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The low life and rich cuisine of Malaysia, in a yellow t-shirt

 

At Batam, we left Indonesia.

We realised, too late, we could have caught a ferry directly to Malaysia. Instead we had booked ourselves to travel to three countries in one day.

We love travelling by sea. Give us a jetty, port or ferry terminal any day, before an airport.

Leaving Indonesia was as relaxed as arriving into the country, way back in West Timor. By 8am we were on our way to Singapore,

and by about 8.30am we finally finished off our crumbly stores of homemade roo and rabbit jerky.

By mid morning we were arriving in the old British colonial port of Singapore,

where we experienced a rather more uptight immigration system. Still, those who were supposed to be assessing our x-rayed luggage and bodies were instead scrolling on their screens or watching a movie on their phone, just like in Indonesia. We were to find the same laissez-faire attitude in Malaysia, later in the day.

We had hoped to connect with some permies in Singapore but the timing wasn’t to be, so we hightailed it from the south to the north of this micro-country, which we found to be fastidiously neat.

From the north of Singapore (about 30 minutes by car) we boarded a five minute train that took us to the Malaysian border.

We crossed the Strait of Johor,

into Malaysia, and were thrilled to find these homemade baked goods at the station.

In the third country for the day we boarded another train to go north, with our lunch of tea eggs and beef cake.

With the bureaucracy of borders behind us and our bellies full and nourished, we settled in for a gentle journey for the afternoon,

beholding what nation states do to their respective Mother Countries in order to participate in the global-pool-of-money-tragedy-of-the-commons routine.

In Malaysia, rubber and tin industries are in decline, but palm oil is in expansion. While habitat loss and species extinction are stories well associated with palm oil farming, in more recent years metastasis cancers have been linked to palmitic acid in those who consume it. This is potentially serious because palm oil is now found in close to 50% of the packaged products found in supermarkets. Think Nutella, for example, which is more than 50% palm oil and refined sugar.

When we arrived in Gemas that night, we were asked by an Indian-Malay tradesman staying in the same hotel why would we come to such a town.

“We like non-touristy places,” was Patrick’s reply. “We want to see how people live in towns that are not famous.”

Even though we were treated like tourists and overcharged when we stopped at a local food hall for dinner,

the meals we bought were delicious and highly affordable for we radical frugalists who live in a rich country, and whose nation’s wealth is also dependent on destroying the landbase. We are not shy in ‘fessing up to the fact that our travelling is predicated on the privilege of a currency made strong by mining, thus earth-wrecking. Thus too, the local fruit here was highly affordable, a little of which we bought for breakfast and lunch the next day.

We’re getting used to living on golden mangoes, and sleeping in cheap hotel beds.

We woke to rain and fog,

walked through the streets,

startled the local pigeons,

and arrived back at the station.

Seeking out small towns and avoiding big cities is our aim in Malaysia, in the bid to avoid taking in too much pollution. However, we are finding that Malaysia has much cleaner environments and air than Indonesia. We have loved the absence of drugs and alcohol in the two countries. It makes us reflect just how much pain comes with addiction to these things.

From sweet Gemas we boarded a train,

and relaxed into a rainy morning of travel and air conditioning. While Patrick has recovered from his malaise in Batam, Meg was feeling a tad under the weather.

By midday our train had arrived at the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, where we stood in line to book a bus to go yet further north.

No one gave Woody the memo about his politically indecent attire. At the time we were clueless that if you wear yellow clothes in Malaysia you could risk a fine of AUS$1600. In 2016, protestors wearing yellow clothing walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur calling for the resignation of then-Prime Minister Najib. Several years on, yellow clothes are still considered a symbol of protest and a threat to national security. We were completely oblivious to this next chapter of people control.

Across the world governments are incrementally stepping up efforts to censor, coerce and forbid people from exerting their basic human rights. A slow, year-by-year approach using mass propaganda tactics has seen human rights steadily dissolve across the world.

In 1951, Hannah Arendt, in her The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Does this sound like the past four years to you? Does this sound like watching, for example, ABC TV’s emergency porn propaganda during the Covid years?

Thankfully no one locked Woody away or fined him for wearing a yellow t-shirt. Coming from a family of protesters, the irony of being political disruptors even without knowing it wasn’t lost on us.

The bus we booked turned out to be filled with electric massage seats. Only none of them worked. This large coach headed off about an hour after the advertised time,

and on the way out of KL, we met glimpses of the city displaying modernist vertical gardens,

and archaic colourful temples.

The measure of a city’s soul does not concern the most elegant architecture, the most dazzling spectacles, or the most novel cafés and restaurants, but rather how the poorest members are living.

Our ‘first class massage coach’ embodied only the pretence of wealth. It was in fact the cheapest bus ticket money could buy, and it stopped several times over the course of the afternoon, to drop off passengers at unglamorous petrol stations,

taking us past thousands more hectares of palm oil monocultures,

and grand old hills and mountains,

many of which are being reduced to lime,

and cement products.

On the road we read about the 5 million year-old limestone hill being destroyed by a Malaysian cement company, and reflected on all the small projects back home where we’ve used cement, as well as all the many times we have found alternatives.

While the massage chairs were broken in the bus, and were generally fairly uncomfortable, at least one provided the right nest for rest for Magpie.

And while the rail systems in both Indonesia and Malaysia are reliable and enjoyable to travel on, we’ve found that if you are travelling by bus, always expect the unexpected. The driver dropped us off in Pekan Simpang, and not where our ticket stated.

We protested (must have been Woody’s reactionary yellow t-shirt that got us going), saying we booked a ticket to Taiping, the next town. The driver shrugged and rudely said, “You get a car.” Which is how we arrived here, at the Knight Alley Hotel in Taiping.

Woody and Patrick tucked Meg into bed and went exploring.

Taiping is known as the rainy town, but it was warm and dry, and the buildings fascinating.

There’s significant juxtaposition between wealth and poverty, arrogance and humility, imposition and makeshift spirit here.

Wherever the locals gather for meals is a sure bet there’s goodly food on offer. “I’ll take your picture, dad,” said Woody.

Woody and Patrick dined in one of the food halls in the main centre. It was bloody hot.

Chilli pan mee for Patrick, a glutton for punishment, and a fermented chicken bun for the boy.

We love the food here, and the endless trip hazards in the streets that keep us alert and watchful,

After our meals we tripped into a fruit store to buy some dinner for Meg. The fruit bat got to work, hand selecting golden mangoes for his mum.

On the way back to the hotel we found this beautiful little offering.

We were later told that the offering was most likely made to the spirit of a tree that once stood on this street corner. The beauty of this gesture reminded us of our own European animist tradition – to touch or knock on wood, to wake up the gods or spirits living there, to bring forth luck or safe passage. Traces of this tradition remain in us today, carried by grandmothers and uncles, and poets like Blake and Wordsworth, who once penned, “One impulse from a vernal wood/ May teach you more of man,/ Of moral evil and of good,/ Than all the sages can.”

Approximately 63% of the population of Malaysia practices Islam, 18% Buddhism, 8% Christianity, 6% Hinduism and 5% are other groups, which include animists, Confucianists, Taoists and Sikhs. To our minds, any spiritual practice that makes offerings to the spirits in trees that have been cut down, has our attention. Can we imagine if this was a major religious expression throughout the world? Oh, how our economic, political and cultural forms would radically change.

We left this lovely little non-tourist town, without experiencing the Taiping rain,

and were pleased we could travel the next leg by train.

It was a short trip, which included the practice of patience,

before we arrived in Butterworth, an industrial service town that powers Penang Island from the mainland.

We booked another $30 room high up in the clouds. We estimate we are spending around AUS $50 a day on this trip.

and while Meg did some office work to both fill back up the coffers and because she loves her meaningful work managing the Holmgren Design comms,

Patrick and Woody pursued their bourgeois lifestyle, and took a swim.

Woody is getting right into the spirit of this trip. When we first arrived in Dili he experienced significant culture shock. Now, several weeks on he is thriving.

In the late afternoon, we took a ferry across to Penang Island,

Woody practiced his photography,

Patrick too,

while Meg hung out with the bikies.

It was a short ride, and as none of us had eaten lunch, we stopped into this cosy shed for a snack.

The proprietor didn’t seemed that fazed by our late arrival.

While in Malaysia we’ve been dwelling on the phenomenon of the human blindspot. What have we been ignoring or are unable to see while we travel? The evidence now of scientific fraudulence and iatrogenocide in the Covid era is all around for anyone willing to investigate it. DNA contamination in the original mRNA shots is becoming a growing concern for scientists brave enough to study it, for example. We see it, hear and speak it. But it feels like the majority still prefer to actively unsee the lies, or defend them. Rather than sit in the sadness and horror of such masking (for what this means to human health and indeed civil rights), we’ve found it more important to ask, what are we averting our eyes from? What are we refusing to speak? What are we blocking our ears to?

