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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

The buildings, growings, gatherings and storings of this regenerative age

It’s been a busy 6 months of building, producing, gathering and crafting, so busy in fact that we haven’t had a moment to blog. Until today.

Teaching younger folk to build has been our focus over the past year, starting with James and Zeph building The Cumquat, then more recently, Connor, Jeremy and Marta helping with the north-facing greenhouse.

We’ve built a number of other buildings too, including the Yause (named after Jeremy Yau, who came to SWAP with us in February and has been here ever since).

Jeremy moved into the Yause after just 7 weeks of building.

We also built the Cookhouse, the name we gave our low-tech sauna.

We used local cypress timber and discarded sheep’s wool to line the inside of Zeph’s old cubby, and we found an old wood heater at the tip which we bought for $30 and restored with a lick of stove paint. Thanks Zeph!

It works a treat!

We also installed more water tanks for further veggie production (nearly everything we spend money on is intended to take us away from further requiring it),

To preserve our gifted old timber windows (thanks Vasko!), Connor painted them before the rains set in.

and we started work on the Smithy, where Jeremy and Patrick will be setting up a blacksmith and wood crafting workshop to teach others.

There have been many other smaller projects we have worked on this year, such as completing the cellar – building more storage for our preserves, ferments, booze and cheeses. We are so close to going fridge-less now! Just a cool cupboard to build and a fridge to offload.

Home production has also been extensive with many hands making light work. Buster, who rode her bicycle from Brisbane, came to SWAP with us and hung about with Woody, decking the trampoline with summer fruit to sun-preserve. Thanks Buster!

Our bees have had a remarkable first season, storing food for themselves and for us in the near completed anti-aviary.

We robbed them of a third of their summer production,

obtaining a whopping 15 kgs out of a total of 45 kgs of honey that they produced in just 6 months. Astounding! Thank you beautiful creatures.

The annual veggie production began to ramp up again too,

and not only did we learn more about bees from our friends at Milkwood Permaculture, we learnt a thing or two about intensive veggie production too. We have begun to double dig all our beds.

Home production of perennials has also increased this year with plants such as hops for brewing and for sleepytime tea,

and kiwi fruits, which tease Woody with their unripeness well into early winter.
We have been gathering other perennial crops in the garden too, such as acorns – harvesting them for pancake meal and beer making,

and gathering together for all sorts of events with kin and community. From community garden working bees and free workshops that we’ve organised,

to fermenting workshops, including Culture Club’s wonderful community pickling day,

mushroom and weed foraging workshops that we’ve led,

and Friday night local food gatherings, which we’ve hosted weekly at Tree Elbow.

We’ve had so many remarkable guests stay with us over the past 6 months. David Asher came from Canada to share his passion for wild fermented raw cheeses,

permaculture teacher, Penny Livingston-Stark, came and feasted with our community and shared her remarkable story alongside David Holmgren,

cousin Pepper and Ra were regular visitors,

comedian Lawrence Leung (who slept in the Yause) and independent filmmaker, Celeste Geer, came with a crew to film for Catalyst,

and of course our three long-term SWAPs, Connor and Marta (here stacking a fine compost on the nature strip),

and Jeremy (here working on a forge blower he’s making from discarded material), have all been stalwarts at Tree Elbow this year.

Long term resident Zero, a huge personality in a little dog suit, will turn 49 this winter, rendering him the most significant elder of Artist as (extended) Family,

and while Zeph has been extricating himself from Artist as Family collaborations, he still makes regular appearances (often with friend Owen) to Tree Elbow, bringing his zest for disruption, bravado and beautiful independence, and keeping us all on our toes. Onya Zeph!

The way we get around and retrieve resources, or go out to participate in the community is very much about our continued practice of a low carbon consciousness. Bikes are essential for this cultural and economic transition. We’ve been car-less now for seven years!

Riding and walking into yet another wet and cold season means we are once again hardy to the change of weather. While community friends and other loved ones fall sick around us, colds and flu will be a long time coming into our neo-peasant home.

