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Into the glean and scene of 2017

We ended 2016 with a community garden working bee with mates,

cleaning off graffiti from around the town (that one of us thought was a good idea to do at the time),

building a new squat compost loo with SWAP, Isobel,

going for a little ride,

to spend the summer solstice at Melliodora with neo-peasant and permie mates,

advertising for our first SWAP-intern suitable to work with the whole family, particularly Zeph,

and carried on with forest work and play,

until the year was done and we gathered with various friends and other community groups to celebrate the new year.

 Our little ensemble of community gardeners won best ‘float’, despite our on-foot-ness.

The next day, with our Milkwood mates, we were very floaty when we heard the news of our win ($500 to the community gardens to grow more free food).
This year we’ve been welcoming Connor into our family. Connor was chosen to be our first SWAP-intern. Within days it was like this remarkable young man has been with us for years.
And we’ve been blessed with more wonderful SWAPs coming to live and learn with us. Hello Anna!

And hello Marta!

We went out of town with our mate Pete to collect some locally grown and milled timber. We’re going to build a number of things in the next few months.

With friends Mara, Kirsten and Kat we made a banner,

which will be used each year to mark January 26, terra nullius day at the Daylesford Town Hall.

We’ve been doing little fermenting experiments and loving the results.

Actually, Connor doesn’t need elderflower cider to fool around in the gloaming.

Connor and Marta have been hanging out working together, riding the tandem and generally keeping the home fires burning.

Because it’s a time of storing,

food forestry and many people staying,

pumpkins, citrus and kiwi fruiting,

honey making,

poultry growing,

appling,

learning,

keeping the mice numbers down,

and more storing.

Collecting materials from building sites, the tip, and having friends who gift large doors and windows (thanks Nicko and Elle), has enabled the planning of the north-facing greenhouse.

Our home is a busy mess of multiple projects, ferments and general productivity. We’re using the excessive affluence of industrial civilisation to transition to low-money, low-carbon lifeways before inevitable decline or collapse.

Prepare now or struggle later is our motto, and what we’ve found in the meantime is a more joyous, meaningful form of life making.

Preparing the ground for more flowering

It’s been a busy month since birthing The Cumquat and Land Cultures. There has been much late winter, early spring labouring under an occasional sun.

With another family we planted out chestnuts and walnuts on common land for the next generations.

Each of us contributing in our own way.

We planted trees, and we grafted medlar scions onto hawthorns.

We attempted this several years ago in the little forest near home with no success.

With a little more understanding we are trying again, and are willing the sap to flow into these fruiting branches to make more fruit possible.

With food forest work the natural order of things to follow is bee work. The boys have been making new housing for native bees.

Now we’re awaiting the warmer weather for the occupation.

Community gardening has been an ongoing priority for several years now. This winter we hosted two pruning workshops with Ian Clarke, a knowledgeable tree elder.

The pruned cuttings were cycled home and sat in the snow,

before being made into biochar, to feed back the flowering earth.

Each day the boys are involved in what Gertrude Stein once called the processes of circularity.

It has been a great relief for Zeph to be outside the strictures and inflexibilities of institutional life. Removing fences at a community garden working bee is not just a metaphor.

He has begun work on a critical-creative research project of his choice — The history of street art. For two hours every day he reads, writes and explores this world. And we’ve been on excursions to help better understand this world.

For country kids the city offers colour and excitement, as well as an understanding of the context for how urbanisation makes ill the world’s worlds. Such illness, such an interruption to life, is the very medium for graffiti writers and street artists who are not well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

On another day the boys take old tip-discarded timber and build a new bridge over one of the swales in the garden. Zeph taught his younger brother to use tools and calibrate his eyes and arms to the task of making the home garden more functional and productive.

Zeph has moved into the Cumquat. Imagine being 14 years old and living in the little home you co-built! Each morning between 7-9am he works on his street art research project and during the day he heads out to work with various skilled friends in our community. On organic and permaculture farms, at light earth building sites, stone retaining wall constructions, selling local produce at a market stall, and learning traditional restoration work on an old church have all been part of his experience over the past two weeks since he left school. 

And we’ve been sharing our skills too. Here Meg teaches the art of fermenting grains: sourdough bread and rejuvelac making.

And for the first time we have been eating our own oranges throughout the winter. Drying the peel to grind up and use to flavour fruit bread or using them as fire lighters to start our wood oven.

Most of the world’s worlds are flowering places, and these places that flower nurture and keep well the communities of the living. That this understanding is absent from the teaching that occurs in schools is why our culture is involved in permanent forms of destruction. To be involved in the sacred realm of buds and bees, seasons and cycles is what we want to pass on to our kids. And to further grow our understanding of what keeps life flowering, fruiting and making more life possible.

