After two weeks of lockdown in Warrnambool we farewelled the lively Kelp Street mob and thanked Rod once again for hosting us above his boxing gym.
We rode out through the Gunditjmara city, ushered by Steve and Kathleen on their bikes, farewelled them at Dennington, and crossed over the Merri River on a beautiful sun-filled day. It was once again exhilarating to be on the road, not knowing where we would rest our heads that night or who and what we would meet next.
As you might imagine, one of our favourite things about cycling into the unknown is coming across a roadside organic food store, like this well stocked one, east of Tower Hill,
run by market gardeners, Volcano. We added oranges, carrots, eggs and a lemon to our panniers.
For a while we watched how their solar-powered weeding machine works, where the gardener lays prostrate hovering over the rows of vegetables carefully picking out weeds and moving along with the flick of a switch powered by the sun. The whole low-tech shebang came in toe with a pet lamb whose primary role, it seemed, was company.
The country around Tower Hill is the ancestral lands of the Koroit Gunditj, one of the Gunditjmara clans. The volcanic ‘maar’ (crater in Dhauwurd Wurrung) was formed from an eruption event and filled with water to become a lake oasis for diverse birds, fungi, reptiles, flora, insects and mammals, among others.
According to the Worn Gunditj at Tower Hill website, “The Gunditjmara used the land’s natural topography and features to establish permanent settlements and villages along the lava flow near creeks or lakes, with the community’s population believed to be in the thousands.” The local people witnessed the volcano’s eruption 32,000 years ago, an event which became rooted in their Dreaming.
Is it possible to even begin to fathom such deep culture, such long established connection with land and the living of the world, when those of us who are Second People have grown up in a flimsy, throw-away, narcissistic culture? After leaving Tower Hill, which eventually became a site of rehabilitation and renewal managed by Gunditjmara people, we came across sad relics of the colonial project, this one being our marker to turn left and head back to the coast.
Living well in country without Roman-style imperialism, British-led industrialism, or Western-scientific corporatism is one of the many significant stories Aboriginal people continue to gift us. The myth that humans are only ever narcissistic and self-serving is advanced by uninitiated peoples who have never been bonded to land and have not been given specific responsibilities for its wellbeing. To continue the lineage of First People’s reverence and responsibility for earth, sky and sea countries is our green pill. But swallowing this pill is not a passive thing, it is not a quick fix or a sedative. Taking the green pill is actively committing to generations of sensitive and nuanced labours, fiercely resisting the dominant paradigm of control and exploitation while quietly regrowing kinship ties with the living of the world. In effect putting the imperialist genie back in the bottle. Perhaps this is what Eugene von Guérard was hoping to capture and reflect back to Europe in his utopian 1855 painting of Tower Hill, painted as the frontier wars were beginning in Gunditjmara country. Wars which had already devastated Indigenous communities all around the world.
A number of Artist as Family’s ancestors are Irish. Trammelled Irish folk came in large numbers to the lands of the Koroit Gunditj, Moonwer Gunditj and Tarerer Gunditj seeking new opportunities after the forced starvations set upon them by the ruling classes. There was no real catastrophic potato famine, there was enough food around despite the blight-spoilt crops. However, a strategic funnelling of most of Ireland’s food stores to liberal elites took place. Elites who were acting from the economic ideology of the time, laissez-faire capitalism – which translates as ‘let the market decide where the food flows’. Liberal Political Economy was the driver of mass suffering as it is today. The elites, both in England and in Ireland, also controlled the distribution of the hegemonic story so the mass starvation was recorded and maintained as a famine caused by a fungus, not by a handful of people acting out of narrow self-interest.
Irish Potato Famine, 1846-7 Drawing by Granger
By the time hordes of desperate Irish (1 million dead, 1 million displaced) arrived at Killarney in the late 1840s, the Gunditj clans had already taken many hits – killings, enclosures, rapes, starvations, alcohol and biological warfare.
We performed a little grief ritual before we pitched our tent at Killarney Beach,
and got fishing for dinner.
Blackwood quickly caught a whiting, a salmon and a crab,
and Blue Wren speared two more whiting the next morning, so we feasted for lunch. Thank you Mother Gunditjmara Saltwater Country, we are so grateful for your continual abundance.
We lived for a few days at Killarney Beach, walking, fishing, sleeping, praising, feeling sadness and sitting with disturbing, unsettling dreams,
while keeping warm and in the spirit of children with all the possibilities they bestow.
It wasn’t very far on to Port Fairy, a town we’d fallen in love with years before. We pulled up alongside the wharves for lunch. Zero slept,
Blue Wren and Blackwood fished, and Magpie helped prepare David Holmgren’s latest essay, Pandemic Brooding: Can the Permaculture movement survive the first severe test of the energy descent future? for publication from her office on the road.
