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Giving, taking and making (from Jingellic to Goulburn)

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.

From Bwgcolman to Djiru country: entering the wet (Cassowary) tropics

We jumped off the ferry from Palm Island late in the afternoon, grabbed some supplies and hightailed it out of Townsville for several kms until we found this little, unofficial, free camp site/ office at Bushland Beach.

We were fairly exhausted after a big learning week on Palm, so we travelled only a handful of kms north the next day too, to Bluewater’s official free camping ground, and where this lovely lady greeted us with tea, cake and a banana for Woody.

Thanks Irene! We set up camp on the sports oval,

and headed across the field to the community hall for the Friday night social to dance with the locals and caravaning nomads. The downside was we ate some really bad tucker that night, and with poor fuel in our tanks we sluggishly rode on to Rollingstone the following day and camped beside the Rollingstone River where turtles,

eels and black bream are in numbers plenty.

It was great to get some decent tucker again, tucker we were actively engaged in procuring,

and rest up for a few days.

Heading north from Rollingstone we came across Pandanus spiralis for the first time. This is why these trees are called screw palms and like pandanus species generally they have edible base leaves and kernels.

We rode back into sugar country as we approached Ingham and found excellent public interest billboards put out by the health ministry of the Artist as Family collective.

We’d heard there was a free camp ground behind the tourist info centre in Ingham, so we stopped in, only to find that bikes carrying small tents weren’t allowed, only RVs with their own toilets. We went inside the centre and politely asked if there was any free camping for non-polluters. Zero, like the rest of us, wasn’t impressed with their answer.

As it happens it was Woody and Patrick’s birthday so we celebrated by having a shower and washing our clothes, booking in for a night’s camp at the town’s carvan park. The next day after a fearless night’s sleep coralled by mobile nursing units and other such caravans we climbed the Hinchinbrook Range,

and entered Cassowary country and the base of the Cape York Pennisula, where these particular fruits grow.

The Beach Calophyllum or ball tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) is called Wiri by the Girramay people, who valued the kernel of the seed for its pain-relieving body oil. Nuts were eaten after a lengthy process of washing and roasting.

We arrived in Cardwell, a town recently rebuilt after Cyclone Yasi, and found another useful species, the Cardwell cabbage (Scaevola taccada).

The Cardwell cabbage, unlike the Camberwell carrot, is a coastal plant and the juice of the ripe fruits were traditionally used to sooth dry or inflamed eyes.

We fished on Cardwell jetty, but the previous days of wind had stirred up the mud in the water making visibility a problem for jagging white bait or silver spinning for trevally.

We free-camped looking out to this little vista, back-dropped by the ancient, mountainous Hinchinbrook Island.

We were nicely tucked in behind the public toilets in a local beach front municipal park, until the floodlights came on and played all night with our circadian rhythms.

We left Cardwell a little tired again, stopping to pick up some supplies from Sue’s Store,

including delicious sun-dried bananas. Sugar, temporarily, had a rival monocrop in this part of Queensland.

Not far out of town we rode into Martin, a cycle tourer from Newcastle in the UK. Hello Martin! Stay safe on the Bruce, our beloved Road of Death.

After another short day we stopped and rested at Bilyana.

This micro-touring is very agreeable, although the Bruce is considerably dull. Next stop Tully, an industrial town framed by the industry that cooks sugar into a more harmful drug than cocaine. We found little to sustain us,

so we headed to the Cassowary Coast where we found immediate sustenence in these Blue Quandongs (Elaeocarpus angustifolius).

They may be reported to have little nutritional value compared with other autonomous foods, but compare them with supermarket fare today and we’re sure they would romp it in. This was the first time we’d come across these beautiful sour, zingy blue fruits and they were pretty good eating. At Mission Beach we also came across scurvy weed (Commelina cyanea) in flower,

blue flax lily (Dianella caerulea),

and this supposed whichetty grub, the larvae of the cossid moth Endoxyla leucomochla. Although according to knowledgeable Matt (see below), it might be the larvae of a rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae). If you know for certain Dear Reader, we’d love to hear from you. In two minds we decided not to experiment with eating this critter.

We did however have no qualms eating the delicious flowers and flower buds of the Cotton Tree (Hibiscus tilliaceus),

one of us gobbling them up with great gusto.

These beautiful flowers turn into these beautiful fruits and the leaves were traditionally used to make an infusion to treat wounds and ulcers.

We camped at Mission Beach in the council run caravan park, and met this beautiful lady, who bestowed on us gifts of homemade sauerkraut, yoghurt and tumeric she had grown at her local community garden and had ground herself.

