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Hitch hiking to India (Daylesford to Darwin, the first 10 days)

A few months back we hatched a cheeky desire to hitch hike to India. After a long list of to-do’s before we could set off, including moving the flerd 5 kms across town,

 

 

and hosting Jordan’s 30th and our farewell gathering,

 

 

we walked with our backpacks to the A300 and stuck out our thumbs. Ballarat was our first destination as we needed to head west before we could go north. Can you even hitch to India? Dunno, let’s find out.

 

 

Hitch hikers should be added to the list of rare breeds in Australia. As news cycles have merged into fear cycles, we get many worried looks when we hitch. Nonetheless, on this first morning we got a ride within 10 mins with a lovely lady named Cath, who dropped us off at Ballarat Station where we boiled the billy. Thanks for starting us off Cath!

 

 

We enquired about the cost of a train to Adelaide, and were sold tickets for a train and two buses, costing just $52.50 in total,

 

 

grateful for such affordability, and for the homemade, light-weight, high nutrition food we brought such as rabbit and roo jerky.

 

 

While this is a hitch hiking trip, we’ll take affordable transport should it come up. We were a little startled we got so far in just one day, and arriving on dusk in Adelaide, we were taken in by Nicole Brammy and her permie family. After a good night’s sleep in the backyard, we helped out with the household productions.

 

 

While Meg helped Nicole and Olivia sort walnuts, Patrick defrosted unwanted fish heads clogging up Nicole’s family freezer and converted them into a miso broth for the workers.

 

 

In the afternoon we packed up our tent from the backyard,

 

 

and headed a few hours south to spend the second night with old friends from Daylesford, Chris and Vanessa and their boys Willem and Alejandro, at their home in Willunga.

 

 

It was wonderful to connect with these families. In all we spent three nights in Adelaide and on our fourth day we caught a bus and a train north to the Salisbury Interchange from where we walked for about an hour out to the A1 to resume our thumbing adventure.

 

 

The only bus to Alice Springs from Adelaide would have cost us over a $1000, though more importantly, would have ruined our dance with chance. After two hours of waving in a friendly fashion at concerned motorists, Ali picked us up.

 

 

Ali is originally Afghani and he spent 6 months on Christmas Island before arriving in Australia. He said it was destiny that we met and he hoped he’d see us again. We felt the same. He dropped us off at Port Wakefield,

 

 

where we worked our thumbs hard for another two hours until Marie picked us up. Marie Warren, is a grandmother, artist and screen printer whose ancestral mob are the Arabana people. As we journeyed, she shared stories of the Mother Country we were travelling in, including the Seven Sisters story.

 

 

We talked about our ancestry, and Marie and Patrick (and therefore Woody) found they share Scottish roots. Marie’s grandfather is Francis Warren, formally a Scot before becoming a fully initiated Arabana man who, as Marie stated proudly, was a fierce fighter in the Frontier Wars in Central Australia. As we travelled and spoke about our shared lineage, a giant serpent appeared in a salt lake to our right, looking much like Uilebheist Loch Nis (the Loch Ness Monster). We pulled over for a gander.

 

 

Travelling with Marie was akin to entering a mythological adventure. We laughed and cried and shared story. After dusk Marie dropped us off at the caravan park on the west side of Port Augusta. “You’ll be safe there, “ she told us,

 

 

and we shared some more tears and words. “We need you white fellas,” she said with big feeling. “The dealers use Aboriginal street kids here as guinea pigs when they bring a new drug into the country,” she said with gravity. “I want to come see your bush school, see how you do it. That’s what our babies need here.”

 

 

We white fellas need you too, Marie, though many of us have lost connection to a land- and story-bonded life so we no longer know why we do.

After our emotional farewell we found the caravan and camping park was full, even for a small hiking tent, so heeding Marie’s warning about the town we avoided seeking out a sneaky camp, and headed instead for the Flinders Hotel and booked the cheapest room in town.

