A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

Pop-up community, outbreak of democracy, the imminent arrival of riot police

If we wind back 150 years or so, pop-up tent settlements were rapidly sprouting around the country. Mining licenses were granted, pick axes took to rock, hopes for a better future flared along quartz seams, land was savaged, duckboards tracked through drenched camp lanes. 

Today another sort of rush is taking place, only this time things have flipped. Miners are no longer the poor and land dispossessed of Europe wanting to establish a better life, rather they are already affluent wanting to take more resources than they need in a way that could poison the land, water and air and inhibit life for future generations. Creating jobs is no justification for causing damage. The pop-up tent settlement at Bentley in northern NSW does not house miners, but rather protectors, demonstrating how to mass organise against such ecological intransigence.

Metgasco, the mining company wishing to exploit subterranean gas reserves by a method called tight sands fracking, may have a miner’s license acquired through an arcane legal system that favours damage, but they certainly don’t have a social license granted by the people. For this stance, this ‘outbreak of democracy’ (for the people, by the people) we’ve been told we may incur the full wrath of the state’s riot police. But we will not be bullied by state-sanctioned violence, and despite our tiredness and occasional flare-ups with one another, we are united in our commitment to protect the land from narrow self-interest and greed.

Artist as Family have never sat up so many nights on vigil defending country, never observed so many shooting stars, never witnessed so many magical dawns.

We have never seen so many cultures comes together for a common cause,

never witnessed such making that attempts to remodel and re-sense the ancient and sustainable practices of Indigenous Australians.

We have never shared so many stories and personal frailties,

and rarely have we felt the power of community to work towards significant change; to enact outbreaks of vital democracy.

We are so privileged to be at the Bentley Blockade,

to learn important skills to take back to our own community. To witness, contribute and be part of the love.

For life is worth protecting.

Law and lore (at the Bentley blockade)

The situation unfolding here at Bentley is as much to do with language as it is to do with environment. We all recognise ourselves as protectors of the land, protectors under a common lore held by the people.

This is a very different point of view for government (and others) who see us as ‘protesting persons’ under a Roman legal system. But we are free people, working together, helping to protect the land from damage. This is our home for now.

While it is well understood that fracking pollutes land and water directly, few people understand that carcinogens and other toxins are also released into the atmosphere by the fracking process, only to be inhaled by us and other organisms, or end up settling on our roofs, ponds and watercatchments, and eventually consumed through our food and water supplies. The elders here know what damage is, know its form and its hatred, and they know it is time to move from law that permits extractive damage and return to lore that enacts generative and generational succession of all things.

It’s about the food we eat,

and how we produce and prepare it.

It’s about the way we converse,

and the reconciliation we walk.

It’s about what remnants of the old world we recycle and reuse to build the new,

and it’s about what energies we use to power it,

energies that don’t cause damage.

We remain commited to our all night vigils here at Bentley because this place is every place.

Damage only prevails when good men and women do nothing.

Welcome to Bentley!

Food and energy: social transformers (Iluka to Bentley blockade)

The night before we left Iluka we were invited to a feast of crabs with Deanne and her family.

Deanne is yet another stellar local woman working at the coalface of the mostly male dominated industry of civil construction. She invited us for dinner and cooked mud crabs and these beautiful blue swimmers (Portunus pelagicus) in a chilli sauce.

Nine of us feasted for about an hour and a half on two dozen crabs, slowly working out all the delicious flesh from under the shell. The crabs had been caught by Deanne’s family and friends the previous day in the Clarence River. This area is abundant in coastal foods and has a long growing season for plants, including this one:

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), a plant that belongs to the large lily (Liliaceae) family and includes day lilies and edible asparagus. We were introduced to this invasive plant back in Forster by the Tuncurry Dune Care folk and we said back then we’d try to find out if it was edible. This has been a difficult task and our online research proved inconclusive. So we thought we’d conduct a little experiment of our own. Our hypothesis or hunch was that asparagus fern tubers would be edible, perhaps even desirable, and if that was the case then we carbon-heavy humans could embrace this plant as a food and become the biological controls of it.