It is the little things, the fledglings, the minutiae that inform this journey.

After we had a little moment with this chick, she hopped down from her perch and proceeded onto the road. We turned to see a man race over to her rescue, gather her up and return her to a safe place. After we’d photographed and admired the little bird, we’d turned away from her despite the obvious absence of a parent bird. The kindness of the rescuing man caused us to reflect on why we hadn’t done the same. In hindsight, it probably got down to touch. We were afraid of touching the chick, even us, confirmed terrain theorists. This event made us more aware of the greater caution we have to microbiology while travelling. While we are mostly eating street food and using tap water to clean our teeth, in the bid to train our microbiomes to co-evolve with our adventuring, we are at the same time applying the precautionary principle.

While in George Town on Penang Island, we met Tamanna and Adam, who are locals. Patrick and Meg teach on David Holmgren and Beck Lowe’s permaculture courses, both in-residence and online. Tamanna and Adam have booked in to the online PDC and Meg, in recent weeks, established a goodly email rapport with Tammana about the course. One thing led to another, which in turn led to us sharing an evening together. Adam led us to a lively street of food.

Where we were thrilled for his local knowledge.

He ordered many little tasting plates,

and the flavours were divine.

“Dinner is on us,” said Adam. We agreed with the condition we repay the generosity back in Australia. During this meal, Patrick was escorted to another realm,

into a nirvana of flavours and pleasure sticks.

We had such a special night with these two, reminding us how more enriching it is to be with locals of a place, who equally love simple and rich food culture.

The next day we headed north again,

catching a commuter train to the border,

where we had a few hours to reflect on our brief sojourn through the heart of Malaysia,

and where we beheld the switch from palm oil to rice agricultures,

and caught up with some sleep. Could someone please tape that mouth shut!

Then, before the day had begun to buzz, we were off the train,

and into a local initiative that takes people across the border in vans.

We lined up,

and were transported to the Thai border centre, where we went through immigration and customs without bother or money.

From there, we boarded a space ship to transport us to the next leg of our adventure…

 

 

Crossing the equator – the Jakarta to Batam moment

While the electrical experience in Jakarta was fascinating and relatively complex,

the hybrid smog from motor exhaust and cigarettes was heavy going.

We were very much part of the traffic; part of the problem; part of the toxicity. Since arriving in Dili and travelling west by land and sea to Jakarta, we’ve found that hitch hiking is impossible. There are taxi drivers on every street eager to pick up as soon as there’s the smallest intimation that a lift is required. It took about two hours in a cab from the railway station to drive about 20kms, grinding through one continuous traffic jam to where we’d booked a room for a few nights in an apartment building called the Casablanca East Tower.

A $30 a night room with this view.

Since we left Vincent in Surabaya, he being the final thread of relationship woven for us by Yanti way back in Dili, we are socially anchorless in Jakarta. We went in search of connection.

We explored back streets,

and street food warungs,

and were thankful for the delicious gastronomic arts of this city.

We loved the simplicity,

and flavours, and it was here Patrick fell in love with gado gado – an Indonesian salad served with a peanut sauce dressing.

We beheld richness in the poorer suburbs,

and a green emptiness in the bourgeoise ones.

Afternoon storms became a pattern while we were in Jakarta, and we got caught out in one.

Coming across a truck selling sweet potato, our cold climate farming bodies dreamt up crop trials for this coming summer. If tuber vegetables can replace cereals at home, we are another step closer to unshackling from monocultures. While this may sound eco-ideological, it was actually our love of sweet potato for breakfast at Ego and Yanti’s where this desire grew.

We came across a man repairing shoes on the street. Patrick handed his over, and we walked on for a while,

exploring streets inhabited by the transported abundance of Java’s rural productivity,

and stopping here and there to savour the goodly fare.

Between deluges the cobbler had glued, re-stiched and polished Patrick’s shoes. His handiwork cost a mere $3.50.

We were happy to spend a few nights in Jakarta getting high,

and getting down low,

and discovering communities growing food together,

such as Green Farm.

We were happiest in this city either playing music as a family, trying new foods or exploring productive gardens.

However, try as we did with the locals,

we really just consumed food, returned it to leaky, decrepit plumbing systems, and absorbed volumes of pollution. We also got fairly pissed off, at one point.

We booked a boat to the island of Batam, just south of Singapore, and had to stay another night in Jakarta before it set off late the following night. So we took another room in an apartment building. At 9am, dressed and ready to explore the neighbourhood, we caught a lift to the ground floor, only to find we couldn’t get out. We went back up the elevator to a number of floors to try to get help and understand what was going on. One man we met told us people are locked in the building until 10am. WTF! Incredulous, we descended to the basement, budged open a door, and after stumbling around in the dark entered an apocalyptic passageway,

which led to an underground carpark that had no lighting. After a little orientation we came across a bolt of natural sunlight descending into this creepy underworld, indicating a road out. As we entered daylight and approached the security guards lingering at the laneway behind the building – thinking they were going to chastise us for leaving before 10am – Patrick started penning this message on the translation app:

It read: “You cannot incarcerate people in a building against their will, it is an abuse of human rights.” But the guards looked unfazed as we drew up next to them, so we walked on, away from that strange moment into the mayhem of street life, where we practiced the art of crossing busy roads,

by doing what the locals do – walk out in front of the traffic, gesturing to motorists to slow down or stop. We crossed many roads during the morning looking for an op-shop to buy Woody a t-shirt. He’s a fast growing boy, especially in the tropics.

The roads are anarchical here; they hold their own flow and logic,

and while there are few footpaths and everyone seems to drive anywhere they can, including against the traffic, it is not entirely impossible to be a pedestrian.

On our last afternoon in Indonesia’s capital we reflected on the city and its future in an energy descent reality.

There’s a makeshift spirit here and an absence of safetyism that will likely aid residents, and while the examples of retrosuburban farming we saw in the wealthier parts of Jakarta may well keep producer knowledges alive, the infrastructure collapse that is already advanced in this metropolis, could undermine any such resilience.

In our final hours in Jakarta we played music, and slept and swam,

before joining the traffic, again, to the port, to board this boat, the KM Kelud.

We’d wanted economy tickets for both the affordability and sociability but they’d sold out, so we paid for lodgings in bunk rooms.

$70 per bunk for a 40 hour voyage, and all meals included.

We found we were again the only caucasian travellers on the boat sans one young couple, perhaps Dutch, who had no thirst to converse and held a permanent look of worry in their faces. Without any phone signal, our translation app was rendered useless so we defaulted to body language with fellow passengers, were invited many times to make selfie, and practiced what little Indonesian we’ve gathered.

After several weeks of travelling west, we are now heading north again.

On the way to the port the taxi driver warned us about our belongings both at the port and on the boat. We have heeded such advice along the way, and used the lockers provided on the boat, however, neither in Jakarta nor on this boat have we felt unsafe.

We spent July 6 at sea on Indonesian waters, crossing the equator. July 6 is an important day for both Indonesians and West Papuans, as it marks the anniversary of the Biak massacre of possibly hundreds of West Papuans by the Indonesian army, 26 years ago (as Alison Bevege reports). A US mining giant, Freeport, and the Indonesian government make considerable wealth from their joint colonial project in West Papua.

There is no getting away from it, colonisation is insidious. It is in this boat. It is in the food on this boat. It is the fuel powering this boat. Industrial civilisation is nothing more than extravagant displays of colonialism rebranded as global development. While the machine of Empire sets out to conquer and destroy, perhaps all we have as a meaningful antidote is connection, even at 3am when this photo was taken. (From left Jernih, Meg, Shanty and Wenti).

Around 2.30am as we approached Batam our fellow bunk bedders’ phones came to life. It had been an enjoyable 36 hours without signal, but all that changed in the early hours. Phone addiction is next level in Indonesia. It was a media frenzy and we just went along for the ride.

The blurriness of us compared to Jernih and her husband speaks not only of device foreshortening but also of how tired our lil family felt in this moment.

Both nights on the boat our sleep was disturbed with multiple comings and goings of people, as well as their pre-downloaded media, which was played at full volume throughout the night.

We had perhaps vague, even romantic notions of an island oasis before arriving in Batam,

only to find a fully industrial port city,

where the empire had long since come, and dumped its shit.

There were remnants of ecological culture on the street. The indigenous mob here has been reduced to just 5 remaining Orang Darat people.

A culture replaced by a civilisation that has little regard for life.

These practical baskets made us laugh thinking about the local council back home, neatly ticking their sustainability boxes, rolling out ever more coloured plastic bins to the streets to organise (and hide) the various wastes of we residents.

Once again, the pollution was overwhelming in this city, whether it be cigarette smoke, burning plastic waste,

or motor fumes, which sat as an unpleasant smog above this produce market.

