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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.

White people dreaming (and performing other forms of culture and economy)

We saw out the year with greenkin friends, once again walking and pedalling the main drag of our home town for the 2018 Daylesford New Year’s Eve Parade. 
(photo by David Jablonka)
It was quite a challenge to pull around 100kg of future community food on our e-bike. We community food gardeners were awarded money to dress our annual NYE float. By purchasing fruit trees and perennial veggies we once again steered arts funding into something deep-rooting.

This lil video will give you a feel for the parade and our contribution to it, for which we won the sustainability award. (Please note: videos won’t appear in your inbox subscription.)

Yes, it’s a strange time of year to plant dozens of trees, herbs and perennial veggies, but with our $100 prize money (Thanks Hepburn Wind!) we bought a new hose and established a watering roster so we can nurture these generous gifts through the coming hot weeks. A big thanks to the permie crew from Deans Marsh who strengthened our numbers and dug right in, joining the local permablitz working bee mob.

In late December we had a number of friends come and stay for the Melliodora solstice party, which eventuated in another form of spontaneous permablitz, this time a music video. Charlie (from Formidable Vegetable) came for dinner and he spoke of the possibility of a new video clip. We hooked him up with our mate Jordan (from Happen Films), added in a whole bunch of Artist as Family creative direction, garden and community peeps, and voilà, this was hatched:

It was another moment of spontaneous creation at Tree Elbow. Thanks to all the neopeasant solstice revellers who showed up and ensouled the morning; all we singulars numbering a collective effort with not a single dollar mentioned, spent or sought. An example of permaculture media-making at its best – and an antidote to typical white-people careerism, profit motives and meaningless content.

photo by Vasko Drogriski

In other news, the violet and rhubarb leaves at Tree Elbow are being frequented by these lovely Southern brown tree frogs (Litoria ewingi),

as well as common garden snails (Helix aspersa). While allcomer frogs, toads and froglets are more than encouraged to make their life in, through and around the garden, snails are gathered up in large numbers and fed to the chooks and ducklings, or we prepare them this way for dinner. Yum!

The ducklings certainly think so. Snails and comfrey leaves are their faves.

Photo by Amy Wagner

For Blackwood (much like the froglets, baby snails and ducklins), home schooling and home economics have become the same thing. Like us, most things he requires are non-monetised, but each of us have occasion to save up for things. A new guitar has been the motivator for this little market store.

But generally we try to make what we need, such as this fishing spear. Every occasion, every visitation, project and ecology

is another school for Woody. It is in these places where play, exploration and experimentation are given true homes. His education isn’t evaluated or assessed. He is free to learn without anxiety or comparison. He is free to collate all his learnings and build upon them in his own time and way,

and with others, such as the children he is bonded to at the Make & Play bush school we hold. Here’s Charlie again at the M&P end of year celebration. (Jumpers in late December? Yikes!)

And because of the expansive time given to him to learn, time to be, time to thoroughly explore what NAPLAN could never allow for a child, the rewards come, which only aid more learning,

where play making and knowledge building are all part of the same flow.

While his learning is mostly self-directed, he also absorbs his parents’ knowledges, and they share with him what to glean and hunt and make bounties from,

while far away from the high country lakes
and productive gardens of home.

He observes the gifts that can be made from the abundant raw materials of our local terra. This wrist band was made by Patrick for Meg on her birthday. The lake is a special place for Meg, where giant-leaved newcomer NZ flax grow (great for cord making) and moulted breast feathers from oldtimer cockatoos are shed around the foreshores (thanks for the tip Kimshar!).

Woody observes the gifts and skills of other adults too, from musicians like Charlie, filmmakers like Jordan and Antoinette, and all the community gardeners to name just a few. Out of all the adults that generously pass on their trades, it is Jeremy that Woody calls mentor. Jeremy made this insulated oven window cover for us, especially for summertime cooking. It reduces the heat radiating into the house on the coolest day of the week when we bake bread, roast veggies and heat up our hot water.

We traded him a wild ferment brewing lesson, exchanging microbe knowledges for technical know-how. What we’ve found is that gifts flow, if generosity flows. A few years back Edward from nearby Adsum Farm gifted us some garden bed hoops. In spring they support a hothousing re-usuable plastic hood to get the potatoes going early, in summer they support a fine netting to keep the cabbage moths from destroying the brassicas.

