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Keeping it mostly hillbilly with a brush of face powder in Sydney Town (Goulburn to Katoomba)

We hung around Goulburn until the evening, cooked dinner in the town’s central park,

before boarding a quiet, off-peak metro train where our big bikes would be less in the way and Zero less likely to be discovered. Hello little patient dog under there.

We haven’t been so hardcore on this book tour. If there’s the prospect of a day of riding beside heavy traffic and there’s a train line running near to our route, the train option has been fair game. While we climbed up to Marulan, Meg fed Woody by standing on her helmet. He was dead tired. So were we.

We arrived in Bundanoon and made camp in the dark, waking to this little idyllic park environment. Oh sleep, you magical medicine.

We headed to our favourite Bundanoon bike cafe,

and after reaquainting ourselves with the friendly crew there, Woody found a little scooter, dumped in some bushes. We got to work to make it a going concern again.

Not surprising, wheels have always fascinated our youngest, as they have our eldest. Back at home Zeph has become a madkeen downhill mountain biker and stunt dude.

Patrick’s brother, Sam, rode out to Bundanoon to meet us and we all rode into Moss Vale and unpacked our gear before the afternoon book event at The Moose Hub in Bowral. Our talk there was part of the Southern Highlands Green Drinks, where various different green groups merge once a month and share their different projects and approaches. Thanks for snapping some shots Uncle Sam!

Woody thought all his Chanukahs had come at once when our delightful host Nicole brought out the fruit spread. Thanks Nicole!

It was a short visit to the Southern Highlands. We had a full plate of things in Sydney to get to, including guerilla camping at a fine little harbour free camp (surrounded by billion dollar dog box apartments and poisoned harbour fish), picnicing with the Milkwood crew and their lovely garden produce which included fennel root, carrots, zuccinini, saw-leaf corriander, parsley, basil and capsicum all wrapped up in reusable beeswax cloths,

and visiting Lucas, John and Diego at Big Fag Press.

Diego Bonetto is a consumate communicator. Above he is showing off the Big Fag printing press to some local punters, below he sings the virtues of the plants that plant themselves.

Diego invited us to collaborate on a walk with him, and about 20 kindred spirits joined us along the Cooks River.

Wow, it still amazes us how much food can be found growing on a municiple lawn. After we finished our walk and cooked up a weedy horta dish for everyone to try, a group of landcare volunteers come in with plastic bags and trampled all over the precious sandstone ecology pulling out weeds. It was a remarkable spectacle of nativist ideology in action where an environment is stripped of the plants holding soil and sand from ending up as sediment pollution in the river.

We left this tragic expression of eco-purity and rode on a little further to hook up with the Bicycle Garden: a group of volunteers that regularly sets up a pop-up bicycle repair station in public areas to teach people to fix their own bikes. What an awesome social collective! We had lunch with these generous and knowledgeable folk,

before heading to SNO where Patrick spoke about his and Artist as Family‘s practice of permapoesis.

Then it was TV time. So many diverse communities. We were lightly powdered and went on the record at Channel 9 and Channel 7. We had to be on set at the Today Show at 7am, luckily Patrick’s sister Hen and her family live just around the corner making our early morning tent pack-up and ride a breeze. Thanks Hen and Ant and girls!

Our Sydney book event occurred at the delightful Florilegium book shop, owned and operated by the charming plant lover Gil, who generously loaded us up with books after our talk, read and Q&A.

It was a media circus in Sydney. An excerpt from one of Meg’s chapters was published in the summer issue of Slow Magazine. The theme for this bumper issue is resilience.

After Sydney it was rest we needed to pursue, so we hopped a train to Katoomba and headed for our infamous camp site where on the last trip we were visited by the Federal Police. The story appears in The Art of Free Travel.

Just a wee walk down from the camp is this little hidden billabong, a source of great pleasure and restoration.

This afternoon we speak at Gleebooks in Blackheath and then more rest and riding and visiting old and new friends until the new year and we point our two-wheeled caravans south and coastal. We wish you much rest in the coming weeks, Dear Reader, whether you’re a hillbilly, city-dweller, coast rider or other.

The family leg (Willoughby to Moss Vale via Wilberforce)

The morning we packed up to leave Patrick’s sister’s home in the leafy northern burbs of Sydney,

the Sydney Morning Herald was awash with letters referring to a particular article.

The content of the article and its subsequent letters were not at all news to us, however seeing this content published in a major newspaper was. Australia has been smug about energy for decades; our odious car culture is built upon it. Power to the people without petroleum seemed like the right byline to head out on our bikes again, only we didn’t ride far before, for the second time in the year, we put Zero in a box and boarded a train.

Breaking laws has been a big part of our trip. As long as no one gets hurts or anything is damaged we think a law is open for interpretative experimentation. Zero would certainly be happier if he didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of being disappeared from view. Sorry Zero! But we’ll have to wait for Sydney’s cars to be out of petrol before we attempt to cycle out of this particular city.

