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Eating ants, bush fruits and eels, and meeting crocodiles (Narragon Beach to Daintree Village)

It was very hard to leave our free-camping sanctuary with our freshwater pool streaming onto Narragon Beach just down from the Clump Point jetty where we pulled in our evening hauls of fish.

It was also hard to leave our lovely new and not so new friends.

We had our last ride in to Mission Beach with the delightful Tom Dean, the errant wayfarer, before once again setting our compass north.

Our restored senses went immediately into shock after we got back on the Bruce Highway. Trucks, motorhomes, caravans, misnamed ‘eco’ tourists, roadkill, roadside memorials, anthropogenic garbage and sugarcane mayhem all came flooding back to raze the peace and make us harden back up for another dose of digi-industrial reality. Needless to say we took the longer back road to Innisfail, via south Johnstone and Japoon, which rewarded us with this little haul of free fruit,

and a croc safe (at least in the dry season) swimming hole.

Further down the road we stopped to investigate some of the hidden ingredients in conventional banana farming.

This farmer was using two different pesticides: Echo 720, a fungicide and known carcinogen and the herbicide Gramoxone 250, which is an extremely dangerous chemical. The active constituent in Gramoxone 250 is paraquat dichloride, which is banned in 32 countries including China and all the EU nations including Switzerland where Syngenta, the chemical company that produces it, has its headquarters. This chemical has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

What is incredible is that bananas are considered ‘health food’ in Australia! When we’ve been stuck for food and have had to resort to supermarkets on this trip we routinely ask one of the staff where the ‘health food’ and ‘organic’ foods are. These minuscule couple of shelves contain products that have too much packaging or are also packed with hidden nasties such as refined sugar.

To paraphrase Michael Pollan: If it comes from a plant eat it; if it’s made in a plant don’t. The sugar industry in South Johnstone had certainly made its mark on the town, the cane trains surge down the main drag like cocaine through a major vein.

We just keep thinking: what would it look like if the Queensland Government pulled its subsidies from cane farmers, taxed refined sugars like they do tobacco and transferred the revenue to organic food producers or farms transitioning to organic food, bringing the price of organic food down so as everyone could purchase it? Imagine the savings made to public health! Imagine the beautiful ruination of predatory pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors who have built their businesses on an innutritious, immune depleting food system! And then there are the environmental questions.

Imagine if soils were no longer mined to grow a substance that isn’t necessary and that is causing so much ill health. Can you imagine in these razed fields as food forests of Maccadamia nuts, Davidson Plums, paw paws, bananas, grapefruits, oranges and a hundred other fruits all grown as a polyculture with leguminous plants interplanted, used as chop and drop fertilisers, where thick humus would form, repairing the soil and its mycorrhizal strata, and where perennial groundcovers would spread out after the first years of pioneering annual weeds doing their work to repatriate the earth, where a billion organisms live and build soil structure, and who through rigorous competition fight off the threat of dominating species, so as no pesticides, no corporations making decisions about our health, no organic certification was necessary because agricultural pesticides were all banned and common sense prevailed? But for now this is the present: millions of acres of completely unnecessary sugar cane.

Because Woody has never had refined sugar, his taste buds are open to all foods and their sensations. Whereas we older ones in the tribe may have a few blue quandongs here and there, Woody seeks them out with a passion. He’ll eat the tart ones, sour ones, mildly sweet over ripe ones, as well as the way past desirable ones.

He’s becoming the most enthusiastic forager of us all. He’s also partial to autonomus meat. At the free-camping spot at Babinda, Patrick hand speared a small black fish for bait and used it to catch this lovely creature on a 40-pound hand line:

an Australian long-finned eel (Anguilla reinhardti). We made a fire and cooked it on the coals for around 12 minutes each side. It was heavenly dining after peeling back the bitter skin and revealing the extraordinary white, moist flesh.

Artist as Family gave blessings to this powerful water creature and slept with the watery whirlings of the eel inside us. The next day we packed up early,

and took to the road. Our long-finned fuel powering us all the way into Cairns where we stayed with this delightful family:

Meet warm showers hosts Sarah, Oscar and Renee, who we look forward to spending more time with when we return to Cairns. After a night of great conversation, games, showers and delicious shared food, we picked up some supplies from the community food co-op and from a local park,

and headed north again. Sarah and Oscar rode ahead to steer our departure as Zero was having an RDO as our biological GPS.

