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Micro-touring the Northern Rivers as/with Artist as (extended) Family

It was here, 10 kms out of Mullumbimby on the Myocum Road, riding back to Bentley for the big showdown with police, where we pulled over to check directions and discovered our phone ablaze with messages from loved ones asking us to confirm whether the news was indeed true.

Woody may not quite have understood what was behind the joy of his parents at this moment but nonetheless picked up that it was something significant. OMG! Metgasco’s license suspended and police operation cancelled. We’ve won! We’ve bloody well won!

Patrick spent some time over the next week writing down the reasons for the success at Bentley while it was fresh in our minds.

We called our friend Brett, who we’d stayed with back in Kempsey, to tell him the news. Brett was riding to meet us at Bentley for the showdown with police. As we were all on bikes fuelling our own transits we decided not to head back there for the celebrations but to meet in Ocean Shores and ride north together.

While we were at Bentley, via the play of our dogs Russell and Zero, we met Eka who lives at Ocean Shores. Eka had previously invited us to stay with her if we passed by. She and her son Olaf hosted us with Alice and her son Satria, who are also travelling the country.

On our second and last night we all joined Eka and Olaf’s community on the beach for a full moon fire before Artist as (extended) Family bid the ocean adieu and set off for Burringbar.

It was wonderful to be travelling as five again, and Brett immediately made life easier in a myriad number of ways.

He led us to the home of his friends on a property that matriarch Jan had steward-gardened for thirty-five years, slowly turning it from cleared paddock into forest.

Jan’s daughter Jessie Cole, two grandsons Milla and Luca, and pooch Jet, also live on this remarkable property,

which contains this little bungalow where Artist as Family stayed.

While we were there we were inspired to scheme up a small, gravity fed, off-grid home based on the proportions of this little dwelling by the creek.

We had many fruitful discussions while we stayed with Jessie and Jan and the boys, ranging from composting toilets to the woeful ideology of mainstream economics (which we all agreed is in serious need of composting). We were treated to the family’s citrus orchard,

and dared to try this fruit,

which is a supposed relative of dragon fruit. It wasn’t unpleasant.

It was only a twenty k ride from Ocean Shores to Upper Burringbar and about the same distance on to Uki, where we headed to next, climbing two hills and joyously coming down them:

this was micro-touring on quiet roads – heavenly. Not far out from Uki Brett spotted a banana passionfruit vine that had naturalised.

Wow! What spoils from the verge we have had on this trip.

We rode into Uki on a high and went to the general store to buy some tucker. OMG! The store has organic and biodynamic bulk foods, local bulk honey and home-grown produce. This is the first time we’d seen such a hybrid business. What a model for other small towns.

We set up camp on the banks of the Tweed River and were soon visited by a friendly local, Tim, who invited us over to his place.

The next day we walked there,

passing these lovely creatures on the way.

Tim showed us around the property he grew up on. He, like Jan and Jessie and the boys, had a lovely connection to their land and a deep respect for Indigenous lifeways. Tim showed us his experimental fish trap, which was an exercise in remodelling Indigenous food gathering techniques, not necessarily for catching fish but for better understanding the ways in which people enact low-damaging modes of life.

We invited Tim and his girlfriend Ahliya over for a fireside dinner and asked them to bring their instruments, and while Brett wrapped sweet potato in river soaked Bangalow palm leaves to put on the fire,

TJ Quinton and Ahliya Kite sang us into poetic reverie with their playing. We will try to catch their upcoming gig in Brisbane at Clarence Corner Bookstore.

Needless to say the sweet spuds were also a hit. And we served them with a simple pasta dish while listening to the mullet jumping in the creek.

The next day we breakfasted on the dragon fruit that Tim and Ahliya had brought,

and on the way out of town stopped by the Uki hall, drawn in by a fundraising event that spilled out onto the street where we injected a large hit of industrially farmed evil to burn off on the road to Murwillumbah.

Another little twenty-five km day. Oh, the spoils of micro travel! Pulling over to buy some far more responsibly farmed produce,

we then bee-lined to Murwillumbah’s bike shop. Jim and Claire have had the shop for 31 years and they shone in good ol fashioned service.

