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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 everything we do. It is not possible to do this if we go along with mainstream modes of living and ideologies, especially concerning travel and food consumption. All the prejudices surrounding the edibility of this now common fish dissolved with each mouthful. No muddiness was detected despite the Nepean being a heavily disturbed river with motor boats and storm water damage. People just aren’t hungry enough, proclaimed Meg.

Carp now joins our growing list of desirable autonomous foods that need to be eaten on the long march from economic to ecological rationalism.

After a few days on the Nepean we left our blissful river camp of muddy swimming and fish treats and headed towards Penrith in near heatwave conditions. We decided to stow Zero in a box and jump a train from Penrith up to the Blue Mountains to escape the scorching heat that was daily progressing in the foothills.

We spent a hot afternoon in Katoomba looking for a place we could secretly settle for a while and nearing dusk we met Shane, an awesome local who completely read our needs. He gave us a tour of some hidden locations,

from which we chose our quiet little camp spot,

a ten minute walk to the heart of town, and only a two minute amble to this hidden away billabong.

Shane, you are the embodiment of the universal spirit of the freedom to roam. Thank you! We will rest now and wash,

and bring you shortly, dear blog reader, a post or two of our Blue Mountains’ adventure.

Signing off with love and lessons learned for the future,

AaF.

Tumbarumba – a town of dandies

This is the second time we’ve been forced to stop in one place waiting for a bike part to arrive, but as our wise friend John (who we met in Colac Colac) says, “It’s not the problem that’s important, but how you handle it.” Time is expanding out for us in this slow journeying through beautiful hill country and we are appreciating what happens when life is slow and ecologically calibrated.

We saw this incredible Walgalu coolaman at the Tumbarumba museum. A coolaman is typically used for baby cradling and bathing and food storage, gathering and preparation. One tool, many uses – brilliant, appropriate and non-polluting technology! It has made us think about each of the tools we’ve brought along on our ride.

This is our root vegetable tool. It slices down through the soil and uproots deeply buried sources of free and highly nutritious carbohydrate. But we also use it for digging toilet pits, digging for worms to fish with, and Woody uses it as a toy. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) roots are everywhere in temperate Australia and now is a good time to harvest the young tap roots and the tender leaves, especially in the ranges where it is still cool and the roots haven’t become too woody.

While in Tumba we had the chance to rest and laze, throw a line in the creek and do a little gentle foraging.

We caught a 25cm rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and made a delicious meal using local and bicycled ingredients:

Tumbarumba Creek trout, Tumbarumba parkland dandelion root and leaves, our home-grown garlic (bicycled), Tallangatta backyard lemons (bicycled. Thanks George and Laura!), Biodynamic Powlett Hill pasta (bicycled from our local region) and Benalla olive oil (bicycled from Benalla).

We cooked the garlic inside the fish and BBQ’d the dandelion root in the fish juices, adding some olive oil. We cooked the pasta, strained and emptied it onto a bed of washed dandelion leaves. We added more olive oil and squeezed lemon and let the pasta gently steam the leaves. We then added the fish and roots and, well, we can highly recommend this dish…

After a few nights free-camping in the Tumbarumba township we thought it time to do some washing and headed along to the caravan park and pitched our tents beside the Tumbarumba Creek.

With time to drift we closed up the tents, covered the bikes and hopped on a local bus for a wee adventure to Batlow where we knocked on a door to a house with a yard full of chooks and asked whether we could purchase some eggs.

The delightful Eileen welcomed us to her little appley town and we paid $2 (after insisting on paying something) for six just-laid eggs from happy gals such as this proud mama.

In both Tumbarumba and Batlow the towns are filling with a multiplicity of ethnicities to work in the orchards. These particular itinerate workers are using their Sunday to write to loved ones, hotspotting from the town’s library and pulling free spark from the public toilets next door.

Sudanese, French, American, Japanese, Nepalese, Thai and Taiwanese are arriving in the towns to pick blueberries or thin the apples.

Our little caravan park is a hotspot of culture mashing. Amber, a graduate of literature from Taiwan, took a particular liking to Zero and hung out by the creek with Meg and Woody

while Patrick jumped into the outdoor communal kitchen to see what he could rustle up with another large bunch of freshly foraged dandelion. Notice the modern day coolamon.

We thought it time for a medicinal booster using three of the most punchy beneficial foods – cayenne, garlic and dandelion – none of which are store bought but either grown or foraged by us.

Patrick caramelised this awesome threesome in the Benalla olive oil, added the chopped dandelion leaves, cooking them through before adding water and boiling. He then changed the water to lessen the bitterness, simmered towards a soup,

strained off the water, laid the highly medicinal veg on a bed of Tumbarumba sourdough and finished the dish with Eileen’s gorgeous eggs. A simple and delicious preventative to illness and the need for commercial pharmaceuticals.

