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The lessons of salt (for an inlander family)

Crossing the Hawkesbury at Wisemans Ferry signalled our first real taste of salt water. To mark this ecological shift Zeph got stung by a jelly fish while swimming at Wisemans before we jumped on the friendly ferry. The kind lady at the ferry kiosk gave us some vinegar to calm the stinging as we couldn’t find any plantain and none of us had any wee on offer.

On the other side of the River, at Mill Creek, another ecological shift took place. Freely forageable bananas. After two and a half months since leaving our cool Highlands home, the land, and what it has on offer, is really starting to change.

We camped the night in the national park but didn’t stay long as we had become the prey of some rather fierce mosquitos. We left before breakfast, riding several kilometres along the river before stopping to cook porridge,

where another ecological transformation took place. Mangrove country. Zeph hunted for crabs.

The Hawkesbury is a beautiful river and we snaked along Wisemans Ferry Road for another hour before coming across a rural fire brigade and a community centre, both abuzz with people. We asked a volunteer fire fighter whether we could recharge Meg’s bike. Meet Captain ‘Jock’ Ross.

Jock, it turned out, was the founding president of the notorious bikie gang the Comancheros, made famous in 1984 for their part in the Milperra massacre. We took our photo with a warm and generous elder, but having since done a little research we have learned what horrific violence can be committed by an ex-military man unable to settle back into ordinary civilian life. Perhaps this local creek, situated near to where we met Jock, could be renamed, Perplexity Creek. We certainly have met some interesting characters.

We passed through the small one-shop town of Spencer in the late afternoon, bought some supplies and got some local advice to camp at Mangrove River Reserve,

where we set up the tents, swam in the lovely cool water and collected fuel to cook with.

Seeing there were prawns in the river, we set about making a makeshift net with Meg’s torn stockings and some bamboo stakes that were lying around.

The net wasn’t ideal, but we still managed to catch two prawns while spotlighting that night. We quickly set this live bait on a simple tackle of hook and small sinker. With each prawn we caught a short-finned eel (Anguilla australis), both within a few minutes of casting.

We gutted them, hung them in a tree over night and prepared them for breakfast the next morning, cooking them in a little olive oil and adding a spritz of lemon that we’d been given by Danielle Wheeler, picked fresh from her tree a few days earlier.

We packed up camp, extinguished the fire and prepared ourselves for a gruelling climb. The locals told us it would probably take a few hours to ride the five kilometre ascent, and we weren’t really looking forward to it. But the mind is an amazing thing. We gritted our teeth, accepted the unpleasant task ahead and took off, stopping briefly for a rest halfway up.

Pictures are deceiving, the ascent was much steeper than it looks. Finally we arrived at the top of the hill, collapsed in shade, rehydrated, relaxed for a while and pushed on to Mangrove Mountain, coming across citrus farms along the way.

Our destination for the night was Erina Heights. It seemed to take forever to get there. Zeph took a spill in Gosford after stopping for supplies.

We were all exhuasted and poorly informed by Google maps who took us up several dead end roads before we finally arrived at Dave and Emily‘s family home farm.

They treated us to warm showers, comfortable beds and delicious food. We adults sat up talking about what is motivating us to grow our own food – the challenges, practacalities and ethics of relocalised nourishables – at home.

The next day we had a tour of their property, Blindberry Farm, a forest garden where indigenous plants, weeds and green manures

all provide forageables for their free-ranging rabbits, chooks and pigs.

It is Dave and Emily’s ideal to be completely sufficient in their meat supply by 2015. We also spoke of the merits of hunting for supplementary meat and gave Joseph a basic lesson in firing a bow.

Thank you so much Berlach family! It was so lovely to meet you and share in your transition to sustainable and ethical food production.

Yarramundi to Wisemans

We were only going to spend a night or two at Yarramundi Reserve, but it was difficult to leave, partly because of the swimming, 

and partly because of the local people. This is Kate, a community nurse who walks her dogs at Yarramundi, (which is named after the respected Indigenous doctor sometimes referred to as Yellomundee). Each morning we would greet Kate on the beach, and one morning she brought us a box of chocolates. Thanks Kate!

While camped at Yarramundi we rode into Richmond and found a shop that sold Australian organic produce in bulk. We met the owners, Theresa and Yves,

who generously invited us to visit their home garden to pick as many white figs as we wished.

Edible fruiting figs (Ficus carica) belong to the mulberry family (Moraceae). They contain fiber, anti-oxidants and minerals including potassium, manganese, calcium, copper, selenium, iron and zinc. They also contain B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, niacin, pyridoxine and pantothenic acid. These vitamins help metabolise proteins, carbohydrates and fats. What a blessing from the gods.

We also discovered a considerable Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) patch in Theresa and Yves’ backyard. This is a fruit we’ve read was good eating in Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland’s fantastic The Weed Forager’s Handbook, but had never tried it.

We made the stupid mistake of handling the fruit without first rubbing off the fine prickles. Ouch! So after tweezing them out we cut the fruit in situ and scooped out some watery flesh to try. It was delicious; a combination of pomegranate and watermelon, and another species to add to our list of desirable drought-hardy weeds.

Theresa also gave us the number of Danielle Wheeler, a local permaculture teacher, Greens candidate and home-schooling mum. Zeph has been a little wanting of his own peers of late and Theresa told us that Danielle and her partner Mark have a boy slightly older than him. G’day Patrick! We organised a play for the boys at Yarramundi Reserve where they swam, played with a small dinghy (we’d found and repaired) and cooked campfire damper.

While the boys played we adults talked all things weeds, plant sucession, permaculture, raising boys and home-educating.

We asked Danielle about a few local weeds that we haven’t seen before, such as this plant,

the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis). Traditionally castor oil has been used as a remedy for constipation and child birthing, although more recently as a non-freezing lubricant for machinery. But beware, the seeds from which the relatively harmless oil is made can be fatal. The seeds bear the potent toxin riciniii that if ingested will kill the ribosomes of your cells. Eating only a few could be fatal!

This knowledge reminds us just how important it is to be vigilant when there are little foragers around who are enthusiastic experimenters.

We finally left our Yarramundi utopia,

and headed for Wilberforce, passing numerous turf farms that were mining fertile river flats and river water to grow ridiculously unsustainable and unnecessary lawn product.

Danielle, Mark and Patrick had invited us to camp in their permie garden at Wilberforce and do some washing.

So we returned their kind hospitality with a blogging lesson. Danielle cooked us some beautiful meals and even though Zeph and Patrick hit it off, Patrick and Woody also got along.

It was sadly only a short stay, but very nourishing. Thank you Mark, Danielle, Patrick and Rory!

We rode up to Sackville and caught our first ferry for the day, crossing the Hawkesbury underneath its sandstone cliffs,

and near Maroota bought a watermelon direct from the grower for a mere $1 a kilo.

We did a fair bit of climbing on our ride but eventually descended to Wisemans Ferry, where we joined Stretch and a number of other bikies, who were out on a charity ride, for a beer.

While we waited for the day’s second ferry we demolished six kilos of watermelon, and boy, did it taste good.

Simple pleasures, simple travel. We hope your life has plenty of simplicity too.