Blog

A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (fourth excerpt – the accident)

November 3
Meg

It’s Bloodthorn’s birthday and he doesn’t want to go to school. What he really wants to do is go fishing. His mum sends a text to ask if Blackwood is up for some lake time and a text in response is enthusiastically sent back.

It’s a work day for me, so while the boys spend the morning first making yabby spears and then catching their bait in the creek, I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop and a pot of nettle tea. At lunchtime I fang up the street on my bike to go to Himalaya Bakery where I buy two cinnamon fruit scrolls for Bloodthorn’s birthday. I’m imagining candles and singing and sharing the scrolls between the four of us. I put them in my pannier and head home. On my way down the hill, a car overtakes me and then suddenly turns into me and I fly over the back of the vehicle and end up on the bitumen. People come running towards me but the driver doesn’t get out of the car.

‘You nearly fucking killed me!’ I yell, banging on the side of the car, where I landed on the road. ‘You nearly fucking killed me!’

The driver gets out and our two lives adjoin. We are women together, no longer just car and bike rider, flesh meeting metal, but women. One howls on the ground, one tries to be helpful. Are you OK? Are you hurt? Do you need an ambulance? What do you need? Can you point to where it hurts? Can I get you anything? Do you need some water? Would you like to take your helmet off? Can I help you stand up and move off the road?

I ask her if she can please rub my back while I breathe, to just give me a minute so I can assess the extent of my injuries. My clarity and assertiveness surprise me. I keep crying while I try to gauge the damage to my body. One of the people who’s gathered around lifts up my bike and stands with the others as witness while we two women work through what happened and what needs to happen.

She says she didn’t even see me – not down the hill and certainly not when she pulled in front of me. Her name is Jo and she has just had a session with her chiropractor. She says she was feeling light headed after her appointment and about to faint so she pulled over.

One of the gathered men passes me my bag that had flung out of my front basket and I take some squirts of Rescue Remedy from the front pocket. I offer some to Jo. Zero goes with me everywhere in my bike basket. But today he opted to stay on his mat by the fire. I cry harder as I think about my little companion and what could have happened to him.

I need to go home. Jo keeps telling me how sorry she is and asking if she can do anything, but I can’t think of anything. I just want to be home with Patrick. Jo and I hug goodbye. I thank the people who came running and I cry all the way home, the whole left side of my body aching, my bike squeaking and rattling, my cries feeling ineffectual as I can’t breathe deeply enough because it feels like my ribs are sticking into my lungs.

Patrick hears my cries when I come home and comes straight out. He runs me a bath with Epsom salts and I lay on my side feeling smashed about but so grateful for the quiet and stillness. I can’t stop thinking about my mother. Later, after Patrick has helped me out of the water, I phone her to let her know I am OK.

 

November 3
Patrick

The day of the grateful living. Meg hobbles in from emptying the house wee bucket onto one of the citrus. “There might be a frost in the morning,” she says, holding herself gingerly as she steps through the front door. I go out and find the frost covers under the house and place them over the potatoes.

Potatoes can handle winter temperature soils, but not frost on their leaves. We plant them in August and cover them as they grow. I’m pleased they haven’t got sick with all the rain of spring. The tomatoes are already hothoused in their rows and doing well enough, considering the low temperatures. The bees have lost hundreds of workers. It happens every year. After a warm spring spell they convert their hive to a summer thermostat, then the following week the temperature plummets and we head back into winter. This is the time hives get a major set back or don’t make it at all because their winter honey stores are depleted and it’s too cold to go out and forage.

I dig up several comfrey roots in the garden. Wash them, discard the leaves in the poultry run, and pulverise the roots into a crude paste with a mortar and pestle. Meg is lying on the couch in considerable discomfort. I gently apply a large patch of paste to her left ribs and wrap a bandage around her torso to hold the poultice. I am so thankful this is the extent of the injury. A moving car, a driver not present, a bicycle rider. Aye yai yai.

