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Yarramundi to Wisemans

We were only going to spend a night or two at Yarramundi Reserve, but it was difficult to leave, partly because of the swimming, 

and partly because of the local people. This is Kate, a community nurse who walks her dogs at Yarramundi, (which is named after the respected Indigenous doctor sometimes referred to as Yellomundee). Each morning we would greet Kate on the beach, and one morning she brought us a box of chocolates. Thanks Kate!

While camped at Yarramundi we rode into Richmond and found a shop that sold Australian organic produce in bulk. We met the owners, Theresa and Yves,

who generously invited us to visit their home garden to pick as many white figs as we wished.

Edible fruiting figs (Ficus carica) belong to the mulberry family (Moraceae). They contain fiber, anti-oxidants and minerals including potassium, manganese, calcium, copper, selenium, iron and zinc. They also contain B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, niacin, pyridoxine and pantothenic acid. These vitamins help metabolise proteins, carbohydrates and fats. What a blessing from the gods.

We also discovered a considerable Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) patch in Theresa and Yves’ backyard. This is a fruit we’ve read was good eating in Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland’s fantastic The Weed Forager’s Handbook, but had never tried it.

We made the stupid mistake of handling the fruit without first rubbing off the fine prickles. Ouch! So after tweezing them out we cut the fruit in situ and scooped out some watery flesh to try. It was delicious; a combination of pomegranate and watermelon, and another species to add to our list of desirable drought-hardy weeds.

Theresa also gave us the number of Danielle Wheeler, a local permaculture teacher, Greens candidate and home-schooling mum. Zeph has been a little wanting of his own peers of late and Theresa told us that Danielle and her partner Mark have a boy slightly older than him. G’day Patrick! We organised a play for the boys at Yarramundi Reserve where they swam, played with a small dinghy (we’d found and repaired) and cooked campfire damper.

While the boys played we adults talked all things weeds, plant sucession, permaculture, raising boys and home-educating.

We asked Danielle about a few local weeds that we haven’t seen before, such as this plant,

the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis). Traditionally castor oil has been used as a remedy for constipation and child birthing, although more recently as a non-freezing lubricant for machinery. But beware, the seeds from which the relatively harmless oil is made can be fatal. The seeds bear the potent toxin riciniii that if ingested will kill the ribosomes of your cells. Eating only a few could be fatal!

This knowledge reminds us just how important it is to be vigilant when there are little foragers around who are enthusiastic experimenters.

We finally left our Yarramundi utopia,

and headed for Wilberforce, passing numerous turf farms that were mining fertile river flats and river water to grow ridiculously unsustainable and unnecessary lawn product.

Danielle, Mark and Patrick had invited us to camp in their permie garden at Wilberforce and do some washing.

So we returned their kind hospitality with a blogging lesson. Danielle cooked us some beautiful meals and even though Zeph and Patrick hit it off, Patrick and Woody also got along.

It was sadly only a short stay, but very nourishing. Thank you Mark, Danielle, Patrick and Rory!

We rode up to Sackville and caught our first ferry for the day, crossing the Hawkesbury underneath its sandstone cliffs,

and near Maroota bought a watermelon direct from the grower for a mere $1 a kilo.

We did a fair bit of climbing on our ride but eventually descended to Wisemans Ferry, where we joined Stretch and a number of other bikies, who were out on a charity ride, for a beer.

While we waited for the day’s second ferry we demolished six kilos of watermelon, and boy, did it taste good.

Simple pleasures, simple travel. We hope your life has plenty of simplicity too.

Beneath the sunny sky

When we first started talking about a year of travelling we went through all the ecological modes we might employ to move around. Our humble pushies became the most obvious choice. And so too for Jeff, an American we met briefly on the climb to Batlow, who is on his fourth bike tour of Australia. Jeff is the first bike tourer we’ve met since we pushed off a month ago.

We made the decision to stop flying four years ago and made ourselves carless three years ago, wanting to see if it was possible to live well with such seemingly radical restrictions. These decisions have paid dividends in terms of the money we no longer need to earn and have given us more time to do what we want to do.

Before we left Tumbarumba we met Adam, camped at the caravan park for the next few months picking blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) on a nearby farm. At home in Tumut, Adam grows heirloom vegies organically turning his political energy into rich friable soil, knowing that the way to abstain from participating in corporate damage is to be accountable for one’s own resources. On our last night Adam brought us back a bowl of delicious blueberries he’d picked from the farm and in return we were able to pass on to him a little paperback edition on the uses and benefits of dandelions.

As an antioxidant, blueberries (eaten raw) fight free radicals that are damaging to cells and DNA. They rate low in terms of their glycemic index (GI) and therefore are considered slow-release energy food. They are high in vitamins K and C, and manganese and fibre. Thanks Adam!