Our experiment empirically demonstrated that asparagus fern doesn’t stack up as food. If only a small amount caused pronounced intestinal discomfort then we think a proper meal of it could really cause some problems. We can probably say now that asparagus fern tubers are NOT food fit for human consumption. Although, there is always a slim chance that something else caused Patrick’s discomfort several hours after he ate a few small tubers, we’re going to trust his reaction and not pursue this plant any further. With this somewhat intrepid experiment under our belts we loaded up the bikes, thanked Linda and Nicholas for hosting us so graciously, and left Iluka passing this rather wishful sign on the way out.

Let’s hope this decommissioned station is an image we’ll see more and more. The only fuel in this picture that we can see as viable for the future is solar radiation (the blue sky)… And on we pedalled towards another chronic fuel problem, as we’ll see shortly, stopping after a 55 km ride up the Pacific Highway at Woodburn to cook dinner on the banks of the Richmond River,

and later to the Woodburn football ground to set up camp under the light that was offered freely to us.

 We woke with the sun to heavy dew,

we had another 55km day ahead of us, so we packed up the tents wet, stocked up on our standard organic Aussie oat porridge sweetened with local ironbark blossom honey and currants,

crossed the Pacific and the Richmond River, and headed north to Lismore.

On the way we spotted some happy free range hens so we knocked on the door and bought a dozen eggs for $3 from these peeps.

A little further on we collected some guavas for our tucker bag.

As we approached Lismore we came to understand how conscientious this community is:

and we were drawn to this conscientiousness ourselves.

We found home at Camp Liberty with hundreds of others, 15 kms west of Lismore in an area aptly called Disputed Plains, near Bentley.

Camp Liberty is a pop-up settlement established to offer all forms of support, supplies, personnel, communications and a cultural sanctuary for the blockade of three gateways that give access to a proposed mine site for invasive gas exploration.

It’s an incredibly well organised camp,

with some clear-eyed thinking.

We volunteered for the first aid tent and have so far treated a number of people with minor ailments.

While getting to know the multiplicity of people stationed here,


and witnessing,

and getting to know more intimately the land we are all protecting.

While the corporatised media tellingly ignore what is happening at this camp, social media has come alive to represent this very special transformation of people power.

Three stellar women

We were fortunate to meet three stellar women while we stayed in Iluka. 
The first, Linda Marney, welcomed us onboard the ferry from Yamba and offered us her flat as a sanctuary while we awaited a bike part to come from Brisbane. Linda has a wealth of experience in all things maritime and spent several years sailing up the east coast of Australia. Her most recent project has been to develop a vibrant community garden in Iluka, which supplies fresh local organic food to the local branch of Meals on Wheels. The food is grown on the same site as it is cooked.

These pumpkins from the garden will go from spade to blade with the bare minimum of food kilometres and retain most of their nutrition before being consumed. Amazing stuff Linda!

The second, Rhoda Roberts, pictured here with her man Steve Field, we met up the main drag. Rhoda is a member of the Wiyebal Clan of Northern NSW, which is part of the Bundjalung Nation of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. She was the first Aboriginal presenter on prime-time television, fronting SBS’s First In Line and presented Radio National’s Awaye! programme. As an actor, she appeared on stage in the original production of Louis Nowra’s Radiance, in a role written for her. She introduced the term “Welcome to country” and established protocol manuals by local custodians for the arts industry during the 1980s. She is currently head of Indigenous programming at the Sydney Opera House, the creative director at VIBE Australia and director of a new Indigenous multi-arts event called the Boomerang Festival.

This is her ancestral country. So lovely to meet you Rhoda.

The third, Eddy Carroll, not a local but a friend from Melbourne currently staying in Yamba, caught the ferry over to visit us in Iluka. Eddy is a textile artist who has exhibited widely. She is a passionate advocate of local organic food networks and, like us, is currently living at no fixed address. Last year Eddy travelled to Thailand where she worked at Borderline Collective. Borderline Collective specialises in working with women in exile, developing their artistic skills in creating and marketing art work.

Eddy brought us over the gift of wild caught tuna jerky that she and a friend made with a local catch. Needless to say Artist as Family devoured it in moments. Thanks Eddy, great to see you again!

We will be leaving Iluka shortly to head to Bentley to join hundreds of kin fighting the gas-fracking juggernauts

Mixing it with the northerners (from Lawrence to Iluka)

We had three wet, windy but nonetheless restful days in Lawrence.

Our tents took a battering from two large storms but we remained fairly dry and warm. We fished catching only undersized bream (Abramis) from the Clarence,

and we learnt about these relative newcomers, cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which are the smallest species of egret that live in this region.