Early that morning we began our day’s labour, switching our ‘Alice’ sign for something more modest. We were finding out just what huge distances we needed to travel,

 

 

and we were in for the long game. It took us four hours before we got a ride, a perfect opportunity for catching practice.

 

 

While we waited to fill up a car already committed for a northern transit, an Indian taxi driver pulled over and asked us if we needed a ride. We got talking about our attempt to travel to India overland, hitch hiking and crewing on a boat from Darwin to visit our friend, Jashan’s family farm in Punjab and stay with his parents in his childhood village, visit Vandana Shiva’s farm Navdanya and other permaculture farms in the north, and to cut our teeth on the streets of India playing cricket.

 

Yes, we’ve become a cricket family since Blackwood fell in love with the game. Here’s Woody practicing his batting with a round bat he carved from hazel wood just before we left,

 

 

and here he is, just 11 years old, belting his dad around in the Hepburn cricket nets a few weeks back.

 

 

The taxi driver was so moved by the story of our attempt to get to his ancestral lands he returned an hour later to check on us and to give us a wad of cash. Our initial refusal caused some awkwardness, and we realised the gift dearly wanted to be given so we accepted with grace and much gratitude. This generous soul left before we shared names, and he said on parting, “I’m not wealthy, but it’s in my religion. Go well.”

 

Not long after this immense act of kindness, and about four hours in total out on the road, a young fella called Adrian (or A-train to his mates), stopped, picked us up, and drove us into what is called The Outback.

 

 

Adrian was heading to his mother’s engagement party near Roxby Downs and said he’d be happy for the company. We travelled for about an hour together before he needed to turn off, so he dropped us at Spuds Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway,

 

 

where we once again got out our hitching sign.

 

 

We were pretty buggered. None of us had slept well so far on the trip. Roxby Downs, Woomera, these are big names we adults know through news stories only.

 

 

But, we’re not really here to drift, it’s become apparent.

 

We were going to spend the winter curled up by the fire, working on our book, which the growing, harvesting and teaching seasons helped to put on the back burner. But a few months ago India called us and we had to pay attention to that.

 

While labouring with our thumbs out on this long road, we also paid attention to the changing colours of Mother Country.

 

 

Nearing dark, two Frenchies, Loren and Enzo, pulled over.

 

 

They were on a 300km round trip to do their food shopping, and told us there was a free camp site where they worked at Glendambo. So they dropped us there, on that red earth,

 

 

and with their joie de vivre spirit we set up camp, got a fire going,

 

 

cooked dinner, played some songs, and passed out under a magnificent desert sky.

 

By the next morning our tent was drenched in dew. It was the first time damp had permeated our family house on the road. We cooked a seedy oaty porridge for breakfast while waiting for the sun to dry our gear,

 

 

utilising the shrubbery as a makeshift dryer.

 

 

Our night in Glendambo was an initiation into the desert, at least from a settler’s point of view.

 

 

We decided we’d pack up the tent wet and get going early. We hoped to get to Coober Pedy and stood out on the Stuart Highway again to roll the hitch dice.

 

 

To the west of our frugality was this land and this sky.

 

 

Little rituals of acknowledgement and connection are playing out through the waiting. When Woody needs a little encouragement on these long waits, we remind him that if we travelled fast and assuredly we’d need a lot of money, therefore he’d be sent to school so his parents could earn it, and he’d miss out on all the chance encounters that were already making this trip so rich.

 

After a few hours of courting the wild twin on the Stuart Highway, Steve and Sue, caravaners from WA, picked us up. Covid dissidents like us, we had plenty to talk about, and politics filled our journey akin to this graffiti we discovered in a public toilet on the Stuart.

 

 

We adults in the car were all Greens voters back in the day – environmental lefties. While we travelled, we collectively lamented how few now are reading this aggregating era of regulatory capture and the systemic corruption in the state-corporate nexus. Needless to say neither Green, Blue, or Red are parties any of us trust and are repulsed by their complicity.

