We hung around Goulburn until the evening, cooked dinner in the town’s central park,
before boarding a quiet, off-peak metro train where our big bikes would be less in the way and Zero less likely to be discovered. Hello little patient dog under there.
We haven’t been so hardcore on this book tour. If there’s the prospect of a day of riding beside heavy traffic and there’s a train line running near to our route, the train option has been fair game. While we climbed up to Marulan, Meg fed Woody by standing on her helmet. He was dead tired. So were we.
We arrived in Bundanoon and made camp in the dark, waking to this little idyllic park environment. Oh sleep, you magical medicine.
We headed to our favourite Bundanoon bike cafe,
and after reaquainting ourselves with the friendly crew there, Woody found a little scooter, dumped in some bushes. We got to work to make it a going concern again.
Not surprising, wheels have always fascinated our youngest, as they have our eldest. Back at home Zeph has become a madkeen downhill mountain biker and stunt dude.
Patrick’s brother, Sam, rode out to Bundanoon to meet us and we all rode into Moss Vale and unpacked our gear before the afternoon book event at The Moose Hub in Bowral. Our talk there was part of the Southern Highlands Green Drinks, where various different green groups merge once a month and share their different projects and approaches. Thanks for snapping some shots Uncle Sam!
Woody thought all his Chanukahs had come at once when our delightful host Nicole brought out the fruit spread. Thanks Nicole!
It was a short visit to the Southern Highlands. We had a full plate of things in Sydney to get to, including guerilla camping at a fine little harbour free camp (surrounded by billion dollar dog box apartments and poisoned harbour fish), picnicing with the Milkwood crew and their lovely garden produce which included fennel root, carrots, zuccinini, saw-leaf corriander, parsley, basil and capsicum all wrapped up in reusable beeswax cloths,
Diego Bonetto is a consumate communicator. Above he is showing off the Big Fag printing press to some local punters, below he sings the virtues of the plants that plant themselves.
Diego invited us to collaborate on a walk with him, and about 20 kindred spirits joined us along the Cooks River.
Wow, it still amazes us how much food can be found growing on a municiple lawn. After we finished our walk and cooked up a weedy horta dish for everyone to try, a group of landcare volunteers come in with plastic bags and trampled all over the precious sandstone ecology pulling out weeds. It was a remarkable spectacle of nativist ideology in action where an environment is stripped of the plants holding soil and sand from ending up as sediment pollution in the river.
We left this tragic expression of eco-purity and rode on a little further to hook up with the Bicycle Garden: a group of volunteers that regularly sets up a pop-up bicycle repair station in public areas to teach people to fix their own bikes. What an awesome social collective! We had lunch with these generous and knowledgeable folk,
before heading to SNO where Patrick spoke about his and Artist as Family‘s practice of permapoesis.
Then it was TV time. So many diverse communities. We were lightly powdered and went on the record at Channel 9 and Channel 7. We had to be on set at the Today Show at 7am, luckily Patrick’s sister Hen and her family live just around the corner making our early morning tent pack-up and ride a breeze. Thanks Hen and Ant and girls!
Our Sydney book event occurred at the delightful Florilegium book shop, owned and operated by the charming plant lover Gil, who generously loaded us up with books after our talk, read and Q&A.
It was a media circus in Sydney. An excerpt from one of Meg’s chapters was published in the summer issue of Slow Magazine. The theme for this bumper issue is resilience.
After Sydney it was rest we needed to pursue, so we hopped a train to Katoomba and headed for our infamous camp site where on the last trip we were visited by the Federal Police. The story appears in The Art of Free Travel.
Just a wee walk down from the camp is this little hidden billabong, a source of great pleasure and restoration.
This afternoon we speak at Gleebooks in Blackheath and then more rest and riding and visiting old and new friends until the new year and we point our two-wheeled caravans south and coastal. We wish you much rest in the coming weeks, Dear Reader, whether you’re a hillbilly, city-dweller, coast rider or other.