Thanks Claire! We left the park topped up on fermented probiotics and headed north a few kms to do some fishing at Clump Point jetty, where we met this awesome couple:

Lavina and Hola. Lavina is an elder on council of the Djiru tribe, a descendant of the Clump Mountain people of Mission Beach. Hola, originally from Tonga, is her man. We fished with these two on the jetty on several afternoons,

and talked about raising children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous sovreignty and the ethics of killing animals, which to all of us concerned is nothing to do with sport. We asked Lavina’s permission to camp on her country, and she warmly agreed. We found a beautiful spot just north of the jetty on Narragon Beach.

We stayed a week, swimming in the fresh water coming into the sea,

washing there (using no soaps or detergents),

and fishing on the jetty where we caught yellow-fin trevally,

queenfish, jewfish and herring.

Each day we cooked fish on a small beach fire.

While in Djiru country we also came across a number of Great Morinda (Morinda citrifolia) trees, some with nearly ripe fruits or cheeses. When ripe the fruits apparently turn almost translucent white, smell like rancid cheese and can be eaten raw or cooked.

And we met many beautiful peeps as we settled in to this paradise where rainforest meets the reef, such as this sweet family:

Meet (from left) Matt, Eli, Jill and Nina. Nina, Jill’s sister, has co-written a local text on Indigenous foods and medicines in the area. We hope to get hold of a copy before we leave. 
And to top off a wonderful stay we reunited with the awesome Tom Dean, our fellow cycle-touring mate originally from cold Melbourne but equally comfortable up a coconut tree. 

This is our third hook-up with Tom and each time our little tribe has loved his company.

We have enjoyed your fine company too, Dear Reader and hope to share the next leg of our journey with you as it comes to pass. 

Autonomous foods of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island)

One rule he [Oodgeroo’s father] told us we must strictly obey. When we went hunting, we must understand that our weapons were to be used only for the gathering of food. We must never use them for the sake of killing. This is in fact one of the strictest laws of the Aborigine, and no excuse is accepted for abusing it. –– Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Minjerribah elder)

We have had a wonderful week and more on Minjerribah, sampling Quandamooka bush tucker and being the biological (not chemical) controls of more newly naturalised autonomous foods (agricultural weeds, etc.), while hiding out in the bush.

It is early winter on the island and at this time of year, like home in cold highlands Victoria, chickweed (Stellaria media) commonly appears, packed with vitamin C at a time when it is most needed. Clover is also pictured below and is also edible in salads; the flowers used for tea.

And while chickweed is just appearing we foraged the last of the season’s apple guavas (Psidium guajava),

and midjim (Austromyrtus dulcis) berries.

Even though none of the delicious red sweet-salty fruits of pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) were about, some flowers were present,

and biting the base of these flowers, where the fruits will later form, can offer some small delight.

Like home, black nightshade (Solanum nigram) berries enjoy the cooler weather, a favourite of Woody’s on the island.

And we tried beach flax lily (Dianella congesta) berries and weren’t unimpressed, even though the Quandamooka people apparently didn’t eat this food.

We cooked fish with Indigenous spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes),

and succulent purslane (Portulaca oleracea), otherwise known as pigweed.

And we tried chewing the ripe fruits of Pandanus (P. tectorius),

at first raw, which irritated our throats, then roasted on coals, with wave-washed-in pilchards (Sardinops neopilchardus).

We sucked the sweetness out of the pandanus kernels after they were roasted for about 15 minutes. Although a modest pleasure, we think there must be a better technique to eating this food and getting more from it. If anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Fish we speared included grey mowrang (Nemadactylus douglasii) and a number of sand whiting (Sillago ciliata),

and fish we caught by rod and line also included sand whiting and a new one for us, swallowtail dart (Trachinotus coppingeri). A surprising delicacy, easy to catch, tasting even better than the whiting, which is an excellent eating fish as well.

We met Megan from Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation and she generously passed on the knowledge required for eugarie or pipi (Plebidonax deltoides) gathering and cooking. We walked for a few kilometres down Main Beach with our dandelion root foraging tool, setting off an hour before low tide. Then suddenly,

small mounds began appearing,

and lo and behold, eugaries!

We harvested enough for lunch and some for the evening’s fishing.

Megan told us the best way to cook them was straight on the coals of a small campfire. This really was a Minjerribah treat.

Other autonomous edibles we foraged on the island included common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus),

wandering jew (Commelina diffusa),

and cobbler’s peg (Bidens pilosa), otherwise known as farmer’s friend. Eating the leaves raw provides a good source of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin C, chlorophyll and magnesium.

We’ll be sad to leave this beautiful island, but we’ll take with us many delightful experiences.