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A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (fourth excerpt – the accident)

November 3
Meg

It’s Bloodthorn’s birthday and he doesn’t want to go to school. What he really wants to do is go fishing. His mum sends a text to ask if Blackwood is up for some lake time and a text in response is enthusiastically sent back.

It’s a work day for me, so while the boys spend the morning first making yabby spears and then catching their bait in the creek, I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop and a pot of nettle tea. At lunchtime I fang up the street on my bike to go to Himalaya Bakery where I buy two cinnamon fruit scrolls for Bloodthorn’s birthday. I’m imagining candles and singing and sharing the scrolls between the four of us. I put them in my pannier and head home. On my way down the hill, a car overtakes me and then suddenly turns into me and I fly over the back of the vehicle and end up on the bitumen. People come running towards me but the driver doesn’t get out of the car.

‘You nearly fucking killed me!’ I yell, banging on the side of the car, where I landed on the road. ‘You nearly fucking killed me!’

The driver gets out and our two lives adjoin. We are women together, no longer just car and bike rider, flesh meeting metal, but women. One howls on the ground, one tries to be helpful. Are you OK? Are you hurt? Do you need an ambulance? What do you need? Can you point to where it hurts? Can I get you anything? Do you need some water? Would you like to take your helmet off? Can I help you stand up and move off the road?

I ask her if she can please rub my back while I breathe, to just give me a minute so I can assess the extent of my injuries. My clarity and assertiveness surprise me. I keep crying while I try to gauge the damage to my body. One of the people who’s gathered around lifts up my bike and stands with the others as witness while we two women work through what happened and what needs to happen.

She says she didn’t even see me – not down the hill and certainly not when she pulled in front of me. Her name is Jo and she has just had a session with her chiropractor. She says she was feeling light headed after her appointment and about to faint so she pulled over.

One of the gathered men passes me my bag that had flung out of my front basket and I take some squirts of Rescue Remedy from the front pocket. I offer some to Jo. Zero goes with me everywhere in my bike basket. But today he opted to stay on his mat by the fire. I cry harder as I think about my little companion and what could have happened to him.

I need to go home. Jo keeps telling me how sorry she is and asking if she can do anything, but I can’t think of anything. I just want to be home with Patrick. Jo and I hug goodbye. I thank the people who came running and I cry all the way home, the whole left side of my body aching, my bike squeaking and rattling, my cries feeling ineffectual as I can’t breathe deeply enough because it feels like my ribs are sticking into my lungs.

Patrick hears my cries when I come home and comes straight out. He runs me a bath with Epsom salts and I lay on my side feeling smashed about but so grateful for the quiet and stillness. I can’t stop thinking about my mother. Later, after Patrick has helped me out of the water, I phone her to let her know I am OK.

 

November 3
Patrick

The day of the grateful living. Meg hobbles in from emptying the house wee bucket onto one of the citrus. “There might be a frost in the morning,” she says, holding herself gingerly as she steps through the front door. I go out and find the frost covers under the house and place them over the potatoes.

Potatoes can handle winter temperature soils, but not frost on their leaves. We plant them in August and cover them as they grow. I’m pleased they haven’t got sick with all the rain of spring. The tomatoes are already hothoused in their rows and doing well enough, considering the low temperatures. The bees have lost hundreds of workers. It happens every year. After a warm spring spell they convert their hive to a summer thermostat, then the following week the temperature plummets and we head back into winter. This is the time hives get a major set back or don’t make it at all because their winter honey stores are depleted and it’s too cold to go out and forage.

I dig up several comfrey roots in the garden. Wash them, discard the leaves in the poultry run, and pulverise the roots into a crude paste with a mortar and pestle. Meg is lying on the couch in considerable discomfort. I gently apply a large patch of paste to her left ribs and wrap a bandage around her torso to hold the poultice. I am so thankful this is the extent of the injury. A moving car, a driver not present, a bicycle rider. Aye yai yai.

Blackwood, off his own back, cooks frittata for dinner. In reading the situation he acts with resourcefulness and care. Using our duck and chicken eggs, gifted broccoli from one of the generous Forest & Free parents, Meg’s raw milk cheese and pepper berry from the garden. We eat the delicious creation our ten year old fashions upon the family hearth and we honour the food, its origin stories, and life herself with a thick flow of gratitude for all that sings and lives.

~

Baptism by ice and lemon: from southern Djaara to saltwater Wadawurrung country

Well, the quill of the feather pointed due south.

As we came onto the street fully loaded, our neighbour Bob greeted us and said (quite concerned), “You’re heading north aren’t you?”

A kilometre later at the top roundabout, south meant taking the third exit (right), and as we did so another neighbour, Gordon, took out his phone.

The bikes were laden and our legs not yet in tune.

It was always going to be slow going at first. We stopped for a splash of mineral water at Sailors Falls,

and Irish strawberries (Arbutus unedo) recharged our energy fields,

and then we truly left home, and crossed this threshold into Wadawurrung mother country.