Jim, a cyclist all his life,

fixed a broken spoke and re-aligned the wheel while we waited. Now we were ready to find our friends Belinda and Cecile’s home, which they share with their dog-kin Missy.

This expecting creative couple are working on a book of creative couples, which Meg and Patrick are to be featured in. For a few of days we hung out together,

laughed, went for walks around the town and cooked each other meals,

before Cecile and Belinda waved us off.

We had itchy pedals and were excited, but also uneasy to move into Queensland, where just over there,

politicians have opened up the country yet another notch, to mine, pollute and devastate under the umbrella of an economic model that refuses to grow up. But before we go there we have a few days to relax at Tweed Heads,

and enjoy the company of Meg’s parents,

who have come to momentarily abduct their youngest grandson, who just might be in need of some new shoes.

Bentley to Mullumbimby – locavore feasts, bicycle hitchhiking and permaculture travel

Our ten days of recuperation from Bentley has proved just the medicine. We farewelled Gate A,

and rode east with an invitation to stay with a fellow Bentley protector, Dr Phil, in Ewingsdale.

After riding 50ks or so we broke the trip in Bangalow, a pretty town that has been recently infected by a boutiquey city snobbery. Before nightfall we raised our tents behind the toilet block in a local park to create this rather bourgeois accommodation,

before heading to Phil and his partner Natalia’s the next morning. On the road to Ewingsdale we spotted Australia’s most eastern point, Cape Byron. What pastoral splendour!

We have come to understand the wondrous luxury of a warm shower, and at Phil and Natalia’s we certainly experienced this warmth, alongside others. We were treated to a locavore feast, with much of the ingredients coming directly from their family’s produce garden.

Meet (from left) Casuarina, Pandanus, Natalia, baby Melaleuca and Xanthorrhoea, with Zero, Meg and Blackwood. We found we shared many common things, such as a love of music, permaculture, eating local, eating weeds and giving our children Indigenous tree names. On a wet and stormy day Phil and Natalia kindly loaned us their car and we shuttled down the hill to nearby Byron Bay to visit the markets,

discover fruit and vegetables we just don’t see back home, such as these winged beans,

and visit an old friend, Bridget, in her studio before she cooked us a delicious meal.

We can see why this beach town is a significant destination on the tourist map,

but brand Byron seems to us a victim of its own success. We were pleased to get out of this high consumption rat race and find the road to Mullumbimby, where 10ks out we picked up Dee, our very first hitchhiker, needing a lift into town.

We came to Mullum to stay with our friends Chris and Vanessa and their boy Willem and pooch, Bella.

It was in Mullumbimby that we were treated to more delicious and nutritious local food. We rode straight to the weekly produce market, bought some produce for the week and ate starfruit on the main drag, outside the organic and GM-free food shop, Santos.

We devoured red papaya at the Mullum Community Garden (MCG),

and chewed on red sugarcane at Chris and Vanessa’s family plot there.

Back at Bentley a few weeks earlier, Artist as Family participated in a biochar workshop with a guy called Don, who explained the fundamentals (and indeed imperatives) of turning woody biomass into biochar.

Don and his co-conspirator, Wadsie, run a demonstration biochar site out of MCG, and it was great to see the set up on a larger scale.

Assembled and used correctly this rather humble looking array of drum furnaces can burn woody material considerably cleanly and can, according to Don, produce a by-product (charcoal) that can put carbon back into soil for millennia. And while it’s true around 50% of carbon is given off into the atmosphere at the charring stage, the remainder becomes more or less permanently sequestered producing an ecological soil product that can house beneficial microbes, help retain water and enable aeration. When ordinary biomass decomposes (or composts down) virtually 100% of the material is quickly given off as methane gas with little benefit to soil composition after a few years.

Another thing raised in discussions at Bentley that came to fruition for us in Mullum was a letter to elders. When we walked to Melbourne a few years ago we wrote to the elders of the three nations we were to pass through to seek their permission. This time on bikes, we thought we’d stop at Indigenous cooperatives along the way to seek permission as we didn’t have a predetermined route worked out. But it hasn’t really worked out that way, so now we think it time again to start sending a letter ahead of our arrival, and this is what we penned:

Roman law only got established in Australia because of that convenient Latin term terra nullius, but our letter to elders recognises Indigenous law as the ‘primary law of the land’ and is modelled on what Jaara elder Uncle Brien Nelson (back in our home country) tells us is called the tanderrum or ‘freedom of the bush’. A tanderrum agreement occurs when land holders give foreigners temporary access to their country and resources. The only reason Roman law remains in Australia lies with the pointy bit of the law – the shooty bit. The gun remains the final line of authority in a morally impoverished legal system and a morally corrupt political system that has never properly defended Indigenous culture, the land, its creatures and its people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) from the terrorism of greed that masquerades as economics. Without guns and greed to threaten us, the enormous effort it has taken to protect Bentley would not be necessary.

