities Angus Stewart and Tino Carnevale, a group of soil experts and horticultural enthusiasts talked and answered questions about soil. There were practical demonstrations and chances for adults and children to get their hands dirty!

Admission to the event was free, thanks to Central Coast Council, Bendigo Bank, SESL Australia, Viva Living Homes and the Narara Eco Living Network.

MANY thanks to all those who contributed to make the event such a success. Please enjoy the attached photos. All feedback welcome at (email)  Yours in earth, Joan and Richard Cassels.

Venues and times:

  • 9.30 am to 1 pm: Narara Valley High School, Fountains and Pandala Roads, Narara, NSW 2250.
  • 1 to 4 pm: Narara Ecovillage, 25 Research Road, Narara, NSW 2250.


Download (PDF, 71KB)

Things you could do on Saturday May 11 2019.

 In the morning (9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) in the main hall of the Narara Valley High School, hear inspiring talks and join panel discussions with Tino Carnevale, Angus Stewart, and people passionate about Permaculture, Biodynamics, safe soils  and Regenerative  Agriculture, meet exhibitors (see below) over lunch and visit the school farm.

In the afternoon (1-4 p.m.)at the Narara Ecovillage (just up the road!) hear talks about soil science, composting and health; go on tours of the ecovillage property, visit a permaculture garden, see a Biodynamics team in action, learn about Central Coast soils, join in kids activities, see steam weeding in action, see houses being built with materials from the earth – straw bale and rammed earth, and try your hand at making a mud brick.

There was a special session for students and potential students on careers related to soil for secondary and tertiary students from 9 to 9.45 am at the Narara Valley High School. Entry was free.


Get introduced to the conservation issues by the video “Better Save Soil (,

Think about solutions at:

and Get in the mood by enjoying the Soil Song by Jeremy Newton-John here! 

or by Lorde at:

News release:

28 January 2019.

Soil Celebration and Discovery Day Announced.

The Narara Eco Living Network has announced a new event, “Mad About Dirt”, to be held on May 11 this year. Co-organiser Joan Cassels said that it was a “child” of the successful Narara Ecoburbia festival that ran from 3 years from 2014 to 2016. It will be a smaller and more focused event than the full festival.

Joan said: “ ‘Mad About Dirt’ will be day dedicated to soil, gardening, growing food, permaculture and soil conservation. Keynote speakers include Tino Carnevale and Angus Stewart from ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, Kerrie Anderson form Permaculture Central Coast, Peter Rutherford from Kimbriki Environmental Enterprises, Simon Leake from the Sydney Soil Laboratory and Consultancy, Prof. Mark Taylor of Macquarie University  and permaculture and other experts”.

“The latest estimates are that up to 2/3 of the world’s soils are being degraded, at a time when the world population and consumption habits is growing. The good thing is that everyone can do something about this in their own back yard. It’s good for you, and you can eat the results! Our great speakers will be sharing why they are passionate about soil, and what you can do”.

“You can also see and learn about different types of “earth” being used in house building at the ecovillage- and children can get their hands into “dirt”!”

What could you do?

  • Hear and meet expert speakers
  • See demonstrations
  • Tour the school farm
  • Meet providers of courses, workshops, apprenticeships and employment in areas related to soil and growing food
  • Explore the Narara ecovillage land and its soils
  • Hear about the Narara Ecovillage community-building and sustainability demonstration project  
  • See the latest “dirt-built” homes at the Ecovillage and learn about natural building
  • Join children’s activities
  • Taste some soil!

Exhibitors at Mad About Dirt at the Narara Valley High School, 9.30 am to 1 pm.

 MacQuarie University. VegeSafe and DustSafe programs.

Display of in-situ portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometry used by the Macquarie University VegeSafe citizen science program.

They also collected soil samples from attendees. Participants needed to bring 1 completed, printed and signed consent form, and 5 soil samples labelled in individual zip-lock bags . Seetheir ‘how to participate’ page ( which summarises everything including consent form, how to collect your sample, and how to donate.

They also promoted their household dust analysis program ( / Facebook: MQDustSafe). Receiving paired VegeSafe and DustSafe samples greatly helps their research as they can compare indoor and outdoor data.  

  • Soil Knowledge Network (SKN).

Experts in NSW soils, ready to answer all your questions.. SKN had examples of different soils from NSW, a local soil profile, simple soil tests, soil sampling equipment, a laptop with SKN videos, and an earthworm experiment.

Environmental Science Solutions.

Paul Harvey owns Environmental Science Solutions and his passion is in environmental contaminants / pollutants. He has published widely on this topic. His business, ESS, helps to spread knowledge about potential pollutants in our ‘dirty’ world. ESS offer talks, public presentations and interactive trade stalls. At Mad About Dirt visitors could explore soil pollutants through hands-on activities like ‘plastic in our soil’ where participants can look at fine fragments of plastic pollution in soil under the microscope.

  • Grace Springs Farm, Kulnura NSW.

Virginia Mall said: “Soil is at the core of everything we do here on the farm. Our every decision is about improving soils, to be able to grow more pasture to feed more animals & produce nutrient dense food for our community. We are always aiming to increase the water holding capacity of our soil & to increase the biological & fungal activity in our soils. 
Healthy soils = healthy pastures = healthy animals = healthy people”.

