Thank the stars we rested at Jingellic and ate the bounty of local critters the Upper Murray offered,
an idle few days cooking carp on walked-for wood coals and playing songs around the campfire prepared us for the 44 km slog all up hill,
to Tumbarumba. Hello cows! We guerrilla camped for three nights beside the town’s creek,
kinda hidden, kinda not.
We were invited to dinner at Geoff and Karen’s, who are fourth generation farmers we’d met on the first trip. Respectful debate concerning land use, economies and politics continued from where we’d left off in 2013. Back then Geoff was a climate change skeptic. But no longer.
We held a free foraging class, and identified around twenty species of autonomous edibles,
gathered up the best of what we found and demonstrated how to turn these free gems into desirable food.
We then gave a reading at Nest, and sold a swag of books. Yippee!
We’d heard the ranger was keen to catch up with us in Tumba, so we hightailed it to Batlow and hung out in the library where we met Robert, the town’s librarian, who went home at lunch time and picked us a bunch of his glorious asparagus. Thanks Robert!
We were offered a free camp at Greg Mouat’s apple orchard with permission to fish out the redfin from his dam. Thanks Greg!
We caught 5 mid-sized ones and added them to Robert’s asparagus for dinner, before bunking down for the night.
We stopped in Tumut for a little reading at Night Owl Books,
and took off along the Brungle Road to Gundagai where flashes of the old Wiradjuri spirits collided with newcomer glimmer.
We rode on to Jugiong, made camp again along the Murrumbidgee River where the water was clear enough to go spearing for fish.
Woody and Zero watched from the pebbly bank,
while Meg took a skinny dip.
Patrick was unsuccessful catching fish, but we did harvest stinging nettle and cooked up a bag of this rich-in-iron free medicine with pasta, olive oil, salt and lemon.
We woke to a billy of porridge and hit the Hume Highway.
A tedious, roadkill-marred ride brought us to Bookham for a rest, where two years earlier Patrick had pruned this little feral apple tree. He gave it another prune to encourage a habit for greater fruiting in the years to come. Go little tree, grow!
We schlepped into Yass after a deafening and hot 60 kms, pulled up outside the local land council and had a yarn to Brad, a Ngunnawal man. He told us about a local program set up to rid foxes and feral cats who are, he stated, wreaking havoc on the local tortoise population.
What’s remarkable is how many tortoises we’ve seen killed by cars and trucks since Gundagai. There have been at least 100.
We anthropocenes really are brilliant at kidding ourselves… More lambs; a better environment?
By observing the relationships between other animals —non-mediated earth folk— is it possible to reclaim for ourselves a place as ecological creatures, in relationship and not at war; where one-on-one interspecies killing is part of everyday life, but man-made mass death is not?
Eating a broad, local diet (such as these dianella buds and flowers, soon to be berries), can perhaps aid a process of becoming post-anthropocene. We believe that if we engage in our own resource gathering we can better be accountable to that which makes life possible.
Learning to forage plants that cultivate by themselves, produce food without the need of fossil fuels, mined superphosphate and excessive water inputs all contributes in being able to walk away from the Anthropocene.
We took this merry bunch of Canberra foragers out for a walk in a suburban park and showed them how much food lies just underneath their feet, before returning to Paperchain Books in Manuka for a talk and reading from The Art of Free Travel.
While in Canberra we stayed with an old friend of Patrick’s from undergraduate days. Tim treated us to his excellent cooking and a generosity that made us feel like we were back at home. Thanks Tim!
While in the capital we also got to stay with these two kind Warm Showers hosts Kerri-Ann and Michael, who shared their cycling stories and cooked us a lovely meal.
We left Canberra well rested and cared for and rode hard for 70 kms to Tarago to set up an unorthodox camp in their weird but welcoming little public park.
We didn’t linger, leaving early the next day for Goulburn where just before we arrived in this old sheep town we spotted fruiting African boxthorn berries to snack on.
We hope the thorns in your fingers, Dear Reader, provide delicious sweets and free delights. One of the lessons we’ve learned from the road is how the hardships of the day prick the joys, they are one of the same tree.
