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Snake mackerel dreaming (to the far west of Gunditjmara Peoples’ Country)

After 110 days of riding this pilgrimage we forever find ourselves becoming another story. We ride into bower spinach country, succulent and salty, and it predominates the through lines of our slow traverse. Young seal-play country leads us into the hearth of another family. Emu country runs through stumped pine forests, pulp of which is destined for Japan and other places. And all the while we find kinship and comfort in blue wren, blackwood and magpie countries. Welcome to another post from the road.

From the permeable skin of our Portland fingers runs old story barracouta – snake mackerel. When we handle such story we are altered by it indelibly and microbially. Snake mackerel flows into our story guts. Fish broth. From sea gut to land gut, then on to heart, lungs, brain, through vagus nerve country. Thinking for us derives, in this moment, from old fighting fish slime made in and of Gunditjmara country.

Settler industry toils its wisdom lines through Portland. Nearby monocultured forests are chipped, pulped and shipped around the world for single-use paper products. The local community garden is one of many recipients of the annual penalty Portland’s US-owned aluminium smelter pays to the local council each year for environmental damages – the pissy costs of doing big business on stolen land. On the road we are once again, at times, products and eaters of industrialism. Unlike the food of home (that we tend, perform daily tasks and ritual with, consuming the food medicines of walked-for relations), we become again industrial story by what we put in our guts, by what is available. This is why fishing, with all its story and community, is so important to us. To pivot. To not be so emphatically snared by store-bought, packaged and transported food. To live in more direct relationship with what we consume, as filthy and as violent as such story sometimes demands.

We have all been scored by snake mackerel dreaming,

and we’ve all had old story skins to shed and grow anew since our time in Portland.

The red mark between Blue Wren’s eyebrows (above) is the love bite of old Chinese medicine at play. Both Blue Wren and Magpie received the gift of needles by a Portland healer who allowed us to document the process. Magpie uncharacteristically slept through for several nights after her second treatment, bringing much needed deep sleep.

After leaving Karina and Daryl’s cosy caravan, where we gently laboured to help in each other’s lives, including house painting and a pergola design from us,

and a dry little shelter and clothes mended from them,

we arrived, by the good fortune of mutual friends, in this little cove. A self-contained flat.

The flat is part of a farmlet, lived in by four generations that can be roughly described as the Couttie clan. Introducing Peter, Fifi, Finn, Rory, Caitlin and Aaron.

The eldest of the clan, 91 year old vet Peter, holds much mammalian health knowledge and he was eager to share it. We made two short (great) Grandfather University videos centred on some of his life-long learnings.

The remarkable Peter swims a kilometre three mornings a week, and still carries out much of the farm work. He also cured himself of cancer a few years back.

We had 18 magical days on the farmlet, eating fresh produce, chopping wood, baking bread in the little baker’s oven in the flat, and helping out with various projects. When he wasn’t fishing, Blackwood threw himself at playing with Finn and Rory, and helping with the garden work.

There was an abundance of love and story, fish and citrus. At just nine years old, Blackwood fed two families on one particular night by his patience and skill. He was much praised for the deep nourishment he brought to everyone.

While at the Couttie farm he received reading and writing lessons from Steiner teacher, Grandmother Fifi. Throughout his nine years we have intentionally foregrounded orality and left literacy alone. Blue Wren’s doctoral thesis included a critique of writing, querying whether literacy plays a part in the problem of hypertechnocivility (his term for ecological estrangement) – the terminal psychosocial disease advanced more or less unwittingly by Second Peoples who have lost their stories. While writing bears many gifts, especially as a transmission of story, myth and minority perspectives, it also works to make the world less tangible and more mediated. While story has generally been big in his life, literacy, we’re thankful, hasn’t dominated Blackwood’s first decade. It seems right time for him to learn now, not because we adults push an idea about literacy onto him but because he is becoming curious. Becoming curious about reading and writing coincided with having right guidance in right place. Fifi is a gifted and caring teacher. While Blackwood exercised some of his early pathways into mediated life, Blackwood’s parents also used mediating tools to tell another kind of story,

and share more neopeasant skills from our kitchen on the road.

While at the Couttie’s farmlet Blackwood, who lives mostly in direct relationship with the living and dying of the world, spent a day making a rabbit retrieval tool.

He first spent time selecting the limb, respectfully harvesting it (with words we were not privy to), then fashioning it with his knife.

He then fixed the rubber sling. Bonza tool Woody! Each night on dusk he would stalk the farm rabbits. While he was unsuccessful in hitting and capturing one, he trusts that these skills and knowledges add up,

as they have with his fishing,

his salvaging of discarded or snapped off tackle,

and bike riding. The Couttie’s farm harboured a bike he could borrow and he was in heaven riding kilometres each day on a single-speed BMX. Just to give some perspective, when he is on Merlin-the-tandem with his dad, there are 27 gears to help their transits, just like Magpie’s Cosmo.