In Port Fairy we were invited to stay in the music studio of Peter, who we had met back in Warrnambool at the unpackaged food co-op some weeks earlier.
Peter and Natasha and their boys Dylan and Ruben provided a dry haven over a wet weekend. Connecting with people as we travel is a big part of the story of this pilgrimage. Hearing how they have survived or thrived over the past 18 months and sharing our experiences has been medicine. Story sharing is an essential service for the human spirit.
So, while our ‘new story’ (to call on Charles Eisenstein) is one of connection and community wellbeing through the sharing of abundance, the old one blazes around us cancelling, coercing, and fear-mongering. As another tiny step of many in our resistance to this old world imperialism we decided to leave Facebook. It’s been a long time coming. Facebook, it is more than evidently clear to us now, is just another form of colonisation, which uses the old tactics of colonial warfare to divide, manipulate and control the masses.
When we began to co-create this website with Lorne and Juanita we were taking the next steps in our exit strategy from Big Tech. For years now we have been unshackling from dependancy on Brown Tech’s trifecta – Big Ag, Big Pharma and Big Energy – so we had already accrued the skills, knowledges and behaviour changes to begin our transition from Big Tech. What we’ve come to observe is that although Silicon Valley’s utopian spirit was once steeped in an optimistic Green Tech future, Green Tech and Brown Tech have since merged into one titanic force of control and manipulation, mediated by the valley’s Big Tech platforms and engineered by the calibre of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. For us it’s about conducting a cost-benefit analysis by staying on platforms like Facebook, or enabling Bill Gates’ GMO food expansion by buying our food from supermarkets who advance GMO foods, or entering into Gate’s brave new world of turning our immune systems into a subscription model with permanent vaccinations. As Aldous Huxley astutely wrote, “Medical science has made such tremendous progress that there is hardly a healthy human left”.
The sun returned to Port Fairy and we farewelled Natasha, Peter and the boys, rode through a large public reserve on the edge of town, and spotted a dead rabbit in the fresh cut grass. Each meal that comes from country and is not under lock and key is a further deepening into our new story. Back in Warrnambool Rod told us that his dad’s generation would use rabbit for fish bait. Before industrial trawlers began sucking up the ocean for prawns and pilchards, putting them into plastic, freezing and shipping them around the world, people used what they had on hand. We were keen to put this oldtimer tip into practice as finding ecological bait rather than using industrial supply line bait is an ongoing focus of Blackwood’s (and our) schooling on the road.
Zero was the main benefactor of this slightly fetid animal.
A little out of town Blackwood asked us to stop our pedal-powered caravan of four mammals on two bicycles and try out the pigface fruits Blue Wren had told him about.
He took time to explore this plant, a traditional food of many Indigenous people who belong to this continent.
He found the reddening fruits still too astringent to be useful as food and we later talked about how astringent fruits like oldtimer kangaroo apple, our ancestral medlar, and these salty fig-like pigface need to be bletted (near rotten) or dried on the plant before they offer their gifts. This one has a few months of maturing before it’s desirable tucker.
We were also travelling in many countries beyond the human realm. When we passed a stand of Blackwoods one of us would call out ‘we’re in blackwood country’. The same when blue wrens or magpies proliferated along the roadside. Just up the road we stopped again to take a look at this medicine newcomer plant endemic to South Africa. Poison apple, also called thorn apple and devils apple, treats toothache and other pain. Like many nightshades (including tomato and blackberry nightshade), the green fruits are more toxic than the ripe ones. The imperialist name of the plant is Solanum linnaeanum, and akin to all medicines their pain-relieving fruits need to be administered with care, nuance and measure by an experienced practitioner.
We love being slow moving pilgrims who stop to look, study, eat, rest and take a leak.
We have been reading Songlines: The Power and Promise by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly and in it they reveal this First People wisdom:
Most significantly, this knowledge carried in the Songlines decrees that humans are equal with all things animate and inanimate. Together we form part of a web, in which each component sustains the land and keeps the archive alive. Every single thing has a place and a kinship with humans: the wind, the dirt, the rocks, and even shit: in Arnhem Land there is a Diarrhoea Dreaming. If it exists, it has a place. It is a fact of life, not a value judgement, so it does not need an explanation. But it does need a place to belong.
We arrived at The Crags, the ancestral land of the Peek Wurrung – the kelp lip or kelp speech people. The clan local to this land (in Gunditjmara Country within the Maar Nation), is the Yambeet Gunditj,
who hold The Crags as a special place in their cultural heritage. We received a call from Zeph from this wild place and shared with him what we were experiencing.