Leaving David Arnold’s highly productive Murrnong Farm was difficult. We worked for a few days within a (micro) global village where kid goat feeding, beer bottling, pancake and sourdough making, elder flower champagne producing, last season’s chestnuts into hummus creating, mulberry picking and orchard netting activies flowed between stories and laughter and shared meals. Thanks Dave, Nils, Benny, Shyeni and Coufong.
Not wanting to burn ourselves out early on this 20 event book tour in 90 days, we rode to the Violet Town train station and made use of the bike and dog friendly train services again before they dry up in NSW. NSW Rail don’t allow non-human kin on their trains (with the exception of assistance dogs, and bikes, annoyingly, have to be flat packed meaning that’s it’s a ridiculously big job to undertake as bike parts have to be taken off and specialty tools and excessively large cardboard boxes have to be carried.) We arrived in Wangaratta and headed onto the Wang to Beechworth rail trail. We visited the same abundant Mulberry tree as we did in 2013,
and hunted the same (possibly) Charlie carp in one of the creeks. He outcarped us again.
Taking off again in spring has many advantages. New possibilities for life are everywhere and we are lead by a general atmosphere of renewal.
We made camp at the disused community tennis courts at Everton Station,
and landed at our guest digs in Beechworth,
at Pete and Anni’s place. They’d heard of our travels and got in touch. Thanks so much kind hosts and kind dogs!
Meg and Woody helped out in their veggie patch,
while Patrick helped Pete sort out the felled radiator pine into useable parts,
before we all had a wash, Woody in his typical fashion.
Our book event in Beechworth comprised of a lovely crowd, hosted by Diane at her excellent independant bookshop.
On the way out of Beechworth an invitation to stay in Wodonga was shouted from a passing car, and although we quickley exchanged social media handles, we were headed for Yackandandah to stay with Warm Showers hosts Matt, Michelle and Tarn. Sadly Matt had left for work before we took this photo:
We were a perfect match with this family. Woody and Tarn soon became good mates,
and so did we with a portion of the town folk. What a darn friendly village Yack is!
We had a second night down by the Yackandandah Creek,
before pushing off the next day and copping our first puncture.
Woody wants to know everything and asks his parents a thousand questions every day. Not quite a thousand answers, his parents have much to learn too, such as, what is this fruit? Is it a parasite, a geebung or wattle nut?
With air back in all four tyres we treadlied to Albury where a dude Patrick used to play football with at university lives and invited us to stay. Patrick hadn’t seen Mick for over 20 years and hadn’t been in contact and what’s more we didn’t even get to meet him as he was away for work. We stayed with his gorgeous wife Bernie and tenacious teen Paris and they embraced us like long lost kin. Thanks Bernie, home from a morning’s run!
And thanks Mick, who hooked us up with the Border Mail to do a story. He also insisted we get in touch with pollinator guru and local permaculturalist Karen Retra and her man Ralph,
and we were given a tour of their pollinator-friendly, south-facing 1/4 acre that is either all under food production, under habitat creation or both in the same breath.
Karen in turn hooked us up with ABC Goulburn Murray and we were interviewed at length about our adventuring before we collided with Roy, a cycle tourer from Japan.
Roy accompanied us to our 5th book event where we met a lively cross-section of local sustainability activists, permies and ecologists. What an awesome crew!
Our community friend Mara met us in Albury and we rode with her and Roy along the majestic Murray River Road crossing back into Victoria.
What a joy it was to ride with these happy bike-campers along such a quiet, almost carless road,
We farewelled Mara at Kennedy’s Reserve and Roy at Jingellic where he videoed an Artist as Family jam sesh,
before we settled in to one of the prettiest free camp sites in Australia, cooking up plantain, sow thistle and flatweed to add to the evening pasta, breakfasting on carp and dandelion coffee,
and generally hanging out, getting to know the virtues of the Upper Murray River.
We have much gratitute for those we meet along the way. Those who come to ride with us. Those who put us up for the night. Those that nourish us as food. The roads we travel. The fellow campers. The community of the living that fuels all this possibility.
