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Friends and foes en route (Mackay to Airlie Beach)

We left Mackay and travelled the long but quiet route to Calen, witnessing more ill-effects of the sugar industry.

Dispersed beside the monocultural fields we found plants that have no economic or ecological status, such as these health-giving sow thistles (eat the young tender less bitter leaves),

guava (this is the largest fruit we’ve seen so far, measuring 80mm in length, and oh so delicious!),

and public citrus. (If you’re in the air when you pick private fruit does that make it public??)

We got a bike-eye view of sugar processing, which confirmed our resolve to remain a processed-sugar-free family (which means not purchasing the great majority of supermarket items),

as we travelled along the cane fields,

and beside the cane trains that were busily moving Australia’s obesity epidemic around in little carts.

We travelled the Mirani – Mt Ossa Road west of Mackay until we got to Boulder Creek,

where Jeanie and Peppe, our Warm Showers hosts in Mackay, had suggested we camp. We’re glad they did. Thanks J and P! The water was pristine and we refilled our bottles with this dynamic, autonomous mountain brew (there’s not many places left in Australia where the water hasn’t been polluted by conventional agriculture).

We met a bunch of unruly free campers at Boulder Creek, and we shared stories about our respective communities and where we are heading before it was time to take to the road, once again under Queensland’s mid-winter sky.

These quiet roads really are a blessing. Our senses are alive with the absence of motorised transport.

Collecting free citrus in the region is also an absolute treat, and there’s no shortage.

In this little public park at Calen, just before we returned to the Bruce Highway, we helped ourselves to free oranges, bush lemons and grapefruits, as well as free power, recharging our devices behind the public toilet block while we feasted.

Not far north of Calen we spotted for the first time these cluster figs (Ficus racemosa),

a well-known bush food of northern Australia, which also grows in India and South-east Asia. When ripe they turn soft, orange and then red, and have a similar texture to commercially-grown figs, only less sweet to taste. They were lovely to eat but a week or more ripening time would have produced a better result.

After nearly nine months of cycle touring we have seen hundreds of snakes on the road. All of them dead, until now. This lively black snake went to cross the Road of Death just south of Bloomsbury, then decided against it, possibly after sensing the hysterical vibrations of Zero’s barking. Needless to say we quickly tethered Zero, snake bite being a common cause of death for Jack Russells.

Later in the day we passed another couple of road-killed snakes, several birds of prey, a grass owl, countless kangaroos and wallabies and this little quoll.

We took a few side quiet roads into Bloomsbury and discovered this very interesting vine:

the elephant creeper (Argyreia nervosa), aka Hawaiian baby woodrose, Adhoguda, woolly morning glory, elephant climber, elephant ear vine or silver morning glory. This plant may have been introduced by Aborigines on their route from India thousands of years ago, however some botanists believe it is a relative newcomer and an invasive weed. An ancient healing plant, the seeds are said to be psychoactive, producing similar effects as LSD. We just need a baby-sitter for several hours so we can investigate…

We stopped for the night in Bloomsbury, knocking on the principal’s door of the local primary school to ask permisssion to camp the night. Sam, the school’s delightful principal, whole-heartedly agreed and offered us use of the staff’s bathroom and shower. Blessed warm water and a quiet place (after hours) to lay our heads. Thanks Sam!

For all the interrupting death we witnessed the day before on the Bruce, we instead found abundant life living among the sugarcane wastelands the next day, riding towards Proserpine.

Magpie geese eggs are certainly something we’d like to try, but will have to seek permission from local Indigenous elders before we do.

We spotted the magpie geese at Deadman Creek, just south of Proserpine, on the way to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays,

another painfully beautiful area on the east coast of Australia done over by rampant corporate-bogan tourism,

with absolutely no evidence or recognition of the original culture, the Ngaro people, to be seen anywhere.

It was in Airlie Beach that we met up with community friends from Daylesford, and shared a camping ground site with them. We had four lovely days with Fiona, Tim and their kids Max and Rose, sharing meals, walks into town and along the beach,

and conversations about our respective research. Tim is currently working on the Healing Ground project, a work combining photography and oral history, recording Indigenous massacre sites and stories from around Australia from the descendants of those who suffered. Please support Tim’s project if you have a spare $20 or $50, or whatever you can.


Myall Creek Gallery Piece from Tim Burder on Vimeo.

We enjoyed our time with Tim and Fiona’s happy tribe, unclipping our heavy panniers to explore the coastline,

went fishing (Well done Max! Catching your first haul of fish, feeding your family and friends at age 9 is no small feat),

and generally took in the sea.