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.
In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 
A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.

We hadn’t developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.

Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.

The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.

Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.

After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn’t done since his home-ed days.

Woody was keen to help on the site too and knowing how eager he is to join all aspects of life, James had brought back with him his childhood tools to hand on. As you can imagine Woody was pretty chuffed. He took great care to place each item in the tool belt that was Zeph’s when he was Woody’s age.

The build progressed in the rain, snow and rare pockets of sun. Gifts flowed in from the community such as these wonderful windows from our permie friend Vasko, old floorboards from Sarah, structural timbers from Bee and Ra, bearers and cladding from Bob and Beth, sisalation from Koos, roof iron from Pete, and old decking boards from Nicko.

Some days were so wet we dropped our tools and headed into the bush. The learning that takes place out of school has no status in this age of fear and institutional incarceration, but we know it can be explosive and expansive. Seeing our boys thrive through their own will to learn is a joy to behold. All we need to do is provide the right environment, and they do the rest.

Over 95% of the materials we used were salvaged from the local tip and nearby building skips. We borrowed our neighbour’s ute and a friend’s car on a few occasions to collect them, but much was collected on our bicycle trailer. James and Zeph learned all the steps of building and soon became confident users of tools.

There were hard days, cold days and joy-filled days as they grew their knowledge, strength and resilience. After the winter solstice the days became longer, which also meant more eggs being laid in our chicken coup. Thanks chooks!

Chickweed, full of vitamin C and abundant at this time of year, was another local medicine food that fuelled the build, and helped us through our winter colds.

The entire build took 6 weeks (not including the time to collect the materials), and we were all fairly exhausted by the end of it. Zeph, at the ripe age of 14 years old, worked his first 10 hour day.

Give a young person a project in which all their regard and care and skills can shine and you’ll have a gem who has great self-esteem and the ability to transition from centre of the universe to participant of the universe. The Cumquat build was very much part of Zeph’s initiation into life.

The mentorship and maturity of James was a big part of Zeph’s learning and growth. The two worked so well together and as much as possible Patrick stepped back and allowed them both to go through the processes themselves. We all had things to learn from each other and despite the ordinary strains of such activity, the building of The Cumquat was a remarkable moment in our family’s trajectory, and we thank James and Zeph for making it such a special time, and we thank our local, online and permacultural communities for loving The Cumquat into being in so many diverse ways. And we thank the snow for reminding us of older, colder winters in this region, and the gifts of the sun and the earth that create the radiation and thermal mass that keeps us warm.

The last stage of the build was to insulate the walls with straw, which we bought direct from local farmer Ian Miller in Smeaton 22 kms away. We contemplated lining the walls with old floorboards or old sheets of tin, but when permie friend Dean Farago offered his expertise, materials and labour to finish the walls using a traditional rendering method, we knew we couldn’t refuse.

We have made a little video of the build that shows the entire process, and is accompanied by our talented singer-songwriter friend, Anthony Petrucci, who sings us intensely through the build with his old band Souls on Board.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for calling in to hear the song of The Cumquat being sung into life, to witness a boy’s initiation and to behold a young man’s apprenticeship. We hope it has inspired you and the young people in your worlds to keep performing life outside the banker’s realm and the institution’s cage.

Summer time harvesting, writing, communing

It’s been a time of great harvest, probably the best fruit season for a decade. All this food is free from a combination of street trees, neighbours and or our own garden.

It has been a time of writing, bringing our book together for a looming deadline.

A time of getting to know Maarten and Marlies and share skills in the garden as they spend a fortnight with us.

A time of preserving, stewing, fermenting and drying,

A time of making bread.

A time of making plum wine.

A time to work together.

A time to shovel shit. Thanks Mara!

A time to pull weeds. Thanks Ayumi, Maarten and Batiste!

A time to observe those more-than-human.

And a time to be photographed by Jay Town and written about by Rebekah Cavanagh.

Our first month home has been quite a time of adjustment. Although we are loving being back in our climate zone and among our community and all the free food of summer, we still miss life on the road. There is nothing quite like waking each morning and having nothing to think about except the day ahead.

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.

In Maleny we bumped into two locals prone to bouts of cycle touring. The first is Hamish who, for want of a better description, is a bee health scientist and knows firsthand what Monsanto and co are doing to the biosphere.

The second is Garry, a retired English teacher who dons great t-shirts and excellent facial hair. Garry met us by chance at the community garden after he had finished his shift as a volunteer at the UpFront Club, a co-operatively owned venue.

