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Novel fruits, roadside memorials, tiredness and general life making (from Coffs to Lawrence)

We left Coffs Harbour and headed north along the Pacific Highway, passing banana and blueberry plantations and,

sadly, more visions of life interrupted.

We met a family from Woolgoolga at Steve Hill’s skydiving centre and they invited us to stay with them. Woolgoolga, we found out on our arrival, is home to a large Sikh population. According to wikipedia nearly 13% of Woolgoolgians speak Punjabi at home.

The name Woolgoolga comes from the Gumbaynggir word Wiigulga, meaning black apple (Planchonella australis) and not lilly pilly (Syzygium) as wikipedia suggests. Out on the headland we joined the local hunters to try to snaffle some autonomous ocean food,

to bring to the dinner table at the Feeney’s.

Meet Mark, Vivienne and Denise. Mark is a teacher and musician who plays a mean tin whistle in a folk band called Headland. Vivienne is studying for her HSC, and Denise’s passion is the circus.

She gave us a couple of stellar backyard performances of aerial acrobatics, while Woody worked on the hoops.

It was at the Feeney’s, under their paw paw tree and passionfruit vine, that Artist as Family first sampled starfruit (Carambola).

A mildly astringent but nonetheless delicious fruit native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, that is grown locally in Woolgoolga, no doubt as a result of the local Sikh population. After a couple of restful nights with the Feeney’s (thank you! thank you!) we bid them farewell and headed for Red Rock passing more signifiers of loss on the Pacific.

We arrived at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the late afternoon,

where we met the delightful Kim, a Gumbaynggirr woman, and bought some dried bush tomatoes (Solanum diversiflorum), which we tossed through the evening’s pasta dish a little further on at Red Rock.

The local Garby elders call Red Rock ‘Blood Rock’ because of the massacre of their people by Europeans that took place in the 1880s. Thankfully today Aboriginal culture remains strong in the area. Bush tomatoes, a food traditionally found in more arid parts of Australia, have a sweet, mildly spicy flavour. After dinner we went in search of a camp site, which we found on dusk and hurriedly set up while being predated by the local mozzie population. As Jake Cassar taught us back on the Central Coast, Aboriginal people burned the leaves of native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) to keep mozzies afar, but lighting a fire would have given our game away in this country of incessant prohibitions. The next morning we woke to a flat tyre and a heavy dew that permeated throughout all our bedding. We are always dry inside our tents under heavy rain, but condensation knows no barriers.

So it was a late start in getting away by the time everything dried. We sensed we couldn’t stay where we were camped after a couple of locals expressed their disapproval of our chosen lodgings. So we left Red Rock,

and jumped back on to the Pacific, with no other choice of road to push north to Grafton. It was to become a very long and draining day.

Meg and Woody were sporting a cold, Meg was still fighting off a UTI, our tyres were deteriorating after nearly 2500 kms and kept puncturing, we had numerous patches of dangerous road with little shoulder to ride on, and to top things off we had a stiff headwind for the entire way. It took us a whole day to ride a mere 50 kms. It was one of our hardest days yet.

We cooked dinner at a free BBQ facility and sneaked a camp spot in an arboretum originally planted by the Grafton Girl Guides, near the local tennis courts.

We had only a morning in Grafton, purchasing and fitting new tubes and tyres. It was fairly hot by the time we rode out of town in search of a place of rest.

On the quiet road out of Grafton towards Lawrence we stopped for a watermelon break in the shade.

This delicious melon cost a mere $2 bought directly from the farmer, across the road. Woody devoured his share with gusto.

It was such a relief to be off the Pacific and not having cars and trucks dominate our senses.

But even so, on this quiet road meandering alongside the Clarence River, reminders of the normalised brutality of fast travel prevailed,

in numerous forms.

But there were also forms of life suited to slow travel and slow food,

which was ironic as we began to pass more and more sugar cane monocultures, the most south this crop is grown in Australia. Hot and fairly fatigued we hobbled into the beautiful township of Lawrence, made a late lunch by the Clarence, enjoyed a rumble on the grass,

and were again hurried to set up camp, this time on sighting a formidable storm approaching.