Our train took us south over the Harbour Bridge, west towards the foothills of the Blue Mountains and then north to Windsor station. North you ask? Yes, briefly. We were asked to give a talk at Permaculture Sydney West and to stay with Danielle Wheeler, who is actively involved with PSW, and her family in Wilberforce.

We had stayed with Danielle and Mark, their son Patrick and pooch Rory on the way up about ten months earlier and it was a joy to visit them again. But we couldn’t linger, our Patrick’s mum’s birthday was approaching and we wanted to be in the Southern Highlands to celebrate it with her.

On the way out of Wilberforce we came across swathes of roadside balloon vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) and while there is much ethnobotanical information on its sister plant Cardiospermum halicacabum, which is also called balloon vine (so confusing), there are no uses or benefits listed online for C. grandiflorum. We think the young leaves could make a good cooked vegetable,

and the seeds could be used medicinally as is the case with C. halicacabum, but we need to do some more research. Perhaps our friend Diego Bonetto knows?

Back in Danielle’s garden another balloon-like-flower plant, the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruvians), grows without care,

producing delicious fruits which we got to sample.

And further back on Palm Island (in August) we found native or wild gooseberry (Physalis angulata), also called (rather confusingly) balloon cherry and is related to, but not to be confused with, Cape gooseberry.

After a day’s ride we arrived in Luddenham and pitched our tents near the Showies (once called Carnies) at the show ground and cooked some grub.

The next morning we were keen to get an early start so we skipped on cooking porridge, packed up the tents and headed up the road to the service station to buy some juice to put on our oats, ginger, raisins and chia seed breakfast of champions.

As we slowly climbed to the cool Southern Highlands, autonomous stone fruits began to appear.

As did black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), which we rate as one of the most adaptable species in Australia following us all the way from cold Daylesford to Cape York and back again.

Its leaf and fruit shape seem to vary from soil to soil, region to region, but as far as we’re aware it’s the same species. We harvested the following plant on North Stradbroke Island in May. You can see the leaf here is finer and less hairy than in the colder climates.

Thirty kms north of Camden the tandem’s front tyre burst a hole and Patrick, Zeph and Zero came to a dramatic stop. We had absent-mindedly left our spare tyres in Sydney (under the cousin’s mulberry tree) and so we had to draw on our wits to get us out of this dilemma. We went foraging for old rubber material, found an old truck tyre, fashioned a piece to fit, repaired the tube, which had also burst, and hobbled on to Camden.

Thanks for the help and the generous discount Camden Cycles.

On the way to Picton we passed unintentionally planted fat hen or lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album),

old wild rose hips (Rosa canina),

and new shoots of roadside wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), obviously thriving on all the Roundup its been getting.

We arrived in the town with the rain and observed all of civility’s industrial pollutants (mainly car detergents) being washed from the road into the little nameless creek that runs under the main drag,

before being snapped by the local press.

In almost 12 months on the road, living mostly outdoors, this was one of only a handful of days in which we got a soaking. We had stayed in Picton on the way up and camped on the edge of the botanical gardens where the friendly gardeners had encouraged us. This time we spoiled ourselves with a dry room at the George IV hotel. Again we had to smuggle Zero, this time through the window, put him on his bedding and leave early the next day without a trace of dog hair or scent.

It is about 150 kms from Wilberforce to Moss Vale where we were heading to visit Patrick’s parents. From Picton we needed to climb 60 kms or so to reach our destination. Along the way we discovered salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) in flower and therefore too late to harvest as their roots become too woody to eat after buds appear.

But when we got to cooler Bowral we found some plants that were harvestable,

and we took them back to Patrick’s folks’ place where we cleaned and grated the roots and served up our delicious find.

Since our time in the Daintree, we had been carrying a small box of Daintree tea to bring back for Patrick’s mum. It was a somewhat rough and ready birthday gift having just survived the wreckage of life inside one of our panniers. But we found some used wrapping paper, Patrick got out his watercolours,

and we celebrated Nana Jones’ birthday with rich food and happy hearts.

Patrick’s brother’s family also live in Moss Vale and they had previously invited us to design and build them a chicken area. The arrangement that suited everyone was to be part gift economy, part family love, part money in the coffers. The bikes were overdue for a service and we booked them into Cycliste for the week we were to be in Mossy building. For any locals to this region, this was probably the best service we’ve had and we can highly recommend them. Thanks Marika and Stuart!

Before we began work Patrick mused on what makes happy chooks in order to get us all in the right frame of mind to begin work.

Ideally chooks are happiest and healthiest free-ranging but they also need protection from foxes and other creatures (pythons up north). We started out by marking the area we were to fence with kitchen string and flour,

and before going to the local hardware we first visited the local tip to see what we could recycle.