Our bike part has now arrived (thanks Sam!), we’re feeling nourished, rested and nurtured by a host of local peeps (thanks Peta, Laura, Geoff, Kate, Heather, Adam, Wayne, Peter, Debbie, Graeme and Julie), and we’re ready to face the hills again and the next stage of our journey. Thanks for travelling along with us.

From Yack to Clack Clack

We have been on the road for two weeks now and so far we’ve had the juiciest of times.

We are gathering so much material on frugal living and travelling that we are expanding the scope of our research to include all things obtainable outside the monetary economy.

It is remarkable how much of life is still not monetised, but it is even more remarkable how these things are not commonly valued.

After Beechworth we stayed a few nights in Yackandandah and met Leanne, one of the facilitators of the forthcoming community garden there.

She gave us half a dozen of her delicious hen’s eggs, which were pure permaculture gold.

Yack is a joy-filled little town and Woody started to practice his own form of social warming.

Just as the sweet green hills of spring were beginning to dry out we headed towards the high country,

noting more walnuts, apples, cherry plums, figs, peaches and blackberries forming on the roadside verges.

But before we really started to climb we joined another rail trail at Huon, which took us over Lake Hume.

Before colonisation and before it was dammed, this lake was known as Bungoona (Sandy Creek) by the traditional owners. In 1887 a rail line went in to the area which opened it up for further development which saw the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

Today the rail trail offers a peaceful, ecological traverse through this once traumatised country. Can country heal itself after such interrupting violence?

We rode into Tallangatta with a dust storm, found the town’s park and rehydrated,

found a municiple powerpoint to recharge, headed across to the local opshop,

and munched out on free, locally-grown grapefruit.

We have started compiling a list of all the free things we are finding and we are realising that these things aren’t just good options for frugal travelling, they are generally the least polluting too.

1. free drinking water – water bubblers in public parks and streets
2. free food – foraged, fished, hunted, gleaned and gifted
3. free camping sites – creeks and rivers
4. free electricity – council parks and sports grounds
5. free swimming/ bathing – creeks and rivers
6. free laundry – any public sink (take a universal plug with you)
7. free wifi – neighbourhood centres and libraries
8. free shelters – council parks and sports grounds
9. free knowledges – local knowledge is priceless and most people are willing to offer it
10. free BBQ facilities – council parks, sports grounds, community gardens, etc

Tired and somewhat on the nose we rode around Tallangatta looking for a place to camp. We pulled over to check the map when a local man, putting up his Christmas lights, asked if we needed help. A few minutes later George and his partner Laura had invited us to camp in their backyard, take a shower and join them for dinner.

We happily accepted, bought some accompaniments and helped out where we could.

George gave us a heads-up that we had a big day of riding ahead of us, so we rose early, farewelled our hosts and set off along the rail trail again.

We climbed from Tallangatta (205m above sea level) into Snowy River country,

until we reached the Koetong Pub, where we stopped to recuperate and where we met this bunch of volunteers who have been working on the rail trail since 2002.

They had been working on a new section of the trail that leads all the way to the former Shelley Station, the highest railway station ever built in Victoria (779m above sea level).

At Shelley we found evidence of corporate greenwashing. The same global chemical company responsible for the Bhopal disaster (Dow is Union Carbide as this wonderful piece of satire attests) also aims to become a major controller of the world’s food supply. Here Dow is advancing the poisoning of innocuous free food for the sake of peddling its dubious herbicides to Landcare groups. There’s no such thing as a good corporate citizen, just clever public relation strategies. 

We got a little lost in the pine plantations trying to leave Shelley, but eventually found our way back out onto the Murray Valley Highway for a several kilometre rollercoaster ride down into Berringama where an old hall signalled it was time for a feed,

and a tune or two.

It had already been a huge day and we knew we were pushing it but we had heard of a sweet caravan park at Colac Colac (pronounced Clack Clack), and it seemed to be in reach. About 5km out Patrick’s rear wheel axel broke, the first disaster of our trip. Meg and Woody went on to the park and brought back the extremely generous park owner, Phil, who helped us put the bike onto the tray of his ute and brought us all to this incredibly beautiful park.

We now have a handful of days to wait while the wheel is fixed, sent by courier to Albury.

Time to re-stock, rest up after our massive 74km day yesterday, wash clothes, fish, look for wild plants, write up journals and map the next leg of our trail. Do we push north into apple country or do we head southeast into alpine trout country?

We hope you are having a restorative weekend too.