Our host, Chris, teaches permaculture design in Mullum and asked us to give a talk to his PDC students on ‘permaculture travel’ and on applying permaculture principles to all aspects of life. We spoke about our reasons for living car-free and the importance of understanding the impacts of fossil fuels and their subsequent wars, from 1914 onwards – the Berlin to Baghdad railway to the present day Bentley blockade – and what we are doing to work against this culture of violence and damage and perform non-damaging life ways.

We’re getting ready to leave Mullumbimby and ride back to Bentley. It looks like a large force of police will soon attempt to dismantle the blockades set up there, and with the pointy bit of an illegitimate legal system aid the negligent company Metgasco to build its Northern Rivers gasfield. We will defy this violence with large numbers of good folk and clear-eyed song:

hey there officer!
protect the protectors
our water, land and air

Two videos and two poems about protecting and transitioning

During our third week at Bentley we mostly kept vigil on the gates and helped out down at Camp Liberty where we could. Here is a paddock-edited video we made during that week of Patrick’s poem, Bentley blockade, which gives a little insight into what Aidan Ricketts calls ‘an outbreak of democracy’.

During this same week our friend Rasha Tayeh released her more-than-paddock-edited film The Growing Food Project, which features Patrick’s poem, Step by step.

We’re having a short break from Bentley and will return later in the month when it is thought large numbers of police will attempt to dismantle the three gates blockaded there. If you are in the region and can get along to help, try to arrive on Friday 16 or Saturday 17 May (with your swag or tent), as police will certainly block the roads into Bentley some time before Monday 19, the supposed day of confrontation. For regular updates on the Bentley Blockade visit Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

Pop-up community, outbreak of democracy, the imminent arrival of riot police

If we wind back 150 years or so, pop-up tent settlements were rapidly sprouting around the country. Mining licenses were granted, pick axes took to rock, hopes for a better future flared along quartz seams, land was savaged, duckboards tracked through drenched camp lanes. 

Today another sort of rush is taking place, only this time things have flipped. Miners are no longer the poor and land dispossessed of Europe wanting to establish a better life, rather they are already affluent wanting to take more resources than they need in a way that could poison the land, water and air and inhibit life for future generations. Creating jobs is no justification for causing damage. The pop-up tent settlement at Bentley in northern NSW does not house miners, but rather protectors, demonstrating how to mass organise against such ecological intransigence.

Metgasco, the mining company wishing to exploit subterranean gas reserves by a method called tight sands fracking, may have a miner’s license acquired through an arcane legal system that favours damage, but they certainly don’t have a social license granted by the people. For this stance, this ‘outbreak of democracy’ (for the people, by the people) we’ve been told we may incur the full wrath of the state’s riot police. But we will not be bullied by state-sanctioned violence, and despite our tiredness and occasional flare-ups with one another, we are united in our commitment to protect the land from narrow self-interest and greed.

Artist as Family have never sat up so many nights on vigil defending country, never observed so many shooting stars, never witnessed so many magical dawns.

We have never seen so many cultures comes together for a common cause,

never witnessed such making that attempts to remodel and re-sense the ancient and sustainable practices of Indigenous Australians.

We have never shared so many stories and personal frailties,

and rarely have we felt the power of community to work towards significant change; to enact outbreaks of vital democracy.

We are so privileged to be at the Bentley Blockade,

to learn important skills to take back to our own community. To witness, contribute and be part of the love.

For life is worth protecting.

Law and lore (at the Bentley blockade)

The situation unfolding here at Bentley is as much to do with language as it is to do with environment. We all recognise ourselves as protectors of the land, protectors under a common lore held by the people.