Walked-for, dug, and directly-picked food, dirt on hands, active and accountable living and mobility, goodly sleep, and generally being outside all gather as the ingredients for a health-filled, resilient and low-carbon life. While this is not THE solution to the many varied problems of industrialisation, it is for us a genuine response to the predicament of our age.

We hope you have found some spirit here, spirit to aid your resolve as we find strength and inspiration in yours. For those interested in a deeper unpacking of our practice and of our cultural fermentations, Patrick has an essay just published in Garland magazine. If you have similar life hacks you would like to share with us or any other Qs related to how we live, please leave a comment or send us a message. (NB: Trolls will be composted.)

Over for now,
much loving and flowing of gifts to you, and from and to the worlds of the world,
Artist as Family

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.
In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 
A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.

We hadn’t developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.

Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.

The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.

Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.

After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn’t done since his home-ed days.

Woody was keen to help on the site too and knowing how eager he is to join all aspects of life, James had brought back with him his childhood tools to hand on. As you can imagine Woody was pretty chuffed. He took great care to place each item in the tool belt that was Zeph’s when he was Woody’s age.

The build progressed in the rain, snow and rare pockets of sun. Gifts flowed in from the community such as these wonderful windows from our permie friend Vasko, old floorboards from Sarah, structural timbers from Bee and Ra, bearers and cladding from Bob and Beth, sisalation from Koos, roof iron from Pete, and old decking boards from Nicko.

Some days were so wet we dropped our tools and headed into the bush. The learning that takes place out of school has no status in this age of fear and institutional incarceration, but we know it can be explosive and expansive. Seeing our boys thrive through their own will to learn is a joy to behold. All we need to do is provide the right environment, and they do the rest.

Over 95% of the materials we used were salvaged from the local tip and nearby building skips. We borrowed our neighbour’s ute and a friend’s car on a few occasions to collect them, but much was collected on our bicycle trailer. James and Zeph learned all the steps of building and soon became confident users of tools.

There were hard days, cold days and joy-filled days as they grew their knowledge, strength and resilience. After the winter solstice the days became longer, which also meant more eggs being laid in our chicken coup. Thanks chooks!

Chickweed, full of vitamin C and abundant at this time of year, was another local medicine food that fuelled the build, and helped us through our winter colds.

The entire build took 6 weeks (not including the time to collect the materials), and we were all fairly exhausted by the end of it. Zeph, at the ripe age of 14 years old, worked his first 10 hour day.

Give a young person a project in which all their regard and care and skills can shine and you’ll have a gem who has great self-esteem and the ability to transition from centre of the universe to participant of the universe. The Cumquat build was very much part of Zeph’s initiation into life.

The mentorship and maturity of James was a big part of Zeph’s learning and growth. The two worked so well together and as much as possible Patrick stepped back and allowed them both to go through the processes themselves. We all had things to learn from each other and despite the ordinary strains of such activity, the building of The Cumquat was a remarkable moment in our family’s trajectory, and we thank James and Zeph for making it such a special time, and we thank our local, online and permacultural communities for loving The Cumquat into being in so many diverse ways. And we thank the snow for reminding us of older, colder winters in this region, and the gifts of the sun and the earth that create the radiation and thermal mass that keeps us warm.

The last stage of the build was to insulate the walls with straw, which we bought direct from local farmer Ian Miller in Smeaton 22 kms away. We contemplated lining the walls with old floorboards or old sheets of tin, but when permie friend Dean Farago offered his expertise, materials and labour to finish the walls using a traditional rendering method, we knew we couldn’t refuse.

We have made a little video of the build that shows the entire process, and is accompanied by our talented singer-songwriter friend, Anthony Petrucci, who sings us intensely through the build with his old band Souls on Board.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for calling in to hear the song of The Cumquat being sung into life, to witness a boy’s initiation and to behold a young man’s apprenticeship. We hope it has inspired you and the young people in your worlds to keep performing life outside the banker’s realm and the institution’s cage.