One species that we have camped with everywhere, been stung by, admired their architecture but so far failed to try out as a bush food is the green ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

These amazing fruitarians are everywhere and we’ve now incorporated them into our everyday diet as a robust free food species. Like whitchetty grubs they have a high fat content; perfect as a cycling fuel. They are a zingy citrus-like edible, which is not surprising as they love citrus. We have all, including Woody, learnt to catch them by the head with our pincers, killing them instantly and popping them whole into our mouths.

We only got as far as Smithfield, an outer suburb of Cairns, and Patrick’s front wheel rim spilt open, possibly as a result of his eating too many green ants.

While waiting for the repairs we walked for a few hours in an industrial wasteland along the A1 and found these delicious ripe bush passionfruits (Passiflora foetida).

They oozed the devine right off the vine: no built religious environment was necessary to partake in this godly moment.

We were rather abruptly asked to leave the bike shop in Smithfield, prompting Patrick to write the following poem from our campsite at Unity Reef.

It felt right to be kicked out of the bicycle shop
in Cairns. We had coveted all their back room
power points with our touring stench. Baby and dog
running in and out of the place unsettling the gloss
while we waited for the expensive repair.
But perhaps it was really the ‘G20 – – – – LIES’
writ large across one of our tail panniers
that prompted the call for our exile by the boss.
After all the city was in feverish preparation
eager to celebrate the international visitors
with a cultural festival of entertainers
known as ‘the arts’.

Even if our schooling system today does its best to breed out the inquistive and critical in the population this doesn’t mean that the forthcoming G20 bankers get-together in Cairns isn’t a pox on the planet. But obviously many disagree, especially in Port Douglas where we came across this holidaying couple near the beach. When we asked the lady wearing it about her singlet she boasted it cost only $3 from K-Mart. Is it a joke? Are we missing the irony? Where do you start with such intransigence to life and the suffering of others for the sake of a $3 joke?

No doubt G20 finance delegates will flock to Port Douglas with all its monetary shmaltz. We on the other hand couldn’t wait to leave, legging it back to the A1 after a picnic lunch with fake artisan bread, temporarily being split up by big sugar before the town of Mossman in Kuku Yalanji country, on the way to the Daintree.

Not far on we met this fantastic duo who were heading south and who are working on a very exciting bicycle touring project. It was lovely to meet you Simon and Alia!

Just nearby we found a laden grapefruit tree, loaded up, gave some to our fellow tourers before pushing on to find some ripe guavas, which we have commonly picked all along the east coast from as far south as Kempsey.

We camped the night at Newell Beach and the following day arrived at the village of Daintree.

Prone to regular flooding and therefore constant change the Daintree River is an ecological hive of activity.

We adults were as wide-eyed and excited as Woody when we saw fishing birds such as this pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius),

the numerous reptilian water critters such as this grand male estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porous),

and these common tree snakes, sunning themselves.

While in the Daintree village we also learned more about Far North Queensland plant life, such as native taro (Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis), which requires much lengthy preparation in order to make the tubers edible,

and Woody, completely unprompted, collected up all the Kuku Yalanji forest delights he knew including blue quandongs, satin ash fruit, peanut tree pods and hibiscus flower.

We were fortunate enough to meet Linda, a Kuku Yalanji elder, who was collecting freshwater mussels (Velesunio ambiguous) from the river. Linda told us that there are many important Aboriginal places around the village including a burial site that the local historical society is simply not interested in marking. Daintree village seems to be another case of white history told, black history conveniently disappeared.

We are resting up here for a few days, readying ourselves for the final northern leg, up the Broomfield Track to Cooktown, which is going to be quite a challenge from all accounts. We hope you are meeting all your challenges too, Dear Reader, and we thank you, once again, for joining us on our adventure.

Diurnal dreamings and cold mornings (from Gladstone to Rockhampton)

We left Mike’s on the outskirts of Gladstone and rode to Calliope where we lunched near this Georg Baselitz inspired nudist colony.

We were approached at this raucus place by a local journalist and our story was scribbled down beneath the utter screeching. We republished it in our last post. From there we had just enough daylight to ride to a free camp site on the Calliope River.

The gradual emergence of crocodile warning signs is certainly imprinting as we move north, but the locals don’t seem that bothered.

The Bruce Highway was just far enough away from our camp that it wouldn’t disturb our sleep, the ice however did.

So, on the coldest night in Queensland for 100 years, we camped beside this very minor crocodile haven and shivered like all good mammals to generate enough heat in our down to 0 degrees sleeping bags.

For the first time in his life Woody experienced the pain of cold fingers.

We stayed a few days at this beautiful spot. Collecting firewood and keeping the home fire burning was a serious preoccupation of the evenings and mornings. Woody practiced new skills. As the old saying goes – chopping wood keeps you warm twice.