Blackwood, off his own back, cooks frittata for dinner. In reading the situation he acts with resourcefulness and care. Using our duck and chicken eggs, gifted broccoli from one of the generous Forest & Free parents, Meg’s raw milk cheese and pepper berry from the garden. We eat the delicious creation our ten year old fashions upon the family hearth and we honour the food, its origin stories, and life herself with a thick flow of gratitude for all that sings and lives.

~

Cairns to Sydney (at atypical speed)

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 were fast-tracking it to Sydney for many reasons, namely to return the expensive hire car and spend time with family, but also to catch our dear friend Brett (who rode and camped with us for a few weeks in northern NSW) before he left again for Brussels. Brett’s work for Médecins Sans Frontières has been significant over many years and of late he has been in Liberia managing the MSF Ebola hospital in Montrovia, which by all accounts is functioning more as a morgue than a hospital. Brett has given many interviews, written articles and appeared on TV attempting to make the Abbott government aware of the extent of the crisis in West Africa. We are so proud of you Brett! Here he is in May harvesting roadside passionfruit with us near Uki.

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.

In the morning Woody got all WorkmanJones on us.

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.

While in Sydney we are hosting a working bee and workshop at a community garden that we designed and planted with the community in 2010. We’d love to see you there.

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.

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.

Tagging, birthing and ploughing radical identities

As artists, homeschoolers, public transportees, community witnesses, friends and as family we travelled to Melbourne today. We arrived early because (by chance) Woody woke us in time to catch the first bus. We walked the drizzly city streets and Zeph bodytagged the laneways, not with toxic paint but with biophysical exuberance.

We lost ourselves in the dreary dreamy morning and only after asking a passer-by for the time did we then run to the County Court to meet our community friends and persecuted midwife, Sally. Sally is another independent midwife hunted by a nanny-state that foregrounds institutional hysteria over feminine intuition, ethics and rights. One of the central arguments against her was that the public needs protection from such risk, yet outside the court the state was ratifying cars, Coke and climate change. Ideologies of mass toxicity and pollution reign in an abuser’s paradise while loving independent midwives are deemed a threat to ‘the public’.

Today, Sally’s verdict was basically the final nail in the coffin of her long practice as an independent midwife and marks a further erosion of rights for women. The legal costs and the rulings handed down from the so-called expert panel have made it impossible for her to appeal and keep practicing. A number of us, as representatives of all who love and respect Sally, rose early to travel for a few hours to support her. This is a person who was awarded the highest acknowledgement in our community at the International Women’s Day Honour Roll celebrations two years ago.

Sally’s great mistake was that she spent more time adorning, caressing, heartening and massaging the mothers she cared for and not enough time filling out forms and following a patriarchal-Cartesian regime of risk assessment and legal accountability. All the letters from the mothers of the births under investigation were ignored, and so too the fact that the overwhelming majority of mothers Sally tended were able to birth in the manner that respected their wishes, free from the panic of obstetrics, clock-time and legal risk assessors that shape all decisions a birthing ward makes. If any mothers had written criticism of Sally we’re sure this would have been used against her, but instead all our letters of support relating to her case were blatantly ignored.

We left the court teary-eyed and Artist as Family walked soberly to the State Library where we saw an exhibition of another state-made outlaw, Ned Kelly. Homeschooling Zeph has enabled so much more flexibility in our family life, so that learning has become more applied, less abstract and much more relational. We marvelled at Ned Kelly’s armour made from parts of an old plough. This was engineered by a blacksmith evidently sympathetic to the politics of the Kelly gang who were in turn abhorred by the smug ruling elite who had brought class war to what had always been a classless country. In another exhibition we observed an early painting of our home town’s main street, intrigued by the inaccuracy of the painter, and more than aware of the terror Jaara people must have experienced at this time, so picturesquely absent from this civil street scene.

Today we thought about those who are persecuted; the likes of Julian Assange, Ned and Sally. All three are bound by a staunch belief in peoples’ basic rights for self-determination. All three share various experiences of homeschooling and all three have been cowardly persecuted by those who wish to control us.