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Our last leg north: Daintree Village to the Aboriginal community of Hope Vale (via the dreaded Bloomfield Track)

We left Daintree Village rested and ready for the ominous Bloomfield Track. We had met so many lovely folk in the village and a crowd gathered to cheer us off. But despite this warmth, racism was also around us; sometimes blatant, sometimes inverted or blind. In the face of this, local elder Linda Burchill, whose ancestral country we camped on, showed us her resilience, love and (as mentioned in the previous post) a handful of her haul of freshwater mussels.

On the way to Cape Tribulation, just before we crossed the Daintree River, we stopped to munch on cotton tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus) flowers, which are great eating and are out and about throughout the year. The internal bark of the tree was traditionally made into a poultice to dress wounds and used as a cure for ulcers.

Just over the road from this medicinal bush tucker is the opposite story. Conventional western farming using harmful chemicals to grow a plant that is not necessary in our diets, costs money and is harmful to people.

Nufarm, a member of the powerful chemical agriculture and GMO lobby group CropLife Australia (along with Dow, Monsanto, Bayer and co), produce the chemical drum on the right. Glyphosate is the active constituent in many herbicides, most notably Roundup, and used extensively by conventional farmers, conventional gardeners and conventional councils. It permeates western food and environments and is linked to gut flora collapse and the myriad inflammatory diseases that stem from it. Every year more evidence stacks up against this chemical, but so far Australia’s regulatory bodies are asleep at the wheel.

We crossed the Daintree by ferry,

and rode into cooler forest country, finally leaving behind the sugarcane monocultures that had begun in Lawrence in NSW many months earlier. We sensed relief.

We camped the night under this Blue Quandong tree, which provided food and shelter for us and some delightful others.

We rode quietly straining to eye a cassowary, only spotting orange-footed scrub fowls (Megapodius reinwardt),

and what we suspected were cassowary droppings. You can see how they make excellent forest regenerators, lightly spreading seed and manure like best-practice forest gardeners.

In a post-oil world these remote bitumen roads could gradually become road-bergs, break up and disintergrate into a geological layer that people are calling the Anthropocene. After this era it will be the seeds and manure, mushrooms and leaf litter that will transform the polluted world’s worlds as we know them, a toxic layer will be embedded representing this age of intransigence. Obama and his neo-con arms dealers, Abbott and his ISIS marriage of violence and we and our way of life that determines such violence will be mere composted remnants of a stupid age of fossil-fuel damage, there will be nothing left of the strangler fig’s host.

Fan palms (Livistona spp.) may well be eaten again, but only in a survivalist manner. When the cabbage or terminal bud is removed for food the palm dies.

By the time we began the Bloomfield track the sun was high in the sky and the 4WDs were loaded up with Middle-Eastern resources – one planet fuelled by one continuous oil war since Iraq 1914.

We were pretty chipper with ourselves getting to Emmagen Creek so spritely. So far so good, perhaps this track will be a breaze afterall. We had a swim and carried on.

Then the real work began. Photographs always flatten the picture plane making this steep incline look horizontal. Believe us, it wasn’t. Meg’s bike with Woody on it weighs 70 kgs and Patrick had to push his bike up the hill and then return to push Meg’s. Killer hard times!

We went into a time warp on that track as we heaved and huffed up and down the Owen and then the Donovan ranges. We have never perspired to the degree that we did and were extremely grateful for the intermittent shade across the track.

You might think it ridiculous that we were spruiking a bicycle bumbag political message on a road so remote, but the world’s most powerful and damaging were also travelling these roads.

On our first and only night on the Bloomfield Track we collapsed into this little dusty hidey hole,

and woke early the next day to beat the heat.

We no longer had fresh muscles or the stamina that had propelled us the previous day and we struggled with the heat, dust, motorised encounters and general discomfort.

But we made it! And where the road came down to meet the Bloomfield River we stopped and had our picture taken by friendly 4WD anthropocenes.

We soon arrived in Wujal Wujal at low tide, observed the fire reduction burns, rode the spanking new bridge over the Bloomfield River,

and headed to the Bana Yirriji Art and Cultural Centre where we met community elder, Sharon Walker, who showed us custard apples (Annona reticulate) that had naturalised near the river. Wow, what a delightful free food. Thanks Sharon!

