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Headwinds south and the return of the Zephyr (from Hope Vale back to Cairns)

We left Hope Vale exhilarated. Well, what a week! But we were somewhat overstimulated and oh so exhuasted, especially after we retraced our pedals on a large map of the country. Woah, Daylesford to Hope Vale! We smashed the record for the slowest transit on bicycle by a family riding with their dog-kin from southern Victoria to Cape York! Woohoo!!

We hobbled south over bone-and-cog-shaking road down to Zazen, an organic Garden of Eden 40 kms south of Hope Vale.

Peter, a former conventional WA wheatbelt farmer turned zen-permie, and Saeng, who grew up in Thailand and learned the pharmacopeia of traditional medicinal foods and ferments of her region, make an awesome partnership.

Saeng and Peter, pictured above with their daughter Bo and two-fifths of Artist as Family, know how to create abundance. They gave us a tour of their 5 acre garden, which remarkably is only a few years old.

This is the wonderful WWOOFer lodgings Peter built, complete with mozzie net over the double bed.

We were to stay there, but were beaten to it by Juz and Dave who were actually going to do some work at Zazen. We all communed together in the main house, which spills into the garden with few walls, and Saeng cooked us a feast using mostly produce she had grown. Needless to say, the meal was delicious.

We had a wonderful, but brief stay at Zazen. We were again inspired but still very overstimulated and needed some respite from all our incredible learning. We are overbrimming with knowledge and experience and we’ve had little time to process anything. We needed to become wandering mammals again. We needed a desert, at least a communications desert, to cross.

We found it once we left Cooktown, stopping in for some supplies and taking off into the heat of the afternoon. Beside the cool waters of the Little Annan River we cooked some tucker,

 and set up camp in the open shelter there.

 It was hot riding to Lakeland the next day too,

where we stayed with a gnostic farmer and teacher, Gary, and his many animals.

Again we were nourished by lovingly grown organic food. Thanks Gary! Gary has been teaching Indigenous kids in the NT and Cape York for the past 40 years. One of his students was Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Gary drove us to the Aborignal settlement of Laura, passing a chia seed monoculture that had been planted across the old lands of the Uw Olkolo people.

It was in Laura that we came across and tasted for the first time the very rare native water cherry (Syzygium aqueum), specific only to Cape York. This tree was planted at the Quinkan Regional and Cultural Centre.

They were tart and needed further ripening, but we could see the potential once this fruit was further bletted or sun-dried for fruit leather. On leaving Gary in Lakeland we came across another traditional food of the region, only this time it hadn’t been valued as food, rather wasted by speed.

The trauma of Queensland roads has had a considerable effect on us, and soon we too will join the speed brigade as we hire a car to drop down south for a considerable part of our journey home. In a car, which we call a city on four wheels – walled off from the dust, pollens, stinging critters, blossoms, calls of animals and their rotting kin, air conditioned away from the relentless sun and radiation glare from the bitumen, unaware of the deafening grinding of truck and caravan gears, the groaning of engines and the fear of cyclists and other creatures travelling in ecological time and space – we know we will struggle with our momentary participation in such madness and privilege.

But for the time being it’s bums on well-worn leather. We climbed our first range on our southbound leg and took a breather here, looking down on where we’d come.

We shouted ourselves a $50 donga at the Palmer River Roadhouse, blowing our daily budget to pieces.

Talk about affordable housing! It would probably cost about $2000 to produce this elegant little shack. We got an early start to try and avoid the south-easterly headwinds that were picking up around 10am each morning. But there was no avoiding wandering cattle,

or playful dogs,

or the poetree of the place. A wordless blue sign nailed to a eucalypt is a very beautiful thing, but we couldn’t resist embellishing it.

Then, another first. Native Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri).

The petals can be eaten raw, which we loved, and the roots are best roasted, apparently. Inside the pods of this bush is the kapok, which when dry makes an excellent fire starter.

