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Collective preparedness

Back in 2018 Artist as Family was asked to be involved in an art event called Pandemic at Arts House in North Melbourne. The exhibition, coordinated by artists Lizzy Sampson & Asha Bee Abraham, was one of a number of Refuge events centred on where art meets emergency.

Artist as Family’s role was to address the topic of Collective Preparedness. A dinner was held and Patrick joined a Médecins Sans Frontières field coordinator, a herbalist, an epidemiologist, a Melbourne Uni outbreak forecaster, an Indigenous Futurist, a medical ethicist, and a human rights academic as one of eight Sanatorium Hosts.

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

This was one of the questions he was asked:

What do you do individually and what should we be doing collectively to prepare for the future?

And this was his reply:

[We are] learning ever more knowledges that decouple our household further from the monetary economy and help model ecologically focussed and resilient communities of place. [We are] re-establishing economies that make returns to people, biomes and the future.

Patrick took some talking point objects and brews with him. Our hand-made hunting and fishing equipment, hand carved tools, medicinal mushrooms, shade-dried herbs, Meg’s fermented mistress tonic, elderberry syrup, and our hawthorn fruit leathers as our walked-for Vitamin C, “fermented by the sun.”

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

Nearly two years later, we find ourselves no longer in an art event, no longer in a dress rehearsal, but actually cancelling house and garden tours (today’s was again fully booked), cancelling visitors, volunteers, public talks, play dates, community meetings and events, and basically every social hang. Today we also cancelled all future bookings for our Permie Love Shack. A first known case of Coronavirus, albeit still unofficial, has landed in our small town.

Things have been moving pretty fast over the past two weeks and we’ve been following the speed of the Coronavirus pandemic closely. However, this morning when a friend sent a link to Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, we decided we wouldn’t wait for our leadershipless leaders to finally recommend everyone socially distance themselves. After reading the article we feel it is a social responsibility to act now, for the sake of health-compromised people and the health system more generally. There will be medical shortages, and therefore those of us who are prepared and have good health must step back from services and equipment that will be vital for those at greater risk.

Today we are pressing grapes to make wine, stewing and bottling apples, quince and pears, chopping and bringing in firewood, making bread and pancakes and pickling gherkins.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

We do these things as we always do them, but now with a greater sense of urgency and intent. Our non-monetary home chemist will keep us as well as we can be.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

Several weeks back, after the bushfire crisis, we were in Melbourne to speak as part of another art-meets-emergency event, Earth: A Place of Reconciliation, a Reconciliation of Place. Listening back to that talk is a strange thing now, as world events race across our local places and intersect with our local lives. One crisis follows another. The next will be another global recession.

Innumerable well-meaning folk have said to us over the years, “When the shit hits the fan, we’ll be knocking on your door.” While this comment is perhaps supposed to compliment us, it actually always makes us feel vulnerable and angry. The comment isn’t “we can see the resilience, economic logic and environmentalism of what you’re doing, and we’re also going to get on with our transition before the shit hits the fan.”

It’s time we all share in the responsibility of the predicaments of our time. We’ve been advocating for years decoupling from the Capitalocene before affluence-descent sends smug Modernity into chaos. Those luxurious days are numbered. Speaking of luxuries: five years of using family cloth, and these little op-shopped squares of soft flannel cotton are still going strong!

We’ll keep blogging in this time of social distancing and keep our sharing going digitally. We’re looking forward to honing our hunting, sewing, repairing and foraging skills. Reading all those books we haven’t had time for. Carving new objects, fixing tools, sowing more veg, and generally resting. We’ll prepare another post on what we’re up to shortly. You might find yourselves having more time for things you’ve been meaning to do too. We hope so. In grief there is learning, there is praise, there is renewal and opportunity.

We hope, Dear Reader, while this pandemic is still largely an abstract and mediated phenomenon, you are not vulnerable, not in despair or panic, but are preparing as adults in any capacity to meet this global predicament, remaining eternal students within this shapeshifting world as the Anthropocene matures deeper into systemic crises and calls on our adult selves to step forward.

Much love, community-immunity, social warming and joy,
Patrick, Meg, Woody and Zero


  1. Jacqui says:

    Thank you for posting this ❤️

  2. Kathy says:

    It does all seem surreal given that the topic and meeting was part of an art event. If it has hit your little town that is a major concern and taking action and looking after your immediate family is the way to go.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dear Patrick, Meg, Woody and Zero,
    Your post in my in box was very welcome this morning. Like you, I don't feel we should wait for the government to tell us to act. I am completely self-employed and cancelled my work for the foreseeable future as I felt it was the right thing to do. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and hopefully inspires others to pull their kids out of school and take themselves home too.
    It's funny but I woke up in the middle of the night with an image of your family cloth drying by the fire from a previous post in my head! My wife suggested to some colleagues in her office that they could make reusable flannelette wee wipes because of the loo roll panic and she was met with stunned silence followed by an abrupt change of topic! Meanwhile, at our place there is no panic for food, loo rolls or anything else. Like you I will be planting more vegetables and catching up on tasks I haven't had time for.
    A question, how long does home made elder berry tonic last if kept refrigerated? I made some last July with ginger and cinnamon but we haven't had the need to use it yet. It's not something I've made before so not sure how long it is good to use.
    Take care all, and thank you for all that you do.