This country is blessed with a diversity of bird life no longer seen in most parts of the world, and every morning we wake in some bird-rich neighbourhood singing their praises. But this region around Lawrence is even more exceptional for its bird life. Hundreds of feathered species live here as permanents or seasonal migrants, and all day their activity is pronounced in this quiet little town.

We made long leisurely walks and picked a belly full of guavas,

from this guy’s paddock,

which we woofed down with grunting rigour.

We tried some local cumbungi (Typha), from a roadside bourgie café, but found it was a little stringy at this time of year.

While in Lawrence pecans and guavas were our greatest finds,

and with local bananas and farm gate cucumber they made a fine start to the day.

After breakfast and after drying out the tents we departed Lawrence by catching the ferry punt across the Clarence.

We passed a barn that seemed to be in hiding, or was it just shy?

We passed houses that were being retrofitted for the aggregating effects of climate change – people are preparing even though their governments, who could greatly help mitigate the effects, are not.

We spotted a Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) that, like the beginnings of the sugar cane monocultures just south of Lawrence, signifies we are entering the north of Australia.

We arrived in Maclean to a spot of op-shopping (undies for Woody and some local pickles),

and looked for a place to camp. But none availed in Maclean so we rode on to Yamba, found a site on Hickey Island and moved in.
Looks magical doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the frame you’re peering through, this image doesn’t reveal the millions of tiny predators that all vied for our blood from the moment we arrived. This is more the reality:

If you’re not used to them, like us, sandfly bites are extremely itchy. Mozzies are definately preferred. We tried to forget both despite their large numbers in Yamba and headed along to the mid-weekly farmer’s market where we bought garlic, corn, zucchini, capsicum and a few of these old variety cucumbers.

In the public park where the markets were held we discovered pandanus fruit (Pandanus tectorius), parts of which are edible when roasted and parts can be eaten raw. A fruit we’re eager to try once we come across a ripe one.

Yamba also boasts edible community gardens throughout its streets, encouraging people to pick the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing there.

We like Yamba but felt we couldn’t camp another night because of the insect life, and so we decided to catch the ferry over to Iluka and ride 15 kms north to Woombah, where Deanne, the sister of the delightful Sonia who we met back in Avoca, was offering us hospitality. We had a few hours before the next ferry, so we set up a Woody nap tent in a local park (to say the mozzies swarmed here is no exaggeration),

while Patrick visited the local bike shop, as the tandem was having problems again. Bill from Xtreme Cycle and Skate took the rear wheel axle apart but didn’t have the right size cassette pawls to replace the ones he discovered were damaged. The tandem was still rideable though and we thought it could make it to a bike shop in Ballina. Despite his time and effort, and giving us a place to charge our phone, Bill refused payment. Thanks so much Bill!

We rolled onto the ferry and were greeted by the effervescent Linda, who accommodated a family on extra long bikes with great enthusiasm.

By the end of the ferry trip Linda had offered us her granny flat in Iluka. We were extremely grateful because the tandem didn’t last the short ride to Linda’s before it became unrideable. We were grateful too for a warm shower, something we hadn’t had for a week. Thanks for ferrying us to your sanctuary, Linda!

So, we were in Iluka, being hosted by a lovely lady and her son, Nicholas, with everything we required

except a particular bike part for a particularly uncommon bike. It was then that we sensed again our significant dependance on industrialised travel: the need for a specific bike part and a car, loaned to us by the lovely Deanne, to head into Lismore to obtain it. While driving there we passed a cycle tourer and were mortified that we were not, for this moment of the trip, part of his community. We discovered in Lismore that our bike problem was bigger than we thought, and we were going to have to wait several days, so we set about looking for some good food to stock up on,

with minimal packaging. Linda kindly offered us the flat until the bike was sorted. These forced stoppages certainly do work for us. We are able to rest now in beautiful Iluka, joining Woody for midday sleeps and taking walks through the Bundjalung rainforest that is home to these incredible public composting toilets,

(talk about biomimicry!), and walk across the rocks at low tide at Iluka Bluff in Yaegl country.

Without these forced stops we have the tendency to keep moving because there is nothing quite like having all that you need attached to your bike and taking off into the unknown again and again.

This life is becoming very addictive.