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Micro-touring the Northern Rivers as/with Artist as (extended) Family

It was here, 10 kms out of Mullumbimby on the Myocum Road, riding back to Bentley for the big showdown with police, where we pulled over to check directions and discovered our phone ablaze with messages from loved ones asking us to confirm whether the news was indeed true.

Woody may not quite have understood what was behind the joy of his parents at this moment but nonetheless picked up that it was something significant. OMG! Metgasco’s license suspended and police operation cancelled. We’ve won! We’ve bloody well won!

Patrick spent some time over the next week writing down the reasons for the success at Bentley while it was fresh in our minds.

We called our friend Brett, who we’d stayed with back in Kempsey, to tell him the news. Brett was riding to meet us at Bentley for the showdown with police. As we were all on bikes fuelling our own transits we decided not to head back there for the celebrations but to meet in Ocean Shores and ride north together.

While we were at Bentley, via the play of our dogs Russell and Zero, we met Eka who lives at Ocean Shores. Eka had previously invited us to stay with her if we passed by. She and her son Olaf hosted us with Alice and her son Satria, who are also travelling the country.

On our second and last night we all joined Eka and Olaf’s community on the beach for a full moon fire before Artist as (extended) Family bid the ocean adieu and set off for Burringbar.

It was wonderful to be travelling as five again, and Brett immediately made life easier in a myriad number of ways.

He led us to the home of his friends on a property that matriarch Jan had steward-gardened for thirty-five years, slowly turning it from cleared paddock into forest.

Jan’s daughter Jessie Cole, two grandsons Milla and Luca, and pooch Jet, also live on this remarkable property,

which contains this little bungalow where Artist as Family stayed.

While we were there we were inspired to scheme up a small, gravity fed, off-grid home based on the proportions of this little dwelling by the creek.

We had many fruitful discussions while we stayed with Jessie and Jan and the boys, ranging from composting toilets to the woeful ideology of mainstream economics (which we all agreed is in serious need of composting). We were treated to the family’s citrus orchard,

and dared to try this fruit,

which is a supposed relative of dragon fruit. It wasn’t unpleasant.

It was only a twenty k ride from Ocean Shores to Upper Burringbar and about the same distance on to Uki, where we headed to next, climbing two hills and joyously coming down them:

this was micro-touring on quiet roads – heavenly. Not far out from Uki Brett spotted a banana passionfruit vine that had naturalised.

Wow! What spoils from the verge we have had on this trip.

We rode into Uki on a high and went to the general store to buy some tucker. OMG! The store has organic and biodynamic bulk foods, local bulk honey and home-grown produce. This is the first time we’d seen such a hybrid business. What a model for other small towns.

We set up camp on the banks of the Tweed River and were soon visited by a friendly local, Tim, who invited us over to his place.

The next day we walked there,

passing these lovely creatures on the way.

Tim showed us around the property he grew up on. He, like Jan and Jessie and the boys, had a lovely connection to their land and a deep respect for Indigenous lifeways. Tim showed us his experimental fish trap, which was an exercise in remodelling Indigenous food gathering techniques, not necessarily for catching fish but for better understanding the ways in which people enact low-damaging modes of life.

We invited Tim and his girlfriend Ahliya over for a fireside dinner and asked them to bring their instruments, and while Brett wrapped sweet potato in river soaked Bangalow palm leaves to put on the fire,

TJ Quinton and Ahliya Kite sang us into poetic reverie with their playing. We will try to catch their upcoming gig in Brisbane at Clarence Corner Bookstore.

Needless to say the sweet spuds were also a hit. And we served them with a simple pasta dish while listening to the mullet jumping in the creek.

The next day we breakfasted on the dragon fruit that Tim and Ahliya had brought,

and on the way out of town stopped by the Uki hall, drawn in by a fundraising event that spilled out onto the street where we injected a large hit of industrially farmed evil to burn off on the road to Murwillumbah.

Another little twenty-five km day. Oh, the spoils of micro travel! Pulling over to buy some far more responsibly farmed produce,

we then bee-lined to Murwillumbah’s bike shop. Jim and Claire have had the shop for 31 years and they shone in good ol fashioned service.

Jim, a cyclist all his life,

fixed a broken spoke and re-aligned the wheel while we waited. Now we were ready to find our friends Belinda and Cecile’s home, which they share with their dog-kin Missy.

This expecting creative couple are working on a book of creative couples, which Meg and Patrick are to be featured in. For a few of days we hung out together,

laughed, went for walks around the town and cooked each other meals,

before Cecile and Belinda waved us off.

We had itchy pedals and were excited, but also uneasy to move into Queensland, where just over there,

politicians have opened up the country yet another notch, to mine, pollute and devastate under the umbrella of an economic model that refuses to grow up. But before we go there we have a few days to relax at Tweed Heads,

and enjoy the company of Meg’s parents,

who have come to momentarily abduct their youngest grandson, who just might be in need of some new shoes.

Bentley to Mullumbimby – locavore feasts, bicycle hitchhiking and permaculture travel

Our ten days of recuperation from Bentley has proved just the medicine. We farewelled Gate A,

and rode east with an invitation to stay with a fellow Bentley protector, Dr Phil, in Ewingsdale.