While staying with Ronnie and Phil on their farm just north of Cobargo we got to see up close what a small-scale commercial dairy looks and smells like.
Crippling regulations for producers means they are locked into ways of farming that don’t support best practice land management. We spoke with Ronnie about how regulations lead to large monetary loans, which in turn lead to putting more pressure on the land in order to service the accruing debt.
This is a common picture in regional Australia, the debt that is. Zeph hit it off with Ronnie and Phil’s son, Alexander, sharing a love of independent mobility.
And we got to go walkabout up in the hills in between the storms. Thanks so much Ronnie, Phil, Alexander and Eliza-Jane! We had such a restorative and nourishing time with you all.
Alexander rode with us the 6 kms to the Cobargo township,
where about thirty thoroughly decent folk turned up to hear us rant the pleasures and pressures of cycling, stealth camping and everything else we do to inspire the idea of a permaculture mode of travel, a node of which we found in this very edible pond.
The pond included bulrush, waterlily and lotus lily and was situated just below our night’s campsite,
which came about as a chance invitation from one of the punters from the talk. At the old butter factory east of Cobargo a little two day festival of music was occuring where a pig and cow were killed for the occasion and local vegetables roasted and laid out in beautifully primitive quarters while a band whose name we didn’t catch played old school rock n roll.
It was a loose night and we packed up the next morning a little tired,
thanked our hosts and headed out of town, moving an anthropogenicised wombat off the road so it could decompose in peace.
As we rode towards Bega we got a call from our friend Mel Pickering, who’d arranged our Sweet Home Cobargo talk, shouting us a picnic by the river with her family.
Mel used to live in our community and was involved in the early stages of setting up the community gardens, the food co-op and the Daylesford branch of Critical Mass. Mel is also an experienced cycle tourer. Thanks so much Mel, Dan, Max and Evan, your lunch and company were delicious! To top off our time together the boys made a raft by the river.
We certainly have been spoiled on the South Coast of NSW, and on this day it kept on getting more social when we headed to Ian Campbell‘s home to meet his family and the family of Autumn Farm Bega. Ian interviewed Meg on the radio. You can listen to it here, if you like.
So many inspiring stories on the Sapphire Coast and we were treated to a ferment fest at Ian and Megan’s home with Genivieve and Annie’s rhubarb wine, Ian’s Elderflower champagne and Meghan’s home-baked bread. Thank you everyone!
The following day we met a person who is putting all these great stories of human-scale action and production together in a fantastic magazine called Pip. Meet Robyn Rosenfeldt, telling her own narrative of the beginning of her beekeeping adventures:
We were cooked a delicious campfire dinner of Autumn Farm Bega chicken and home grown veg by Robyn and Alex and were joined by their girls Ruby, Ella and Indi and Alex’s dad Andrew.
We crashed out in their guest quarters and slept deeply until Woody rose with the roosters and got us up and packing, only to be stopped a few hours later on the road with some thankfully fixable bike problems. The worst part about this roadside fix-it job was being so close to traffic. Woody slept through the event.
It didn’t take us long to relax into the rhythm of cycle touring again, with a complimentary copy of Pip mag to propel us,
all the way to Love Street, Eden (what an address!),
where Dale and Jenni live, and where they are working on their new extensive covered orchard.
Dale and Jenni met us on the street in Merrimbula and invited us to stay with them. These two salt-of-the-earth-back-to-the-landers are growing their own meat and vegetables and brewing their own beer and lemonade.
We again benefitted from the nutrition of nurtured food and land. A former butcher and man of many skills, Dale threw us an impromtu knife sharpening workshop (we are kicking ourselves we didn’t video) and Jenni collected up a bag of home-grown produce to take on our way.
After such a social couple of weeks we were ready to head to the bush again and stealth camp for a bit at Quarantine Bay south of Eden.
We were really bloody exhausted but because of all the rain on the South Coast we needed to make up some kms.