We found recycled wire, a small hutch that the Moss Vale Joneses could turn into a portable chook weeder, and a small homebuilt wheelbarrow for the cousins, Fred and Henry, and Woody to use while on site.

We also found a water tank we could install for the chicken’s water supply.

The only thing we had to buy new were posts, screws, nails and self tapping stirrups. No need for concrete! The rest of the material Patrick’s brother, Sam, had previously collected and stored near the site, awaiting our arrival.

We got to it. Zeph painting posts with old primer paint, Patrick doing the carpentry work, Meg documenting the process and bringing refreshments and Woody standing ready with his barrow to collect any off cuts.

We needed more wire so Uncle Sam and Zeph attacked the back fence and untangled some from various roots, shoots and leaves.

We built a gate, put flag stones under it (for fox proofing) and started work on the nesting boxes and coop.

We cut out privot from the garden and used branches as roosting limbs.

We stole some insulation from the roof in the main house,

and lined the walls, which will aid in extending the laying season.

Below where the chickens will roost is a slatted floor which enables easy scraping out of precious poo. A ramp helps the chooks up, especially young chicks who need the extra assistance. We built a small wall to come down in front of the roosting perches to block wind, although this opening is facing east and gets the least amount of weather. Making this area dark is appealing for laying hens but will also work to deter any egg thieving crows, who tend to avoid small dark areas. Uncle Sam still has to put on spouting and hook up the roof catchment to the water tank.

Outside the coop the nesting boxes can be accessed for quick egg retrieval. Above these boxes a ‘floppy top’ (chicken wire that flops about on top of a fence) has been installed to put off foxes jumping over it.

We have had such a lovely stay with family. Patrick’s parents (Nana and Papa) and Uncle Sam and Aunty Jacqui and Freddy and Henry have all spoiled us with good food and company for a week. Thank you all so very much! We love you all to pieces.
Tomorrow we once again board our bikes and head to Kiama to stay with the Milkwood Permaculture crew who have organised for us to give a free talk about our adventuring this coming Tuesday, November 18. If you live nearby, please come along at 6pm to the Little Blowhole Café (4 Tingira Crescent Kiama) to say g’day.
Until next time, ride safe and may we all have clear skies and tailwinds.
AaF xx

Highland hopping; blackberries and carp

Having set up the tents and locked up the bikes we have walked into town to see what purchasable foods are on offer. Towns like Wallacia, we’re discovering, generally sell all kinds of the wrong sort of things. It is another hot day and the traffic tries to outcompete the male cicadas, whose shrill cacophony reaches fever pitch in the heat of the day. We walk back to our river hideaway with unloved bread, oats, juice and some tinned corn to help tempt fish onto the end of our line. We dwell on the magic of free camping, little or no amenities, just tree shade and river water and a nearby tap for drinking. We swim in the lovely cool water and some who come down to fish tell us they are horrified we are swimming in that dirty muck.

As we travel from state to state we’re finding many Australians are frightened by unsterilised environments and approach such autonomous places with contempt and dread. If we reply to such a phobia at all it is with something along the lines of: fish guts and duck poo are prefered friends over a cocktail of municiple-sanctioned corporate chemicals, or maybe something a little less wordy. We rarely if ever get sick. In fact it seems that the rougher we live the healthier we feel, provided we are eating well. Up in town we saw visions and heard stories of unwellness and hospitalisation, my father’s gone back in for treatment, the cancer has come back, said one obese woman. What sort of society allows foods that make people so unwell? While we’ll occasionally indulge in hot chips and industrial bread if there is nothing else, there is no better antidote to such impoverishment than the autonomous foods we are finding along the way. Foods such as blackberries (Rubus),

which, like plums, apples, spinach and grapes don’t need ad men to persuade us to eat them and are unparalelled sources of bioflavonoids and rich in Vitamin C. Like raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves make a great bush tea and are high in iron, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins. Of course, we have to be careful with these generous autonomous foods because they too are often treated by councils on ideological grounds, which big chemical companies profit from. We always check the leaves and surrounding vegetation first to ensure they haven’t been sprayed. Straight off the plant there is nothing quite like this free, sweet medicinal treat. Well, perhaps except for this gorgeous plant.