We pedalled 60 km from Palmer River to McLeods River, soaked our tired muscles in the cool water and set up camp in the only truly shady sanctuary for hundreds of kms. Needless to say the birds, night and day, were noisesome and brilliant. We heard calls and songs that were strange and magnificent,

and we found other new fruits such as these on the Quinine Tree (Petalostigma pubescent), which were thought to contain the malaria fighting drug quinine, but actually doesn’t according to a James Cook University study. The traditional uses of the fruit include holding the fruit in the mouth to relieve toothache and chewing the fruit to avoid pregnancy. The bark has been used to make an antiseptic wash and the bark and fruit used to make an eye drop.

We crawled into Mt Molloy. Do motorists feel headwinds? We can’t remember. The publican at Mt Molloy let us camp at the back of the hotel for free so we obliged him by buying a few beers. Thanks Scott!

On the way out of town the next day we filled a bag with fallen Burdekin plums (Pleiogynium timorense), which fuelled us to Mareeba.

We travelled over 300 kms through old dry country from Hope Vale to Mareeba and we were frayed and ready to rest. We’d met online a man named Konrad through Warm Showers, and although he was not going to be there invited us to stay at his home. HE HAS A BATH, soooooo WE HAD A BATH! and went for a long walk around the streets picking feral tomatoes, overhanging citrus, horseradish leaf, mulberries,

and satinash fruit.

We left Mareeba and rode towards Kuranda. Some motorists had told us it was all down hill from Mareeba to Cairns, but it was nothing like it. To listen to motorists who don’t ride bikes is a consistent mistake we’ve made on this trip. The cool and rainforested entry into Kuranda was a treat, after a shoulderless and hot hike along the busy Kennedy Highway, but the village itself was less than interesting. If you like tourist havens you’ll love this place, but for us we high-tailed the tandem and long-tail out of there, after finding little but trinkets and shyster businesses. We headed up the range for several kms (with an emphasis on up) until we could finally come down.

After 45 kms of hard work we flew down the 10 km serpentine road to Smithfield. What a thrill! And fell into Cairns from the north of the city to stay with the lovely Sarah, Renee and Oscar, again. Just a few sleeps, a critical mass ride to a popular picnic and swimming hole,

and the return (from the sky) of the wonderful Zephyr!

After an absence of six months (in which time Zeph was playing for Ballarat U13s in the National Premier League, while being home educated by his mum Mel and our dear friend, teacher and poet, Peter O’Mara), we are once again five happy mammals on two bikes.

We hope you too, Dear Readers, are happy mammals enjoying simple pleasures with kin and loved ones.

Palm Island: a beautiful, friendly, frontier community

From Becc’s, our Warm Showers host in Townsville, we walked out to explore some of the town’s significant sites.

We finally got to taste ripe bush passionfruit on the hill. Yum!

And we were newsworthy down on The Strand. The article neighbouring ours is fairly amusing. It features a male, Jones, 44 years old, involved with bikes; a description that matches Patrick…

While in Townsville we asked the Palm Island Council permission to visit their island. Palm has been a closed community until this year, but it’s not open to tourists. Council filters those who come by asking them to state their intention. We told council about our free food project and the research we were doing and they kindly decided to sponsor us by offering a much reduced rate to stay in the council-run motel, the only accomadation for visitors on the island. We still had a few days to wait for the next ferry and were lucky enough to stay with more Warm Showers hosts, Mick and Jen. Mick runs The Bicycle Pedlar shop in Townsville, specialising in touring. He gave Patrick’s bike a good going over. Thanks Mick!

On the first night Jen cooked us all a beautiful curry. Thanks Jen! So we reciprocated on the second, beginning the meal with a haul of foraged passionfruit we found at a nearby abandoned house site.

We thanked and farewelled Jen and Mick and boarded the ferry for Palm Island, otherwise known by its Aboriginal name Bwgcolman, meaning many tribes, one people.