This is a very different point of view for government (and others) who see us as ‘protesting persons’ under a Roman legal system. But we are free people, working together, helping to protect the land from damage. This is our home for now.

While it is well understood that fracking pollutes land and water directly, few people understand that carcinogens and other toxins are also released into the atmosphere by the fracking process, only to be inhaled by us and other organisms, or end up settling on our roofs, ponds and watercatchments, and eventually consumed through our food and water supplies. The elders here know what damage is, know its form and its hatred, and they know it is time to move from law that permits extractive damage and return to lore that enacts generative and generational succession of all things.

It’s about the food we eat,

and how we produce and prepare it.

It’s about the way we converse,

and the reconciliation we walk.

It’s about what remnants of the old world we recycle and reuse to build the new,

and it’s about what energies we use to power it,

energies that don’t cause damage.

We remain commited to our all night vigils here at Bentley because this place is every place.

Damage only prevails when good men and women do nothing.

Welcome to Bentley!

Food and energy: social transformers (Iluka to Bentley blockade)

The night before we left Iluka we were invited to a feast of crabs with Deanne and her family.

Deanne is yet another stellar local woman working at the coalface of the mostly male dominated industry of civil construction. She invited us for dinner and cooked mud crabs and these beautiful blue swimmers (Portunus pelagicus) in a chilli sauce.

Nine of us feasted for about an hour and a half on two dozen crabs, slowly working out all the delicious flesh from under the shell. The crabs had been caught by Deanne’s family and friends the previous day in the Clarence River. This area is abundant in coastal foods and has a long growing season for plants, including this one:

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), a plant that belongs to the large lily (Liliaceae) family and includes day lilies and edible asparagus. We were introduced to this invasive plant back in Forster by the Tuncurry Dune Care folk and we said back then we’d try to find out if it was edible. This has been a difficult task and our online research proved inconclusive. So we thought we’d conduct a little experiment of our own. Our hypothesis or hunch was that asparagus fern tubers would be edible, perhaps even desirable, and if that was the case then we carbon-heavy humans could embrace this plant as a food and become the biological controls of it.

Our experiment empirically demonstrated that asparagus fern doesn’t stack up as food. If only a small amount caused pronounced intestinal discomfort then we think a proper meal of it could really cause some problems. We can probably say now that asparagus fern tubers are NOT food fit for human consumption. Although, there is always a slim chance that something else caused Patrick’s discomfort several hours after he ate a few small tubers, we’re going to trust his reaction and not pursue this plant any further. With this somewhat intrepid experiment under our belts we loaded up the bikes, thanked Linda and Nicholas for hosting us so graciously, and left Iluka passing this rather wishful sign on the way out.

Let’s hope this decommissioned station is an image we’ll see more and more. The only fuel in this picture that we can see as viable for the future is solar radiation (the blue sky)… And on we pedalled towards another chronic fuel problem, as we’ll see shortly, stopping after a 55 km ride up the Pacific Highway at Woodburn to cook dinner on the banks of the Richmond River,

and later to the Woodburn football ground to set up camp under the light that was offered freely to us.

 We woke with the sun to heavy dew,

we had another 55km day ahead of us, so we packed up the tents wet, stocked up on our standard organic Aussie oat porridge sweetened with local ironbark blossom honey and currants,

crossed the Pacific and the Richmond River, and headed north to Lismore.

On the way we spotted some happy free range hens so we knocked on the door and bought a dozen eggs for $3 from these peeps.

A little further on we collected some guavas for our tucker bag.

As we approached Lismore we came to understand how conscientious this community is:

and we were drawn to this conscientiousness ourselves.

We found home at Camp Liberty with hundreds of others, 15 kms west of Lismore in an area aptly called Disputed Plains, near Bentley.

Camp Liberty is a pop-up settlement established to offer all forms of support, supplies, personnel, communications and a cultural sanctuary for the blockade of three gateways that give access to a proposed mine site for invasive gas exploration.

It’s an incredibly well organised camp,

with some clear-eyed thinking.

We volunteered for the first aid tent and have so far treated a number of people with minor ailments.

While getting to know the multiplicity of people stationed here,


and witnessing,

and getting to know more intimately the land we are all protecting.

While the corporatised media tellingly ignore what is happening at this camp, social media has come alive to represent this very special transformation of people power.