Echinacea (Asteraceae), according to Medical News Today, is used to treat acid indigestion, chronic fatigue syndrome, diphtheria, dizziness, genital herpes, gum disease, malaria, migraines, pain, snake bites, rheumatism, septicemia and bloodstream infections, streptococcus infections, syphilis, the flu, tonsillitis, typhoid, urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. We simply dry the flower heads and make a restorative tea with them. Although various university conducted studies have found varying results regarding the benefits of Echinacea, most likely none of them observe what other foods are being used in combination. If you try to throw in a delicate plant medicine on top of a diet of industrialised food the results will most likely be poor. Similarly, finding the right place to camp means getting proper rest from the intensity of bike touring, which is another type of medicine based on our wits not our wallets. On leaving Moss Vale, following the awesome bike track along the Wingecarribee River to Burradoo where the autonomous roadside apples were almost ripe to pluck,

we joined a continuous stream of bike-unfriendly traffic from Bowral to Mittagong before we were able to relax in apple orchard country at Yerrinbool and join the Old Hume Highway. This was the first bike touring leg of our trip that included Zeph, who came to join us in Moss Vale at Xmas. So with our full tribe of five beings on two bikes, we set off for Thirlmere Lakes National Park, 52 km away.

In order to have the freedom to live well and experience the profound fullness of this country we are having to write our own laws, which we believe are closer to Aboriginal sensibilities than European legalities. There are notices and rules everywhere, no doubt made for a growing number of dickheads that refuse to respect the land and its diverse critters and ecologies. Thirlmere Lakes does not accept dogs, camping, people after dark and in some places even the innocent bicycle is banned. With only our bikes to hide from rangers in the bracken understory we set up camp as the mozzies descended.

While in the park we kept Zero on a lead, not because his poo is polluting (he doesn’t eat canned or commercial dog biscuits and we bury all his organic wastes, and ours for that matter), but because there are signs around the park telling us 1080 poison bait has been put about. Zero may chase away but never catches birds such as this swamp hen perching out of harm’s way,

Rabbits are Zero’s preferred game, although he’s not much good at hunting them. So, in such a location, we devise that his potential to negatively impact the ecology is extremely low. Three thoughts emerged while we were at Thirlmere Lakes. Firstly, there should be exemptions for walkers and cyclists who wish to camp in all National Parks. There must be rewards for those who travel lightly in this day and age. Secondly, the use of 1080 is the very opposite of an environmental solution because the entire food chain is affected, not just the feral predators at the top. Once again governments are giving damaging chemical companies power by buying these non-solutions. Thirdly, it is not littering, we reflected as we picked up other peoples’ rubbish in the park or came across dumped waste,

that is the problem. All species litter. It is only now what humans leave behind that is damaging. To mitigate toxicity in our environments, business should be taxed heavily on all products they produce deemed to cause a negative effect by what is left of independent science. These would include such things as fast food and supermarket packaging, pesticides, plastics, petroleum products and poisonous baits, etc. When we emerged from our lake hideaway in the morning we were greeted by a happy group who go by the name of the Picton Puffers,

who offered us hot drinks, apple strudel and home-grown peaches. One enlightened soul from this gang of walkers and runners sang the praises of Sweden, who have laws that state that land owners must give one night’s access of a patch of ground on which travellers can camp. After a little research we discovered that this universal ethic is called Freedom to roam, and in Sweden is specifically called allemansrätten (the everyman’s right). Despite our increasingly privatised country, Australia is large enough geographically and still small enough in population to devise and implement our own rules for respectful, non-damaging and frugal travel. But alas, there are forces about that are against this ancient will-to-roam, as recently articulated by fellow camper, Bill Garner in The Age. We left the Puffers at Thirlemere Lakes, travelled on to Picton and camped beside a small creek that ran beside the town’s botanic gardens. We were told by the friendly council gardeners (who knew we were camping illegally and who encouraged our adventures) that the creek was inhabited by giant eels.

We didn’t come across any eels though there were plenty of ducks, prompting us to explain to the younger amongst us that semi-domesticated birds in a park are not fair game for food. We have never caught eels in Australia, although Meg caught and ate some in New Zealand many moons ago. They are something on our long list of autonomous meats we wish to hunt.

Another free meat that none of us have caught or consumed is carp, which is considered an environmental menace. So when we put up camp near the banks of the Nepean River near Wallacia

and set about fishing for Bass with surface lures, we very unexpectedly and unconventionally landed a good sized bottom-feeding carp. The young local boy who actually caught the fish was about to throw it back (after having his photo taken holding it) when Zeph asked whether we could have it. We knew carp would be good eating, despite the bad press it has in Australia, and after a little online research found that carp need to be eaten straight away or put on ice because as its body temperature rises it releases histamines that give the meat a muddy flavour. We did neither of these things, instead hanging the meat in night shade while we slept

and cooking it for breakfast the following day in olive oil we’d bought in Sutton Forest, organic garden-grown garlic we’d bought in Tumut and roadside toms we bought in Warregamba.

The result was delicious and we honoured this life by devouring every skerick of its wonderfully edible self as participants of the web of ecological life.

In order to move towards an ecological culture we need to become the biological controls, participatory ecologists (as our sensible friend Russell Edwards would say) and ecological playmakers (as we would say) that industrial culture has all but perverted in its short life. We need to reinstate a non-waste, non polluting sensibility in everyt