Garry invited us back to his home where he lives with his partner Susan in their hectare permaculture garden on the outskirts of town. The garden features a mature copse of bunya pines, an extensive chook area, raised beds packed with produce, diverse insect-attracting flower beds, food forestry and indigenous revegetation. Needless to say we were well impressed with this model garden for the future.

We had two gentle nights with Garry (Susan was away). We walked into town picking a pharmacopeia of health-packed edibles from the roadside, including the super herb Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), which according to the Maple Street Co-op newsletter, has been used to aid “fatigue, anxiety, depression, poor memory, senility, epilepsy, bacterial viral or parasitic infections, trauma and tissue repair, leprosy, circulation problems, tuberculosis, arthritis, rheumatism and skin conditions such as psoriasis.”

We noted loquats coming into fruit,

and chewed on the white base stalks of lomandra leaves that Woody generically calls oosh ucker (bush tucker).

Maleny is the first place we’ve been to that is so ideal for citrus, that trees have naturalised along the roadside,

and we sampled various varieties of lilly pilly (Syzygium spp.), these being the most desirable.

When we arrived in town we bee-lined for the co-op, which has been going since 1979, and brought bulk foods to restock our panniers for the next leg of the trip.

Thanks Tom, Tim, Luke, Shelley, Chris, Milla, Hamish and Garry. We’ve so enjoyed our time together.

Food and energy: social transformers (Iluka to Bentley blockade)

The night before we left Iluka we were invited to a feast of crabs with Deanne and her family.

Deanne is yet another stellar local woman working at the coalface of the mostly male dominated industry of civil construction. She invited us for dinner and cooked mud crabs and these beautiful blue swimmers (Portunus pelagicus) in a chilli sauce.

Nine of us feasted for about an hour and a half on two dozen crabs, slowly working out all the delicious flesh from under the shell. The crabs had been caught by Deanne’s family and friends the previous day in the Clarence River. This area is abundant in coastal foods and has a long growing season for plants, including this one:

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), a plant that belongs to the large lily (Liliaceae) family and includes day lilies and edible asparagus. We were introduced to this invasive plant back in Forster by the Tuncurry Dune Care folk and we said back then we’d try to find out if it was edible. This has been a difficult task and our online research proved inconclusive. So we thought we’d conduct a little experiment of our own. Our hypothesis or hunch was that asparagus fern tubers would be edible, perhaps even desirable, and if that was the case then we carbon-heavy humans could embrace this plant as a food and become the biological controls of it.

Our experiment empirically demonstrated that asparagus fern doesn’t stack up as food. If only a small amount caused pronounced intestinal discomfort then we think a proper meal of it could really cause some problems. We can probably say now that asparagus fern tubers are NOT food fit for human consumption. Although, there is always a slim chance that something else caused Patrick’s discomfort several hours after he ate a few small tubers, we’re going to trust his reaction and not pursue this plant any further. With this somewhat intrepid experiment under our belts we loaded up the bikes, thanked Linda and Nicholas for hosting us so graciously, and left Iluka passing this rather wishful sign on the way out.

Let’s hope this decommissioned station is an image we’ll see more and more. The only fuel in this picture that we can see as viable for the future is solar radiation (the blue sky)… And on we pedalled towards another chronic fuel problem, as we’ll see shortly, stopping after a 55 km ride up the Pacific Highway at Woodburn to cook dinner on the banks of the Richmond River,

and later to the Woodburn football ground to set up camp under the light that was offered freely to us.

 We woke with the sun to heavy dew,

we had another 55km day ahead of us, so we packed up the tents wet, stocked up on our standard organic Aussie oat porridge sweetened with local ironbark blossom honey and currants,

crossed the Pacific and the Richmond River, and headed north to Lismore.

On the way we spotted some happy free range hens so we knocked on the door and bought a dozen eggs for $3 from these peeps.

A little further on we collected some guavas for our tucker bag.

As we approached Lismore we came to understand how conscientious this community is:

and we were drawn to this conscientiousness ourselves.

We found home at Camp Liberty with hundreds of others, 15 kms west of Lismore in an area aptly called Disputed Plains, near Bentley.

Camp Liberty is a pop-up settlement established to offer all forms of support, supplies, personnel, communications and a cultural sanctuary for the blockade of three gateways that give access to a proposed mine site for invasive gas exploration.

It’s an incredibly well organised camp,

with some clear-eyed thinking.

We volunteered for the first aid tent and have so far treated a number of people with minor ailments.

While getting to know the multiplicity of people stationed here,

managing,

and witnessing,

and getting to know more intimately the land we are all protecting.

While the corporatised media tellingly ignore what is happening at this camp, social media has come alive to represent this very special transformation of people power.