Photo by Amy Wagner

Knowing what to protect and what to leave open to the multifarious relations of diverse garden ecology requires kinship with both domestication and wild entities – a subject Patrick will be speaking on with Claire Dunn and Maya Ward at the National Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne on February 9. And this subject is at the heart of why we hold the annual Terra Nullius Breakfast,

which acknowledges, accepts and seeks compassion for the history of this continent – a nation that has crippled symbiotic life by over-playing domestication’s hand.
Terra Nullius stands at the heart of property relations in Australia and aggregating wealth division. When property is turned from a basic need into a predatorial industry, more and more people will suffer. We wrote this song for our friend Eka, a fellow Bentley Blockader, when we visited her on our travels last winter she spoke of the constant insecurity and powerlessness of her housing situation. Eka stood with thousands to stop the Northern Rivers from being fracked by greed’s intransigence to common sense, giving her time and skills over weeks and months as a volunteer. While we dedicate this song to Eka, it is also for all people kept from having secure tenure over a little plot of land that can be loved, held sacred and given back to for the momentary time we dwell with and upon it.

If you feel passionate about this issue, please copy the link of this Youtube video and share it widely. Songs can be fertile seeds for change, even rough-cut home-brewed ones such as this.

Well, thank you Dear Reader, we hope we served up some nourishment and inspiration for you in our more or less monthly instalment. If you’d like come on a house + garden tour we’ve released more forthcoming dates. If you’re interested in applying for one of our Permaculture Living Courses please watch this space, we’ll be opening the applications for the spring 2019 courses shortly.

Chopping and dropping in the Food Forest, Sydney

We have been staying with family while in Sydney, children and dogs running through the house leaving behind trails of shrieking delight, and of course the tears that sometimes dovetail such joy.

Yesterday we saddled up to ride across the harbour to the Food Forest we planted in Surry Hills in 2010. We were heading there to host a working bee and workshop, and this was to be our second Sydney harbour crossing on bikes and we knew what to expect.

We were pretty excited to see the garden again, although some more than others as we rode across the city’s famed bridge.

We had a plan of what we wanted to achieve at the working bee, first making sure that all cutting tools were clean, as it is very easy to pass disease between plants via secateurs. 

This was to be a day of turning the forest’s top-heavy living biomass into forest floor water conserving and food producing mulch. Thinning a food forest is crucial to enable air and sun flow. If a food forest is too shaded it won’t produce as well. While Woody practiced his cutting technique,

a number of us got stuck in. Lani used a hatchet to break down larger branches,

Patrick got up high and cut the light in,

and Jeremy and Francis turned the prunings into wood chips.

Zeph also worked with the hatchet stripping the smaller limbs,

and Woody collected up snails,

and juicy mulberries.

Meg was behind the camera, documenting our little group’s work to mark and celebrate the garden’s fourth year. Zeph helped Amanda collect stink bugs (Musgraveia sulciventris) off the citrus. They collected a hundred or more, wearing dark glasses to protect their eyes from the toxic spray the bugs can emit. It was Jeremy’s idea to put these handsome pests into hot soapy water to kill them.

Amanda has been with the garden since its inception and her care and commitment has been absolutely instrumental to its success.

Artist as Family were keen to show local residents the bush foods, culinary herbs, edible flowers and fruit setting in the garden, as well as reinstate the north border where annual vegetables grow beautifully in sunny and semi-shaded positions. We were also keen to point out that even though this garden is on church grounds, it is a community garden and you don’t have to be part of the church, or religious for that matter, to garden and enjoy the fruits of the Food Forest.

In order to attract pollinators and beneficial predators to the garden we have planted many different species, mimicking a healthy forest ecology. The diversity of food is also there to attract human organisms, but we recognise food knowledges have been in decline for the past two generations and many people walk past the garden not knowing what is actually going on there. A few years ago, in order to address this problem, the MCA and Artist as Family mocked up a design for a sign to be installed at the garden to help inform the public about this permanent public work.

It shows a plan of the Food Forest with a key noting over 40 species of edible plants. It’s probably a good thing this particular design never went ahead as a number of the species have been replaced and new plants planted. Such is the nature of an ecology. However, one thing that we feel is still missing from this 24 hr access community garden is a notice or sign to welcome participation. The garden also requires skilled permaculturalists and other such gardeners who know ‘chop and drop’ food forestry techniques.

We took the garden from page (2009),

to stage (2010).

