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In praise of the teen age

While we were on our book tour — the first Artist as Family adventure Zeph has missed —he asked his dad whether they could go away together when the rest of us returned. This weekend the two of them decided on Bright. To get there they bussed from Daylesford,

caught another bus at Woodend and zoomed down the range to Southern Cross in Melbourne.

They then caught a train to Wangaratta, where they biked around. Zeph showing his old man a thing or two about a different sort of biking,

while Patrick showed his eldest a skill or two at sniffing out a goodly stealth camp on the edge of town.

The next day they bussed on to Bright and found a lovely streamside campsite where only bicycles and walkers could get to. Zeph marked the land with teenage exuberance,

but after watching the documentary Crude (in the tent on the first night), about the poisoning of Amazonian rivers, soils and people by an American petroleum company, Zeph was immediately more sensitive to riding near streamside ecology let alone enter the water with his greasy bike.

Zeph has quickly become a competent bike mechanic. Without a bike shop in our town, he has taught himself everything he needs to know to maintain and fix his bicycle. Before we left he ordered a new derailleur but it hadn’t arrived, so he shortened the chain and made his bike into a single speed for the time being. Nothing was going to stop his week away riding downhill in Bright. Even climbing the magical Mystic mountain without gears,

in order to come down through the many varied and tricky tracks the mountain has to offer.

Patrick was fast falling in love with the intensity of mountain riding. Before they’d left he’d done some work on Meg’s old mountain bike and put a pack rack on the back to carry most of the gear. The two came down from Mystic, after their first morning, on quite a high. Patrick headed off to do some work on his new manuscript, while Zeph headed to the skate park to work on his stunts. Then disaster struck.

After the intense concentration of the morning and after an hour of tricks at the skate park, Zeph rolled his bike over to sit under the canopy of a tree, moving slowly to a resting place, taking off his sweat laden helmet before down he came. In his tiredness he miscalculated and landed heavily on his shoulder, breaking his collar bone.

Initially devastated, Zeph soon became philosophical. What can you do about it but take it in your stride. He is of course gutted to have his biking days once again reduced to broken-boned rest and recuperation for several weeks. But, then again, these are the life choices he makes and knows he has to take ownership. It’s a teen age, and there’s so much to learn and process and set forward, with returns, retreats and even collapse just as much a part of it. Go Zeph! We love your spirit.

Giving, taking and making (from Jingellic to Goulburn)

Thank the stars we rested at Jingellic and ate the bounty of local critters the Upper Murray offered,

an idle few days cooking carp on walked-for wood coals and playing songs around the campfire prepared us for the 44 km slog all up hill,

to Tumbarumba. Hello cows! We guerrilla camped for three nights beside the town’s creek,

kinda hidden, kinda not.

We were invited to dinner at Geoff and Karen’s, who are fourth generation farmers we’d met on the first trip. Respectful debate concerning land use, economies and politics continued from where we’d left off in 2013. Back then Geoff was a climate change skeptic. But no longer.

We held a free foraging class, and identified around twenty species of autonomous edibles,

gathered up the best of what we found and demonstrated how to turn these free gems into desirable food.

We then gave a reading at Nest, and sold a swag of books. Yippee!

We’d heard the ranger was keen to catch up with us in Tumba, so we hightailed it to Batlow and hung out in the library where we met Robert, the town’s librarian, who went home at lunch time and picked us a bunch of his glorious asparagus. Thanks Robert!

We were offered a free camp at Greg Mouat’s apple orchard with permission to fish out the redfin from his dam. Thanks Greg!

We caught 5 mid-sized ones and added them to Robert’s asparagus for dinner, before bunking down for the night.

We stopped in Tumut for a little reading at Night Owl Books,

and took off along the Brungle Road to Gundagai where flashes of the old Wiradjuri spirits collided with newcomer glimmer.

We rode on to Jugiong, made camp again along the Murrumbidgee River where the water was clear enough to go spearing for fish.

Woody and Zero watched from the pebbly bank,

while Meg took a skinny dip.

Patrick was unsuccessful catching fish, but we did harvest stinging nettle and cooked up a bag of this rich-in-iron free medicine with pasta, olive oil, salt and lemon.