Palm, as the locals call it, was like stepping into another country.

One of the most joyous things we soon discovered was all the free-ranging going on. Quite a contrast to surbanite Australia. On Palm, horses,

dogs,

goats,

and children have free range of the island.

It was a beautiful thing, and so too were all the foods we discovered. Over the week we were there we compiled a list of 60 autonomous edibles we found or locals told us exist on the island. Bush cucumber grows along the beaches,

as do tropical almonds,

peanut trees,

native gooseberries,

and coconuts.

The local kids were very knowledgeable about fishing,

hunting,

and having a good time.

So we followed their lead. Zero mixed it with Big Girl and Mango,

Meg fished for Burracuda,

Patrick for mullet,

and Woody foraged Burdekin plums and cluster figs.

Each day we found more and more species of both traditional bush tucker and newcomers. We met Uncle Nick and he took us out foraging.

He showed us a number of plants including this weed, possibly a spurge, which is good for treating worts,

and these ripe emu berries.

By the end of the week we had discovered living on or around the island the following species: mango, chinee apple, banana, bush banana, African tulip tree, bush lemon, amaranth, coconut, barracuda, barramundi cod, sea turtle, bush passionfruit, snakeweed, snapper, trevally, brush turkey, echidna, possum, Burdekin plum, bush cucumber, cluster fig, autonomous goat, queenfish, clam, native mulberry, rock wallaby, mud mussel, spider shell, crab, pipi, cassava, sweet potato, naturalised squash, mangrove snail, mud whelk, stingray, sea caper, beach cherry, autonomous pig, jackfruit, emu berry, Pacific rosewood, lady apple, fleabane, goats foot, dugong, grasshopper, naturalised tomato, green ant, guava, mullet, nardoo, native gooseberry, native rock fig, pandanus, paw paw, peanut or monkey nut tree, mackerel, purslane, oyster, emu berry and tropical almond.

The green fruit of the tropical or beach almond looks like this:

During the week Patrick wrote a paper for the forthcoming Indigenous Men’s Health Conference in Cairns. His paper is called Future food, future health: Remodelling tradional Indigenous food and lifeways. For those wishing to delve into more detail of our time on Palm Island and his thesis of walked-for food, you can read his draft.

Later in the week we also got to hang out with these two lovely peeps, Yo and Jarrod,

who are involved with Kinfolk in Melbourne, a café whose sole purpose is to generate funds to support goodly things. They were on Palm with one such enterprise, the Cathy Freeman Foundation, which is set up to assist Indigenous kids education. While on Palm Artist as Family considered ways to help improve non-Indigenous kids education around Australia, to ‘close the gap’ so to speak, with the lack of knowledge in free-ranging, foraging, fishing, hunting and general life resilience. Palm kids were simply awesome and each afternoon fishing off the jetty we met a great number of them and shared our stories and knowledge.

Many outsiders consider Palm Island a third world country and focus on the negatives well publicised in the media. But to us this island represents a frontier, and much is to be learnt from Bwgcolman people as we move into an energy descent era. Resilient kids are certainly the future, as are Indigenous knowledges.

Palm has been a such a highlight in our journey. Thank you to all on the island for sharing your stories, skills and knowledges. It has been a wonderful learning for us.

Strange fruits, bush tucker, diverse cultures and generally composting ‘Team Australia’ (from Airlie Beach to Townsville)

On leaving Airlie Beach we discovered this woody vine and stopped to investigate.

Despite all our best efforts we haven’t been able to work out what plant produces such a fruit and whether it is at all edible. Perhaps you can help dear reader? [UPDATE: Thanks Amanda Ramsay for identifying this fruit as the creeping or climbing fig (Ficus pumila var. awkeotsang). Apparently in Taiwan the fruit is dried for eating and the seeds help form a jelly.] 

We left our mystery fruit, collected some roadside citrus and Black Sapote (Diospyros nigra),

raced a cane train engine back to the Bruce Highway (thanks for the peg Tim Burder!),

and discovered our first cocky apple (Planchonia careya), a traditional bush food of the north.