For the first time in over a year we are working to a deadline. Our dear tenants move out shortly and we need to be home to feed the chooks and ducks and get Zeph ready for a life at secondary school (his decision) in January, the month of goats.
Where we breakfasted with the goats was also home to devil’s guts (Cassytha filiformis) or devil’s twine, a bush tucker more common in the north of the country and which comes with a toxicity warning as the seeds and skin of the berries can cause stomach cramps and even prove fatal if too many are consumed.
It was to be our last new found bush tucker before we reached our home state border,
an arbitrary line drawn by colonialists over the territories of Indigenous peoples with little regard. Nevertheless, it felt like a kilometrestone. With a wild storm brewing up hail stones and a radical temperature drop we knew we had crossed into Victoria and we set up camp in Genoa in good time.
We had some drip-drying to do the next morning,
before some more defensive riding on roads not that much better than NSW’s. It’s remarkable how many drivers will overtake a cyclist over a double white line, or what Patrick refers to as the doublewhiteAustralialinepolicy. The truck that almost collected us a few weeks ago overtook Meg and Woody on the crest of a hill and met another truck coming the other way. Who is the driver going to collect? Will he or she smash into a tonne of steel and potentially die or take the soft option and kill the cyclist?
We stopped before Cann River to check out the specials on eco tents not for sale along a rainforest walk,
before arriving in the town with terrible pies and great camp sites.
Zeph got busy making stick damper with some fairly ordinary Aussie flour,
and Zero found and put out of its misery a brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) that had been hit by a car. We were certainly not going to waste this tenacious life.
We stewed the possum with garlic, carrots, tomato, salt, pepper and a handful of buckshorn plantain (Plantago coronopus), the seed heads of which are mucalaginous and help thicken soup.
Over the five or so hours of slowly cooking our little brew our campsite grew. We welcomed Doris the vintage bike and her lovely rider Connor, a dancer from Leeds in the UK, with some damper and honey. Doris declined, while Connor relished the moment.
We invited him to stay for more damper and possum stew,
and camp with us. Just after dinner we welcomed another cycle tourist to our camp. Hello Nathan, delightful Kiwi. We are sorry there’s no more stew left to share.
With possum in our bellies we farewelled our new northbound friends and rode our biggest day (75kms) for quite a while, powering up the ranges and singing down the slopes to Orbost in Gunai Kurnai country, and found a stealthy campsite here,
behind this lovely oak tree in the town’s park.
We hope you too, Dear Reader, find a stealthy Summer solstice retreat where you can rest with loved ones.
As Meg and Woody treadle along they make up songs about our experiences. They have songs about going downhill, uphill, about sugarcane, bridges, flags, kangaroos, rocky roads, plants, horses, trucks, bones, beaches, cows and caravans. After staying at Sarah, Renee and Oscar’s the caravan song now has fourteen verses, one for each of our caravan experiences.
Oscar (pictured on Zeph’s knee) is a delightful and tenacious kid and it was a joy to watch our little boys experimenting in social play.
While we were in Cairns, on Yirrganydji country, Patrick was a guest speaker at the inaugral national Indigenous Men’s Conference, which ran alongside the Women’s conference and brought together people from all over Australia. We published an earlier version of his paper several posts ago, however we thought we’d share the final version he presented:
Wiradjuri descendent Linda Burney MP opened both conferences,
before the partition rolled in and the two conferences split into their respective groups. John Riley, a nurse with the RFDS who we had met in Hope Vale, gave an account of his time in Aurukun setting up the men’s group there with Wik Warrior Vince Koomeeta.
Vince and John were just two of forty men who shared stories about their community projects, and these stories, often harrowing, made Patrick aware of just how much reconcilitory work still has to be done in Australia. Patrick met Simon and Gordon from Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and they discussed how reconciliation doesn’t happen in or out of the mouths of prime ministers but rather in and out of the homes and communities of us all.
