Why Aquaponicics took off in Australia

Ask anyone why Aquaponics took root so strongly in Australia and you might be left scratching your head unless you live in Western Australia. Back in 2006, the Australian ABCTV Gardening show recorded a little interview with a backyard gardening enthusiast called Joel Malcolm. This little video clip when it was first shown on Australian TV caught the imagination of a whole heap of frustrated Australian backyard gardeners who watched the segment and wanted to learn more on how to grow fish and vegetables together – in their backyard.

Ask a lot of the “old hands” amongst the Australian Aquaponics forums what started them off on their Aquaponics journey and they’ll tell you it was Joel and this video clip that sparked their thirst to learn more.

A lot of Australian Aquaponics enthusiasts are an inventive lot – and capable scroungers. The more gifted were able to source materials from the local junk yard and build their systems from what was commonly available at hand.

Soon all kinds of tubs, drums and odd pipe connections were being setup in the backyard to the disapproving look of their puzzled wives. When Joel Malcolm setup his Backyard Aquaponics Forum it enabled Australians to log on and post photos of their often strange and crazy aquaponics inventions. Ideas were freely exchanged. Knowledge was rare but methods were quickly shared and people soon ferreted out the good ideas from the foolhardy notions.

The merits of systems were debated. Was Flood and Drain better than Continuous Flow? Should one use a timer? What about float switches?

Whereas in the United States suitable fish were mainly confined to the one breed of Tilapia – here in Australia you could try all sorts of local fish that oddly enough seemed to survive quite well in recirculated fish tanks. From Silver Perch to Barramundi and Murray Cod to Rainbow Trout the list went on except for Tilapia! That fish was banned in Australia.

The blue barrel aquaponics system

So the tinkering in the backyards went on. From old plastic swimming pools to leaky plastic liners all kinds of enthusiasts shared their experiences online. Then there was the blue barrel. The standard Aquaponics setup. The humble blue barrel became a prized possession as enthusiasts debated which way should the barrel be cut to make ideal grow beds – sliced from top to bottom or sideways? People shared where the best barrels could be obtained cheaply. The blue barrel became the pride of many a backyard system – and still is used by many today. All kinds of variations were made and no idea was sacred. There was even a competition for Aquaponics systems made from garbage wheelie-bins – anything that was deep enough to store water was fair game to the home handyman.

Today there are two main Aquaponics forums. Joel’s Backyard Aquaponics Forum on the west coast and Murray Hallam’s Practical Aquaponics Forum on the Australian East Coast. Both Forums have an online shop where plenty of spare parts and free advice can be obtained.

In the United States Silvia Bernstein’s Aquaponics Source is emerging as the dominant player. The central ingredient to success is to build a hub or base where ideas could be exchanged and a scattered community of online enthusiasts are able to come together, hang out and share knowledge.