 

Sue and Steve, salts of the earth, rolled us into Coober Pedy,

 

 

a dusty old mined-to-hell-and-back town,

 

 

where we set up the tent and dried out our wet things before the sun lost its sting. Each day is getting warmer as we progress north.

 

 

The temperatures drop at night but we’re toasty with all our winter gear. Once set up we explored the town

 

 

that has been turned over and

 

 

mongreled in both crude and novel ways.

 

 

You know what they say when you travel, As in Rome… so we donned the digger’s spirit,

 

 

for a very brief moment, and got the hell outta that strange lil town,

 

 

passing Waa on our way,

 

 

and walking 45mins back to the highway to begin our morning’s labour.

 

 

We smiled and waved to motorists, and received a goodly assortment of friendliness back in return. Being three of us plus our gear, not many people have the space. What we gain in being friendly, we lose by being numerous and bulky. It took two hours before a car pulled over. “I can give you a lift. You’re not psycho-killers are you?” asked Shannon, “No, are you?” Meg asked back, with a grin.

 

 

“We’re going to Alice,” said Patrick. “Yeah, I can take you there, I’m heading to Darwin,” said Shannon. Did someone say Darwin?! We piled in, so immensely grateful for the ride and for the dog named Rocky.

 

 

Over the next four days we lived on the road with Shannon and Rocky,

 

 

visiting Alice only briefly,

 

 

and camping at roadside free camps.

 

 

Shannon didn’t turn out to be a psycho-killer. He’s a kind and generous man, and we got to do a lot of yarning,

 

 

and as our shared stories deepened and grew, so too the termite mounds the more we travelled north.

 

 

On our last morning together we stopped in to Bitter Springs

 

 

for a refreshing swim, the water almost the same as our body temperature.

 

 

We travelled far with Shannon and Rocky, over four beautiful days. On our last leg-stretch before Darwin we stopped and took a family snap.

 

 

Shannon and Rocky are about to embark on a new life up here. Shannon will be driving trucks out to remote communities for an Aboriginal transport company, and Rocky will travel with him.

 

 

We farewelled this awesome man and his dog outside the Dinah Beach Yacht Association, in Darwin

 

 

and walked through the gates into the next stage of our adventure.

 

 

Thank you to everyone who waved and smiled at us on the road, who gave us rides and took us in. And thank you Dear Reader, for accompanying us on this first leg of our adventure.

And thanks to Jordan for the first and third images, and to Kim for the second.

Mobility and food (our first week home)

Now we are back home we find not all that much has changed. Just as it was on the road, our home-life is also all about mobility and food; how we move around and how we sustain ourselves.

After such a long time on the back of their parents’ bikes, the boys were keen to get their own forms of mobility cranking. Zeph made roadworthy one of our old tip bikes and Woody gave his hand-me-down first bike a thorough going over. Thanks Carly!

We continued to bike and walk as our main forms of mobility. Woody now walks a few kms each day.

We pedalled up to the community garden working bee (blogged here), to contribute to the community gift economy going on there.

We painted up some new signs to be put up at two of the growing number of food gardens in our small town.

We helped Peter install the signs,

and we began to organise some music events that will take place in the Albert St garden to simply celebrate life there.

We biked up to our local food co-op to buy what we couldn’t freely obtain and to support a more environmentally aware monetised economy.

We walked, bussed, trained and caught a tram to visit Woody’s great grandfather (aged 96) in the metropolis.

 We pushed our wheelbarrow over to Maria’s, our neighbour, to collect cockatoo-spoiled apples,

to feed to our girls.

We worked in our annual produce area planting some more food. This row: cayenne peppers as food-medicine for the winter.

We welcomed back Yael and Matt, Akira, Essie and Dante, who so wonderfully tended the house and garden while we were away and planted food for us to come home to. Thank you beautiful family!

We got busy in the kitchen making sauerkraut with cabbages that Matt and Yael had planted with the kids,

we revitalised our five year old sourdough starter and have been making bread daily,

we have made music each night before bed too,

and we have made our version of vegemite: miso paste, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Delish!