We wandered up to the Bloomfield Falls,

and spent the afternoon cooking,

sleeping,

and swimming.

We stayed the night in Wujal Wujal, talking with local people about the range of public food in the town, including these star apples (Chrysophyllum cainito).

The purple latex glue of the fruit is to be avoided and can bond your lips together, but the white of the fruit is not only edible, it’s delicious.

The next day we followed the Bloomfield River north out of town where we spotted this little fellow taking in a spot of sun.

A little later in Ayton we met a loan bush-poet wanderer aptly called Bushy who encouraged us to try on his handcrafted crocodile vest. Good one Bushy!

But there was not much more smiling that afternoon. Hot and exhausted we hobbled into The Lion’s Den Hotel, a pub that doubles as a camping ground. The Bloomfield had completely ruined us.

It was at The Lion’s Den that we met Julie Frame, who was intrigued by our story and invited us to stay with her family in Cooktown. Thanks Julie, you anticipated we needed somewhere to rest for a while.

Wow! We rode our bikes from Daylesford to Cooktown along a very curly, zigzagging path and landed in a similarly sized and friendly town where we quickly got to work to catch some dinner gifts to take to the Frame’s.

What good fortune – two magnificent Spanish Mackerels (Scomberomorini) to share with this delightful family:

Meet Alistair, Amber, Savannah, Julie and Tess, the family pooch. We spent three nights with the Frame tribe, perched high up above Cooktown looking north,

The girls spoiled Woody with endless play, and Amber taught us all about the soap tree (Alphitonia excels) they had growing in their garden,

and how to crush up the leaves with a little water to create an instant bush shampoo.

Savannah taught us that the orange part of the broad-leaved native cherry (Exocarpos latifolius) is edible when it turns red. This plant is a sister species to our native cherry back home, Exocarpos cupressiformis, also known as cherry ballart.

We spent a few hours in the Cooktown Botanical Garden, which held a great collection of local bush foods, including Native Rosella (Hibiscus heterophyllus), otherwise known in the local Guugu Yimithirr langauge as Ya-bu,

and the Great Morinda or cheese fruit (Morinda citrifolia), known in the local language as Wuulabi or Dugunyja, which can be juiced and is supposed to be a cure for all things from cancer to AIDS. It remains a medicine food for Indigenous Australians.

While walking through the streets of Cooktown we came across our first ripe mango (Mangifera indica) of the trip. This little wind-fallen early bolter was a sweet jewel to our lips. We have been salivating in anticipation of mango season, which is still several weeks away.

While we stayed in Cooktown we went to the local markets and met this super-permie couple, Peter and Saeng,

who make a wicked green tea brew that includes pandanus, mulberry leaf, lime, ginger, tumeric and soursop leaf. We also met numerous other gardeners, permies and farmers all working towards a better food future in the region. When we left Cooktown on our truly last northern leg to Hope Vale, we stayed a night with farmer Cass and her pet cookatoo, Esme.

Cyclone Ita had ripped through the farm only five months earlier and we got to work helping clean up the damaged teak platation, from which Cass and her partner Rick had been able to salvage and mill a considerable amount.

The next day we rode on to Hope Vale, stopping off at Endeavour Falls for a splash,

and where we found the matchbox bean (Entada phasceoloides) known locally by the Guugu Yimithirr people as Yulnga, which was fruiting down by the water. The bark was traditionally used as a wound wash and a hairwash for lice and skin diseases. The seeds are toxic, but made edible through extensive preparation – roasting, pounding, leaching and baking.

On the way back from the falls we found the health giving naturalised herb, Gota Kola (Centella asiatica). We each ate four leaves for good measure.

The sun fried us savagely as we came into Hope Vale. Have we finally got to our most northern point on this incredible adventure? It seems fitting that Hope Vale, one of a number of Cape York Aboriginal Communities, is the place we stay, reflect, learn, commune and rest before we begin to head south.

We had earlier met Duncan Murray from the Cape York Institute and he arranged for us to meet several people in Hope Vale including senior elder on council Tim McGreen and Tim’s wife Elaine McGreen, a nurse and community elder.

Tim and Elaine invited us to stay in their home for a week where Woody immediately discovered Nonda Plums (Parinari nonda),

and we traded hunting knowledges with Tim and Elaine’s grandchildren and their community friends.

