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On generative life and interrupting death (the prosaic roads from Hervey Bay to Bundaberg)

Well, as some of you may have guessed, our decision has been to keep riding north and follow the sun, even if this means catching a train south for part of the journey to be home by January. On our last morning in Hervey Bay we left our camping site in the grounds of the local youth hostel,

and hit the road with itchy pedals and gay hearts.

We cycled a little uphill, a lichen downhill,

but mostly it was flat. On this sunny winter’s day we four mammals on our four inflated tyres passed a number of flattened fauna memorials,

which were by far the most significant things we came across on the rather uneventful road to Howard.

Howard is a proud coal-mining and timber town established at the expense of the Butchulla peoples, just inland from the Great Sandy Biosphere.

We camped near the local skate park, setting up our tents on dark among the wattles, gums and paperbarks, beside the supposed crocodile-free Maria Creek and woke,

to another chilly, though blessed sun-filled day. Woody tried on his old man’s hat for size,

before we departed the town for the dreaded Bruce Highway; a road unavoidable for the short (30 km) ride to Childers. Yes, we now agree with the Queenslanders we have met who have also bemoaned how Queensland motorists have a far lower BQ (Bicycle Intelligence) than drivers in Victoria and NSW. The roads are simply terrifying to all forms of fauna.

This is the carnage we witnessed on our first leg of the Bruce. We could ignore all this machine-derived death but it is so prevalent on these roads, alongside the systemic pollution and excruiating noise. Everything else to a bicycle tourer is washed out, backgrounded. And, while we know that in a car none of this violence really exists (such is the speed and sound-proofed estrangement of motorised travel) you can not disappear it on a bike. We stopped in Childers for supplies, rode on for several kms and arrived at a free camping spot at Apple Tree Creek and found our last memorial for the day.

Before pitching our tents we had to dry off the morning’s dew ahead of nightfall and another wet and cold morning.

Needless to say, being so close to the Bruce Highway didn’t enable much sleep, but miraculously we awoke in good spirits, dried and packed up our tents and before we rode off with bellies full of oat porridge, sultanas, chia seeds, raw ginger and local honey, along came Bernie Creagh,

a teacher from Sydney on his $15 tipshop bike. We enjoyed meeting Bernie, his spirit was a reminder of all the good reasons we cycle. Although we were going to be taking different roads, meeting Bernie harbingered a wonderful day ahead, starting with an early departure from the Bruce and getting onto the quieter Isis Highway to Bundaberg.

Monocultures reign in Queensland, sugarcane being the King Wally of them all. But on the Isis Highway an Indigenous plant, generally found in a diverse forest ecology, formed another monoculture of note.

 We were drawn to stop and investigate a little further and soon discovered gleanable gold.

We got to work and were instantly reminded of Agnès Varda’s beautiful film, The Gleaners and I, as we bent and gathered the undesirable wastes of last season’s crop.

We harvested several bags of the macadamia nuts and rode on towards Bundaberg with a song in our pedals. We stopped at a roadside resting place, took out the hatchet and feasted, trying not to spoil the moment and think about what pesticides must be used in such a monoculture,

while also singing the praises, at this rest stop, of non-treated rain water. For travellers this can be a rare thing to come by. We tipped out the foul tasting chemical-treated bore water we were carrying and filled our bottles (trying not to notice the questionable peeling paint on the roof iron – the water tank’s catchment).

We left the rest stop with the promise of an unusually friendly prohibition,

well almost friendly, and legged it to Bundy passing our very first sighting of these generative creatures,

the magestic magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata), as well as more signifiers of extractive technologies working against life as we approached the city of rum and ginger beer.

It was in Bundaberg we stayed with our first couchsurfing family. Meet Ange, baby Sophia, and boys Santiago (left) and Gabriel.

Ange so generously hosted us for two nights, and we enjoyed talking all things parenting, home-educating, community living, permaculture activism and many more positive things. Thanks Ange! Your home was a temporary sanctuary from the intensity of bicycle and tent life.

The joy of uncertainty

On our second (and last) night in Violet Town we were treated to dinner by Denise, who we met at the VT Neighbourhood Centre. 

Denise cooked us a delicious Mexican bean dish served with flat bread and a salad from her garden before we swapped some tunes on her guitar. With Denise’s good company and generosity we beaned out of this happy town heading east again towards Benalla, leaving behind our best freeloading camping spot so far, along the Honeysuckle Creek.

At Baddaginnie we spotted critter-like Bulrush flowers. Bulrush, or cumbungi (Typha spp.), was a useful traditional food. The outer rind was peeled off the underground stem and layed before the fire, the fibres were then twisted to loosen out the starch (Tim Low, 1988). The soft white starch of the young shoot can also be eaten raw and the left over fibres can be spun into tough string. The immature flower stalk can be woven into mats. (Survival.org)

A little further on we spotted Salsify (Tragopogon) flowers that had gone to seed. There is so much naturalised free food (thistle roots, salsify tubers, wild lettuce) we’ve missed the chance to eat this season because they’ve already become too woody, and there’s so much naturalised free food (cherry plums, figs, nectarines, peaches, apples, walnuts) that just aren’t quite ready.