We rode on through the Spargo Creek Road forest, crossed the Western Freeway and dropped into Gordon with these beautiful wood blewits (Clitocybe nuda) blinking up at our foraging eyes in a small reserve.

We were keen to get out our instruments for our first play on the road, when Maureen, a local resident, came by and introduced herself.

Maureen invited us home for a cuppa, which quickly developed into a backyard blitz, where we helped weed out the bent grass, trim the poa tussocks,

and plant them in another patch of the garden.

In the gloaming hour, Maureen showed us Kirritt Bareett, the hill where Bunjil resided after he created the first people.

With an invitation to camp over, and the lend of a few more blankets, we spent our first night in the tent at Maureen and Vince’s. It got down to minus 2 degrees celsius.

Vince (DJ icon from PBS radio’s Soul Time) and Maureen really keep a spirited home,

and their neighbour Andrew kept dropping off food packages for us over the fence while we were there. Such generous souls! Our first 24 hours were magical.

Just down the hill, heading towards Mount Egerton on our second morning, we came across John Smith in his front yard. We pulled over for a quick yarn and a laugh and rode on,

finding some lovely saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) on the road to Lal Lal.

We thought Lal Lal might be a place to lay our heads, but with all the downhill of the morning and still energy to burn, we selected a few books to take from the free roadside library and thought we’d try our luck at reaching Meredith before dark.

The delicious three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum) greeted us on the edge of town.

We rode through rough forest tracks and C roads for a few hours until we realised we’d better start looking for a camp at Elaine. Being landlocked and running alongside the A300, Elaine didn’t offer much in terms of a public reserve to pitch a tent. It was looking like an undesirable roadside camp when friendly Dave walked across the road to see if we needed assistance. That came in the offer to pitch our tent beside his woodshed. Thanks Dave!

The mercury fell to minus two again, and the fields over the back of Dave’s fence felt the full exposed force of the frost.

Home is the combination of kindness and fire. Thanks Dave!

In Meredith we swapped over the Lal Lal books,

and had a play in the sun,

before pushing off for Lethbridge to dry out the tent,

and cook up the mushrooms with the sourdough leaven we are carrying and mixing up each day.

The combination of the cold and the riding is keeping us perpetually hungry. We stopped in Bannockburn, played some tunes, received our first coin for our efforts, and cooked up some grub.

On dusk we headed down to the footy ground and on the margins of the reserve set up camp. We crashed early and woke an hour or two later to the sound of spinning wheels and a car zooming past our tent just metres from our heads.

A few hours later we woke again, this time to the thump of lemons being used as grenades at our tent. Despite the burnouts and lemon hurlers we got our first decent sleep of the trip. It was a balmy zero degrees and we had everything we needed, including lemons.

On the way out of Bannockburn we discovered the lemon hurlers had had a busy night. We rode down the noisy A300 without breakfast and found the sleepy Batesford Tennis Club,

where we set up the camp kitchen.

Some late season roadside apples and a few overhanging mandarins filled us up some more,

and we collected wild fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) as take-away spice.

Woody jumped off the bike and harvested some wood sorrel (Oxalis),

munching the golden flowers with gusto.

We’re not sure why we were drawn to easting into Geelong. The feather’s quill was only ever to be a starting point to enable the flow of the journey to set itself free. But it felt right and so we followed our intuition. And soon found ourselves beside a mussel and paella float, and struck up a yarn with another family about the indefatigable learnings when living in the realm of school of the road.

Blackwood quickly tried his luck with the local fish populations,

and we slept, cooked and sang our way across the afternoon.

With more musical pennies in our pocket, though no luck with the fish, we gathered up sea lettuce (Ulva australis) to join the evening’s meal.

Invited to stay in Tom, Clarrie and Lachie’s home garden farm in the burbs, we once more set up camp on dusk.

The next morning we feasted together on backyard rooster that Jenna had despatched the night before, and were treated to the soup of a pumpkin that had spent the summer growing where our pumpkin coloured tent now sat.

Just like our pumpkins back home are powered on humanure, same too here in Norlane,

as is the whole damn fine garden. These guys are living the RetroSuburban dream.

We all jumped on our bikes after a nourishing closed-loop brekky and headed downtown to join Wadawurrung mob celebrate their culture.

Blackwood added another hunting tool to the kit,

and we pedalled down the Bellarine Peninsula,

only to be hi-ho-ed off the highway by gardeners Ivan and Gretta to spend some time with them and the family’s herd.

Brother Zephyr called while back on our bikes, and so we pulled right off the road to hear his news and to share ours, finding lilly pilly (Syzygium smithii) delights alongside our conversation.

This was our biggest day in the saddle yet. Almost 50 kms with just a few big climbs. We were well spent by the time the pelicans witnessed our arrival.

Friends Jo and Tony offered us to stay in their beach shack at St Leonards and thus have given us a chance to get out of the cold and damp over the next few days when a load of rain is expected.