Being on the lookout for local produce and exposed to all the elements as we ride may appear a tad utopian, but the reality at times is not so pleasurable. Our two most dreaded things to come across on the road are pesticides and big trucks. Coming into Batlow we copped a mouthful of what tasted like Mortein as an apple farmer was mass spraying on a windy day, and since Tallangatta we’ve had to contend with streams of heavy trucks.

Many of the trucks are carrying wood-chips or logs from the extremely damaging pine plantations that are rapidly destroying soil and water ecologies in this beautiful region of two thousand springs and creeks.

How our culture behaves is truly saddening, but it is land and the people we are meeting that counter much of this negativity. We arrived in Tumut and this lovely family greeted us in the street with the proposal of a warm shower and a place to camp for the night.

This portrait (sans Anthony who’d left for work) was taken just after Valerie had cooked us a delicious pot of breakfast porridge. Rose, Lily, Jasmine and Dom (Zeph would have loved meeting you all) shared their personal stories before they headed off for school and we headed off to the park to meet another colourful local family.

While recharging in the park we spotted what looked like a pretty interesting workshop being conducted. Waradajhi (Wiradjuri) ranger Shane Herrington was holding a ‘men’s honour’ workshop, teaching the art of making traditional hunting tools at the Tumut-Brungle Community Centre.

Shane immediately included Patrick in the workshop and got him helping to heat and layer with wood dust the maleable gum of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea),

which was used traditionally to help bond the spearhead, in this case red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), to the spearshaft. This one was made from native hemp (Gynatrix pulchella).

Shane then demonstrated how to turn various fibres (stringybark, grasses and reeds) into multiply string. No polluting machines necessary, only hands and thighs, a skill used by both men and women but according to Shane was exclusively taught by the women.

After meeting some of the Tumut-Brungle community we were eager to head out to Brungle situated on a relatively truck-free road about halfway between Tumut and Gundagai. This is truly magical country.

As we arrived we were startled by an incredible display of light. Is this what an animistic welcome to country looks like? It certainly seemed to speak of the same warmth and welcome we were offered back in Tumut.

Then after almost a month of travelling and observing unripe cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera) all along the roadsides, we finally cycled into country that offered up this free delicious food, ripe and ready for the picking.

Such gifts of the autonomous gods were true blessings and Woody hoed into the red ones too, fitting several in his mouth at once.

But not everything goes the way one might like it and after Brungle we had an exhaustive climb to Gundagai. Because Patrick’s motor has given up (again) his knees have been giving him grave troubles. Cursing expensive but poorly made Chinese technology he struggled in the afternoon heat, making for a long afternoon’s ride with a heavy load along the track winding back

We arrived in Gundagai in the early evening, crossed this lovely old river on a ricketty old bridge,

set up camp, collapsed into bed and breakfasted on these magnificent figs (Ficus spp.) found in the town.

Time now to rest for a day, plan our next leg along the dreaded Hume (little choice but to ride along this noisy highway for a while) and attend to the fruitful smells emanating from our clothes.

The joy of uncertainty

On our second (and last) night in Violet Town we were treated to dinner by Denise, who we met at the VT Neighbourhood Centre. 

Denise cooked us a delicious Mexican bean dish served with flat bread and a salad from her garden before we swapped some tunes on her guitar. With Denise’s good company and generosity we beaned out of this happy town heading east again towards Benalla, leaving behind our best freeloading camping spot so far, along the Honeysuckle Creek.

At Baddaginnie we spotted critter-like Bulrush flowers. Bulrush, or cumbungi (Typha spp.), was a useful traditional food. The outer rind was peeled off the underground stem and layed before the fire, the fibres were then twisted to loosen out the starch (Tim Low, 1988). The soft white starch of the young shoot can also be eaten raw and the left over fibres can be spun into tough string. The immature flower stalk can be woven into mats. (Survival.org)

A little further on we spotted Salsify (Tragopogon) flowers that had gone to seed. There is so much naturalised free food (thistle roots, salsify tubers, wild lettuce) we’ve missed the chance to eat this season because they’ve already become too woody, and there’s so much naturalised free food (cherry plums, figs, nectarines, peaches, apples, walnuts) that just aren’t quite ready.

So we keep a look out for local produce to supplement what we find and what we have brought with us.

After a brief stop in Benalla we rode out into the heat of the afternoon to find a camping spot along Lake Mokoan. We are really starting to embrace the uncertainties of each day. Where are we going to camp? Who are we going to meet? Will there be drinking water? Will there be power? What will we find to eat?

We arrive to find that the once man-made lake has been returned to a magnificant Yorta Yorta wetlands. It is brimming with more-than-human life, which must necessarily include death to keep things cycling.