Our second morning was just as cool and we wore our entire wardrobes to keep warm around the morning’s porridge.

While his parents packed up camp and dried out the tents, Woody fished for bream and catfish, which are apparently in the river.

Needless to say we went away fishless from this spot, possibly due to the sudden dive in temperature. We left with other catches though. One significant fortune was a morning of quietness on the Bruce, sadly at others’ expense. The highway had produced yet another stunning truck and car accident just south of us, and as a consequence we had the shoulder and the northbound lane completely to ourselves while the road was closed for several hours. It was enjoyable riding,

and we got dreaming again about an achievable utopia,

that is until a coal train ran paralell and more roadkill woke us from our fantasy.

Another useful edible that we have followed along the roads through many climate regions is prickly pear (Opuntia stricta), and although not currently in fruit it is worth noting the places it keeps cropping up.

Just north of Raglan, after passing four car-struck grass owls (Tyto capensis) within 15 kms,

this striking survivalist,

this overgrown side lane,

and this intriguing weed (does anyone know what it is?) [Thanks for the answer Diane Warman, see comments]

we stopped under the Bruce, which we have started to call the Road of Death. We thought it lacked some structural and spiritual integrity so we performed a little healing ceremony,

and went to investigate the water lillies (Nymphaea gigantea) that we had initially stopped for. According to Lenore Lindsay, ‘Water lilies yield edible pods, seeds, celery-like stalks and tubers‘. We weren’t about to taste these particular ones growing in the toxic runoff from the Road of Death, but these autonomous edibles are just beginning to become common south of Rockhampton, and so we begin to build our knowledge of these age-old popular foods of the Darumbal people.

Rockhampton, more or less, is situated on the latitudinal circle-line of the Tropic of Capricorn, a line that is supposed to signal our departure from temperate to tropical climates.

But life is more nuanced than a line, even if this line is supposedly moving north at a rate of 15m per year. We have been passing through many subtle climate changes over the past eight months, each triggering transformations in the biosphere. A little exhuasted and in need of an extended rest from the road (and our performances upon and beside it) we have stopped here, in this motel on a weekly rate, to recharge and take a look around Rockhampton.

See you in a week!

Entering the southern reaches of crocodile country (our week in Hervey Bay)

For the past week we have made a home in Hervey Bay, mostly living here,

in this abandoned caravan park. No services, no reception, no rules – just forest reclaiming bitumenous civility. We nestled in among the legume suckers, hidden, protected by their simple lifeways.

A public park with a toilet and a free BBQ was situated across the road where only three weeks earlier a four meter long crocodile was sighted, marking our entry into the next significant creature zone. We saw no evidence of crocodiles in this park, although we did find it very social.

The park spilled onto a small beach where we observed many tidal transitions.

For we southern inlanders, becoming calibrated to the tides has been critical when it comes to procuring what we call accountable food. Catching, killing, eating and praising fish consumes a considerable part of our day.

We began by first catching bait fish such as these herring,

or garfish,

which we willingly ate, but also used as bait to catch larger fish.

Then on other occasions we caught nothing but quiet,

reflection,

and the chance to learn from others.

During the week we heard from Rore who posted a great comment on our Autonomous foods of Minjerribah post concerning the uses of Pandanus. When we came across a juvenile of this common coast dweller we got to work.

Rore told us that the base of the Pandanus heart leaves are also edible, so we broke in and discovered hidden starchy treasure.

Although delicious, and like eating the fruit raw, we experienced a mild scratchiness in our throats. This is because Pandanus spp contain oxalates, easily treated by cooking.

Earlier in the week we met Kelly and Wendy, who told us about the free camp site, invited us home for a warm shower, introduced us to their kin dog Bell and cats Leo and Mishka, and on our last night cooked us a beautiful dinner. Thanks Kelly and Wendy!

We also met local bike advocates Michelle and Luke from the Little Blue Tandem – a cafe and bike hire business. Here they are after trying out their shop’s new beach bikes.

They told us of a cycle tourist travelling up the east coast avoiding roads and keeping mostly to the beaches. Wow! What a great concept. Before leaving Hervey Bay Michelle and Luke gave us a beautiful care package of homegrown treats and a hand-knitted scarf. Thanks so much Michelle and Luke!

On our last night we booked into a youth hostel to camp, wash and recharge our electricals. Here we met two Dutch cycle tourers, Michel and Marion, who started their adventure in Melbourne about three months ago. Among other things we exchanged notes on the pleasure of cycle speed and living simply.

Once again we have itchy pedals and are ready for our next leg. But, have we made a decision to keep heading north or begin our descent south? For that answer you’ll have to wait and see.