  4. Journeywoman says:

    Thanks for the uplifting read dear folk.
    I think is yet another opportunity for transformation, for us all.
    Be well.
    Kind Regards

  5. Derek says:

    Thank you for all you do. But where does one begin in making these same changes in their own lives? It’s incredibly overwhelming starting at the outside.

  6. Yes, we agree, it is easy to get overwhelmed, Derek. Therefore it needs a step-by-step approach. Behaviour change is the single biggest barrier to acting and transitioning. People eat the same brands year after year, it's like we have this strange loyalty to companies that are selling unsustainable products bc we get attached to things. Here's our suggestion: take one thing out of your usual routine. A brand of food, a non-essential item you purchase, a luxury good, etc. Either replace it with something you learn to make yourself with materials you can grow or be in some sort of custodial relationship with, or simply go without it. Let that change naturalise in your household. Observe yourself in letting go of that thing. Then once it has no longer got a hold on you, tackle the next thing. It might seem slow at first and like you're getting nowhere, but if you stay with it, take it very seriously, then in a few years your transition with start rolling. After five years it snowballs and there is no going back. You will be living your ethics, which is a wonderful place to live. We do this well below the poverty line. Yes, we have a quarter acre of unceded land, which is definitely problematic. But as far as what we consume we have built thousands of relationships now with town folk, non-humans, biomes and microbes and we're living a custodial life, a carbon-positive life, a waste-free life, and a very healthy life. The first few years are the hardest, expect many failures and much learning. It's much like the first 3 months of giving up an addiction. The start is the hardest period.

  7. Thanks Felicity, much loving virtual hugs across the webs of warmth.

  8. Yes, for those of us able bodied and able to stay at home, social distancing will surely help keep the death toll down, as it has in other countries. Not sure about the elderberry tonic. It probably still has antioxidant properties. There is, however, a question around elderberry and COVID-19. As you'd know, most medicines are also poisons, if you mistreat the use of them. We've done some research and it appears there may be some risk as elderberry can act as an inflammatory. However, elderberry is an adaptagen and reductive science won't have the whole answer. We need whole biome science to catch up and for reductive science (which is important to a degree) to stop being regarded as the only place of scientific knowledge.

    Just like every food and medicine the age-old advice is don't have too much of one thing, nothing is the health panacea, use many different medicinal foods and remedies – honey fermented in garlic one day, mistress tonic the next, chilli flakes, cinnamon, turmeric, capsicum – all the hot and warming foods if you get the chills easily and are prone to colds and flu. Hope this helps!

  9. The art event was one of many helping to prepare people for what lies ahead. Scientists and futurists have been warning us for years that a warming planet will increase risk of pandemics, bushfires, landslides, tsunamis, floods and rising sea levels. It was about 4 years ago Artist as Family hosted with Arts House a several day camp out where artists and scientists yarned about how to communicate the coming crisis. The event Pandemic was just one show to come out of this extensive yarn.

  10. A pleasure Jacqui, much love back to you and your household.

  11. Derek says:

    Thanks so much for the great response, and I agree, little by little is key. In so far as resources, do you have any books, websites, etc. you can recommend off the bat. For example, I am interested in starting out with Composting in my apartment.


  12. A quick search shows many videos online on "composting in apartments", but this is a goodly general place to start: While the internet is still around, it is a remarkable resource to give everyone a permaculture education for free. We're going to make a series of videos to help folk to skill up. Our YouTube channel already has quite a lot of material. Hope this helps.

  13. Thanks for your thoughtful response. My usual go-tos in times of illness are miso soup, shiitake mushrooms, umeboshi plums, bed rest and sunshine so I think I will give the elder tonic a miss. Since writing my last comment I have mentioned flannalette wipes to other people and they have thought, wow, great idea! So I think changing times can bring changing minds. In the US I think loo rolls and nappies are now unavailable (yay!) and possibly disposable menstrual items will be next. The positive on-flow for the planet will be amazing 🙂

    Thanks again and take care,


  14. Derek says:

    Started this search last night and had good results! I think a starter kit like this would be awesome though. So many questions when living counter culture … for example, living w/o health insurance..

  15. Anonymous says:

    @ Derek 19 March

    By far the best book bar none IMHO is Retrosuburbia by David Holmgreen. Don't be put off by the price. It's worth far more than the asking price.

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