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A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (fifth excerpt – Blue Wren & Magpie)

November 13
Patrick

Each day begins with cleaning out the fire box before I set and light the fire. It is still too cold in the mornings to move this ritual to the outdoor kitchen, and use the brick rocket stove I’ve built there.

Each week I sift the potash from the charcoal, pound the black char into finer lumps, and soak it in urine to activate this forever carbon before it goes onto the garden or back into the forest. The high nitrogen content of the urine is absorbed by the char so when it is put into a soil ecology the nitrogen is then slowly released for plants to take up. If char is broadcast without being activated it will draw up nitrogen from the soil and may starve plants of it.

Similarly, I use the fine potash in the perennial parts of the garden and in the forest. Broadcasting these materials becomes a ritual of gratitude, a ritual of return for all the gifts that flow from these environments.

In Aboriginal burning methods it is ash that is desired, not coals. The potash – the potassium – renews the ecology, helps to grow more life. If coals are produced during a burn then the fire is too hot and can stunt growth. The Indigenous craft of land management with fire to grow abundance while reducing fuel load, requires relationship beyond the human and technological. Fire crafting thus takes place in mythological space and time, integrating the beyond-human wisdoms of Mother Country and Father Fire.

I’ve come to the forest to cut wood for the men’s gathering and brought my chainsaw, my largest wheelbarrow, a small digging trowel and a metal bucket filled with sifted potash.

Before I cut the fallen wood I go through the forest and flick potash from my trowel until my bucket is empty. Fine ash covers the forest and my clothes.

With a barrow of wood cut I push the heavy load to the fire circle. There is sometimes a dread I carry leading up to a gathering. It stems from me fearing I won’t be in a goodly place to facilitate the night, to set the fire and the intention for the gathering, to listen to the forest, to open to Mother Country, to hear the men who come to share and enter into our culturally specific mythos.

In the lead up to this gathering I have spent time sitting and reflecting and making little rituals throughout the day. Superb fairy wrens are present as I light the fire in the late afternoon, and this brings joy. Blue Wren is the name this Country has given me.

 

November 16
Meg

A number of years ago I got up early to walk around lake Daylesford. It was just after dawn and I was walking down a wallaby track through the forest when I saw a magpie on the path just ahead of me. I stopped and she stopped. I want to say we watched each other, but it was more than that. I am going to use the word beheld.

I felt like the magpie and I had known one another forever, that our ancestors had known each other forever. Even though my people are newcomers to this land, I was thinking and knowing this recognition beyond time. It was after that encounter that I started thanking the ancestors of the magpies each time I gave an honouring of Country at a gathering.

The other day I bent down to snuffle our neighbour’s new puppy, Maggie, when she licked my cheek then scratched my nose with her paw and it started bleeding. I grabbed some plantain from where I knew it was growing near our quince tree, chewed it up and stuck it on my nose.

The scratch has been healing well. Today I am in the bathroom putting some of my homemade calendula oil on it and I turn side on in the mirror. I was teased at school about my pointy nose and chin and how one day they were going to join up. I never took to heart the teasing – I knew they were probably right.

Looking at myself in the mirror today I realise for the first time my features are a remnant from my past. That my pointy chin and pointy nose used to be a beak.

 

Forest & Free: rebuilding the village from the forest in – our 2023 programs for kids

Forest & Free is a place of fun, adventure, challenge, and a place of risk for 8-12 year olds in Djaara Mother Country. The kind of activities the kids will experience are fire making and cooking, bush walking and foraging, fishing and wild swimming, safe knife use and simple tool making, regenerative farming and animal husbandry, deep listening and storytelling, tree climbing and shelter building, embodying ancestral lifeways and learning ecological knowledges and awareness, listening to one another and listening to Country.

There are few places left where kids can use knives, climb trees, navigate forests full of old mine shafts, light fires and generally get scratched up and stung by being participants of life. It is in this spirit that we invite children to attend Forest & Free and for them to experience a healthy interrelationship between safety and risk.