We prepared camp, tarped over the bikes and walked up to the local pub. We had the priviledge of speaking with local cane farmer Rex, who claims his household doesn’t use any processed sugar in their diet, and sings the praises of cold extracted honey, as we do. We also shared other environmental concerns, such as the toxic wastes of bottled water. He couldn’t work out why greenies don’t focus more on disposable wastes, especially plastic pollution, and couldn’t work out why bubblers are not more widespread in Australia. We shared with him this link and this link to suggest that ‘greenies’ are doing this work, but that it takes more than a few activists to instill change. The next morning we woke and after a brief walk were gifted the discovery of ripe pecans (Carya illinoinensis), just fifty metres from our camp.

It was in hindsight that we realised we needed some golden find like this to rejuvenate our motivations for this trip, after some very draining days. Pecans are high in fibre, manganese, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and protein, and there is just so much pleasure climbing a public tree for food that has (more than likely) never been sprayed with pesticides.

We harvested a bagfull of these lovely nuts and eagerly cracked their shells to reveal the largest and most buttery pecans we’ve ever had.

We will stop now for a few days in Lawrence, whose postcode just happens to be 2460, to forage and fish and generally recharge our tired Daylesford (3460) bodies. There is something special about this place, and we like the way the locals encourage free camping (despite the local council’s prohibition signs littering the reserves).

Thanks Feeney and Lawrence folks, thanks for giving us places of rest.

Home on the road (goodly relations from Taree to Coffs Harbour)

We stayed in Taree for a night at a fairly forgettable caravan park (our first in months), legged it to Queens Lake and free camped by the water’s edge for a brief dusk-to-dawn stay.

Zeph did the maths and calculated the sum we would pay if we stayed in caravan parks every night for our year on the road. It was $14,600, averaging $40 a night, just for a patch of ground to pitch our tents. Australia really is one continuous rip off if you follow the rules. We faced an 80 km ride to Kempsey to visit our dear friend Brett – our longest day in the saddle so far. Brett is temporarily back from doing volunteer work in Lebanon with Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, and as luck would have it, our timing aligned.

When Brett lived in Daylesford we did loads of great stuff together, including getting Daylesford Community Food Gardens and Critical Mass Daylesford up and cycling.

Brett’s family home sits just above the Macleay River,

and we were able to go out fishing for bass,

or just for pleasure.

While staying with Brett and his brother Kurt, we borrowed their scales to weigh our bikes, gear and ourselves.

One of the many common questions we get asked on the road is how heavy are the bikes?, so using Brett and Kurt’s scales we thought we’d find out.

We had three gentle, restorative days with Brett and Kurt before reloading the bikes for more northerly drifting. Thanks so much brothers love!

We meandered back to the coast through beautiful country following the Macleay River. Where we stopped to buy some farm gate produce we caught on camera Zeph losing control of Meg’s bike, which with Woody (12 kg) and without Meg (50 kg) weighs nearly 80 kg, demonstrating that our so-called drift requires quite some effort.

We rode into South West Rocks and arrived on dusk,

foraged dinner at the local fish and chippery, munched on our fresh farm gate goodies to top us up, set up camp down a bush track by torchlight and woke up early to move on before being discovered by the local ranger.

We had a morning’s scratch around the town and along the coast before following the Macleay River on its north bank back towards the Pacific highway. Along this road we stopped for a break and got talking to Peter, a local man-of-many-useful-trades. Peter and his partner Sonya, with whom we swapped notes about the political agency of growing your own food, later met us up the road with some of their home grown produce. Thanks sweet couple!

With our food pannier full to the brim we were back on the Pacific and soon cursing the way the shoulders kept disappearing, sighing with relief when they would reappear. It was along this section of road that we bumped into southbound American David, only the fifth cycle tourist we’ve seen in four and a half months.

Remarkably (and unrelated to David) a few minutes later came Phil, our sixth. We held a brief cycle touring conference. Phil was travelling with his suitcase and a folding bike, a novel approach to touring although, he said, it was a bit limiting because of the drag.