Thanks for reading this little leg. We’ll see you in Townsville…

Our medicine is free and found in both our food and physicality (from Bundaberg to Gladstone)

The days here in Queensland have been sunny and warm but the nights very cool. Before we left Bundaberg we went op-shoping for some warmer clothes. Woody scored this great vest.

Outside an opshop we met Clint, a local Kalki man. We got talking about bush food and he noticed Woody’s amber teething necklace. He told us that witchetty grubs (Endoxyla leucomochla) are a natural anaesthetic and that teething babies were traditionally fed the grubs to numb the gums. Clint also told us he is a kind of pastor but that he didn’t need to preach to us because we already knew our path. That path, for now, continues north on some quieter roads.

Building knowledge on the life forms around us that provide food fit for human consumption free of monetary interference and ecological damage is another path we’re simultaneously following. Finding ripe passion fruits fallen onto public land on the outskirts of Bundy may not seem like much,

but first sights can be deceiving.

We had a quiet ride to Avondale passing more of Queensland’s great obesity fields,

but we skipped on the pesticidal cane, picking roadside citrus instead.

When we arrived in the one-pub locality of Avondale we had Zero’s basket half-filled with autonomous medicine,

and we were greeted with the prospect of a free camping spot and shower.

Not only is Avondale generous to travellers, it is also good to itself, recognising that community protection from greed and ecological intransigence is sound, long-term thinking.

We found a kitchen bench and got on with preparing dinner with some store-bought produce.

We woke with the sun after our first night’s sleep in our new tents. After many years of camping, the old ones had become irreparable. We donated them to a Bundy opshop as they would be great as children’s cubbies.

We started the day by collecting onions that had fallen off the back of a truck. No, really! Out of all the conventionally-grown vegies and fruits, according to the US Environmental Working Group, onions are the least contaminated with pesticide residue. For dumpster divers and others who rely on conventionally-grown foods this list is probably as good a guide as any.

Various autonomous species have accompanied us along the roads from central Victoria such as the scavenger ravens and crows. But this mushroom, Pisolithus sp. is one of the hardiest of them all. The preferred medium on which it builds its life is bitumen and its spores are carried by motorists, trucks and more than likely the humble treadlie.

We arrived in Rosedale a few days too early for Friday night bingo,

pitched our tents at the Ivan Sbresni Oval,

and while we brewed a billy, Zero got to work flushing out some local rabbits.

While he continued to hunt we processed his game, these non-industrial gifts of the land, as both food and textile.

We skinned and salted the pelts and poached the meat briefly,

before removing the bones and tossing the tender meat through a pasta dish of raw chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, kale and zucchini.

The next morning Woody had a lesson on herbivore dung recognition, an education in craps, scats and animal fats,

before we hitched up our gear, set a drying rack for the pelts,

and again drank the sun north. Another autonomous species which has become a favourite free food since Kempsey is the cut-and-come-again guava, which never seems to stop fruiting.

Just when we thought the season had ended, along comes another tree laden. This harvest was made just south of the micro town of Lowmead.

In this area the land was no longer flat and caney, but undulating and scrubby.

These country roads have been a pleasure to ride, and even though the townships themselves offer little cultural nourishment,

generosity always sticks its head out. The hotel staff kindly let us recharge our batteries while we had a beer and got talking to some of the locals. Brett, a retired army man, took us across the road to a friend’s house so as we could collect mandarins from her garden, and the pub was giving away grapefruit from another local’s tree.

We were going to camp at Lowmead but Brett told us about a free campsite 17 kms away on the Bruce Highway and we still had the afternoon to play. He warned us that the road to the highway was partly unsealed but not too rough. The complete lack of traffic was wonderful.

We arrived at the highway campsite to this laden orange tree to complete our three-day catch of free and preventative medicines.

But just to be sure we had enough vitamin C we gathered and hoed down a handful of chickweed that was growing at the rest area.

After little sleep (how have we made the same mistake twice to camp beside the Bruce?) we returned to the intense highway,

and rode to Miriam Vale where we discovered a little knowledge regarding some of the bush tuckers we’ll likely see more of as we continue north.

While exploring the public gardens Woody asked for his favourite bush tucker to chew on – the starchy base of lomandra leaves.

A little on the nose we booked a cheap room in the Miriam Vale Hotel, which came with a gorgeous view.

We had a 50 km ride to Tannum Sands, with little on the way to hold our attention, or time,

except of course for the inevitable memorials, which kept coming at phenomenal rates.