Motor bikes and scooters bellowed fumes across all the lovely food tables. The antioxidant medicine of chilli almost negated by the immune wrecking smog.

We bought salak, banana and longans,

and we booked another $30 room for two nights. Patrick slept for two days as he is struggling most with the pollution, while Meg went on little exploratory journeys into the city with Woody, and researched the next leg.

A big part of this trip is to put ourselves in situations where we are out of our comfort zones, to have our Magpie and Blue Wren feathers ruffled, and our Blackwood branches shaken. We are here to learn, to be jimmied open. There are things we keep learning over and over about ourselves. That we are creatures of place, creatures of a sacred Mother Country. This trip is not open ended, and although we are travelling slowly in industrial terms, we are moving quite swiftly towards India. Where we can, we are trying to stay put in one place so we have time and spaciousness to explore where we are, from the inside out. We love markets, hot food warungs, and produce stores, and understanding how other people do food.

The lesson we keep learning over and over is that we are not city people. The hustle and bustle overwhelms us and again and again we gravitate to the backstreets. The side alleys, the quieter moments. Gardens and green spaces, where our lungs and souls can breathe. We are grateful to the cities for enabling our transit, but we don’t understand what they are for and why people choose to live in such places. But that’s of course a long civilisational story, which is different for each of us.

So, here we are. Open and willing to learn, feeling the estrangement while trying to see the beauty of every moment.

For the fruiting, ferrying, vomiting, gifting and train travelling love of Indonesia

We left Amá Mar and Apá Yan’s home for the Indonesian border with a pod of family members and local villagers who were going to spend the day at the beach. On the last night in this warm and loving home, Yanti, Thaddeus and Bella came to stay. Yanti has been such a big help in the organisation of our travels since we left Dili, for which we are so appreciative. Thank you Yanti and all your family and adopted kin for making us feel so at home in Timor-Leste.

Our farewell was emotional. We’ve made so many connections over the past week or so, and we extended warm invitations to many to visit us in Australia.

Then, when all the hugs and waves and bondias (good mornings) and obrigadu/as (thank yous) and nadas (not at all) ran out, we were off in a little black pickup,

driving on roads that were in various stages of construction and deconstruction, the latter due to the common floodings in the wet season. Buildings too along our path were at various stages of their lifespan.

It was good to be travelling under a tarp with natural air conditioning because Patrick was heavy with cold symptoms for the second time this trip. Before we left we wondered whether we could find a place to rest for several days, as he was fairly run down. We are all still adjusting to the relentless heat, which is exhausting for we cold climate loving folk. Siestas, when we can take them, have been a godsend.

As it’s the dry season, everywhere cows free range on the soured stubble of the last rice harvest.

After about an hour or so in the pickup we arrived in Balibo, a town where five Australian journalists were killed in 1975 by pro-Indonesian militia.

Amá Mar came with us to check out this little museum dedicated to that grief story, which still touches our home town as one of the five, Tony Stewart, has family there. Tony was just twenty years old when he died.

The people of Timor, before European settlement, were not divided between east or west. They were, and, to a large extent still are, people of land, and therefore of ritual and ceremony, whose remnant traditional buildings still hold the traces of an earth-honouring and aesthetically astute culture.

While thankfully invading armies have stopped assaulting Timorese people, environmental pollutants brought in by colonising industries are killing the country in more insidious ways. While subsistence to local market economies remain strong, and are probably the reason why there is little obesity and type-2 diabetes here,


we have seen the many tendrils of the global greed machine at work in this beautiful country, and we hope the Timorese people will continue to fight for their independence from all forms of colonisation. Before lunch we arrived at the border,

said goodbye to our fellow travellers,

and were escorted to the start of our visa transfer process. Farewell Amá Mar and granddaughter Domin!

and farewell dear Timor-Leste!

On the other side of the line we were met by Yanti’s brother, Agus, who led us into Indonesia,

where we went through another visa process, which, as in Timor-Leste, was relaxed, and a stunning constrast to the increasingly paranoid corporatised nanny-state some call Australia. We’re happy to attest we didn’t bring to Indonesia paranoia or fear, but instead we walked through the metal detecting threshold with our knives on our hips, (after being told it was fine), dwindling stores of kangaroo and rabbit jerky, openness in our hearts, and

our trust for what comes next.

Agus took us into the town centre of Atapupu to change currency,

before backtracking us to his family home in Silawan. Seated here with us is Agus’ wife Anita (far left) and neighbourhood friends.

After school Alfan, Anita and Agus’ eldest child (13), and Woody (11) met, much to the hilarity of the younger kids.

It was a sweet moment of connection. We have come across no fellow caucasian visitors or residents in this part of the world. We met a few westerners in Dili, but have seen no others on our trip outside Australia, so far.

We are a bit of a novelty in these parts and everywhere we go what we find to be novel and interesting is often amusing for the locals. Meg and Patrick haven’t travelled overseas in the mobile phone age, and our snaps back then weren’t as instantly interactive and shareable as they are now.

In the afternoon, Agus took us for a walk around his village, where we met a man and his monkey,

and where we beheld this beautiful doe goat, who we’d love to cross with our buck, Hawthorn,

and we spoke with neighbours growing, tending and drying all manners of food, including cassava.

We returned home to this exquisite dinner made by Anita. Rice, fish, chicken, vegetables and always, always fermented chilli and lime. Sooo good!

The continual grace and generosity people offer us only grows our gratitude the deeper we go into this journey.

The myth that humans are selfish and narrow self-interested is promulgated by the ruling classes and their quasi-intellectual stooges, who are blind to other values and lifeways due to the social circles they keep. Think Noah Harari and Steven Pinker, for example. While some folk buy into the myth of the selfish gene, most don’t and their souls are very much intact as a result.

Agus lost his employment as a driver due to the Covid measures of his government. He had to sell his car, and economically things have been very hard since. One villager, Torie, who was keen to hang out and practice her English, told us “People didn’t suffer from Covid here, they suffered from the health measures.”

But rather than see themselves as victims, Agus and Anita’s home life speaks of a loving resilience inseparably connected to people and place,

a home life without running water, where they forego their own bedroom for strangers passing through.

After bean cakes and Timor-Leste coffee for breakfast, Agus loaded up his friend’s car with backpacks and people and all six of us headed off to Kupang at 7am.

The roads are on the whole smoother in Indonesia, but nonetheless the average speed we travelled was only around 40kms/hr. We were happy for this slowness. It’s not only conducive to animals, cyclists, tourists and the longevity of vehicles, but friendlier for pedestrians too.

On more internal matters, our microbiomes have been in radical transformation since we left home. Constant changes in our diets and body temperatures have rearranged our guts and not necessarily for the worse. Patrick and Meg have been eating much chilli and seeking out tuber vegetables such as sweet potato varieties, taro and cassava. There are always a bounty of bananas to collect, and we’ve all been trying to steer clear of fried foods because, as we reported in a previous post, cooking with vegetable oils longterm is a fairly reliable path to cancer. The confluence of nutritious foods and industrial contaminants mix in our bodies, and the toxins are either getting sweated out in the intense heat of the afternoons, or end up in one of these, which we’re getting more adept at using.

As we travelled we saw many examples of subsistence garden agriculture, as well as much uncultivated land, and therefore much potential for radical economies of place to grow from.

We stopped for a delicious lunch with Agus and fellow remaining passenger, Vincent, who was, like us, heading to Kupang to catch the ferry to Surabaya. We absolutely love Indonesian food.

Despite the fried parts (which would be fine if they were cooked in ghee or animal fats), such simple and delicious road food is very affordable costing just AU$14 for five hearty meals and tea. Imagine if we could get this quality of food with no plastic at a truck stop in Australia!

We drove on for another few hours passing many examples of local food and energy productions,

until we arrived at Yanti’s sister’s home. Tilde and her husband, Ady, welcomed us into their beautiful home and replenished us with dried bananas and hot tea.

From left in the above image is daughter of the house, Ningsih, mother Tilde, then to the right of Artist as Family, neighbour Ardy and father Ady. Using a translation app has been a godsend since arriving in Indonesia. For many of the people we are meeting, a foreigner is a very rare thing and an app has allowed us to speak across languages and share stories. Our hosts were informed that we are travelling with instruments and we were invited to play. After we shared a song, Ady and Tilde replied with a favourite of theirs, accompanied by their son, Lodri, on guitar. As a family who plays music together, this was super lovely to behold.

At Ady and Tilde’s home we continued to receive generous hospitality and delicious food.

We adults are particularly loving the vegetable dishes, and Woody could practically live off rice, chicken and fresh cucumber, which came out from the kitchen a moment after this photo was taken.

Woody has become quite the hit with the young women we are meeting, who shyly ask whether they can take a pic or two with him for their Instagram pages. He reluctantly and awkwardly agrees.

In just one sweet hour together our families had bonded.

Trust, grace, generosity and openness are infectious qualities, and Tilde and Ady’s home flowed with them.