Gordon and Simon (pictured second and fourth from left) are both descendents of the Yorta Yorta people and will come to Daylesford next year to look at how our town’s community gardens, meal trees and other gift economies operate. And while gift economies were very much part of the discussion at the conference, Artist as Family (sans Patrick) were out and about carrying on the plant research, finding our first tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) loaded with tart and healthful surprise.
Being back in Cairns signalled the assembly point for big changes. For eleven months we have had to adjust to much daily change but there has been a rythmn to our travel, which provided us some comfort. But then, in Cairns, we put our bikes on a truck (thanks Steve!),
and hired a car. In the five or so years our family has been car-free we have only had to hire a car once and have borrowed friends cars a handful of times. We knew back at Hervey Bay that if we were to cycle for the entire fourteen months we’d have to turn back south then, missing the wonderful north. We explored various alternatives, but travelling with our dog-kin Zero and children make trains or hitching a ride with trucks fairly impossible. The only option left for us was to hire a car and send our bikes back in a truck. We have cycled 7300 kms on our freedom machines and now we were couped up in a glazed off and air conditioned metal box removed from the world. It made us sick,
a little cuckoo,
and really sad.
It felt like we were undoing all our work and we were hypocrites, participants again in the damage established by global oil lords, administered by governments and their armies and carried out by everyday people who either have no agency or will to resist. We were back in the thick of it; in the clouds of pollution ideology. Our need to be home by a set time justified the use of oil, and we realised that petroleum for us is still an option based on unaccountable and non-renewable privilege. This was both distressing and depressing. But then, after only a short day of driving, we arrived at a little free camp site in Mount Garnet and Zeph lit a fire,
and we set up camp and got ourselves grubbed again before brewing up some grub.
Our simple camp kitchen reclaimed some of the sensibilities we had lost,
and we decided to go a little easy on ourselves and to try to take from this experience what we could, even if it was to be just an expensive reminder of how not to live and how not to make art and sense. As soon as we were out of the car the boys forgot about the ordeal, showing us the way back to the simplicity of camp life.
The following days’ driving were again difficult, but compared with most of our fellow creatures we came across in this drought-stricten part of the country, our comfort was off the scale. Cows were hungry,
animals with no agricultural or ecological status were brutally cast aside,
and those better adapted to (and camouflaged in) the environment raced away from the obnoxious intransigence of the motorised world.
Many didn’t make it,
others proudly protected their young and resisted the enslaught of digi-industrial civility.
These roads were typical Australian corridors of suffering and our cyclist eyes were still keenly attentive to the man-made mass death around us. We stopped under this tree to take a break,
and discovered its ingenius fertility, which fitted into the palm of a hand.
We still haven’t found out anything about it. If you know, Dear Reader, please share with us. A little further on, in the town with the Game of Thrones name, Charters Towers, we came across some pods we did know something about.
The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) hails from the Mediterraen and Middle East and has been cultivated in these regions for around 4000 years. After removing the seeds the fully dried pods can be ground into a delicious powder. This is very easy to do at home and prefereable as apparently most commerical carob powder is not raw but rather pasteurised at high temperatures.
Another edible pod-producing tree found in this part of Australia is the boab or bottle tree (Adansonia gregorii). Many streets are planted with this beautiful tree in the inland central Queensland towns that we teared through.
In winter, large pods are produced that contain a white edible flesh or pith. This is what the dried pods look like after they have been emptied of seed and pith.
An annual weed we saw plenty of along the road verges is golden crown beard (Verbesina encelioides), which has been used in folk medicine around the world. Research suggests the plant exhibits significant antiviral, antitumour, antimicrobial and antiinflammatory activies. The plant is also known to be mildly toxic so care is required to use this plant.
Just north of the little town of Springsure we had a history lesson on the Frontier Wars; histroy we were never taught at school. The Cullin-la-Ringo massacre took place here in 1861. It was the largest massacre of settlers by Aborigines in Australia, and thus a significant moment of nulla nulla resistance to gun-barrel invasion.