We woke to a billy of porridge and hit the Hume Highway.

A tedious, roadkill-marred ride brought us to Bookham for a rest, where two years earlier Patrick had pruned this little feral apple tree. He gave it another prune to encourage a habit for greater fruiting in the years to come. Go little tree, grow!

We schlepped into Yass after a deafening and hot 60 kms, pulled up outside the local land council and had a yarn to Brad, a Ngunnawal man. He told us about a local program set up to rid foxes and feral cats who are, he stated, wreaking havoc on the local tortoise population.

What’s remarkable is how many tortoises we’ve seen killed by cars and trucks since Gundagai. There have been at least 100.

We anthropocenes really are brilliant at kidding ourselves… More lambs; a better environment?

By observing the relationships between other animals —non-mediated earth folk— is it possible to reclaim for ourselves a place as ecological creatures, in relationship and not at war; where one-on-one interspecies killing is part of everyday life, but man-made mass death is not?

Eating a broad, local diet (such as these dianella buds and flowers, soon to be berries), can perhaps aid a process of becoming post-anthropocene. We believe that if we engage in our own resource gathering we can better be accountable to that which makes life possible.

Learning to forage plants that cultivate by themselves, produce food without the need of fossil fuels, mined superphosphate and excessive water inputs all contributes in being able to walk away from the Anthropocene.

We took this merry bunch of Canberra foragers out for a walk in a suburban park and showed them how much food lies just underneath their feet, before returning to Paperchain Books in Manuka for a talk and reading from The Art of Free Travel.

While in Canberra we stayed with an old friend of Patrick’s from undergraduate days. Tim treated us to his excellent cooking and a generosity that made us feel like we were back at home. Thanks Tim!

While in the capital we also got to stay with these two kind Warm Showers hosts Kerri-Ann and Michael, who shared their cycling stories and cooked us a lovely meal.

We left Canberra well rested and cared for and rode hard for 70 kms to Tarago to set up an unorthodox camp in their weird but welcoming little public park.

We didn’t linger, leaving early the next day for Goulburn where just before we arrived in this old sheep town we spotted fruiting African boxthorn berries to snack on.

We hope the thorns in your fingers, Dear Reader, provide delicious sweets and free delights. One of the lessons we’ve learned from the road is how the hardships of the day prick the joys, they are one of the same tree.

The art of free travel (the homecoming leg – Warburton to Daylesford)

We probably should have spent the day at Maya’s swimming hole on the Yarra, 

as the second day of 2015 was a scorcher. But instead we travelled the relatively shady Warburton-Lilydale Rail Trail, coming across these osyter mushrooms (Pleurotus sp) growing on what looked like dead underground conifer wood.

Only we weren’t 100% convinced they were edible oyster mushrooms and as there was a tiny chance they could be the poisonous look-alike, glow-in-the-dark ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis), which also grow on woody material (mostly eucalypts) we abandoned them before finding this great little Yarra swimming hole, near Woori Yallock.

The long hot evenings of summer have proven a little inconvenient for us weary, early-to-bed, early-to-rise campers, and daylight savings certainly plays havoc with our circadian rhythm.

In the past we have spoken about breast milk being one of the most important medicines in our medical kit, but another one we regularly resort to, and is equally free from the imperatives of capitalism, is good sleep. Patrick just couldn’t throw off the cold we all had over the past week and became really sick because of a relentless sore throat, which made swallowing almost impossible, thus cancelling out the possibility of the medicine of sleep for three nights. This was the result.

Not a happy camper! But we still had kms to cover if we were to get home to our chooks and ducks and garden, so wallowing in sickness was not an option. We had to push on, and on we travelled to Seville for another hot night,

followed by rain the next morning, a wet pack up and breakfast under the local footy ground shelter.

Zeph has been booming along during these last three months on the road. He has missed his mum and his mates and is eager to get to high school, but he is also present and bubbly and more than meets the challenges of each day, which are quite intense. Roadkill, aggressive drivers, rain, steep hills, healthy food (something he has an aversion to) and a dad who can be quite hard on him, have all been daily pressures that he has grown from.