With the decommissioning of the lake the caravan park has seen better days. We were welcomed not by the manager but by permanent residents Gary and his grandson Josh, who brought over some beers while we set up camp. We’re starting to experience the incredible generosity of people and understand the importance of sharing stories while sharing common ground.

We are also discovering the different plant guilds that are forming in certain regions. At home, oaks, hawthorns, apples and blackberries have formed ecological partnerships with blackwood wattles, peppermints and messmates making habitat and food for numerous species. Here, in northern-central Victoria, we are finding that figs, walnuts and loquats are the naturalising trees. We are regularly seeing newcomer figs (Ficus carica) growing under heavy-drinking eucalptys,

and loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing under nitrogen-capturing wattles. These newly naturalised, drought-hardy food species will be important to observe as the climate changes our growing regions and knowledge of local food becomes increasingly crucial to community health and survival.

After a solid snooze (eaten in quantity, loquats have a gentle but noticeable sedative effect), some oats and juice and a bit of a wash,

we left the wetlands and the caravan park and set out for Wangaratta, cycling through gangster territory, up into the infamous Warby Ranges where we discovered these Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.). The seeds of these plants were ground as flour and the stem was used as a fire-stick for the ingenious fire-stick farming that was so common to Aboriginal land management practices. The resin was used to bond materials together such as stone spearheads to wooden shafts.

We recharged in Wang,

before setting off on the rail trail to Beechworth.

Not far along the trail we came across a splendid black mulberry (Morus) full of ripe fruit.

We are too early for some, too late for others, but just in time for this sweet delicacy rich in vitamins C and K, high in iron, and an anti-inflammatory and will lower blood pressure. Wow, all that free medicine. Who needs multinationals?

Social warming continues to play a big part of our travels. Being on bike and not windscreened off from the world enables plenty of opportunities to meet and sniff the locals.

We’re having more opportunities to hunt too, though so far unsuccessfully. We’ve shot arrows at rabbits and have tried to spear trout in the shallow clear streams we pass. As eleven year old Zeph (who will join us shortly) reminds us by phone, ‘it takes time to learn what Aboriginal people know about getting bush food’.

After a leisurely 27 km ride out of Wang we camped at the old Everton Station just 15 kms short of Beechworth. We had previously saved our municiple charge (we’re using our motors less and less) and a good night’s sleep (more loquats) for this last section of the trail, which we were warned was pretty steep.

And arrived in Beechworth through a sustainable air-conditioning system,

to find a free home for a few days along Spring Creek in the centre of town.

In the past ten days we have slow travelled from Jaara Jaara to Yorta Yorta country inspired by Indigenous patterns of existence and how we might recreate them in a post-oil, climate change world.

We hope you’ve had a good ride too.

Gift economy

We said goodbye to the Goulburn River and the Murchison caravan park, home to a community of colourful permanent residents – Desley, Brian, Keith and Di – and headed east.

It was an unexpectedly difficult ride due to the lack of shade and a headwind for much of the forty-three kilometres to Violet Town. The sun baked us on this flat and straight stretch of road where annual grasses and fences dominated. Little stood out apart from the occassional creek and composition of wild flowers.

We arrived in Violet Town hot and exhausted, we found some shade to recuperate under and some free municiple power to recharge.

According to Sam from Ballarat e-bikes, “each lithium ion battery holds 0.333 kilowatt hours. Assuming someone is paying 27 cents per kilowatt hour, and the charger is 90% efficient, it’s about ten cents per charge per battery.” While the bikes recharge we have been collecting litter in the parks, reserves and sports grounds that we poach the power from.

We figure that the 20 cents of free energy we take from each town to assist our movement equates to about one bag of collected rubbish. When people ask us about our art practice we say we’re quite well-known for waste collecting. We also pick up rubbish and pull up weeds in exchange for a free camping ground.

This morning we woke to a rich chorus of birdsong at our camp along the Honeysuckle Creek. A morning’s walk enabled a feast of free food, including these deliciously sweet Nagami kumquats (Citrus japonica spp.)

and these luciously ripe loquats (Eriobotrya japonica).

Zero had earlier just missed out on hunting down a buck hare along the creek, so when we stopped for a cup of tea in the main drag we asked the cafe if they had any meat scraps for him. Success!

We’ve discovered three other things while being in friendly Violet Town. The first is the potential food supply in the gardens of abandoned houses, something to note as we move from town to town.

The second is walnut shell mulch. The region is a walnut growing climate, at least for now, and what a great way to use the waste product of this food.

The third is that Violet town has a range of publicly-accessible, intentionally-planted fruit trees and herbs, including figs, plums, rosemary, lemongrass, sage and olives,

which compliment the spontaneous roadside fruit growing here including cherry plums, pears, apples and walnuts.