We got back into Agus’ borrowed car-for-hire, and followed a banana truck further west,

until we landed at a fruit shop, where fruit bat Woody really brought out his amorous side.

The boy takes his fruit pretty seriously.

Night came in fast, as it does here, and we finally descended on the port at Kupang, where we farewelled dear Agus,

while we settled in for a four hour wait to board the ferry to Surabaya.

At 10pm, after ingesting volumes of exhaust fumes outside the ferry terminal, hundreds of we tired folk piled through two small doors eager to get onboard. It was chaotic. We’re not sure what was the culprit – something he ate, tiredness, the all day car ride, or perhaps just the petroleum and cigarette fumes none of us could escape – but Woody vomited several times on a tree at the dock as we waited to get through the next threshold. “You’re supposed to vomit on the boat, Woody,” said Patrick. We adults were fairly cooked as well, and somewhat delirious with fatigue.

Then, about thirty minutes later the call was announced, the wide gates opened and we were rushed onboard, a collective slug of people starting to fill the hull. We knew we shouldn’t dilly, though at this moment we didn’t know why.

It turned out that our tickets, like many others, were for ‘no seats’ for a 78 hour voyage, and fellow no-seats-folk (several hundred of us) were eagerly taking up little patches of carpet to make home for the journey. This photo was taken just moments after Woody vomited into a rubbish bin. The boat was still docked in the port.

He then promptly passed out, and eventually so did his parents. This tripodded image (taken early the next morning) is effectively how we spent the night, sans Patrick’s shoes and any available floor room.

Woody woke very pale and,

gingerly, he entered the noisy, busy fray of the morning, as Patrick made tea.

But the boy had slept, and this is our best medicine on the road, as indeed it is at home. He quickly came back into himself after a breakfast of fruit and the last of our oats, before Vincent came around and offered to give Woody a tour of the boat.

while Meg and Patrick connected with those sweet souls we slept beside and near. Instead of fighting over scarce real estate, people made room and connections.

On the middle day of our three night journey, an anniversary poem flowed out of Patrick, which we shared. There is something conducive to creativity when everything is stripped back to a vast ocean,

and all one has to do is sleep, converse with fellow travellers,

try their traditional foods, such as this Shabu rice preserved with the sugar taken from the Lontar palm and wrapped in a banana leaf,

catch up with correspondence (when there is signal), or stare mindlessly at the innumerable screens playing B-grade films in languages both spoken and subtitled that we don’t understand. We are so impressed how Indonesian people can sleep anywhere, and we’re learning to do this too, sleeping under bright lights and a cacophony of chatter, laughter, hacking coughs, loud phone media and crying babies.

The plastic pileups on this voyage, and indeed since leaving Australia, have been the most depressing aspect of our journey so far. So many banana leaves and rich fermentation and preserving traditions here, though sadly people have been steered down a path of convenience by the plastic industrial complex.

To combat our participation in this tragedy of Grandmother Gaia and her oceans, we’ve kept topping up our bulk food stores as we travel and we bought as much fruit with us as we could carry onto the boat, including watermelon, bananas, papaya, longons and salak. Salak is also called snake fruit due to the scale-like skin, and also memory fruit. As Indonesian traditional (or peoples’) medicine reports, it improves memory and brain function, no doubt due to its high levels of beta-carotene, potassium and pectin, which can improve blood flow to the brain.

Over the month we’ve been away, Woody has been taking his own photos on his little camera and writing regular journal entries. He has also been a keen editor of this blog, reminding us of things we’ve left out.

This three day passage began with vomiting and trepidation, but fairly soon we were thankful for all the connections we made, and the new foods we tried because of those connections, such as this traditional homemade food from Sumba incorporating nuts and banana. Yum!

We were also grateful we bought the cheapest tickets, as we found out the more expensive ones would have put us in these sardine cans.

Give us that floor of interweaving bodies any day! We came into Surabaya on the island of Java at around lunch time on the third day, took a final journey to the upper deck with Vincent,

passed by, with wide open eyes, the mountain of anthropogenic waste amassed in just 24 hours since the last port stop, (similar, no doubt, to an afternoon spectacle at the MCG back in Australia),

and alighted the ferry into the heat and haze of the afternoon.

We booked a AU$42 room 40 minutes by car from the ferry terminal. With cyclist guilt, caught a taxi there for AU$20, which we found out was about twice the going rate. The pedal-powered and heat-intense mobility we saw from the domesticity and AC of the cab reminded us of our previous adventures. There are different challenges with this journey.

Indonesia, gratefully, is much cheaper than Timor-Leste, whose currency is in US dollars. For an Australian family who lives well below the poverty line (that is, in money terms), we are both grateful for and mindful that this frugal adventure can occasionally bring a little more comfort.

We hadn’t washed for days, our clothes were putrid, and we longed for cold water. The apartment building provided.

On the street outside our apartment, a laundry business washed, dried and folded our clothes for around AU$4, and a five minute walk brought us to a little nasi goreng warung (fried rice roadside stall), where we bought dinner for AU$6. The meal was delicious. We’ll spare you another family selfie or food porn pic. We passed out early, woke early, and as we had to get across town before 8am, hailed another cab.

Taking selfies for social media isn’t ordinarily a cultural practice for our family, but since arriving in Timor and now Indonesia, it has become an everyday thing. Sunsr (sunset), our driver, wanted to “make selfie” with us. How could we refuse such a happy fella??

Patrick regrets he didn’t get the number of Sunsr’s dentist. At the conversion rate here, we might just be able to afford an implant or two. Not for the missing front tooth – Patrick loves his well-earned pirate face – more on the sides where numerous missing teeth make it difficult to chew. In Australia, for our overseas readers, we have universal healthcare called Medicare, though something our family doesn’t use, and thus doesn’t draw public money from, because of the way we live and because we don’t trust the medical industrial complex. Dentistry, however, something we would ues, isn’t covered by Medicare, at least in real terms. Meaning low income folk can get only rudimentary dental work done if they wait a year or so, but they cannot seek out a dentist they trust or who comes recommended. For decades, a lobby of dentists has pressured the government to make sure dentistry isn’t covered by Medicare, and so proper teeth doctoring remains a luxury treatment. Pulling out teeth when a problem arises has been the only affordable treatment for us, and more recently we’ve developed practices of self-applied dental work, which we’ll share in a future post at some stage. It’s not a big thing, we are happy neopeasants who make-do to keep ourselves free from economic slavery, but we are keeping open the possibility of dental work while on this journey, so if you have any hot tips for goodly dentists in Asia, please let us know.

~

Cities are not really the point of this journey. We are not the sort of tourists who seek out cities and their sights. Instead, we’re much more curious about farming practices, socio-ecological relationships, food and cultural habits, rituals and ceremony, stories and songs, and technologies that keep both bodies and Mother Country well.

At 7.15am we arrived at the railway station, found a stall that served black coffee,

and boarded a train to Jakarta.

This all-day train journey brought us into contact with the extent of small farming practices in Java. Field after field grew rice, taro, cassava, banana, cabbage, corn, sweet potato, bok choy, various alliums and a plethora of other crops we couldn’t identify from the train.

Unsurprisingly, rice is the dominant crop. Even in the dry season there is abundant water here, to flood field after field of this staple monoculture. We witnessed the use of herbicides in the rice fields, but unlike the broad-acre, boom spraying regimes of conventional agriculture back in Australia, small-scale farmers here frugally spot spray weeds by foot and with backpacks. Not ideal, especially for we neopeasants who avoid growing and eating sprayed monocultural crops back home, but a far more superior farming method in comparison to US agribusiness colonialism, so reliant on dumping endless tonnes of pesticides into the world.

As we approach Jakarta, we are reminded of the warnings about this city people have shared with us along the way. Yanti told us to keep a careful watch on Woody as child trafficking exists in this mega city of 10.5 million people. Others told us theft is big and we’ll need to be careful of our belongings. This is all curious to us because we have felt so safe on this journey so far, despite the hitch-hiking in Australia and despite being virtually the only folk of our ethnicity we’ve seen since leaving Darwin.

As we have moved west from Timor-Leste, where the dominant religion is Catholicism, to the island of Java, where the dominant religion is Islam, we have felt the social functionality formal religions bring to people’s lives. Yes, we understand the colonial threads of these newer religions, but have observed such a deep cherishing of them here. For us, we feel much more aligned to the older animist practices we have witnessed on our travels, because of the centrality of earth story rather than sky god honouring .