We parted ways with these solo southbounders and a little further on stopped for lunch, hard boiling Peter and Sonya’s organic duck eggs and devouring their delicious cucumbers.

It was only after lunch that we noticed the tandem had what was to be our first puncture, over 2100 kms into the trip.

We fitted the spare tube and headed to Nambucca heads, only to get another puncture in the same tyre on arrival. With our late entrance into the town and with threatening storm clouds brewing we booked into our first budget-breaking motel, for the sake of a bath.

The heavens opened overnight, while we attended to fixing the tubes, making dinner, washing clothes and bodies and indulging in a spot of bedroom TV. But after this brief sojourn into civility we were keen to get back to what we love doing best,

riding to the beautiful Valla Beach,

where we were again treated to some very heavy rain overnight and were thankful for the community shelter, in yet another non-camping reserve, to dry out our drenched tents the next morning.

After all these months of thinking about where we might land on this trip, Bellingen was always going to be a place of special interest. We let our bikes glide us into the town and guide us intuitively to a little public place where we could make lunch. Meg went into nearby Kombu, a wholefoods shop that would be included in anyone’s vision of an ecoutopia, to get a few more supplies. Meg soon came back with the proprietor, Kevin Doye, who to our pleasant surprise is one half of the awesome Bike 2 Oz couple, who Artist as Family had been inspired by years before.

Kevin and Lowanna (the over half of this wonderful duo) invited us to meet their family, shouting us an early dinner at one of the local cafés that supports local growers. It was fantastic to meet this family and share our cycle touring stories.

There is something very unique about Bellingen. Whereas there are similarities with our hometown Daylesford, things are less touristy in this mid north NSW town. Even though we have our share of wonderful things going on, Bello seems far less a tourist-pleasing spectacle, on its trajectory to environmental sustainability. Check out the town’s main vegie shop, for example. Notice the absence of packaging. Local people here don’t mind the inconvenience of lean logic, whereas at home the linage of twentieth century ‘indulgence tourism’ still poisons our community.

And then there is the twice-monthly farmers’ market, where again the emphasis is on bringing your own containers and eating locally.

There are the forageable public fruit trees, such as the avenue of orange trees planted very intentionally at the soccer fields as half time sweeteners, as well as autonomous fruit trees such as guavas, which have naturalised in the district.

Like home there are town notice boards demonstrating a rich social life.

And like home there is much needed environmental experimentation, such as the trial crop of a post crude oil fiber, fodder, fuel, food, medicine and building material plant.

We met the grower, Steve Henderson, who has close family ties with Daylesford and Hepburn, and we met the gorgeous Jay who just a few weeks before had photographed the joyous community harvest of Steve’s first crop. By chance we were lucky enough to capture Steve’s passion for industrial hemp on our little vid camera. (It’s not quite ready yet, we’ll let you know when this inspiring little snapshot becomes available).

Like home there are excellent community gardens in Bellingen,

and experienced volunteers, like these two chaps, Steve and Mark.

And like home there are many generous people, who engaged with our story. For three days we stayed with the delightful Gull, his boys Sol and Reuben, and his partner Linda, sharing food, parenting and narratives of transition.

When we left proto-utopian Bellingen we rode the back roads near promised land country,

and pitched our tents at Coffs Harbour airport

with a friend of Gull’s, Steve Hill, who runs Coffs City Skydivers and an awesome communal living environment.

With this destination we sadly farewelled Zeph, who after three months of being on the road headed home to be with his mum and his friends. We made family wrist bands using the fibre from Steve Henderson’s hemp, the method was taught to us back in Tumut by Wiradjuri ranger Shane Herrington,

and shedded tears for this growing boy’s independent departure into the skies that we older ones no longer travel.

Farewell Zeph! We’ll see you for the last three months of the trip. Thanks for everything you have brought to this adventure. We love you so sososososososososo much. And miss you already.

Our home on the road won’t be quite the same without you…