So we keep a look out for local produce to supplement what we find and what we have brought with us.

After a brief stop in Benalla we rode out into the heat of the afternoon to find a camping spot along Lake Mokoan. We are really starting to embrace the uncertainties of each day. Where are we going to camp? Who are we going to meet? Will there be drinking water? Will there be power? What will we find to eat?

We arrive to find that the once man-made lake has been returned to a magnificant Yorta Yorta wetlands. It is brimming with more-than-human life, which must necessarily include death to keep things cycling.

With the decommissioning of the lake the caravan park has seen better days. We were welcomed not by the manager but by permanent residents Gary and his grandson Josh, who brought over some beers while we set up camp. We’re starting to experience the incredible generosity of people and understand the importance of sharing stories while sharing common ground.

We are also discovering the different plant guilds that are forming in certain regions. At home, oaks, hawthorns, apples and blackberries have formed ecological partnerships with blackwood wattles, peppermints and messmates making habitat and food for numerous species. Here, in northern-central Victoria, we are finding that figs, walnuts and loquats are the naturalising trees. We are regularly seeing newcomer figs (Ficus carica) growing under heavy-drinking eucalptys,

and loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing under nitrogen-capturing wattles. These newly naturalised, drought-hardy food species will be important to observe as the climate changes our growing regions and knowledge of local food becomes increasingly crucial to community health and survival.

After a solid snooze (eaten in quantity, loquats have a gentle but noticeable sedative effect), some oats and juice and a bit of a wash,

we left the wetlands and the caravan park and set out for Wangaratta, cycling through gangster territory, up into the infamous Warby Ranges where we discovered these Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.). The seeds of these plants were ground as flour and the stem was used as a fire-stick for the ingenious fire-stick farming that was so common to Aboriginal land management practices. The resin was used to bond materials together such as stone spearheads to wooden shafts.

We recharged in Wang,

before setting off on the rail trail to Beechworth.

Not far along the trail we came across a splendid black mulberry (Morus) full of ripe fruit.

We are too early for some, too late for others, but just in time for this sweet delicacy rich in vitamins C and K, high in iron, and an anti-inflammatory and will lower blood pressure. Wow, all that free medicine. Who needs multinationals?

Social warming continues to play a big part of our travels. Being on bike and not windscreened off from the world enables plenty of opportunities to meet and sniff the locals.

We’re having more opportunities to hunt too, though so far unsuccessfully. We’ve shot arrows at rabbits and have tried to spear trout in the shallow clear streams we pass. As eleven year old Zeph (who will join us shortly) reminds us by phone, ‘it takes time to learn what Aboriginal people know about getting bush food’.

After a leisurely 27 km ride out of Wang we camped at the old Everton Station just 15 kms short of Beechworth. We had previously saved our municiple charge (we’re using our motors less and less) and a good night’s sleep (more loquats) for this last section of the trail, which we were warned was pretty steep.

And arrived in Beechworth through a sustainable air-conditioning system,

to find a free home for a few days along Spring Creek in the centre of town.

In the past ten days we have slow travelled from Jaara Jaara to Yorta Yorta country inspired by Indigenous patterns of existence and how we might recreate them in a post-oil, climate change world.

We hope you’ve had a good ride too.

Getting away

It was quite some effort to leave Daylesford last Friday. Months of work, teary farewells with friends and family and a general emptying of settled life. All this culminated at the Albert Street community garden before we pushed off towards banjo country, accompanied by our friend Clay.

At Guildford we spotted water ribbons (Triglochin spp.), a traditional bushfood, and dug up a small plant to discover that the rhyzome was comparatively small. While our digging tool was out we dug a hole for our first compostable nappy.

The hills of home flattened out and it was a cruisy ride into Castlemaine where Juliette and Tosh kindly offered their home and Lee and Dave generously cooked for us. But despite all the warmth and familiarity of Castemaine we were keen to push on.

There is free food everywhere (milkmaid tubers, roadside trees coming into fruit, dozens of edible weeds) but we have brought supplies still fresh from home to keep us going (thanks for the lovely cookies Chris),

so we just pass by many noteworthy things. A magnificant crop of roadside Salsify (Tragopogon spp.) en route from Redesdale to Heathcote.

We are just finding our pedals in our very new way of transitory living, which is tiring and mid-day seistas are mandatory,

for all.

Yesterday we travelled for 75 kms to Nagambie, happy for the most part. We found that our 70-80 kg bikes are rideable without electric assistance, even up the hills. We’re in training for the high country.

Yet this is a year-long, low-carbon art performance, not the Olympics. We’re only wanting to travel around 30 kms a day but we’re finding out that sometimes a good camp spot is worth the effort. Zero leads our road train, forever on the look out for free food and free accomadation,

which isn’t as difficult to find as you might expect.

We’re spending about $20 a day and the nightlife is awesome.