Now it requires local performers to play a part; to play in its chop and drop theatre.

Yes, this is just a small garden, but nonetheless it is a response to generating a greener future. One of these gardens in every park, nook, ‘nature strip’ and common would go a long way to improving our health and the health of the world’s environments.

Even if these spaces only contributed 5% of our food, it would be 5% less damage we would be committing in the world. And by being involved in such processes we would be teaching our young people to be generative and not extractive, to be creators not destroyers, which would have significant reverberations for us all.

Cairns to Sydney (at atypical speed)

As Meg and Woody treadle along they make up songs about our experiences. They have songs about going downhill, uphill, about sugarcane, bridges, flags, kangaroos, rocky roads, plants, horses, trucks, bones, beaches, cows and caravans. After staying at Sarah, Renee and Oscar’s the caravan song now has fourteen verses, one for each of our caravan experiences.

Oscar (pictured on Zeph’s knee) is a delightful and tenacious kid and it was a joy to watch our little boys experimenting in social play.

While we were in Cairns, on Yirrganydji country, Patrick was a guest speaker at the inaugral national Indigenous Men’s Conference, which ran alongside the Women’s conference and brought together people from all over Australia. We published an earlier version of his paper several posts ago, however we thought we’d share the final version he presented:

Wiradjuri descendent Linda Burney MP opened both conferences,

before the partition rolled in and the two conferences split into their respective groups. John Riley, a nurse with the RFDS who we had met in Hope Vale, gave an account of his time in Aurukun setting up the men’s group there with Wik Warrior Vince Koomeeta.

Vince and John were just two of forty men who shared stories about their community projects, and these stories, often harrowing, made Patrick aware of just how much reconcilitory work still has to be done in Australia. Patrick met Simon and Gordon from Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and they discussed how reconciliation doesn’t happen in or out of the mouths of prime ministers but rather in and out of the homes and communities of us all.

Gordon and Simon (pictured second and fourth from left) are both descendents of the Yorta Yorta people and will come to Daylesford next year to look at how our town’s community gardens, meal trees and other gift economies operate. And while gift economies were very much part of the discussion at the conference, Artist as Family (sans Patrick) were out and about carrying on the plant research, finding our first tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) loaded with tart and healthful surprise.

Being back in Cairns signalled the assembly point for big changes. For eleven months we have had to adjust to much daily change but there has been a rythmn to our travel, which provided us some comfort. But then, in Cairns, we put our bikes on a truck (thanks Steve!),

and hired a car. In the five or so years our family has been car-free we have only had to hire a car once and have borrowed friends cars a handful of times. We knew back at Hervey Bay that if we were to cycle for the entire fourteen months we’d have to turn back south then, missing the wonderful north. We explored various alternatives, but travelling with our dog-kin Zero and children make trains or hitching a ride with trucks fairly impossible. The only option left for us was to hire a car and send our bikes back in a truck. We have cycled 7300 kms on our freedom machines and now we were couped up in a glazed off and air conditioned metal box removed from the world. It made us sick,

a little cuckoo,

and really sad.

It felt like we were undoing all our work and we were hypocrites, participants again in the damage established by global oil lords, administered by governments and their armies and carried out by everyday people who either have no agency or will to resist. We were back in the thick of it; in the clouds of pollution ideology. Our need to be home by a set time justified the use of oil, and we realised that petroleum for us is still an option based on unaccountable and non-renewable privilege. This was both distressing and depressing. But then, after only a short day of driving, we arrived at a little free camp site in Mount Garnet and Zeph lit a fire,

and we set up camp and got ourselves grubbed again before brewing up some grub.

Our simple camp kitchen reclaimed some of the sensibilities we had lost,

and we decided to go a little easy on ourselves and to try to take from this experience what we could, even if it was to be just an expensive reminder of how not to live and how not to make art and sense. As soon as we were out of the car the boys forgot about the ordeal, showing us the way back to the simplicity of camp life.

The following days’ driving were again difficult, but compared with most of our fellow creatures we came across in this drought-stricten part of the country, our comfort was off the scale. Cows were hungry,

animals with no agricultural or ecological status were brutally cast aside,

and those better adapted to (and camouflaged in) the environment raced away from the obnoxious intransigence of the motorised world.

Many didn’t make it,

others proudly protected their young and resisted the enslaught of digi-industrial civility.