When we finally left Portland and the restorative hearth of the Couttie clan we entered bower spinach country. We have followed this songline for some time, but this bountiful edible really came back into our focus over this next leg, incorporating it in many meals.

We rode to Bishops Rock, hopped off our bikes and were immediately greeted with hot tea and cake from two women who were camped for the day in the car park, wishfully awaiting their partners to return with fish.

One couple Lebanese, the other Russian, we exchanged stories on beekeeping, veggie growing, fishing, our favourite Russian band and, of course, Covid before riding on to Bridgewater Bay to find a camp for the night.

Hidden behind wattles and bower spinach covered shrubbery we found a sheltered nook to call home.

We raised the tent and got a fire going.

Blackwood continued on with the bookwork Fifi provided him.

We spent some lovely days at this little camp, cooking the fish Blue Wren speared,

and those that Blackwood caught on his line. Wrasse have nourished us well on this journey. An underrated fish, we were told some years back by a fellow fisher that they need to be oven-baked with lemon to bring out their best. But just about any fish cooked on coals taste good if they’re freshly killed, bled and gutted.

We walked along some of the Great South West Walk to Cape Bridgewater,

hungry for and sadly starved of First People place names (at the very least),

out to the fur seal colonies. Can you spot them below?

A little way along this walk we came across a rust-bitten jetty,

where we made the following short video expressing how we are feeling being part of a new underclass in Australia. Almost two years of rupture and suffering for so many – anthropogenic virus, death and illness, extreme lockdowns, vaccine mandates. Thank you to all those who have reached out from overseas, distressed at seeing reports of Australia’s extremist Covid policy. We have even been offered a home in Sweden. You might consider supporting us and others like us by signing (and sharing) this petition before October 27.

We had a very sweet encounter with a young seal at this jetty, which we hope to share with you in a future video. After three days in Bridgewater Bay, where we also bumped into two veteran Artist as Family blog readers, Louise and Jo (Jo and her family put us up for a night on our first big ride to Cape York) we headed off through the backroads towards Nelson, stopping at this incredible cave complex that again bore no First People recognition. The cave, we later discovered, is called Tarragal.

We found a camp site at Swan Lake, though failed to find a lake. Or a swan. Blackwood ran between bikes helping the heavy rollers through the sand ruts that had a few times dangerously brought our bikes mid cycle to a complete halt. It was a fast descent down to the camp and we knew it would take some work to get back up the next morning.

It’s always a relief to find a quiet spot to camp before it’s too late in the day. Enough sunlight to dry out dew-dripped-on-bedding and slow the spread of mould.

Making home is a ritual.

Embodying it and giving praise for such comfort is an essential practice.

Patterns of this pilgrimage are forming. When we stop somewhere for a while we recuperate and reflect, though arguments occur more frequently as our needs get split. When we are on the move we perhaps perform more as a contiguous family unit, holding each other’s back. Blackwood’s help between the bikes has been remarkable. He rode with Blue Wren to get Merlin up the hills, and at each peak ran down to push Magpie’s Cosmo up to the next step. He wasn’t asked to do this. He just stepped off and stepped up.

We left the quiet of the slippery side roads and joined the C192 for a difficult 37 kms on a road with loads of trucks and little shoulder. The truckies were generous and gave us a wide berth so the only real endurance was the persistent headwind,

all the way to Nelson. As you may recall from our first post back in early July, the feather pointed south so we rode in that direction as far as we could. We then decided we’d head west and for most of this pilgrimage we have been creeping along the coast in that direction. Nelson marks another potential direction change.

Crossing the border into South Australia and entering what is, in tangible speech (because the map is not the territory) Bunganditj spoken-for country, is not currently an option. The little sleepy town of Nelson will no doubt provide time to reflect on where we’ll go from here. In the meantime, we are fishing up the Glenelg River with a paddle and a local canoe,

and bunkering down in our conspicuous story tent for wet weather in Victoria’s most affordable camping ground.

We’ve added nearly another 100 kms to our now 700 plus km pilgrimage. We’re not sure why we’re counting such numbers, as crude as they are. Maps and numeracy can never account for the full bodied existence of being storied in country, but perhaps they provide some context for just how beautifully slow we are travelling, averaging about seven kilometres per day.

So, where now Dear Reader? That’s anyone’s guess. We hope you are also going at just the pace you feel liberated to go at. Sending our best health to you and to yours.

With much love,
Artist as Family. x