And we found evidence that gun-barrel invasion is still very much alive in Central Queensland. The Frontier Wars were fought for access to land and its resources. For those who had been on country for millennia, stealing the sheep of the newcomers often incited violent retaliations and even bloody massacres. This same war continues today; dingos are the victims of grazier intransigence and violence.
Deborah Bird Rose first alerted us to this commonplace occurance in her book, Wild Dog Dreaming. In his doctoral thesis Walking for food: regaining permapoesis, Patrick wrote: “Australian writer Deborah Bird Rose (2011) wants us to stay close to images of the slung remains of shot or poisoned dingoes on fences, whose trophied, atrophying bodies are kept from making a return to soil, kept from re-entering the continuum of living, dying and renewing. They are the images of settler indifference that continue to haunt Aboriginal people today, and continue to attack the we ethic of Aboriginal inclusivity, an ethic that extends well beyond the human.” (2014)
We were hurtling towards Sydney with temple-strained awareness of this deadly form of travel, stopping to document significant places and species, but mostly the land and its many forms were just a simulated blur, a land escaped by speed and speed’s abstractions.
The most notable edible outside our walled-city-on-four-wheels was prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). They mark these remote roads as signifiers of agricultural desertification but also as radical adaptation and future drought-hardy food.
This was the heart of the Queensland dust lands—cattle, sheep and coal doing much of the damage, which was quite a contrast to the no-less-damaging sugar cane and reef tourism found on the Queensland coast. There would be little chance of us cycling this inland route with such large distances between towns and so few opportunities to refill with potable water. Much of the water we came across was fairly undesirable, but at times it was hot enough for a dip…
For eleven months we have been hardy to all weather, living in it, but now that hardiness has been challenged by the health-negating convenience of air-conditioning. For the first time in eleven months we had sore throats and flu-like symptoms, unheard of in our car-free family. A cayenne pepper tonic is our preferred rescue for such occasions and similarly Jacarandas brought moments of framed ecstasy as they flashed out at us from Cairns,
to the New South Wales border,
as we hurtled on south to Gary Trindall’s home in Walgett. Gary, a Gamilaraay man who Patrick met at the Cairns conference, welcomed us into his home and shared with us a few of his traditional bush medicines.
Gary and his wife Jenny put on a BBQ, gave us their camper to sleep in, cooked us a beautiful breakfast using their hen’s eggs before bidding us farewell the next morning. Thanks Trindalls, we’d love to come back (a mere 1000 km bike ride from home) next winter and film more of Gary’s bush food and medicine knowledges.
Zeph had a great night getting to know Gary and Jenny’s grandchildren Markell and Kevin, playing tag in the snake hours around the house. Many tags but no bites.
As we dropped further south into NSW the land changed, the climate cooled and water was evidently more available. It had been many months since we had witnessed cool temperate climate weeds such as plantain, dock and clover. It reminded us of the weed salads we make back home, using twenty or so species including the three mentioned here.
We camped in Mudgee and used a public BBQ to cook up both some roadside and out-of-season produce for dinner. Thanks chooks!
We also camped at Lake Wallace where we spent a night in this little shelter. Who needs tents? Our sleep was fairly disturbed and at one stage in the night the rain whipped in with gusty weather, spraying our bedding and faces, but we woke alive and joyous.
And then, after a few more hours travelling arrived in Sydney – 2800 kms, 170 litres of unleaded petrol with a fuel cost of $250 – relieved to see our bikes and our family. Hello Eliza, Tildy, Hen (Patrick’s sister), Ant and Millie! Sadly, we had missed Brett by a day.
And then after a week or so in Sydney we will head to the Southern Highlands to help other family members construct their food garden, before we push off for the final two months on the road along the coast from Kiama to Melbourne, and then back home to Daylesford.
Thanks once again, Dear Reader, for joining us on our journey.