After riding 50ks or so we broke the trip in Bangalow, a pretty town that has been recently infected by a boutiquey city snobbery. Before nightfall we raised our tents behind the toilet block in a local park to create this rather bourgeois accommodation,

before heading to Phil and his partner Natalia’s the next morning. On the road to Ewingsdale we spotted Australia’s most eastern point, Cape Byron. What pastoral splendour!

We have come to understand the wondrous luxury of a warm shower, and at Phil and Natalia’s we certainly experienced this warmth, alongside others. We were treated to a locavore feast, with much of the ingredients coming directly from their family’s produce garden.

Meet (from left) Casuarina, Pandanus, Natalia, baby Melaleuca and Xanthorrhoea, with Zero, Meg and Blackwood. We found we shared many common things, such as a love of music, permaculture, eating local, eating weeds and giving our children Indigenous tree names. On a wet and stormy day Phil and Natalia kindly loaned us their car and we shuttled down the hill to nearby Byron Bay to visit the markets,

discover fruit and vegetables we just don’t see back home, such as these winged beans,

and visit an old friend, Bridget, in her studio before she cooked us a delicious meal.

We can see why this beach town is a significant destination on the tourist map,

but brand Byron seems to us a victim of its own success. We were pleased to get out of this high consumption rat race and find the road to Mullumbimby, where 10ks out we picked up Dee, our very first hitchhiker, needing a lift into town.

We came to Mullum to stay with our friends Chris and Vanessa and their boy Willem and pooch, Bella.

It was in Mullumbimby that we were treated to more delicious and nutritious local food. We rode straight to the weekly produce market, bought some produce for the week and ate starfruit on the main drag, outside the organic and GM-free food shop, Santos.

We devoured red papaya at the Mullum Community Garden (MCG),

and chewed on red sugarcane at Chris and Vanessa’s family plot there.

Back at Bentley a few weeks earlier, Artist as Family participated in a biochar workshop with a guy called Don, who explained the fundamentals (and indeed imperatives) of turning woody biomass into biochar.

Don and his co-conspirator, Wadsie, run a demonstration biochar site out of MCG, and it was great to see the set up on a larger scale.

Assembled and used correctly this rather humble looking array of drum furnaces can burn woody material considerably cleanly and can, according to Don, produce a by-product (charcoal) that can put carbon back into soil for millennia. And while it’s true around 50% of carbon is given off into the atmosphere at the charring stage, the remainder becomes more or less permanently sequestered producing an ecological soil product that can house beneficial microbes, help retain water and enable aeration. When ordinary biomass decomposes (or composts down) virtually 100% of the material is quickly given off as methane gas with little benefit to soil composition after a few years.

Another thing raised in discussions at Bentley that came to fruition for us in Mullum was a letter to elders. When we walked to Melbourne a few years ago we wrote to the elders of the three nations we were to pass through to seek their permission. This time on bikes, we thought we’d stop at Indigenous cooperatives along the way to seek permission as we didn’t have a predetermined route worked out. But it hasn’t really worked out that way, so now we think it time again to start sending a letter ahead of our arrival, and this is what we penned:

Roman law only got established in Australia because of that convenient Latin term terra nullius, but our letter to elders recognises Indigenous law as the ‘primary law of the land’ and is modelled on what Jaara elder Uncle Brien Nelson (back in our home country) tells us is called the tanderrum or ‘freedom of the bush’. A tanderrum agreement occurs when land holders give foreigners temporary access to their country and resources. The only reason Roman law remains in Australia lies with the pointy bit of the law – the shooty bit. The gun remains the final line of authority in a morally impoverished legal system and a morally corrupt political system that has never properly defended Indigenous culture, the land, its creatures and its people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) from the terrorism of greed that masquerades as economics. Without guns and greed to threaten us, the enormous effort it has taken to protect Bentley would not be necessary.

Our host, Chris, teaches permaculture design in Mullum and asked us to give a talk to his PDC students on ‘permaculture travel’ and on applying permaculture principles to all aspects of life. We spoke about our reasons for living car-free and the importance of understanding the impacts of fossil fuels and their subsequent wars, from 1914 onwards – the Berlin to Baghdad railway to the present day Bentley blockade – and what we are doing to work against this culture of violence and damage and perform non-damaging life ways.

We’re getting ready to leave Mullumbimby and ride back to Bentley. It looks like a large force of police will soon attempt to dismantle the blockades set up there, and with the pointy bit of an illegitimate legal system aid the negligent company Metgasco to build its Northern Rivers gasfield. We will defy this violence with large numbers of good folk and clear-eyed song:

hey there officer!
protect the protectors
our water, land and air

Two videos and two poems about protecting and transitioning

During our third week at Bentley we mostly kept vigil on the gates and helped out down at Camp Liberty where we could. Here is a paddock-edited video we made during that week of Patrick’s poem, Bentley blockade, which gives a little insight into what Aidan Ricketts calls ‘an outbreak of democracy’.

During this same week our friend Rasha Tayeh released her more-than-paddock-edited film The Growing Food Project, which features Patrick’s poem, Step by step.

We’re having a short break from Bentley and will return later in the month when it is thought large numbers of police will attempt to dismantle the three gates blockaded there. If you are in the region and can get along to help, try to arrive on Friday 16 or Saturday 17 May (with your swag or tent), as police will certainly block the roads into Bentley some time before Monday 19, the supposed day of confrontation. For regular updates on the Bentley Blockade visit Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.