On the bike path to fairer economies, politics and societies

In July 2007 The Age newspaper published a letter of Patrick’s where he conjured up a little vista into what a fairer, more just society might look like. One that was beginning to repair the damages of an extractive, anti-ecological culture and hold accountable those who knowingly act against life to the detriment of the world’s communities. Malcolm was then environmental minister in the Howard government and we were in the thick of the ten-year drought.

Almost nine years later our household and community economies, based on relationships more than money, are slowly maturing. We have been practicing a low-waste, low-fuel, walked-for food economy with community and friends where gifts play a big part. “I’m just going to drop off the compost to Malcolm and his colleagues, my darling!” yells Meg, as she heads off with Woody.

We held a mushroom foraging and identification workshop a week ago, and offered two forms of payment. Cash or working bee. More than half opted for the latter. This is another Meg. She took the work in the garden option and weeded around the veggies.

And this is Angela, who helped her.

Angelica, our previous SWAP, returned and brought her typical joy, and new pruning skills direct from her urban farming course at CERES.

The biodynamic duo, Moe and Chris, worked on a bed overrun by rhyzome-cunning bent grass,

while the helpful, engineer-minded Pearson assisted Patrick in building the almond, quail and bee enclosure.

The morning’s productive working bee ended with Meg’s delicious potato and leek soup cooked on a fire outside with a loaf of Patrick’s fresh sourbread to dip in. The shared lunch gave over to the afternoon’s mushroom foraging walk, and despite the 8 days since rain we found several edible species, some dangerous tikes and a whole heap we put into the category of little brown mushroom.

This time of year this is what our dinner hauls look like:

The day after the mushroom walk, Meg put on her teaching cap and shared her passion for fermented drinks with co-conspirator Raia Faith Baster. This second Culture Club event at the Senior Citizens wing of the Daylesford town hall was free, which Meg organised with her HRN cap on. The disseminating of knowledge where all have access to skills and ideas is very much part of performing a fair society.

Our most recent SWAP is Letitia, who has been learning from us forest crafts, wholistic land management practices and other performances of regeneration and renewal. Notice the possum dreys above her and below.

While she was turning 2m high blackberry canes into useful groundcover with a simple tool and her stomping boots Letitia uncovered a ringtail drey in the hawthorn and blackberries. If we don’t do this work the CFA will set a fire to this forest next season and all the possums will be smoked out or killed. Here’s an example of indigenous and newcomer species non-dualism.

We shared lunch and a walk around a nearby sculpture garden with our friend Richard Tipping (whose sign work you can see) and his partner Chris Mansell. 
We spent time at the community park in town helping create a new natural playscape area, under the guidance of our friend and low impact building designer, Annabel Mazzotti. 
We attended a meeting at our local council to discuss the very real possibility of implementing wholistic and organic land management practices – perhaps a first in Australia.
We said farewell to Nina, who SWAPped with us during the Bruce Pascoe fest. Nina is heading back to France after two years of travelling and knowledge building and sharing in Australia. You will be missed, but you’ve hooked us up with Danny. Merci Nina et bonne chance!

We are about to begin a 6-week building apprenticeship with former SWAP James and Artist as Family’s Zephyr, so we’ve been busy collecting materials from building skip bins and the local tip.

The building that James and Zeph will construct, under Patrick’s tutelage, is called The cumquat, and at the end of their 6-week crash course they should be fairly confident to build their own home.

Stay tuned, Dear Reader. We look forward to showing you the development of The cumquat, which will become a dwelling for more non-monetised SWAPping, thus enabling more learning and sharing of the knowledges that are attempting to model a set of responses to the multifarious predicaments of our time.

VOTE 1 for relocalised, low-monetary, low-carbon, more-than-human transitions to fairer, more diverse and biodiverse societies!

or in Bill Mollison’s words:

The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.

from Introduction to Permaculture 1991, p177