It was a long day in the saddle riding 80 kms to windy-as-hell Bowen, where we took an obligatory peg under the big mango (note the edible, fruit-loving  green ant, which we still have to try).

Bowen is a kind of birthplace for the mango industry in Australia, dating back to the 1880s when the Kensington variety was first grown for commerical purposes. Now mangoes have naturalised and are considered weeds by landcare groups where they grow without monetary intention. Sadly we’re too late (or is it too early?) for mangoes freely foraged or commercially grown.

We also discovered bananas that have naturalised in this region,

and another weed of great significance for a country arriving at peak affluence, coconuts!

We have so enjoyed this nut, which is so freely available everywhere along the coast. We have developed a fast technique to remove the husk (note the hatchet) and to drill through the eyes (note the three-pronged fishing spear head) to extract the nutritious milk. Every tool we carry has to have multiple uses.

Bowen was a haven for new species we hadn’t previously documented. We came across another strange fruit, which despite all our reference books and online searching we also haven’t been able to identify.

We discovered bush passionfruit (Passiflora foetida),

Burdekin plums (Pleigynium timorense),

and the (apparently) good eating brush turkey (Alectura lathami),

all at Horseshoe Bay. This little place was something quite special.

On the beach we noted the forageable and medicinal but nonetheless potentially poisonous goats foot (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Traditionally, the fleshy part of the taproot was removed, washed and then steamed over coals wrapped in pandanus or some like leaves, making the root edible.

Bowen is also a town of citrus at this time of year and we knocked on several doors to ask if we could harvest a little. While there is still little value given to fruit grown on trees in front and backyards, it is easy pickings to travel Australia and everyday find something good to eat.

Bowen is also a town of capsicum and tomato monocultures,

and like all conventionally grown fruit, petrochemical pesticides are absolutely necessary, and significant waste goes with the territory. This is one season’s weed matting and irrigation pipe ready for the tip.

We left Bowen spotting Mexican prickly poppies (Argemone mexicana), a traditional medicine plant of Sonora in Mexico, used to treat severe headaches and constipation. The oil the plant produces (katkar oil) can be toxic and has been known to cause epidemic dropsy in humans when other edible oils (especially mustard seed oil) have been adulterated by it. Notably severe headaches and loose bowels are just some of the symptoms produced by poisoning.

While the dry tropics at this time of year have been conducive to living outdoors, the temperature increases as we head north make for thirsty cycling.

We rode a short leg to Gumlu where we paid $10 to camp the night and take a warm shower,

at a caravan park that’s seen better days,

and is now in transition to an energy descent scenario.

Woody found a store of corn kept for the animals, helped himself and also picked up some unwanted guests.

It was at Gumlu Caravan Park that we first tasted Ber fruit (Ziziphus mauritiana), also known as Chinee Apple, Jujube, Indian plum and Masau. Look how appley they look.

It is a rather dry fruit, not overly sweet but much richer in Vitamin C than all types of citrus. As Woody will tell you the orange fruit indicates they’re ready to eat.

We harvested a bunch for the road,

set out to seek more species but for a while only found ‘nature’ just south of Ayr,

crossed a rather big bridge,

and set up home in a park south of the town.

It was in Ayr we first came across candle nut (Aleurites moluccana), which gets its common name from its traditional use as a light source. This very oily nut can be burnt as a candle.

We were also introduced to the beach cherry (Eugenia reinwardtiana), otherwise known as the Ceder Bay cherry.

This was a delicious, moist, sweet find and we relished the few fruit we consumed.

On the way out of Ayr we discovered our third mystery fruit for this 300 km leg.

We asked the owners of the property we found it on, but they had no idea. Even though our main research focuses on naturalised, uncultivated food sources, anything edible, medicinal or useful is of interest, especially those species that yield much food,