Tim and Elaine have been introducing us to many people in the community and we are learning much about traditional food and medicine here as well as new initiatives for developing community food resilience, which we will share with you in our next post.

Wherever you are, we hope that there’s plenty of medicine in your food and resilience in your community.

Much free food love from Artist as Family.

Eating ants, bush fruits and eels, and meeting crocodiles (Narragon Beach to Daintree Village)

It was very hard to leave our free-camping sanctuary with our freshwater pool streaming onto Narragon Beach just down from the Clump Point jetty where we pulled in our evening hauls of fish.

It was also hard to leave our lovely new and not so new friends.

We had our last ride in to Mission Beach with the delightful Tom Dean, the errant wayfarer, before once again setting our compass north.

Our restored senses went immediately into shock after we got back on the Bruce Highway. Trucks, motorhomes, caravans, misnamed ‘eco’ tourists, roadkill, roadside memorials, anthropogenic garbage and sugarcane mayhem all came flooding back to raze the peace and make us harden back up for another dose of digi-industrial reality. Needless to say we took the longer back road to Innisfail, via south Johnstone and Japoon, which rewarded us with this little haul of free fruit,

and a croc safe (at least in the dry season) swimming hole.

Further down the road we stopped to investigate some of the hidden ingredients in conventional banana farming.

This farmer was using two different pesticides: Echo 720, a fungicide and known carcinogen and the herbicide Gramoxone 250, which is an extremely dangerous chemical. The active constituent in Gramoxone 250 is paraquat dichloride, which is banned in 32 countries including China and all the EU nations including Switzerland where Syngenta, the chemical company that produces it, has its headquarters. This chemical has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

What is incredible is that bananas are considered ‘health food’ in Australia! When we’ve been stuck for food and have had to resort to supermarkets on this trip we routinely ask one of the staff where the ‘health food’ and ‘organic’ foods are. These minuscule couple of shelves contain products that have too much packaging or are also packed with hidden nasties such as refined sugar.

To paraphrase Michael Pollan: If it comes from a plant eat it; if it’s made in a plant don’t. The sugar industry in South Johnstone had certainly made its mark on the town, the cane trains surge down the main drag like cocaine through a major vein.

We just keep thinking: what would it look like if the Queensland Government pulled its subsidies from cane farmers, taxed refined sugars like they do tobacco and transferred the revenue to organic food producers or farms transitioning to organic food, bringing the price of organic food down so as everyone could purchase it? Imagine the savings made to public health! Imagine the beautiful ruination of predatory pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors who have built their businesses on an innutritious, immune depleting food system! And then there are the environmental questions.

Imagine if soils were no longer mined to grow a substance that isn’t necessary and that is causing so much ill health. Can you imagine in these razed fields as food forests of Maccadamia nuts, Davidson Plums, paw paws, bananas, grapefruits, oranges and a hundred other fruits all grown as a polyculture with leguminous plants interplanted, used as chop and drop fertilisers, where thick humus would form, repairing the soil and its mycorrhizal strata, and where perennial groundcovers would spread out after the first years of pioneering annual weeds doing their work to repatriate the earth, where a billion organisms live and build soil structure, and who through rigorous competition fight off the threat of dominating species, so as no pesticides, no corporations making decisions about our health, no organic certification was necessary because agricultural pesticides were all banned and common sense prevailed? But for now this is the present: millions of acres of completely unnecessary sugar cane.

Because Woody has never had refined sugar, his taste buds are open to all foods and their sensations. Whereas we older ones in the tribe may have a few blue quandongs here and there, Woody seeks them out with a passion. He’ll eat the tart ones, sour ones, mildly sweet over ripe ones, as well as the way past desirable ones.

He’s becoming the most enthusiastic forager of us all. He’s also partial to autonomus meat. At the free-camping spot at Babinda, Patrick hand speared a small black fish for bait and used it to catch this lovely creature on a 40-pound hand line:

an Australian long-finned eel (Anguilla reinhardti). We made a fire and cooked it on the coals for around 12 minutes each side. It was heavenly dining after peeling back the bitter skin and revealing the extraordinary white, moist flesh.