Having set up the tents and locked up the bikes we have walked into town to see what purchasable foods are on offer. Towns like Wallacia, we’re discovering, generally sell all kinds of the wrong sort of things. It is another hot day and the traffic tries to outcompete the male cicadas, whose shrill cacophony reaches fever pitch in the heat of the day. We walk back to our river hideaway with unloved bread, oats, juice and some tinned corn to help tempt fish onto the end of our line. We dwell on the magic of free camping, little or no amenities, just tree shade and river water and a nearby tap for drinking. We swim in the lovely cool water and some who come down to fish tell us they are horrified we are swimming in that dirty muck.
As we travel from state to state we’re finding many Australians are frightened by unsterilised environments and approach such autonomous places with contempt and dread. If we reply to such a phobia at all it is with something along the lines of: fish guts and duck poo are prefered friends over a cocktail of municiple-sanctioned corporate chemicals, or maybe something a little less wordy. We rarely if ever get sick. In fact it seems that the rougher we live the healthier we feel, provided we are eating well. Up in town we saw visions and heard stories of unwellness and hospitalisation, my father’s gone back in for treatment, the cancer has come back, said one obese woman. What sort of society allows foods that make people so unwell? While we’ll occasionally indulge in hot chips and industrial bread if there is nothing else, there is no better antidote to such impoverishment than the autonomous foods we are finding along the way. Foods such as blackberries (Rubus),
which, like plums, apples, spinach and grapes don’t need ad men to persuade us to eat them and are unparalelled sources of bioflavonoids and rich in Vitamin C. Like raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves make a great bush tea and are high in iron, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins. Of course, we have to be careful with these generous autonomous foods because they too are often treated by councils on ideological grounds, which big chemical companies profit from. We always check the leaves and surrounding vegetation first to ensure they haven’t been sprayed. Straight off the plant there is nothing quite like this free, sweet medicinal treat. Well, perhaps except for this gorgeous plant.
Echinacea (Asteraceae), according to Medical News Today, is used to treat acid indigestion, chronic fatigue syndrome, diphtheria, dizziness, genital herpes, gum disease, malaria, migraines, pain, snake bites, rheumatism, septicemia and bloodstream infections, streptococcus infections, syphilis, the flu, tonsillitis, typhoid, urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. We simply dry the flower heads and make a restorative tea with them. Although various university conducted studies have found varying results regarding the benefits of Echinacea, most likely none of them observe what other foods are being used in combination. If you try to throw in a delicate plant medicine on top of a diet of industrialised food the results will most likely be poor. Similarly, finding the right place to camp means getting proper rest from the intensity of bike touring, which is another type of medicine based on our wits not our wallets. On leaving Moss Vale, following the awesome bike track along the Wingecarribee River to Burradoo where the autonomous roadside apples were almost ripe to pluck,
we joined a continuous stream of bike-unfriendly traffic from Bowral to Mittagong before we were able to relax in apple orchard country at Yerrinbool and join the Old Hume Highway. This was the first bike touring leg of our trip that included Zeph, who came to join us in Moss Vale at Xmas. So with our full tribe of five beings on two bikes, we set off for Thirlmere Lakes National Park, 52 km away.
In order to have the freedom to live well and experience the profound fullness of this country we are having to write our own laws, which we believe are closer to Aboriginal sensibilities than European legalities. There are notices and rules everywhere, no doubt made for a growing number of dickheads that refuse to respect the land and its diverse critters and ecologies. Thirlmere Lakes does not accept dogs, camping, people after dark and in some places even the innocent bicycle is banned. With only our bikes to hide from rangers in the bracken understory we set up camp as the mozzies descended.