Can we imagine what it would be like to grow up speaking in kelp lip and not raised with a language that has no tangible relationship to place? It seems to us this would change many things. Colonisers enforce the destruction of local languages to dispel the possibility of living in relationship.
If kelp lip were our language, a language derived from Mother Country herself, would we mine the land and enclose it for private profit?
We have witnessed sand bags being deployed all along the southern coastline of Victoria as sea levels rise, as is the case all around Australia.
Blackwood’s untrammelled curiosity is infectious. He constantly jumps off the bike to check things out and to make a connection. He is reading country without the layered politic his parents possess,
while they gently plant the seeds in him for a returned fencelessness – a project many generations in the making. We arrived at Yambuk, placed the Port Fairy rabbit meat in the bait trap, trapped some shrimp, fished for bream,
and pitched the tent. We caught a bunch of bream, though they were all undersize. There was no free camping to be found so we paid $30 for a small patch of unceded, non-powered lawn to call home and used the camp kitchen to cook our meals. When we asked Liz the friendly manager of the council-run park if we could put our food scraps in her worm farm she told us that council had stopped her allowing guests to do this because of a potential biosecurity risk. The old story of control is eating itself by projecting fear, and many more controls will be ordered before it all falls over. Dirt, fish guts, non-potable water, unwashed bodies, cold temperatures and rotting veggies all belong in our world and they’re part of our hardiness and our acceptance and embrace of life.
After Yambuk we pushed on west, stopping for a morning cuppa on the verge of the highway,
noticing when country was duly acknowledged.
We were grateful to find commons at Fitzroy River. When we rode to Cape York several years ago we found in Queensland many towns provided free camping, understanding that this brings economic prosperity to a place. In Victoria, affordable let alone free, places to stay are almost extinct and free camping areas are drying up.
Our daily routine when we’re travelling between towns is to ride the morning, find camp, get fishing,
pitch the tent,
and later get cooking dinner. Only this time we could gather sticks,
and get a fire going. Our preferred way to cook.
While cooking up some pasta, and while Blackwood continued to fish, we recorded footage for a new video describing our simple bread recipe on the road.
We harvested brackish water for the wash up.
We never tire of waking up to bird song and river light,
no matter how poor our night sleep might have been.
We found some rolling dirt roads back to the highway,
and some peasant produce to stock up on.
We found evidence of once hidden story coming home to country,
and old buildings that spoke of our ancestral heritages.
Our entry into Portland was via wallaby roadkill,
some of which we butchered and fed to Zero before finding a more respectful place for this fella to rest. Some of the meat we placed in our bait trap. If rabbit worked, would wallaby?
Yes! The wallaby in the trap attracted shrimp, which we put on our lines.
The shrimps lured grass whiting.
Blackwood foraged sea lettuce,
and we devoured this refreshing, salty kelp while waiting for the fish to bite.
During this trip so far we have learned many forms of fishing from more experienced folk. We are so grateful for the generosity of this abundant knowledge commons. But one form of fishing that we have discovered ourselves is recognising that many fishers fish for fun and not necessarily for nutritious wild food. Being in community with those around us, eagerly sharing what we’ve caught, what method or rig is working well, and sharing our respective stories means that when a fish is landed and is unwanted it is often offered our way. Blackwood was the recipient of this magnificent gummy shark in that manner. What a catch!
We were invited to stay in Karina and Daryl’s caravan while we were in Portland. Natasha and Peter back in Port Fairy had hooked us all up.
With more severe winds and wet weather forecasted we were glad we could offer fillets of flake and general skills to contribute to the household in return.
Like so many on this pilgrimage, Karina and Daryl have been so generous. We are filled up with gratitude. While crippling fear, xenophobia, polemical social media posts, outwardly expressed hatred, censorship and state-metered-out coercion have dominated the grand narrative of this pandemic, it is the little secreted stories of connection, love and renewal that have given our pilgrimage agency.
This last leg has been a cruisy 120 kms riding Gunditjmara Peoples’ Country, and while we have travelled very slowly we still remain naive of the deeper, longitudinal stories of this land. Akin to all travellers the world over we can only access a mere trace of the spirit of these lands, but like the archetypal travelling storyteller, we can leave behind story seeds either to be watered or neglected.
While we are reminded every day of the ongoing colonial project of Australia and its latest side project – enforcing experimental medicines into the masses – we mostly live present to the abundance of living and how we can become better participants and gift bringers into such abundance. We hope you, Dear Reader, have found the abundance you require right now. Thanks for stopping into Artist as Family’s virtual home on the road. We look forward to sharing more with you on our next leg.