For society to function, for there to be peace and respect, people need a story. We have not been judged for ours, which is neither Christian nor Muslim, rather we’ve been embraced and cared for. Where our stories overlap with people, there is always humility, intrigue and gratitude. Our family’s big universal story, the story we serve so as we don’t require the use of a formal religion or unconsciously default to the cult of materialism, centres on the sacredness, abundance and teachings of Grandmother Gaia and Mother Country. So our big story goes a little like this: If we serve the communities of life that make more life possible, if we are the humus-informed participants of the materiality and physics of life source, and we honour, give to and receive from the living and dying of the worlds of the world, then so much more than ourselves can leap forward into more divine life, and our spirits and souls can dance with abundance and sing more fruit into being.

Sitting on a diesel powered train, using a rare-earthed mined laptop, and eating food we don’t know the origin story of, might seem a trillion miles from such an earth-honouring cosmology, and it truly is. However, unless we have a story that we love, a story we can cherish for its possibility, how can we move to where our souls want to lead us?

June 30 (a poem written on the KM Dharma Kartika V ferry, in the Flores Sea)

 

Listen to or read Patrick’s latest poem (3 mins)

 

I was once married
on this same day
27 years ago

I hid in a room
drinking whisky
as the guests arrived

A boy
not yet ready
to grow up

From this embarrassment –
going along with a thing my heart didn’t sing with –
I made a pledge to my adulthood

Guilty in festivity
I did not want to hurt
the mother of my first child

I loved her as an artist
though, try as I did
I couldn’t love her more

I was 27 years old
it was the end of the financial year
and I had no money to declare

I did grow from that day, and later my son
Zephyr, was born in the house I built
with my own poet hands

I cut and hammered and sang
and together his mother and I
crafted a beautiful house

But I wounded her then –
and my three year old boy –
when I moved into the next town

From this tiny dwelling I began to rebuild
my life, while fighting a wounded mother
for the right to see my son

Slowly, I better understood how my mother-wound
and my mother’s big mother-wound
were significantly shaping my life

And how as people our wounds
cross into others until there is nothing left
but either madness or acceptance

I came to choose acceptance
as my love grew for the mother
of my second son, Blackwood

But as this love grew
so too the wounds of Zephyr
fed radically into his youth

I eventually sat still in Fear Country
underworlding in late initiation
as my eldest was incarcerated

First in youth correction
then in adults prison
and grief thrashed me, mercilessly

Wave after wave broke me down
for the crimes of the state
and my own son, combined

At first I reacted strongly
to this, and to his mother’s blame of me
though eventually I came to own it

Conscious of how that old wound
made by the hiding-behind-the-whiskey boy
whom she married, lived on

It took me many belligerent years
before I saw my unwitting promotion
of her pain, and others

I focussed on justice
arrogantly, from a place of hubris
instead of compassion

~

Today, I am a holding uncle
of teenage boy initiation
and men’s wounds in my community

I no longer want to serve
the game of right and wrong
or, ignore my shadow world

So, this is an anniversary poem
for all the fine suffering
that has grown me up

And a poem for my two sons, and others
who might unwittingly wound others
from the source of their own wounds

I will wound again –
this is the human experience –
though more conscious my wounds lessen

For when I am conscious
I too am worthy
and I too can find peace

 

Renewal, ceremony and abundance in Timor-Leste

Every day in Timor-Leste has been a feast of cultural riches, fine company, chaotic traffic, makeshift enterprises, beautiful beaches, unhappy pollutions and nourishing food, including this equisite dish of boiled banana flower hearts, lime, garlic, salt, and pepper.

After only a few hours of arriving in Timor-Leste, we were taken in by Ego Lemos and Yanti Wondeng and their three children Harmony, Thaddeus and Takamori (the littlest child pictured is cousin Misha).

Ego invited us to stay in his mother’s garden home in Dili (can you spot the breadfruit?),

and not only did Yanti and Ego cook many delicious meals, they taught us how to make some of them from scratch.

They took us to food markets,

where affordable organic produce for Timorese people is the rule, not the exception. Ego described the diversity of microclimates in the country, which in turn enables a diversity of crops and varieties.

Food scarcity in Timor-Leste is a fabrication, Ego told us. It’s fear stirred up by the expat “expert” class to promote the consumption of monocultural corporate foods that are not part of Timorese food custom.

Ego told us about 70% of Timorese food is grown in Timor-Leste, of which about 70% is organic. Wow!

Alongside food-to-market, other artisanal practices are maintained throughout Timor-Leste,

and cooking on the street is common, converting weedy eucalyptus into cooking fire energy.

Yanti showed us her favourite coconut stand in the neighbourhood, which we visited daily,

and how to buy from the many mobile vegetable discotheques that sell door-to-door, alerting potential customers of their proximity by playing loud Timorese pop music as they travel. You get to dance while buying the veggies!

Music is played in Dili night and day, and on one of the nights we got to dance and sing along to Ego and his band,

and learn more about his past performance life, such as playing with his friend Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu at various festivals. Ego’s song “Balibo” received a 2009 APRA award for best song in a film.

Ego lost his father and three siblings during the brutal occupation of Timor-Leste by the Indonesian army. He suggested we go to the Resistance Museum to teach Woody about the Timorese struggle, and Yanti asked Bella, a family friend and fellow permaculturist, to accompany us. We listened carefully to this big grief story of the Timorese people

From their family, only Ego and his mother, Madalena, survived the invasion. Here is Madalena putting her chickens away, as she does each night on dusk.

We can’t imagine how we’d respond to such seismic hatred and bloodshed, but in Ego and Yanti’s home and within their community of friends and colleagues, the response is wisdom, restoration and love. In 2023, Ego was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, also known as the Asia’ Nobel Peace Prize, for his food sovereignty programmes in Timor-Leste.

Patrick and Ego made time to record a podcast during the week our families came together. In the podcast Ego outlines his permacultural vision for the country and the work of Permatil, the organisation he started in 2001.

If you wish to donate to Permatil you can do so here.

In the podcast Ego explains a little of the sensitive cultural work Permatil does alongside local villagers and their elders. During our stay, Ego invited us to accompany him, with several staff and volunteers, to visit a village in the province of Ermera. We travelled Timorese style in the back of a ute. Meet Sebas (Permatil director of projects) and Thomas, a German professor of social and cultural anthropology, who also joined the small party up the mountain.

Last year, Thomas wrote Mobilizing the Future: Timor-Leste’s Permaculture Youth Camps, which is an excellent review of the permaculture youth work Ego and his team have established. Thomas has made many visits to Timor-Leste over the years and speaks the two official languages, Tetun and Portugese, well.

As we travelled up the mountain we passed under a number of honey trees, where the bees make an open comb. Sebas told us that there are expert honey harvesters who climb high up to procure this wild nutrition. There is plenty of honey in Timor-Leste, yet none of it is cultivated in hives.

When we arrived on the ridge of the mountain we were met by the head of the village, who guided Ego and a small cohort of us to a natural water basin.

On the way we met his wife collecting cassava for the breakfast that was being prepared.

Ego explained to us the work that was needed to restore the water basin, and recharge the springs below. He described how the sedimentation and weeds that choke up these natural catchments are due, in part, to the absence of water buffalo who have traditionally played a significant role in maintaining them. When these basins are functional they enable the abundance of water that falls in the wet season to deeply penetrate into the mountain and significantly recharge all the springs below.

Before breakfast Ego took us to see Ramelo, the highest mountain in Timor-Leste.

As the elders began to arrive, we were called for breakfast.

We were treated to freshly harvested cassava and sweetened local coffee. Our gratitude flowed for the love of this food and for the welcome we received.

After breakfast, the elders began preparing for the ceremony. Instead of us describing this sacred event in detail – a ritual intended to see whether Permatil’s work should go ahead here in the village – we’ll share just a little of what we experienced as invited participants. Photography was welcomed.

The people of the village, the cohort from Permatil, regional clan elders, and we overseas visitors gathered at the ceremonial hearth,

to listen,

to witness,

and to learn.

We were given betel nut, betel nut leaf and desiccated lime to chew.

The gentleness, respect and inclusivity of the village moved us greatly. We witnessed these qualities in the preparation of the pig, from whose liver the sign was given that Permatil’s work in the village should proceed,

While the lunch was being prepared Meg was shown around the village,

Woody got a game of catch going,

and Patrick spoke with Zecky, a graduate of Permatil’s youth programme,

who now runs his own organic compost enterprise, and whose shirt sports his own unique permaculture wisdom:

“Better to seek funding from creativity than seek it from the government.” So true, Zecky! Then lunch was served consisting of village-grown vegetables such as bok choy, sweet potato, taro, and chillies,

and the sacrificial pig.

Every part had to be eaten before the end of the ceremony, and one of the elders took delight in cutting this delicious animal into small shareable parts, and handing them around.

Meg helped with the clean up, and the women communicated she was the first “Portuguese” woman they’d seen helping with the dishes. In Australia a picture of a woman happily doing the dishes can illicit outrage in sectors of the population. In Timor-Leste the very same image can be a marker of decolonisation, and respect.

When it was time to leave, the elders said to us, “No, do not say good bye, just go. We know you will come back. This work has begun now.”

