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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 Newcastle moment

Newcastle would have to be one of the most likeable Australian cities. ‘Keep Newcastle Weird’ was a slogan we admired on the streets. It is a great place to find your own sub-culture and it has a climate that sings to be lightly dressed and loosely behaved. The scale of Newcastle is probably the key to its liveability, and the coastline, which is highly accessible, is transformative.

We had made a few local friends from our previous adventure in 2009, but never fathomed making so many others this time around. Some of whom invited us to stay with them, like Fiona and Phil that featured at the end of the last post, and Michelle and Tom and their boys Sonny and Max, who put on a bonza BBQ on our first night with them.

This artist as family clan playfully call themselves Boghemians. Of an evening and in dream states, Zeph and Zero became part of the art of this vibrant home.

Riding through the streets we met stay-at-home dad Billy and his kids Charlie and Isabelle. They were riding around on a cargo bike Billy had brilliantly fashioned from mostly reclaimed parts.

Billy invited us back to his home where we were able to put Woody down for a long sleep. Billy and his partner Amy, briefly home from work, hosted us for lunch, while Charlie also had a snooze.

We stayed and shared meals with Suzie, Dom and Bowie,

a gorgeous family Fiona and Phil had introduced us to and who live near the Sandhills community garden. Suzie, Dom, Bowie and Fiona all help out in the garden, which has been growing steadily for eight years under the direction of this remarkable person, Christine.

After a week of couch surfing and rich social life we decided to hang out for several days in Awabakal country. We headed south, climbed some hills and set up camp in Glenrock Reserve,

a two kilometre beach walk to the Glenrock Lagoon, where there was fish to catch,

and coastal greens to gather and cook.

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens), we have found, is not always palatable. Sometimes the leaves are very astringent and leave an unpleasant film on your teeth. The best we’ve tasted them is when we’ve gathered young leaves and cooked them well on a fast heat with fish. We are realising we could live well on just fish, coastal leafies (Warrigal greens, Bower spinach and Pigface) and one or two other things. But there is still so much to learn.

The key is camping close to these food sources, something not always possible when the population is large. After three nights at Glenrock we again, by chance, met another lovely family who invited us to stay with them. Meet Gavin and Beck and their kids Barney and Lottie.

Gav and Beck had cycle-toured throughout Europe pre-kids and were intrigued we were doing it in Australia with children. We traded notes around saftey and the improvements local governments need to make for cycling to become a more dominant mode of transport. When car lanes become exclusively bike lanes we will start to see more and more people on the roads commuting, touring or just pollutionless having fun. Afterall, we may as well adapt now, the end of oil is on its way as our friend Charlie McGee will happily tell you.

While exploring Newcastle we came across this sand filter just off Nobby’s Beach. It is designed to process the pollution from cars and stop it from entering the water catchment and the beach.

The sand filter’s storyboard lists the lethal ‘cocktail’ of chemicals that cars produce (including lead, nickel, chromium, copper, P.C.Bs, Manganese, Zinc, Cadmium, P.A.Bs, Oil and Grease, Dioxine, Sulphates and Detergents) that end up in our streets and in our environments. With this list alone how are cars legal?

Is it possible to work towards industrialism’s end, not just through scholarly texts but actually lived? We say Yes!

But love miles (or love kilometres) are sometimes difficult to reconcile, as we too are finding. Because of the power of fossil fuels people have spread out around the globe. Meet Zeph’s lovely mum, Mel, who is Woody’s guide-mother and who lives in our home community over 1000 km from Newcastle as the ravin flies (there are no crows in Australia).

Throughout our year of supposedly low-carbon travel, Zeph will return home to see and stay with his mum on a number of occasions, and this will generally mean a number of highly polluting transits. AaF gave up air travel the year before we became carless in 2010, and even though the overall trend for us is a slow movement away from fossil fuel dependancy we can’t help but compromise at times, especially for love. Marrying values of care for the earth with care for each other does at times create contradictions. This is typical of transition, but it doesn’t undermine our household’s challenge of moving to a low-carbon existence, and teaching our children the skills and ethics to do so. Imagine if the norm in our society was to walk, ride and catch public transport, and cars were the exception?

The last time we were in Newcastle we flew here to take up an artist-in-residence project at the Lock-up Cultural Centre. We loaned bikes from the Newcastle Bike Ecology Library and became friends with Gerry Bobsien, the then director, now chair of the Lock-up. It was Gerry and her family that we had originally come to visit in Newcastle this time, but it took us a few weeks to hook up as we were inundated with chance invitations to stay with generous others.

Gerry (far head of the table) and her youngest child Polly (close head of the table) introduced us to their friends Rhiannon and Steele (either side of Polly). Rhiannon is one of the art teachers at Polly’s school, the Newcastle Waldorf School, a school that actually allows children to climb trees, hug calfs, get muddy, learn about growing food and making great things, like canoes. Zeph and Polly really hit it off,

and Zeph was keen to go to her school the next day. Rhiannon and Gerry arranged it, and after a day of immercing himself in probably the happiest school he’d experienced, the rest of the AaF were then invited to spend the following day talking to students about our trip and our practice. We spoke with Rhiannon’s awesome art class about making performative ecological and activist art.

We spoke to the year 10 students about renewable energies, the history of oil, and why we’re travelling around the country on our bikes. And, for Polly and Zeph’s class, we took a foraging walk, identifying dandelion, chickweed, flatweed, wild strawberry and spear thistle.