We arrived in the late afternoon. Patrick went for a spearfish, returning fishless and blue from the cold ocean. Near where we were to camp at Canoe Point we spotted this fine creature,

the Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), which according to another Indigenous man, Barry Miller, who we also met back in Bundaberg, is really good tucker. Woody took his afternoon nap while the rest of us went about our business.

We cooked dinner and waited for dark before we set up camp.

Having earlier seen a council warning sign we went to bed a little nervous about crocodiles, but after some cursory phone research we discovered attacks by crocs in Australia have only occurred in or on the edge of water, never through a tent and never this far south. We awoke to a beautiful, unlawful camp ground,

and conceptually snubbed our noses at all the rip-off caravan park operators in the country wanting to charge us $40 a night for a patch of dead ground near a toilet block surrounded by caravans and motor homes.

From Tannum Sands we looked across the water to the Boyne Smelters, one of the industries that has made the small city of Gladstone momentarily affluent and no doubt permanently toxic.

For the next two nights we stayed with couchsurfing host Mike Koens. Mike lives just outside Gladstone with his housemate Paul, dog Rocko and three cats Girlfriend, Boyfriend and Thor. Mike works for Boyne Smelters as an air-conditioning and refrigeration man.

He told us that Gladstone’s mining boom is well and truly over, the housing market has slumped and he has begun his own transition to a more environmental life, collecting solar radiation and water from his roof, growing his own wood to heat his house and starting to grow his own food.

While we stayed with Mike we helped him turn his soil, removing couch grass from where his crops will soon thrive. We also helped him chop wood and we cooked for him. It’s no accident that synthetic medicine goes hand in hand with industrial food and energy. The pharmaceutical industry thrives on an unwell population that eats empty and lifeless food and uses cars for all travel.

“Is there anything you might do today,” the writer Padgett Powell timely asks of us, “that would distinguish you from being just a vessel of consumption and pollution with a proper presence in the herd?” Yes there is Padgett, thanks for asking.

On and off the Island: Minjerribah to Maleny

Our last post featured the bounty of autonomous food on Minjerribah in early winter. This post begins with the array of social warming we encountered there. 

While on Stradbroke Island we hooked up again with fellow cycle tourer Tom, who once more became uncle Tom,

his portable cabin a hammock tent.

We spear fished and foraged with Tom and went along to the community jam at Point Lookout where Woody was handed around among the local tribe.

Along with Tom we free-camped with Tim, who we met back in Uki and then again in Brissy, and his mate Luke. Both had a passion for free food and simple ways of procuring it. We shared knowledges and food together.

We snapped this image at the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, it shows Indigenous folk on the NSW midcoast collecting eugaries (pipis). The image for us represents the ecological intelligence and social inclusivity that our little mutable tribe was perhaps attempting to emulate – the utter sophistication of non-damaging simplicity.

On our return to Dunwich from Point Lookout we stayed a night with Shelley and Milla again, and this time got to meet Milla’s dad/ Shelley’s man, the musically talented Chris.

We harvested macadamia nuts from their produce garden,

and learnt to crack them open with this simple tool.

Our sense of an ecotopia was drowned when it was time to leave the island, our reliance on damaging industry to barge back to the mainland was all too painfully obvious.

But this life is about generational transition, and learning to maintain our bikes (after the sand and salt of the island) is certainly a part of that movement.

On our first night off Straddie we made camp in a hidey spot in a large public park off a bike track in a north-eastern suburb of Brisbane.

The next day we crossed the Brisbane River by climbing a monumental achievement of industrialised culture,

before coming down the other side of that story:

As cyclists we are painfully aware of what motorised transport is capable of committing. Everyday we face the reality of death in a much more direct way and feel the pain of those who have suffered as we pass by at a speed slow enough to acknowledge it. We are flesh and bones on wheels and bitumen and the violence of cars and trucks is forever present, deafening and exact. Then occasionally, we find a motor-free track,

or road,

like here between Woodford and Maleny, and somewhere quiet to stop for lunch.

And even if such remoteness brings its hurdles,

crossing creeks and slipping around on gravel can be more preferable than the constant noise and sometimes terror of more populated routes. And after such a physically difficult but relatively peaceful day on and off the saddle we arrived on top of the range to treats of naturalised citrus,

and views of the Glass House Mountains.

We arrived in Maleny on dusk, caught a pub meal and a beer and pitched our tents on the lawn behind the hotel on the banks of the Obi Obi Creek.