While in the park we kept Zero on a lead, not because his poo is polluting (he doesn’t eat canned or commercial dog biscuits and we bury all his organic wastes, and ours for that matter), but because there are signs around the park telling us 1080 poison bait has been put about. Zero may chase away but never catches birds such as this swamp hen perching out of harm’s way,
Rabbits are Zero’s preferred game, although he’s not much good at hunting them. So, in such a location, we devise that his potential to negatively impact the ecology is extremely low. Three thoughts emerged while we were at Thirlmere Lakes. Firstly, there should be exemptions for walkers and cyclists who wish to camp in all National Parks. There must be rewards for those who travel lightly in this day and age. Secondly, the use of 1080 is the very opposite of an environmental solution because the entire food chain is affected, not just the feral predators at the top. Once again governments are giving damaging chemical companies power by buying these non-solutions. Thirdly, it is not littering, we reflected as we picked up other peoples’ rubbish in the park or came across dumped waste,
that is the problem. All species litter. It is only now what humans leave behind that is damaging. To mitigate toxicity in our environments, business should be taxed heavily on all products they produce deemed to cause a negative effect by what is left of independent science. These would include such things as fast food and supermarket packaging, pesticides, plastics, petroleum products and poisonous baits, etc. When we emerged from our lake hideaway in the morning we were greeted by a happy group who go by the name of the Picton Puffers,
who offered us hot drinks, apple strudel and home-grown peaches. One enlightened soul from this gang of walkers and runners sang the praises of Sweden, who have laws that state that land owners must give one night’s access of a patch of ground on which travellers can camp. After a little research we discovered that this universal ethic is called Freedom to roam, and in Sweden is specifically called allemansrätten (the everyman’s right). Despite our increasingly privatised country, Australia is large enough geographically and still small enough in population to devise and implement our own rules for respectful, non-damaging and frugal travel. But alas, there are forces about that are against this ancient will-to-roam, as recently articulated by fellow camper, Bill Garner in The Age. We left the Puffers at Thirlemere Lakes, travelled on to Picton and camped beside a small creek that ran beside the town’s botanic gardens. We were told by the friendly council gardeners (who knew we were camping illegally and who encouraged our adventures) that the creek was inhabited by giant eels.
We didn’t come across any eels though there were plenty of ducks, prompting us to explain to the younger amongst us that semi-domesticated birds in a park are not fair game for food. We have never caught eels in Australia, although Meg caught and ate some in New Zealand many moons ago. They are something on our long list of autonomous meats we wish to hunt.
Another free meat that none of us have caught or consumed is carp, which is considered an environmental menace. So when we put up camp near the banks of the Nepean River near Wallacia
and set about fishing for Bass with surface lures, we very unexpectedly and unconventionally landed a good sized bottom-feeding carp. The young local boy who actually caught the fish was about to throw it back (after having his photo taken holding it) when Zeph asked whether we could have it. We knew carp would be good eating, despite the bad press it has in Australia, and after a little online research found that carp need to be eaten straight away or put on ice because as its body temperature rises it releases histamines that give the meat a muddy flavour. We did neither of these things, instead hanging the meat in night shade while we slept
and cooking it for breakfast the following day in olive oil we’d bought in Sutton Forest, organic garden-grown garlic we’d bought in Tumut and roadside toms we bought in Warregamba.
The result was delicious and we honoured this life by devouring every skerick of its wonderfully edible self as participants of the web of ecological life.
In order to move towards an ecological culture we need to become the biological controls, participatory ecologists (as our sensible friend Russell Edwards would say) and ecological playmakers (as we would say) that industrial culture has all but perverted in its short life. We need to reinstate a non-waste, non polluting sensibility in everything we do. It is not possible to do this if we go along with mainstream modes of living and ideologies, especially concerning travel and food consumption. All the prejudices surrounding the edibility of this now common fish dissolved with each mouthful. No muddiness was detected despite the Nepean being a heavily disturbed river with motor boats and storm water damage. People just aren’t hungry enough, proclaimed Meg.
Carp now joins our growing list of desirable autonomous foods that need to be eaten on the long march from economic to ecological rationalism.
After a few days on the Nepean we left our blissful river camp of muddy swimming and fish treats and headed towards Penrith in near heatwave conditions. We decided to stow Zero in a box and jump a train from Penrith up to the Blue Mountains to escape the scorching heat that was daily progressing in the foothills.
We spent a hot afternoon in Katoomba looking for a place we could secretly settle for a while and nearing dusk we met Shane, an awesome local who completely read our needs. He gave us a tour of some hidden locations,
from which we chose our quiet little camp spot,
a ten minute walk to the heart of town, and only a two minute amble to this hidden away billabong.
Shane, you are the embodiment of the universal spirit of the freedom to roam. Thank you! We will rest now and wash,
and bring you shortly, dear blog reader, a post or two of our Blue Mountains’ adventure.
Signing off with love and lessons learned for the future,