We’ll spend time gathering some saltwater nourishment thanks to Wadawurrung mother country,

resting, and carrying out some modifications and upgrades.

The generosity of people has been overwhelming over this past week, both at home, online and on the road. We are so grateful for your support in leaving home and during this first 180kms.

So the question is, Dear Reader, where to now? Any guesses? We look forward to sharing our next leg with you down the track. Signing off for now, with love, Artist as Family xx

Artist as extended family: our year with Jeremy Yau

As you might already know, Jeremy lived with us for the past year, learning and teaching, loving and sharing. This was his house, which we built with him and dubbed The Yause. And this is his story while living at Tree Elbow, told through our eyes and a shared catalogue of pics.

Jeremy arrived in early 2017 and immediately got involved in our everyday processes of living with baskets of skills and knowledges and very little money. He came for a week as a SWAP, and he stayed a year.

From different corners of the world, Connor and Marta had also just recently arrived at Tree Elbow, where they fell in love and (later) got hitched. With all three on deck we had a very productive time.

Food is big at Tree Elbow. It is life, liberty, health, ecology and energy. Jeremy soon understood how serious we take food and energy resources; how these often taken for granted things equate exactly to how each of us touch the earth.

Growing, preserving, fermenting, storing and cooking food became part of Jeremy’s day to day. But this was not entirely new to him. Before coming to Tree Elbow he’d been an intern at Milkwood Farm, completed a horticulture certificate and a PDC, he’d volunteered as a community gardener, WWOOFed at various places and established a mini food forest at his parent’s house in Sydney.

With so many staying at Tree Elbow, we needed more accommodation. Patrick offered to give Jeremy an informal building apprenticeship like he had with James and Zeph the year before.

The building had to go up fast, but we’d already saved materials from the local skip bins and tip.

Materials were also gifted and found online. Jeremy learnt most of the processes of building right through to putting ends and pops in the reclaimed spouting.

With the colder weather approaching, we needed to get the Yause, as Meg auspiciously named it, completed.

And we also had to get the glasshouse started.

It was a busy time, and a time of great learnings and hard yakka.

And while we were harvesting food, filling the cellar, building the Yause and the glasshouse, we also had to gather firewood for the winter from forests on the edge of town that are prone to fuel-reduction burns,

and waste wood material from a nearby mill for the humanure system.

We were all fairly exhausted by the end of Autumn, and the winter promised gentler labours. Jeremy used his horticulture skills to graft medlar scions onto hawthorn in the nearby commons.

He started carving things, such as this spoon, which he ate most of his meals with.

He learned new skills and passed them on. Woody was an eager student.

Jeremy made this small biochar furnace following our design and material salvaged trips to the tip. It works a treat!

Being an accomplished welder Jeremy made up these lugs for our back bike wheels at the local Men’s Shed so we can hitch our trailers to them.

He made this little low-tech rocket stove, modelled on designs from David Holmgren’s forthcoming book.

Jeremy starred in the trailer for that forthcoming book. The trailer was produced by Patrick and Anthony Petrucci.

Jeremy also starred in his own video showing the forge he made with scrap material from the tip, while at Tree Elbow. Anthony made the video for him in exchange for bike services Jeremy did on Ant’s family’s bikes. Participating in the extensive gift economy that exists locally was a revelation for Jeremy, and one he took to wholeheartedly.

One of the many things Woody and Jeremy liked to do was make a ‘road train’ (with the lugs) and head up to the skatepark for some wheelie good times.

Jeremy also taught Woody how to ride a flaming scooter. Hell yeah!

Jeremy also retrofitted old parts from the tip to make a new bike seat for Woody on the back of Meg’s bike.

Over the year we became increasingly impressed with his technical skills.

Making all manners of things with materials that were either wild harvested or came from the tip. Most of these items he gave to people as gifts.

He made a coat rack for the Yause.

As it got colder he learnt from us how to knit with homemade needles made from hawthorn. This little scarf didn’t come off him between the months of June and September.

He made a more significant rocket stove at the men’s shed.

He learned to tan hides and make other useful things,

assisting at workshops with his friend Josh from the Bush Tannery.

Earlier in the year he attended Claire Dunn‘s natural fire-making workshop with Zeph and Connor,

and with these two and Patrick walked for three days along the Goldfields track

sleeping rough and eating bush foods along the way.

Jeremy became a regular in the community, often seen flashing around on his bike through the town’s streets.

and regularly attending the monthly working bees at the community garden.

By the last month of the year he’d turned out just as every bit odd as everyone else around here. An anthropologist friend calls Daylesford the town of black sheep. Yay for black sheep!

We did a lot of celebrating life this year, and we loved Jeremy’s spirit, joining in and relishing the looseness.

We finished the year with strut.
We’re going to miss you Jeremy Yau, and all the fun things we did together.

We’re going to miss you in a really big way.

Thank you for what you brought to Tree Elbow, Jeremy, and for what you brought to our community. You are always welcome here. With much love,

Artist as Family