And so begins a process that will last many years, which will see both the national and international PermaYouth camps come to the village and much water restoration work carried out. For our family, who are part of bringing back ritual, ceremony and earth care in our community, this day was profound. We gathered and yarned across languages,

we feasted and played together.

We learnt from each other, and beheld the ritual of an earth-honouring tradition. All this activity intermingled with such ease, gentleness and respect. We were immensely grateful to have been participants in such an important day for the village and for Permatil, and we are ever thankful to Ego for including us, for his great skill at bringing people together, and for his sensitivities and respect for life and for people.

The next day, for something completely culturally different, we sought out Dili’s main stadium where we’d heard the T20 national final was going to take place. Cricket is just 12 or so years old in Timor-Leste, and Woody was eager to attend the match. On arrival we were welcomed by the game officials, Sakara and Marianna,

and watched the match between the two teams.

It was intensely hot, even from our shady vantage point high up in the stadium. Water was brought to spectators to drink, and the players had regular drink breaks. After the match Patrick was spontaneously and unexpectedly invited to present the player of the series award,

and after the awards ceremony, Woody was invited to play in the young people’s game. They kitted him out,

and sent him in to open the batting.

While we stayed with Yanti and Ego, Woody played catch out on the street with Thaddeus and the kids in the neighbourhood,

Patrick helped Steve with a plumbing project,

and Meg helped prepare food with Misha’s mum, Melda.

We’ve made new friends over the past week,

and we’ve shared many stories and meals together. Thank you beautiful Lemos-Wondeng family for all your love and care of us in Timor-Leste.

We left Dili for Maliana, near the Indonesian border, at 3am in the morning on a bus that started off with just us, the driver and two young assistants.

It was a six hour trip that may forever rid us of any remnant Australian preciousness. In fact it was so hardcore we highly recommend this journey to any Aussie who is easily triggered. Consider it a kind of anti-whingeing therapy. Woody vomited out the window many times as the bus rattled over the innumerable flood-made potholes in the dark. Live pigs rode in the boot, squealing. Bags and people were sardined in, and what luggage couldn’t fit inside was thrown onto the roof, including a goat. Cigarette sparks flew across the bus stinging travellers. Pop music thumped so loudly our hearts, and ear drums, felt like they’d explode. Colourful lights strobed epilepticly down the aisle. Young men held onto the outside of the bus for dear life, as there was no room inside. Sleep was absolutely not possible. As we approached Maliana the daylight broke and the bus slowly emptied out village after village.

It was a wild ride. We were the last to get out and had to be stern with the local boys who kept attempting to take our bags. At first we thought we were being robbed, but they were only fighting over whose taxi they could steer us into. We had little language in common, and these spirited young men laughed at our disorientation and confusion. Several minutes later, Yanti’s beautiful parents, Yan and Ama, arrived to collect us and bring us to their family home.

We have been treated to the most generous hospitality while in Timor-Leste. Yanti’s sister and brother in law, Len and Selinoo, invited us to lunch at their home where we were treated to water buffalo, chicken, a chilly-lime ferment, vegetables and guava juice. So much gratitude has flowed in us in this magical country.

After lunch Len showed us her garden.

and before lunch, Yan took us high into the mountains to see the traditional villages, complete with living fences, bamboo gates and palm-thatched shelters.

On the way down the mountain, Yan pointed out the Indonesian side of the Memo River. Tomorrow we will travel in the back of a pickup truck to Atapupu in Indonesia, passing through Balibo on the way, which has a dear place in the hearts of our community back home. As our time in Timor-Leste comes to a close, at least for now, we are reflecting on just how much this country and its people have suffered, and have grown from the trauma with positivity, kindness and resilience. We have been touched deeply by the people, their spirit, their animals,

and the land. Long live Timor-Leste!

Hulled up in Darwin – thrift, theft and fish in the top end

When we walked through the gates of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association (DBCYA), we soon arrived at this little encampment,

and met Ray and his mate Ben. Ray is the brother of a friend back home in Djaara Country, and he kindly invited us to stay on his boat, which is ‘on the hard’.

Named after his sister who died from breast cancer, Crissy Anne is Ray’s steel hull boat, which he is working on in preparation to sail around the world next year. After we arrived, he invited us to join his local sailing cohort at the bar at DBCYA ,

where we spoke to many of the folk there of our desire to crew a boat over the drink to Timor Leste or Indonesia. We were advised to post our wish on the various yachting websites, and to put up a poster on the association’s notice board, which we did the next day,

coupled with doing some much needed washing.

The following days were spent adjusting to ‘Darwin time.’ We were a bit restless to explore this little city none of us had visited before. “Go slow and calm the farm,” Ray told us, and “drink a load of water first thing in the mornings.” We were still somewhat in our get-shit-done southerner harvest-season bodies, and we’d arrived to 32 degree celsius days with overnight lows of just 18. On our first day we walked a 6 km round trip to Mindil Beach Sunset Market, hoping for fresh produce. We got instead over-priced tourist food, though they didn’t skip on the sunset.

For we adults, while Woody sleeps, our morning tea ritual is a sacred time. Between Crissy Anne and the laundry, a large patch of Tulsi grows. A powerful herb of the subtropical regions of the world, Tulsi is a perennial basil and an adaptogen,

and a dear friend of the nervous system, especially in times of change and turbulence.

When Woody gets up, and has had his oat breakfast,

it’s time to get going. Our project on the third day was to go out to Ray’s other boat, Orfeo, which is moored in the harbour. Ray said we’d be welcome to stay on this old yacht, and help get our sea legs in preparation for crewing a boat. He suggested we travel back and forth to Orfeo by the canoe he was recently given. So we loaded up, and pulled and strained the old gal a few hundred metres,

down to the wharf, dropped the canoe into the water and left Meg on the landing, as we were concerned the load was already too heavy.

Patrick and Woody rowed over our packs, food bags and instruments, then came back for Meg. We all approached our new home with excitement.

While Woody fished, his parents cleaned up the galley and were settling in when it became evident that Orfeo was an ill-fated operation.

There were problems with the solar power system, so there was no electricity, meaning our perishable food was being cooked by the day’s heat collecting inside the boat. We tried to problem-solve with Ben by phone, but the multimeter was back on shore, and there was no way we could locate the problem. Then we discovered that the canoe was taking in water. Patrick used a cup to empty it and we repacked the little boat and rowed back to shore with our sea tails between our legs. We moved back into Crissy Anne and in the work area beneath her we lived, cooked, communed with Ray and his many friends, and in the quieter times Meg got some office work done for our dear friends and permaculture elders, David Holmgren and Su Dennett.

Patrick worked on Ray’s collection of bikes. We may not be sea savvy folk, but we are bike savvy.

Only one of Ray’s four bikes was in working order, so Patrick stepped into his mechanic body until they were all functional.

As soon as we hit the road on these cruisy contraptions, we began to feel more at home in Darwin. “You don’t get done for not wearing a helmet,” said Ben, “if you stick on the bike paths you’ll be fine. The cops have plenty of other things to deal with.” The cult of safetyism in Australia’s southern states was just not apparent here. Instead of KeepCups and lattés as the dominant cultural drug-milieu by day, it is stubby holders and beer up here, which creates a continual boozy social environment. For a family on bikes, we had to be vigilant.

The bike paths are numerous and the little city is mostly flat.

There were shouts of joy as we rode Larrakia (saltwater) people’s Country, and the warm wind whooshed over the stickiness of our skin. We explored fishing spots,

caught some lovely things such as Blue swimmer crabs,

and introduced ourselves to a shell fish we’d never seen before, and strangely couldn’t ID it.

We sat, reflected, listened and relaxed in saltwater Country,

and gleaned old line and tackle on the low tide, salvaging the useful parts and binning the potentially hazardous.

We caught a bunch of fish in the first part of the week we were in Darwin, but many of them were inedible (puffer and bat fish), or they were undersize (bream and trevally). The blue bike Patrick fixed, the best of Ray’s treadlies, was stolen from underneath Crissy Anne the night after it was back on the road. Alongside feeling relaxed here in Darwin, we have also felt an uneasiness; a discomfort.

After many conversations with locals it was becoming increasingly apparent that crewing a boat for a family of three with no sailing experience was a bit of a pipe dream. We were generously offered a passage to Indonesia with Sleepy Dave, but he isn’t going until August. India is calling.

Ray is a yacht race referee in Darwin. He presides over the organisation of a number of races and he told us many sailors stay in Darwin over the dry season to join these events or repair their boats.