Even though Zeph can be quite in awe of a certain motorbike or car that races past and will rib his ‘hippy’ parents about his love of these ‘cool’ motors (can something that goes so fast really be cool?), he will also, off his own bat, articulate his despair at what he/we see as the senseless mass death of animals brought about by an intransigent car culture in Australia.

Even though the endless roadkill has probably become progressively less shocking as our senses have hardened over 9,000 kms of cycled bitumen and gravel, we still have many moments that really choke us up. For the 2,800 kms we drove a rental car (our leg from Cairns back to Sydney), we didn’t produce any flattened fauna and drove with the utmost of care. But for all the 14 months on the road, bar those 11 difficult days in a car, it was really impossible to inflict much damage, even if we tried…

One of the few autonomous fruits we came across on this last leg, between Yarra Glen and Hurstbridge, is a species of passionfruit (Passiflora sp.), a prolific garden escapee that has taken up residence along the fence lines that run beside the roads in that region. Should be good bush tucker for locals in that area in a few weeks from now.

Having made up some kms we took up a stealthy residence in a park reserve in Hurstbridge and rested for two nights.

Zeph found a three-wheeled scooter lying around in the park and when Woody wasn’t on it he honed his mobility skills to the max.

A less significant but nonetheless useful medicine plant we’ve seen all over the country is petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus), otherwise known as radium weed.

It produces a milky latex sap that is good at ridding warts and liver spots. Be careful in applying this free medicine as it can burn the skin, and make sure you keep it away from eyes and internal parts of the body. Dabbed directly on the wart or sunspot over several days will generally get rid of these unwanted skin anomalies. They will form a scab and then disappear.

From Hurstbridge we rode a big day to Wallan, picked up some supplies and headed on towards Romsey. We found a little camp site along the way. The site sorely lacked water and thick shade and the heat of the afternoon prompted a nudist beach free-for-all to compensate.

We got away early the next morning after some bike maintenance where a tree branch and strap were used to make a hoist.

We’re going to miss the camaraderie of bike-camping life, although we will apply the lessons we’ve learnt to help each other in home and community life.

As we approached Romsey the land was tinderbox dry. It recalled for us the relatively recent 10-year drought and the feeling of becoming environmental refugees again as yet another extreme fire season develops.

Not far on from here a siren was heard and then the engine itself roared past and this uneasy feeling rendered itself concrete.

As we approached Woodend a fire raged near Kyneton and a storm brewed on the horizon. The effect was nothing but dramatic.

The rain soothed and cooled and came and went in a hurry, allowing a reprieve for our last night of our long trip.

After so many months, Zeph is a gun at packing up TJ (Tent Junior) and races Patrick when he packs up Big Bad Barry (the adults’ tent, named by three-year old Ruby back in Katoomba).

We stopped off at the Woodend Community Garden for a few breakfast berries,

and set off for our last day’s ride.

Near Tylden the rain was followed by a glorious rainbow.

And at Trentham we stopped in to Redbeard Bakery, where some of the best organic sourdough in Australia is made and where Patrick used to work and learned the art of sourdough. The delightful John Reid shouted us a beautiful breakfast and sent us on our way with five loaves. Thanks John! If all businesses were as green, ethical and generous as yours we wouldn’t be such ardent critics of monetary economics.

The loaves John gave were to share with some of our loved ones who gathered at the community garden (well, next door because of the rain) to cheer and greet us as we rode into our hometown of Daylesford.

We have been blessed by the countless folk who have followed our journey online and sent us well wishes for the entire way. Our dear friend Pete took us on a little tour of our beloved Albert St community garden,

life was brimming there, and the storm clouds were brewing so we hightailed it home with Cam, Tia, Jeremy, Arden and Jasper on their bikes,

to join other mates in our home garden that was lovingly tended by Matt and Yael and their kids while we were away. With such restorative rain, trees full of fruit and our teary, gift-giving friends it was such a smooth landing home.

After everyone left and the heavens opened for another deluge, we decided to set up our beds inside after all instead of setting up our tents in the backyard as we had planned. Then Patrick got to work cutting the legs off our kitchen table.

