R.I.P. Ross Mars

Our dear friend, Ross Mars, passed away on 9 November 2023.

There’s only a small handful of people who I can say truly changed the course of my life, and Ross was one of them.

Ross introduced me to Permaculture in 1993, 30 years ago.

I’d never met Ross before enrolling to do one of his early Permaculture Design Courses (PDC) while I was studying Environmental Science at Murdoch University as a mature age student (all of 26 years old).

Within the first few hours of day one, it was obvious that Ross knew how to teach, knew his subject, and had a dry and at times wicked sense of humour. I have to say, it also didn’t take long for him to reveal that he didn’t suffer fools, even if they’d paid quite a lot of money to be there.

I fell in love with Ross’s sense of humour, his belief in a better world through the principles of Permaculture, and his honesty.

I’m sure I’m not the only person for whom Ross’s brilliantly taught PDC’s changed the course of their life. Soon after completing the two-week course, I pulled out of university with Mollison’s Design Handbook under my arm and bought a 50% share in the recently established Fremantle Permaculture Centre, in North Fremantle. The Permaculture Centre was a small nursery focussed on supplying productive plants, seeds, mulch, books, etc and we regularly ran courses on Permaculture and organic gardening.

We stayed pretty close for many years, and he became a big supporter of the Permaculture Centre, which then evolved into my next project, The Fremantle Community Garden Centre.

Mike giving a speech at the Open Day of The Fremantle Community Garden Centre in 1995. To the right is Michelle, cradling their first born, Amala, and next to the right is Ross Mars, keenly listening to his student.

Ross was one of the few people I’ve met who always seemed to be as busy as me. If he wasn’t running a Permaculture course, he was writing a new book or building a business, like Candlelight Farm Education Centre, Grey Water Disposal Systems which evolved into Water Installations and Red Planet Plants wholesale nursery.

We also promoted his enterprises through the nurseries as we could always rely on him to do a good job, even if it wasn’t entirely legal! His first book, Getting Started in Permaculture, was a great little book and one of our bestsellers.

We followed each other as we grew and evolved, which took another path for me after doing the advanced Permaculture course on Sustainable Human Settlement Design & Development with Robyn Francis and Peter Cuming in Northern NSW in 1995.

I consulted with Ross while exploring wastewater options for the Ecovillage and the day he told me that he and Jenny had decided to buy a block in the Ecovillage was a very proud moment for me, as the project would likely never have happened if not for the simple and fateful enrolment in his PDC in 1993. I also knew he had so much knowledge and wisdom to offer the Ecovillage.  

It was not long after this, soon after Ross and Jenny started building their beautiful Ecovillage home that Ross was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND). I’ll never forget the day he called to tell me of the diagnosis, and how disappointed he was to realise he would not be able to fulfill his dream retirement with the love of his life in the Ecovillage. However, as one would expect from a man of science who was as practical as Ross, he was also very matter of fact about the diagnosis and what it meant for the coming year.

It was always such a great pleasure to see him over the course of that incredibly cruel year because regardless of how much pain he was in and how fast the decline, his wonderful sense of humour and cheeky smile never left him.

He passed away on 09/11/23 with the use of voluntary assisted dying, which was such a great relief for Ross. The decline and pain associated with MND is no way to prolong life beyond the level he had endured already.

As one would expect from such a wonderful and close family, Ross’s funeral service was a beautiful celebration of a great man who’d helped, encouraged and supported many people and of a life well lived.

Early next year we will invite Jenny, family and friends down to the Ecovillage to plant a significant tree and plaque in memory of Ross in the Ecovillage Commons land.

RIP Ross Mars, we will miss you forever.