In allowing children to attend Forest & Free, parents agree to sharing the risk with us and with their children. The risk is therefore spread three-ways – we as the facilitators, the parents, and the children – and is distributed this way to build personal responsibility and to avoid blaming, shaming and the possibility of closing down this community resource.

Life happens, and we don’t believe this is a good enough reason to submit to the cult of safetyism, which is a mental virus that has bloomed from institutions of the most industrialised countries.

We are not about setting challenges that are too great for the children, and we don’t encourage an overtly competitive or risk-taking culture, rather we encourage children to meet new challenges and learn from others around them, and the forest.

Forest & Free is deep listening, embodying resilience, meeting challenges, learning skills and having fun. The broader culture, up until recently, used to see breaking a bone, receiving stitches, getting lost, being burnt by fire, etc as a rite of passage for young people – necessary for the development of children at this age.

While we don’t wish any of these things on any child, and we explain each skill, challenge, game or wild food in terms of the risks and benefits involved, adversity is the underlying, ever present flip side of enabling such learning and therefore such growth.

As adults we understand that some of our greatest learnings come through discomfort, and it’s how we respond to these situations that really matters in building resilience and bouncebackability.

In 2023 we are running 8 full-day paid events ($20 per child for the day, 10am – 4pm). These dates are either in school holidays or land on public holidays and will be open to not-schooled and schooled kids.

We also run a weekly full-day program for not-schooled kids every Monday from 10am – 4pm. These sessions are based on a gift exchange. If you have surplus homegrown or home-made food, hand-me-down clothes etc, they are gifts we value. When there is abundance let it flow. When there’s not we understand.

Children are required to come with water bottle, healthy lunch and snacks, a sun hat, clothing appropriate to the weather, a pocket knife, and a sense of adventure.

We are looking forward to an exciting year of forest play, learning, exploration and celebration of life. We begin each event with a listening circle so as we can all hear where each of us is at. This helps build compassion and bonds the group, while practicing deep listening.

If you are interested to learn more about Forest & Free, or are thinking of starting up a forest group in your own neck of the woods, please get in touch. Similarly if you know of other bush schools in your area or have experience as a participant in another community bush school, please let us know in the comments. We value your stories and your thoughts.

Signing off for now with blackberry scratches on our shins, and bidgee widgee burrs in our feathers,

Patrick and Meg (Blue Wren and Magpie)

Artist as extended family: our year with Jeremy Yau

As you might already know, Jeremy lived with us for the past year, learning and teaching, loving and sharing. This was his house, which we built with him and dubbed The Yause. And this is his story while living at Tree Elbow, told through our eyes and a shared catalogue of pics.

Jeremy arrived in early 2017 and immediately got involved in our everyday processes of living with baskets of skills and knowledges and very little money. He came for a week as a SWAP, and he stayed a year.

From different corners of the world, Connor and Marta had also just recently arrived at Tree Elbow, where they fell in love and (later) got hitched. With all three on deck we had a very productive time.

Food is big at Tree Elbow. It is life, liberty, health, ecology and energy. Jeremy soon understood how serious we take food and energy resources; how these often taken for granted things equate exactly to how each of us touch the earth.

Growing, preserving, fermenting, storing and cooking food became part of Jeremy’s day to day. But this was not entirely new to him. Before coming to Tree Elbow he’d been an intern at Milkwood Farm, completed a horticulture certificate and a PDC, he’d volunteered as a community gardener, WWOOFed at various places and established a mini food forest at his parent’s house in Sydney.

With so many staying at Tree Elbow, we needed more accommodation. Patrick offered to give Jeremy an informal building apprenticeship like he had with James and Zeph the year before.

The building had to go up fast, but we’d already saved materials from the local skip bins and tip.

Materials were also gifted and found online. Jeremy learnt most of the processes of building right through to putting ends and pops in the reclaimed spouting.

With the colder weather approaching, we needed to get the Yause, as Meg auspiciously named it, completed.

And we also had to get the glasshouse started.

It was a busy time, and a time of great learnings and hard yakka.

And while we were harvesting food, filling the cellar, building the Yause and the glasshouse, we also had to gather firewood for the winter from forests on the edge of town that are prone to fuel-reduction burns,

and waste wood material from a nearby mill for the humanure system.