We’d been talking about doing this for months and it felt like a good first thing to do to bring into our home what we liked about camp life. Pete brought some crates over the next day as we’d mentioned to him we’re going to try to keep sitting on our sit bones and rid our house of the dreaded chair.

Another thing we came home with is a book deal with the Sydney publisher NewSouth Publishing, an imprint of UNSW Press. We are going to be busy beavers for the next several months getting a first draft completed of the book we are calling The art of free travel.

We really can’t thank you enough for your well wishes and positivity these last 14 months. It has been such a highlight and comfort to us to have you along on this journey. Although we are home now, we will still continue to do our work as community food activists and car-free advocates, only now from the one location instead of many.

The family leg (Willoughby to Moss Vale via Wilberforce)

The morning we packed up to leave Patrick’s sister’s home in the leafy northern burbs of Sydney,

the Sydney Morning Herald was awash with letters referring to a particular article.

The content of the article and its subsequent letters were not at all news to us, however seeing this content published in a major newspaper was. Australia has been smug about energy for decades; our odious car culture is built upon it. Power to the people without petroleum seemed like the right byline to head out on our bikes again, only we didn’t ride far before, for the second time in the year, we put Zero in a box and boarded a train.

Breaking laws has been a big part of our trip. As long as no one gets hurts or anything is damaged we think a law is open for interpretative experimentation. Zero would certainly be happier if he didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of being disappeared from view. Sorry Zero! But we’ll have to wait for Sydney’s cars to be out of petrol before we attempt to cycle out of this particular city.

Our train took us south over the Harbour Bridge, west towards the foothills of the Blue Mountains and then north to Windsor station. North you ask? Yes, briefly. We were asked to give a talk at Permaculture Sydney West and to stay with Danielle Wheeler, who is actively involved with PSW, and her family in Wilberforce.

We had stayed with Danielle and Mark, their son Patrick and pooch Rory on the way up about ten months earlier and it was a joy to visit them again. But we couldn’t linger, our Patrick’s mum’s birthday was approaching and we wanted to be in the Southern Highlands to celebrate it with her.

On the way out of Wilberforce we came across swathes of roadside balloon vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) and while there is much ethnobotanical information on its sister plant Cardiospermum halicacabum, which is also called balloon vine (so confusing), there are no uses or benefits listed online for C. grandiflorum. We think the young leaves could make a good cooked vegetable,

and the seeds could be used medicinally as is the case with C. halicacabum, but we need to do some more research. Perhaps our friend Diego Bonetto knows?

Back in Danielle’s garden another balloon-like-flower plant, the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruvians), grows without care,

producing delicious fruits which we got to sample.

And further back on Palm Island (in August) we found native or wild gooseberry (Physalis angulata), also called (rather confusingly) balloon cherry and is related to, but not to be confused with, Cape gooseberry.

After a day’s ride we arrived in Luddenham and pitched our tents near the Showies (once called Carnies) at the show ground and cooked some grub.

The next morning we were keen to get an early start so we skipped on cooking porridge, packed up the tents and headed up the road to the service station to buy some juice to put on our oats, ginger, raisins and chia seed breakfast of champions.

As we slowly climbed to the cool Southern Highlands, autonomous stone fruits began to appear.

As did black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), which we rate as one of the most adaptable species in Australia following us all the way from cold Daylesford to Cape York and back again.

Its leaf and fruit shape seem to vary from soil to soil, region to region, but as far as we’re aware it’s the same species. We harvested the following plant on North Stradbroke Island in May. You can see the leaf here is finer and less hairy than in the colder climates.

Thirty kms north of Camden the tandem’s front tyre burst a hole and Patrick, Zeph and Zero came to a dramatic stop. We had absent-mindedly left our spare tyres in Sydney (under the cousin’s mulberry tree) and so we had to draw on our wits to get us out of this dilemma. We went foraging for old rubber material, found an old truck tyre, fashioned a piece to fit, repaired the tube, which had also burst, and hobbled on to Camden.

Thanks for the help and the generous discount Camden Cycles.