  • Water Ups Down Under.

The WaterUps from Down Under® water wicking cell is an Australian designed and manufactured product that can be used in a wide variety of watering situations. The wicking cells are modular in nature to allow them to be custom fitted to the shape and size of any growing environment large or small. 

If need be, they can also be cut or shaped to allow you them work in all manner of growing containers, gardens or landscape designs.

  • SESL: Sydney Environmental Science Laboratory.

SESL Australia has evolved over 30 years and is now one of Australia’s leading environmental, soil, water and plant science laboratory and consultancy service.  Established in Sydney in 1984 by Simon Leake, SESL has a network of offices across Australia including NSW, VIC, QLD and the ACT to provide their clients with consistent quality and local knowledge.

  • Narara Ecovillage Co-operative Ltd.

The member –owned Narara Ecovillage Co-operative is creating an ecovillage of over 100 homes to pioneer and demonstrate more sustainable ways of living.

Other exhibitors included:

Gardening with Angus- selling signed copies of the new bestseller by Angus and Simon Leake Grow Your Own,  the handy and readable manual everyone needs.

Plate to Paddock: yes, NOT Paddock to Plate. Come and find out about this terrific new Central Coast initiative.

Effective Soil Chemistry: this Narara-based consultancy offered free Ph (acidity- alkalinity) and salinity testing of soils for visitors.  Ph. 0475 211 774.

Biodynamics Sydney.  Possibly the most holistic and spiritual of all soil philosophies and practices: you could assess this passionate movement for yourself.

Community Environment Network: the brilliant, Central Coast-based, community networking project.

Nature Heals-book.Titled Nature Heals, this is an introduction to Nature-based therapies in Australia and New Zealand. The book explores inspiring stories of the power of nature and the connections between health and growing plants.

Who was Mad Abut Dirt for?

Mad About Dirt was for you if you are:

  • a tree-hugging, plant-loving, dirt worshipper!
  • a dedicated home or community gardener
  • passionate about growing your own, healthy, food
  • inspired by Permaculture or Biodynamics
  • a campaigner for soil conservation and for regenerative agriculture
  • intrigued by new discoveries in the soil biome- the microscopic life in soil
  • committed to positive action on human-induced climate change
  • a provider of courses, workshops, apprenticeships and employment in areas related to soil and growing food
  • a student interested in any of the above 
  • a mud-brick /rammed earth/ strawbale/ hempcrete home builder
  • you just love mud
  • and you want to learn more and to meet fellow soil, gardening and permaculture lovers.

How could you get there by public transport

  • Take a train to Narara rail station and then take our free shuttle bus to the event or
  • take a train to Gosford and then either a taxi to Narara (cost $15-18) or the bus to Hanlan Street, then 10 minute walk, or
  • take a train to Narara rail station, then take a 25 minute walk or 5 minute bicycle ride.

Download (PDF, 48KB)

Wheelchair access.

There was wheelchair access to:

  1. all areas at the Narara Valley High School, e.g the main hall (talks and exhibitors), the Performance space (Talks) and the school farm.
  2. at the Narara Ecovillage: the Visitor Centre (where the talks are held), and the main roads (good views of houses being built and of nearby gardens).

We regret that there was no wheelchair access into the Permaculture garden or the greenhouses, and only limited access to the Children’s Play areas.

Food and drink

You were welcome to bring your own picnic. There were coffee carts at both venues and a a vegetarian sausage sizzle at the ecovillage. We loved people who brought their own water bottle. 

Our sponsors and grantors.

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Contact: email  Phone 0400 601 668.

News : Garden design scholarship announced.

12 March 2019.

As part of the Mad About Dirt event, Builtsmart Modular Homes of Lisarow  announced a generous $8,000 scholarship for year 11 and 12 students of Narara Valley High School and Lisarow High School. The scholarship will be awarded to the best design for a modular garden that can accompany Builtsmart’s modular homes.

The scholarship will be managed Builtsmart Modular General Manager Sean O’Hara and Narara Valley High School Deputy Principal Kerrie O’Heir. The project was dreamed up by Joan Cassels, co-coordinator of the Mad About Dirt event.  

Sean O’Hara said that Builtsmart wanted to provide opportunities for local high school students to gain skills. “ We produce environmentally friendly modular homes, now we would like to encourage local young people to design environmentally friendly gardens to go with them. We are looking for  designs that can make use of Builtsmart’s technical capacities and any by-products of our manufacturing processes. The garden beds should be suitable for delivery and attachment to Builtsmart Modular homes for decks, window boxes, and for under and along side the houses, including vertical gardens”.

Students who wish to enter the competition will have a special opportunity to get expert advice from television personalities Angus Stewart and Tino Carnevale at the Mad About Dirt event at the Narara Valley High School on Saturday May 11 at 9 a.m. 

Our keynotes.

To learn more about Tino, go to—tino-carnevale/10945254.

For more on Angus, former Central Coast resident and now climate refugee in Tasmania, go to (NB Angus’s first job was at DPI Narara!). Angus was available to sign his books like Grow Your Own: How to be an Urban Farmer(with Simon Leake), and The Australian Native Garden, A Practical Guide(with A.B. Bishop).