Ray has been so generous, going out of his way to help us while in we’ve been in Darwin. But, having inhabited the belly of Crissy Anne for several days,

we don’t want to overstay our welcome. With a fair amount of reluctance we booked a short flight to Dili in Timor Leste, 720 kms away. For a little more we could go all the way to India, but that’s not the point of this trip, to travel so fast. Meg and Patrick haven’t been overseas for twenty years, and Woody never has. We were really hoping we could do it without flying. From Dili we intend to continue northward, island-hopping towards India. Now we’ve made that decision we have work to do. Foremost, biking our winter gear and sleeping bags up to the post office to send home,

op-shopping for summer wear,

by thrift and by chance,

and obtaining some US dollars for Timor.

It’s been a strange time in Darwin. It’s almost a segregated town, at least from an outsider’s view. There’s mob here that are not Larrakia people, who have come to Darwin from remote communities, or other parts of the country. Then there’s mob here that have big grief stories, who have turned to substances that bedevil them, which in turn keeps them exiled from their respective communities. These troubled street folk are treated sternly, sometimes viciously by settler shopkeepers, security guards and managers of supermarkets across all ethnicities. Visitors are warned by locals not to engage with blackfellas looking for coin, smokes or grog, so they are often ignored or avoided. Ben told us, “It takes about two weeks for newcomers to Darwin to become racist.” On the street you have drug and alcohol affliction, and then in the board rooms, shrewd tactics of corporate power use Aboriginal people and culture to both aggregate and make-look-civil the destructive extraction of Aboriginal resources, for empire. This reckless corporate mining company, for example, dons Aboriginal art in its foyer as false flags of progressiveness and care.

It’s easy for blow-ins to jump to conclusions about a place. We understand the problems here are complex because they are generational and because western civilisation is a sophisticated propaganda machine. Drugs and alcohol have different impacts in differing cultures, depending on peoples’ approaches. Clearer for us now, is how industrial grog and industrial mining come from the same mythos of greed and subjugation, and no good culture can come from these things. These activities done in an indigenous way would require ceremony and ritual, where over-extraction or over-consumption are not present because of the gratitude and connection these cultural expressions elicit. Indigenous activities done at a scale of bioregional accountability can never be systematically or globally harmful, can never produce man-made mass suffering. Suffering is an ordinary and sometimes necessary part of life, it is a great teacher, but not on the scale industrialisation causes. This, we’ve found, is a critical difference between industrial and indigenous ways.

Towards the end of our time in Darwin, we returned to the Fishermen’s Wharf and were reminded to speak to Saltwater Mother Country, a quiet ritual we often do down south. Before we fish at a place, we speak our intention for coming. “We’ve come to catch food for our family tonight, and we will only take a little of your abundance.”

Fairly shortly after we arrived and acknowledged Mother Country in this way, Woody’s rod started bending,

and the youngtimer began pulling them in.

Four beautiful bream (from $1.50 worth of chicken) made our dinner on the second last night.

Patrick’s attempt to add to the bag saw him bring in several little critters and this Moon fish, which is apparently good eating though, due to its size, he released it.

We are leaving Darwin with much gratitude for what Country and the people have taught us here. To slow down. To accept the stickiness. To acknowledge it takes time to adjust to new places and ways. To be with the disappointment of flying and not crewing on a boat. To better understand the life-wreckingness of industrial substances and extractions. To not reduce complexity to a facile judgement. To further behold the propaganda and hubris of this nation and its subservience to empire. What can a family do in the face of all this? Eat meals together, ask questions, meet people and find out our commonalities with them, and bring more love into the world.

We didn’t come to Darwin to catch trophy fish or take in the club life. We didn’t come for the burnouts of Supercars and military jets. We didn’t come to consume Aboriginal art or Aussie-ised Asian food. We came as pilgrims on an adventure seeking nothing famous or big, rather for the accumulations of everyday magic, provided by the goddesses of small things.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for continuing to follow our journey. We feel tremendously supported by our community back home, the community of subscribers here, and the community we’re meeting on the road.

Hitch hiking to India (Daylesford to Darwin, the first 10 days)

A few months back we hatched a cheeky desire to hitch hike to India. After a long list of to-do’s before we could set off, including moving the flerd 5 kms across town,

 

 

and hosting Jordan’s 30th and our farewell gathering,

 

 

we walked with our backpacks to the A300 and stuck out our thumbs. Ballarat was our first destination as we needed to head west before we could go north. Can you even hitch to India? Dunno, let’s find out.

 

 

Hitch hikers should be added to the list of rare breeds in Australia. As news cycles have merged into fear cycles, we get many worried looks when we hitch. Nonetheless, on this first morning we got a ride within 10 mins with a lovely lady named Cath, who dropped us off at Ballarat Station where we boiled the billy. Thanks for starting us off Cath!

 

 

We enquired about the cost of a train to Adelaide, and were sold tickets for a train and two buses, costing just $52.50 in total,

 

 

grateful for such affordability, and for the homemade, light-weight, high nutrition food we brought such as rabbit and roo jerky.

 

 

While this is a hitch hiking trip, we’ll take affordable transport should it come up. We were a little startled we got so far in just one day, and arriving on dusk in Adelaide, we were taken in by Nicole Brammy and her permie family. After a good night’s sleep in the backyard, we helped out with the household productions.

 

 

While Meg helped Nicole and Olivia sort walnuts, Patrick defrosted unwanted fish heads clogging up Nicole’s family freezer and converted them into a miso broth for the workers.

 

 

In the afternoon we packed up our tent from the backyard,

 

 

and headed a few hours south to spend the second night with old friends from Daylesford, Chris and Vanessa and their boys Willem and Alejandro, at their home in Willunga.

 

 

It was wonderful to connect with these families. In all we spent three nights in Adelaide and on our fourth day we caught a bus and a train north to the Salisbury Interchange from where we walked for about an hour out to the A1 to resume our thumbing adventure.

 

 

The only bus to Alice Springs from Adelaide would have cost us over a $1000, though more importantly, would have ruined our dance with chance. After two hours of waving in a friendly fashion at concerned motorists, Ali picked us up.

 

 

Ali is originally Afghani and he spent 6 months on Christmas Island before arriving in Australia. He said it was destiny that we met and he hoped he’d see us again. We felt the same. He dropped us off at Port Wakefield,

 

 

where we worked our thumbs hard for another two hours until Marie picked us up. Marie Warren, is a grandmother, artist and screen printer whose ancestral mob are the Arabana people. As we journeyed, she shared stories of the Mother Country we were travelling in, including the Seven Sisters story.

 

 

We talked about our ancestry, and Marie and Patrick (and therefore Woody) found they share Scottish roots. Marie’s grandfather is Francis Warren, formally a Scot before becoming a fully initiated Arabana man who, as Marie stated proudly, was a fierce fighter in the Frontier Wars in Central Australia. As we travelled and spoke about our shared lineage, a giant serpent appeared in a salt lake to our right, looking much like Uilebheist Loch Nis (the Loch Ness Monster). We pulled over for a gander.

 

 

Travelling with Marie was akin to entering a mythological adventure. We laughed and cried and shared story. After dusk Marie dropped us off at the caravan park on the west side of Port Augusta. “You’ll be safe there, “ she told us,

 

 

and we shared some more tears and words. “We need you white fellas,” she said with big feeling. “The dealers use Aboriginal street kids here as guinea pigs when they bring a new drug into the country,” she said with gravity. “I want to come see your bush school, see how you do it. That’s what our babies need here.”

 

 

We white fellas need you too, Marie, though many of us have lost connection to a land- and story-bonded life so we no longer know why we do.

After our emotional farewell we found the caravan and camping park was full, even for a small hiking tent, so heeding Marie’s warning about the town we avoided seeking out a sneaky camp, and headed instead for the Flinders Hotel and booked the cheapest room in town.

Early that morning we began our day’s labour, switching our ‘Alice’ sign for something more modest. We were finding out just what huge distances we needed to travel,

 

 

and we were in for the long game. It took us four hours before we got a ride, a perfect opportunity for catching practice.

 

 

While we waited to fill up a car already committed for a northern transit, an Indian taxi driver pulled over and asked us if we needed a ride. We got talking about our attempt to travel to India overland, hitch hiking and crewing on a boat from Darwin to visit our friend, Jashan’s family farm in Punjab and stay with his parents in his childhood village, visit Vandana Shiva’s farm Navdanya and other permaculture farms in the north, and to cut our teeth on the streets of India playing cricket.

 

Yes, we’ve become a cricket family since Blackwood fell in love with the game. Here’s Woody practicing his batting with a round bat he carved from hazel wood just before we left,

 

 

and here he is, just 11 years old, belting his dad around in the Hepburn cricket nets a few weeks back.

 

 

The taxi driver was so moved by the story of our attempt to get to his ancestral lands he returned an hour later to check on us and to give us a wad of cash. Our initial refusal caused some awkwardness, and we realised the gift dearly wanted to be given so we accepted with grace and much gratitude. This generous soul left before we shared names, and he said on parting, “I’m not wealthy, but it’s in my religion. Go well.”