Polly’s dad Jeremy (above) is also a teacher at the school and responsible for teaching children to make all manners of things from wooden spoons to functional canoes. The AaF don’t usually endorse schools as places of learning fit for the future, but this school is definitely an exception. The students are happy, relaxed, fulfilled and are allowed to be children. The staff are also treated well and that seems to reflect how they then teach. We were invited to one of the staff’s delicious and life-affirming lunches,

which was concluded with some delicious, in-season baked fruit. This is when gift economies are at their best; when both parties are generous and both recieve beneficial gifts.

Because Zeph’s twelfth birthday is almost upon us and we’re away from his mates from home, he and Polly got to work to throw an impromtu (no gifts) beach party,

inviting all the kids in Polly’s class. The weather, however, had other plans and not everyone braved the cold.

Some of us hung back from the water and got into the serious business of eating.

We’ll be very sad to leave Newcastle and all our old and new friends, but our time in this lovely centre is coming to a close. We have once again what we call itchy pedals, and feel the call to part company with settled life and get on our freedom machines and sail north.

What ever you are doing and however you are travelling we hope you have gentle winds in your sail.

Warm showers and chance encounters of the coastal kind

Around the camp our bare feet scuff across old shards of broken glass. With our movements the shards are brought to the surface of the humus and lie among the melaleuca needles. It’s old glass, previously smashed by rocket-fuel rage or fits of youthful chemistry. The little pieces shine up towards our growing astonishment. Why haven’t they sliced us open? There are so many. The melaleuca humus is soft, spongy and comforting under foot. This little forest encloses and protects us, gives us shelter from the coastal winds and privacy from nearby suburbia.

We left Erina Heights with the intention of heading south to Little Beach, but only after a few minutes of riding the heavens opened. Despite the roads becoming greasy and the traffic more dangerous we were at first invigorated by the rain. However soon we became soaked and took refuge in Avoca,

where we were rescued by Carol and John, their kids Ben and Angelina and their dog Kara.

They invited us to stay in their downstairs studio and in return we offered to cook the evening meal. Carol took us in saying we didn’t look like psychopaths, and we responded that we were more akin to cycle paths. While staying with this happy family we discovered many common interests, such as a developing productive garden,

a growing love of chooks,

and a mutual respect for wise words.

If Artist as Family were to have an epigraph, it would be this one. It encapulates the joy of chance, mutuality and embracing a no-expectations openness that refuses to cling to the anxieties, pollutions and nihilism of art careerism.

By the next day the rain had cleared and we farewelled Carol’s family. We abandoned the idea of Little Beach, and we once again set our intuitive compass north. But we didn’t get very far. Just down the hill we were intrigued by a little café growing some of its own produce. We stopped in and met one of the owners, Melissa, who so sweetly picked us basil to take away to have with our breadstick, cheese and tomato lunch.

Melissa and co’s cafe Like Minds sees itself as much more than a business. It is a little hub of local food and environmental advocacy. They run a series of sustainability events and talks and it was exciting to experience their spirit. At Like Minds we also met more beautiful peeps. Sonia and Shane invited us to join their family at the Wetlands Not Wastelands Festival at Calga.

The festival was an awareness raising event concerning the proposed mining of sandstone aquifers that lie across the highlands above the Central Coast, as well as the social and environmental costs that extraction ideology causes more broadly. One highlight included Jake Cassar talking about the edible and medicinal benefits of various indigenous plants. Specific to our current project we here publish his gift-economy presentation (with his permission). Thanks Jake!

As we move further north our plant knowledges are decreasing. Local knowledge therefore becomes more and more important, especially if we are to keep eating well, and as much outside the damaging industrial system as we can manage. While at the festival we were also inspired by a young group of Indigenous performers who so confidently shared some of the riches of their culture, including a very local (non sweat-shop) textile of their own making.

We are finding other local resources too. A while back we signed up to Warm Showers, a bike touring (couch surfing) website hooking up like-minds all over the globe. So when we arrived in Terrigal, found some local produce,

set up camp among the melaleucas,

played shenanigans on the beach,

and built a cubby,

we called a couple of Warm Shower locals, who live just around the next beach at Wamberal. Meet the delightful Rodney and Deborah, who invited us around to do some laundry, share meals with them (including Rod’s mum’s home grown produce) and exchange bike touring stories.

These generous peeps went out of their way to host us, including taking Zeph out for a surfing lesson,

while we older ones got to work designing Rod and Deb a simple permaculture garden that features wicking beds, a food forest, a compost rotation system and a chook tractor on their 600 sqm block overlooking the Wamberal Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean.

We were getting pretty settled in the Terrigal-Wamberal area and despite all the gift economy exchanges, lovely people and delicious meals, we were also keen to stop buying so much food. We knew of the joys of Bower Spinach (Tetragonia implexicoma), which we found in great plenty along the edges of the lagoon.

All we needed to complete our non– transported, packaged or farmed meal was to spear a fish large enough for dinner,

and to cook it up with garlic, lemon and the freshly picked bower spinach. In this case the fish we caught was a predator species called the dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus). While hunting fish we are both predator and prey. We saw large stingrays in the water and a grey nurse shark was reported nearby.

Living just doesn’t get anymore simple and pleasurable than this.

Thank you to all the wonderful people we have met, dined or camped with on this journey. You have enriched our travels infinitely.