We were all fairly exhausted by the end of Autumn, and the winter promised gentler labours. Jeremy used his horticulture skills to graft medlar scions onto hawthorn in the nearby commons.

He started carving things, such as this spoon, which he ate most of his meals with.

He learned new skills and passed them on. Woody was an eager student.

Jeremy made this small biochar furnace following our design and material salvaged trips to the tip. It works a treat!

Being an accomplished welder Jeremy made up these lugs for our back bike wheels at the local Men’s Shed so we can hitch our trailers to them.

He made this little low-tech rocket stove, modelled on designs from David Holmgren’s forthcoming book.

Jeremy starred in the trailer for that forthcoming book. The trailer was produced by Patrick and Anthony Petrucci.

Jeremy also starred in his own video showing the forge he made with scrap material from the tip, while at Tree Elbow. Anthony made the video for him in exchange for bike services Jeremy did on Ant’s family’s bikes. Participating in the extensive gift economy that exists locally was a revelation for Jeremy, and one he took to wholeheartedly.

One of the many things Woody and Jeremy liked to do was make a ‘road train’ (with the lugs) and head up to the skatepark for some wheelie good times.

Jeremy also taught Woody how to ride a flaming scooter. Hell yeah!

Jeremy also retrofitted old parts from the tip to make a new bike seat for Woody on the back of Meg’s bike.

Over the year we became increasingly impressed with his technical skills.

Making all manners of things with materials that were either wild harvested or came from the tip. Most of these items he gave to people as gifts.

He made a coat rack for the Yause.

As it got colder he learnt from us how to knit with homemade needles made from hawthorn. This little scarf didn’t come off him between the months of June and September.

He made a more significant rocket stove at the men’s shed.

He learned to tan hides and make other useful things,

assisting at workshops with his friend Josh from the Bush Tannery.

Earlier in the year he attended Claire Dunn‘s natural fire-making workshop with Zeph and Connor,

and with these two and Patrick walked for three days along the Goldfields track

sleeping rough and eating bush foods along the way.

Jeremy became a regular in the community, often seen flashing around on his bike through the town’s streets.

and regularly attending the monthly working bees at the community garden.

By the last month of the year he’d turned out just as every bit odd as everyone else around here. An anthropologist friend calls Daylesford the town of black sheep. Yay for black sheep!

We did a lot of celebrating life this year, and we loved Jeremy’s spirit, joining in and relishing the looseness.

We finished the year with strut.
We’re going to miss you Jeremy Yau, and all the fun things we did together.

We’re going to miss you in a really big way.

Thank you for what you brought to Tree Elbow, Jeremy, and for what you brought to our community. You are always welcome here. With much love,

Artist as Family

Walking for Food

Artist as Family plan to walk for five days to Melbourne from our home in Central Victoria and we wish to do this respectfully acknowledging the elders and traditional communities of the country through which we travel.

We are a carless family and understand how ecological knowledges are foregrounded when technologies are backgrounded. This is our first walk to Melbourne which takes only an hour and a half by car.

We aim to leave Daylesford on March 31 and be at Point Cook or thereabouts on April 5. We aim to walk out from our home in Daylesford in Jaara country through the Wombat Forest, across the Lerderderg State Park, dropping down East of Bacchus Marsh before heading on to Port Phillip Bay.

We will take as little food and equipment as possible and put our foraging/walking/camping knowledges to the test.

Artist as Family proposed walk April 2013

The walk is also to celebrate the completion of Patrick’s manuscript, ‘Walking for Food: Regaining Permapoesis’. His book and our walk to Melbourne both attempt to raise issues around food and energy sustainability and environmental ethics. The book heavily quotes Aboriginal voices and sensibilities relating to the respectful treatment of country. This book is the result of three and a half years doctoral research based on our family and community’s transition to local food and energy resources. Patrick has conducted the research in our home community of Daylesford and through the University of Western Sydney.

On the afternoon of April 5 Patrick will give a talk at The Real Through Line poetry symposium at RMIT, a free event open to the public.