These roads were typical Australian corridors of suffering and our cyclist eyes were still keenly attentive to the man-made mass death around us. We stopped under this tree to take a break,

and discovered its ingenius fertility, which fitted into the palm of a hand.

We still haven’t found out anything about it. If you know, Dear Reader, please share with us. A little further on, in the town with the Game of Thrones name, Charters Towers, we came across some pods we did know something about.

The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) hails from the Mediterraen and Middle East and has been cultivated in these regions for around 4000 years. After removing the seeds the fully dried pods can be ground into a delicious powder. This is very easy to do at home and prefereable as apparently most commerical carob powder is not raw but rather pasteurised at high temperatures.

Another edible pod-producing tree found in this part of Australia is the boab or bottle tree (Adansonia gregorii). Many streets are planted with this beautiful tree in the inland central Queensland towns that we teared through.

In winter, large pods are produced that contain a white edible flesh or pith. This is what the dried pods look like after they have been emptied of seed and pith.

An annual weed we saw plenty of along the road verges is golden crown beard (Verbesina encelioides), which has been used in folk medicine around the world. Research suggests the plant exhibits significant antiviral, antitumour, antimicrobial and antiinflammatory activies. The plant is also known to be mildly toxic so care is required to use this plant.

Just north of the little town of Springsure we had a history lesson on the Frontier Wars; histroy we were never taught at school. The Cullin-la-Ringo massacre took place here in 1861. It was the largest massacre of settlers by Aborigines in Australia, and thus a significant moment of nulla nulla resistance to gun-barrel invasion.

And we found evidence that gun-barrel invasion is still very much alive in Central Queensland. The Frontier Wars were fought for access to land and its resources. For those who had been on country for millennia, stealing the sheep of the newcomers often incited violent retaliations and even bloody massacres. This same war continues today; dingos are the victims of grazier intransigence and violence.

Deborah Bird Rose first alerted us to this commonplace occurance in her book, Wild Dog Dreaming. In his doctoral thesis Walking for food: regaining permapoesis, Patrick wrote: “Australian writer Deborah Bird Rose (2011) wants us to stay close to images of the slung remains of shot or poisoned dingoes on fences, whose trophied, atrophying bodies are kept from making a return to soil, kept from re-entering the continuum of living, dying and renewing. They are the images of settler indifference that continue to haunt Aboriginal people today, and continue to attack the we ethic of Aboriginal inclusivity, an ethic that extends well beyond the human.” (2014)

We were hurtling towards Sydney with temple-strained awareness of this deadly form of travel, stopping to document significant places and species, but mostly the land and its many forms were just a simulated blur, a land escaped by speed and speed’s abstractions.

The most notable edible outside our walled-city-on-four-wheels was prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). They mark these remote roads as signifiers of agricultural desertification but also as radical adaptation and future drought-hardy food.

This was the heart of the Queensland dust lands—cattle, sheep and coal doing much of the damage, which was quite a contrast to the no-less-damaging sugar cane and reef tourism found on the Queensland coast. There would be little chance of us cycling this inland route with such large distances between towns and so few opportunities to refill with potable water. Much of the water we came across was fairly undesirable, but at times it was hot enough for a dip…

For eleven months we have been hardy to all weather, living in it, but now that hardiness has been challenged by the health-negating convenience of air-conditioning. For the first time in eleven months we had sore throats and flu-like symptoms, unheard of in our car-free family. A cayenne pepper tonic is our preferred rescue for such occasions and similarly Jacarandas brought moments of framed ecstasy as they flashed out at us from Cairns,

to the New South Wales border,

as we hurtled on south to Gary Trindall’s home in Walgett. Gary, a Gamilaraay man who Patrick met at the Cairns conference, welcomed us into his home and shared with us a few of his traditional bush medicines.

Gary and his wife Jenny put on a BBQ, gave us their camper to sleep in, cooked us a beautiful breakfast using their hen’s eggs before bidding us farewell the next morning. Thanks Trindalls, we’d love to come back (a mere 1000 km bike ride from home) next winter and film more of Gary’s bush food and medicine knowledges.

Zeph had a great night getting to know Gary and Jenny’s grandchildren Markell and Kevin, playing tag in the snake hours around the house. Many tags but no bites.

As we dropped further south into NSW the land changed, the climate cooled and water was evidently more available. It had been many months since we had witnessed cool temperate climate weeds such as plantain, dock and clover. It reminded us of the weed salads we make back home, using twenty or so species including the three mentioned here.