Artist as Family gave blessings to this powerful water creature and slept with the watery whirlings of the eel inside us. The next day we packed up early,

and took to the road. Our long-finned fuel powering us all the way into Cairns where we stayed with this delightful family:

Meet warm showers hosts Sarah, Oscar and Renee, who we look forward to spending more time with when we return to Cairns. After a night of great conversation, games, showers and delicious shared food, we picked up some supplies from the community food co-op and from a local park,

and headed north again. Sarah and Oscar rode ahead to steer our departure as Zero was having an RDO as our biological GPS.

One species that we have camped with everywhere, been stung by, admired their architecture but so far failed to try out as a bush food is the green ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

These amazing fruitarians are everywhere and we’ve now incorporated them into our everyday diet as a robust free food species. Like whitchetty grubs they have a high fat content; perfect as a cycling fuel. They are a zingy citrus-like edible, which is not surprising as they love citrus. We have all, including Woody, learnt to catch them by the head with our pincers, killing them instantly and popping them whole into our mouths.

We only got as far as Smithfield, an outer suburb of Cairns, and Patrick’s front wheel rim spilt open, possibly as a result of his eating too many green ants.

While waiting for the repairs we walked for a few hours in an industrial wasteland along the A1 and found these delicious ripe bush passionfruits (Passiflora foetida).

They oozed the devine right off the vine: no built religious environment was necessary to partake in this godly moment.

We were rather abruptly asked to leave the bike shop in Smithfield, prompting Patrick to write the following poem from our campsite at Unity Reef.

It felt right to be kicked out of the bicycle shop
in Cairns. We had coveted all their back room
power points with our touring stench. Baby and dog
running in and out of the place unsettling the gloss
while we waited for the expensive repair.
But perhaps it was really the ‘G20 – – – – LIES’
writ large across one of our tail panniers
that prompted the call for our exile by the boss.
After all the city was in feverish preparation
eager to celebrate the international visitors
with a cultural festival of entertainers
known as ‘the arts’.

Even if our schooling system today does its best to breed out the inquistive and critical in the population this doesn’t mean that the forthcoming G20 bankers get-together in Cairns isn’t a pox on the planet. But obviously many disagree, especially in Port Douglas where we came across this holidaying couple near the beach. When we asked the lady wearing it about her singlet she boasted it cost only $3 from K-Mart. Is it a joke? Are we missing the irony? Where do you start with such intransigence to life and the suffering of others for the sake of a $3 joke?

No doubt G20 finance delegates will flock to Port Douglas with all its monetary shmaltz. We on the other hand couldn’t wait to leave, legging it back to the A1 after a picnic lunch with fake artisan bread, temporarily being split up by big sugar before the town of Mossman in Kuku Yalanji country, on the way to the Daintree.

Not far on we met this fantastic duo who were heading south and who are working on a very exciting bicycle touring project. It was lovely to meet you Simon and Alia!

Just nearby we found a laden grapefruit tree, loaded up, gave some to our fellow tourers before pushing on to find some ripe guavas, which we have commonly picked all along the east coast from as far south as Kempsey.

We camped the night at Newell Beach and the following day arrived at the village of Daintree.

Prone to regular flooding and therefore constant change the Daintree River is an ecological hive of activity.

We adults were as wide-eyed and excited as Woody when we saw fishing birds such as this pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius),

the numerous reptilian water critters such as this grand male estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porous),

and these common tree snakes, sunning themselves.

While in the Daintree village we also learned more about Far North Queensland plant life, such as native taro (Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis), which requires much lengthy preparation in order to make the tubers edible,

and Woody, completely unprompted, collected up all the Kuku Yalanji forest delights he knew including blue quandongs, satin ash fruit, peanut tree pods and hibiscus flower.

We were fortunate enough to meet Linda, a Kuku Yalanji elder, who was collecting freshwater mussels (Velesunio ambiguous) from the river. Linda told us that there are many important Aboriginal places around the village including a burial site that the local historical society is simply not interested in marking. Daintree village seems to be another case of white history told, black history conveniently disappeared.

We are resting up here for a few days, readying ourselves for the final northern leg, up the Broomfield Track to Cooktown, which is going to be quite a challenge from all accounts. We hope you are meeting all your challenges too, Dear Reader, and we thank you, once again, for joining us on our adventure.