 

Not long after this immense act of kindness, and about four hours in total out on the road, a young fella called Adrian (or A-train to his mates), stopped, picked us up, and drove us into what is called The Outback.

 

 

Adrian was heading to his mother’s engagement party near Roxby Downs and said he’d be happy for the company. We travelled for about an hour together before he needed to turn off, so he dropped us at Spuds Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway,

 

 

where we once again got out our hitching sign.

 

 

We were pretty buggered. None of us had slept well so far on the trip. Roxby Downs, Woomera, these are big names we adults know through news stories only.

 

 

But, we’re not really here to drift, it’s become apparent.

 

We were going to spend the winter curled up by the fire, working on our book, which the growing, harvesting and teaching seasons helped to put on the back burner. But a few months ago India called us and we had to pay attention to that.

 

While labouring with our thumbs out on this long road, we also paid attention to the changing colours of Mother Country.

 

 

Nearing dark, two Frenchies, Loren and Enzo, pulled over.

 

 

They were on a 300km round trip to do their food shopping, and told us there was a free camp site where they worked at Glendambo. So they dropped us there, on that red earth,

 

 

and with their joie de vivre spirit we set up camp, got a fire going,

 

 

cooked dinner, played some songs, and passed out under a magnificent desert sky.

 

By the next morning our tent was drenched in dew. It was the first time damp had permeated our family house on the road. We cooked a seedy oaty porridge for breakfast while waiting for the sun to dry our gear,

 

 

utilising the shrubbery as a makeshift dryer.

 

 

Our night in Glendambo was an initiation into the desert, at least from a settler’s point of view.

 

 

We decided we’d pack up the tent wet and get going early. We hoped to get to Coober Pedy and stood out on the Stuart Highway again to roll the hitch dice.

 

 

To the west of our frugality was this land and this sky.

 

 

Little rituals of acknowledgement and connection are playing out through the waiting. When Woody needs a little encouragement on these long waits, we remind him that if we travelled fast and assuredly we’d need a lot of money, therefore he’d be sent to school so his parents could earn it, and he’d miss out on all the chance encounters that were already making this trip so rich.

 

After a few hours of courting the wild twin on the Stuart Highway, Steve and Sue, caravaners from WA, picked us up. Covid dissidents like us, we had plenty to talk about, and politics filled our journey akin to this graffiti we discovered in a public toilet on the Stuart.

 

 

We adults in the car were all Greens voters back in the day – environmental lefties. While we travelled, we collectively lamented how few now are reading this aggregating era of regulatory capture and the systemic corruption in the state-corporate nexus. Needless to say neither Green, Blue, or Red are parties any of us trust and are repulsed by their complicity.

 

Sue and Steve, salts of the earth, rolled us into Coober Pedy,

 

 

a dusty old mined-to-hell-and-back town,

 

 

where we set up the tent and dried out our wet things before the sun lost its sting. Each day is getting warmer as we progress north.

 

 

The temperatures drop at night but we’re toasty with all our winter gear. Once set up we explored the town

 

 

that has been turned over and

 

 

mongreled in both crude and novel ways.

 

 

You know what they say when you travel, As in Rome… so we donned the digger’s spirit,

 

 

for a very brief moment, and got the hell outta that strange lil town,

 

 

passing Waa on our way,

 

 

and walking 45mins back to the highway to begin our morning’s labour.

 

 

We smiled and waved to motorists, and received a goodly assortment of friendliness back in return. Being three of us plus our gear, not many people have the space. What we gain in being friendly, we lose by being numerous and bulky. It took two hours before a car pulled over. “I can give you a lift. You’re not psycho-killers are you?” asked Shannon, “No, are you?” Meg asked back, with a grin.

 

 

“We’re going to Alice,” said Patrick. “Yeah, I can take you there, I’m heading to Darwin,” said Shannon. Did someone say Darwin?! We piled in, so immensely grateful for the ride and for the dog named Rocky.

 

 

Over the next four days we lived on the road with Shannon and Rocky,

 

 

visiting Alice only briefly,

 

 

and camping at roadside free camps.

 

 

Shannon didn’t turn out to be a psycho-killer. He’s a kind and generous man, and we got to do a lot of yarning,

 

 

and as our shared stories deepened and grew, so too the termite mounds the more we travelled north.

 

 

On our last morning together we stopped in to Bitter Springs

 

 

for a refreshing swim, the water almost the same as our body temperature.

 

 

We travelled far with Shannon and Rocky, over four beautiful days. On our last leg-stretch before Darwin we stopped and took a family snap.

 

 

Shannon and Rocky are about to embark on a new life up here. Shannon will be driving trucks out to remote communities for an Aboriginal transport company, and Rocky will travel with him.

 

 

We farewelled this awesome man and his dog outside the Dinah Beach Yacht Association, in Darwin

 

 

and walked through the gates into the next stage of our adventure.

 

 

Thank you to everyone who waved and smiled at us on the road, who gave us rides and took us in. And thank you Dear Reader, for accompanying us on this first leg of our adventure.

And thanks to Jordan for the first and third images, and to Kim for the second.

Reclaiming a ceremonial species approach – community celebrated land in Djaara Mother Country… and a teaser

When we are ceremonial people we feel the full grace of gratitude for everything that feeds life.

Without gratitude can a custodial species approach be reclaimed?

When gratitude is flowing it wormholes ideology, strips away civilisational hubris and returns us to humility – humus; earth.

By sharing the weft and warp of village making with youngtimers, sharing the belonging story of being mob together,

we can more deftly face our fears, develop relationships with the living of the world,

and find our way back to the many hearths from where our nourishment grows.

In life we come to many uncomfortable encounters. But is discomfort really just a teacher in disguise? A teacher in the lost sense of that word?

For the past several months Happen Films has been capturing all this earth-bonded reclamation for a feature-length documentary that has the working title, The New Peasants. Here is the teaser:

Because this is a feature-length doco, Happen Films requires money to complete it. You can read their funding proposal if you are interested in supporting them to make this film.

We have wanted to share the story of our eldest for some time. We share a little of it in this teaser, with his full permission. So many of the things we do stem from the pain of Zeph’s story. His pain, his radical initiation into adulthood, and our grief in not being able to stop his descent into such a punishing underworld. This pain means something, it has many teachings.

So much of what we do has been woven from the gifts of deep listening to the teachings of this pain. We don’t wish our story onto anyone, but we do like to share those parts of it that are ready to share.

What moves you, Dear Reader? In this very moment of your life, in the changing of the seasons, in the holding and the letting go?
We’d love to hear what feeds your gratitude, from the smallest leaf-beholding rituals, to the larger communal ceremonies.

Neopeasants in China with Sunshine Yang

Hello dear Subscribers,

We have had the pleasure of hosting Sunshine Yang at Tree Elbow over the past few weeks, and towards the end of her stay Patrick and Sunshine sat down and had a yarn about the Chinese back-to-the-land movement and more besides. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into Sunshine’s world.

Here is the audio only version,

 

and here is the vision version.

In the conversation Patrick and Sunshine mention this Sandor Katz’s People’s Republic of Fermentation episode, which we all watched together this week. We highly recommend the series. Sandor has been one of AaF’s heroes for many years.

Sunshine is currently travelling the world participating as a volunteer in the renewal of peasant lifeways and back-to-the-land communities in other countries. She will be heading to West Africa, Cuba, South America and then southeast Asia, so if you know of like communities in those places or would just like to reach out to Sunshine, please get in touch with her.

We have so enjoyed living with your brightness and spark, Sunshine. Thank you for what you brought to the School of Applied Neopeasantry here in Djaara Mother Country.

We’d love to hear from you, Dear Listener. What has been stirred in you by this conversation?

Recovering birth from the industrial biomedical complex (with permaculturist-midwife, Eleanor Young)

This week Patrick spoke with researcher, permaculturist and midwife Eleanor Young. Here at the School of Applied Neopeasantry, we are still brimming from sharing virtual space with this sensitive, thinking and wise scholar-practitioner advocating for women-centric birthing.

Make yourself a cuppa, turn off notifications, and settle in for a beautiful, generative and unfolding hour of yarning. We guarantee nourishment for those on a path back into the cosmology of Mother Country and Grandmother Gaia. Here is the audio only version:

 

You can watch the conversation here (and please let us know if you’re having troubles accessing our CommonsTube page, fingers crossed it streams for you):

The related reading/listening mentioned by Eleanor in this podcast is her mentor and friend, Dr Rachel Reed’s work and especially her book, ‘Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage: Weaving ancient wisdom with modern knowledge.’

In the podcast, Eleanor mentions the School of Shamanic Womancraft, and the principles and ethics of permaculture.

If you’d like to get in touch with Eleanor, please let us know and we can hook you up.

Your stories of birth, underworlding or reclaiming your wild health are most welcome here, and all is welcome – the beautiful, the tragic, and the sublime.

Sending this with Mother Countrying love,
Magpie and Blue Wren