It is lovely to be home, and so far we haven’t got itchy pedals. After so many months of uncertainty, the comforts of home and community life have been both regenerative and restorative. We thank you, Dear Reader, for accompanying us on our journey in settling back into domestic life, and hope you too have both regeneration and rest cycling around in your neck of the woods.

This is Liam

Liam goes to the local secondary college and this week is doing work experience with Artist as Family. Liam lives around the corner and every day this week has arrived on his bike at 9am with a bag of wild apples picked by his mum, ready to start the day.

Rather than just relegating Liam to spend time in a studio as he might have done with other practising artists, we have been out and about this week showing him how we live and make our art of the everyday.

As we live car free, riding and looking after our bikes is a big part of what we do

as is promoting bike culture in our town, and the monthly local Critical Mass ride.

Because we don’t shop in supermarkets, thinking and talking about what we eat is also a big part of what we do. What we put in our bodies fuels the art we make, so if we want to make environmentally and socially responsible work, the food we eat needs to represent this. Every Wednesday we shop at our local organic bulk food table. This week we bought olive oil, almonds, tahini and 2kg of fresh juicy feijoas.

We made pasta.

We planted garlic before the full moon.

We measured up a potential site for a community food garden and drew up a draft plan of it to present to our local council.

We made music

and most importantly, we made a great new friend.

Postpartum

One of the reasons we were attracted to St Michael’s church as a site for the Food Forest is because they run a soup kitchen every Sunday morning. One of the aims for the Forest is that it will eventually supply organic fruit and vegetables to the kitchen.

We visited the kitchen this morning and shared a meal with the local residents who are all very excited about their community’s new asset. This is the hall after we helped pack up, before we headed next door to the garden.

We still had a few more things to do such as finish off mulching and say goodbye to our microbial friends in the soil, who it’s been a privilege getting to know.

We then hammered stakes around the Forest’s circumference and secured the bunting, which we won’t remove until late August when the MCA show opens.

We then went round and drew a mud map of exactly what plants are where, which we will have engraved on a plaque to be displayed in the grounds, and available here online.

We then dilly dallied. We took some more photos. We chatted to a few more passing residents about their hopes for the work. We sat down. We stood up. We chatted to the church congregation as they left their Sunday service.

And then it was time to go.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped in making this work come about.

And thank you to those whose enthusiasm and stewardship will ensure its future abundance.

A Direct Action

The problem with so much of the art we see today is that it is reduced to the symbolic; it is a mediation, and is not really of the world.

What we are trying to do with our food forest project is say: abstracted life has lost its appeal, it has caused too much division and separation. With a forest of food as a public art work, we aim to show how art can again be of the world, a part of it and not merely a symbol of it. It can put back in, not just take and make waste.

Our systems, based on growth capital, have failed – resource wars, divided society, pollution, class wars, mental illness, alienation – and however glaringly obvious the fact of all this is, the level of denial remains in the symbols that surround us. Be they on billboards, television, online or in galleries, our symbolic medias are powerful and manipulative, they collectively report back to us that we are advanced and thoughtful people who can live in a world unrelated to the microbial world below our feet. This is ecological disembodiment, and the ramifications for this separated, abstracted life are proving to be disastrous for the planet.

As a mass culture we have been flattered by a sense of our own progress and sophistication, and artists and ad people have worked hard to keep this middle-class myth alive, but beyond the seductive veneers and images, progress, and the mediation of progress, is concretely killing us.
If we are to re-embed ourselves in the cycles of wild nature, and by doing so have a chance at surviving what lies for us on the horizon, then our symbolic and domesticated states have to be confronted. Our symbolic, mediated, head-only orientations require interventions by our bodies, and those things that are essential to life – air, water, food, soil, dynamic ecology, habitable climate – become again the things most highly valued and respected.
The project of world peace, to think big, is the project of dismantling the spells of mediation, symbol and image that annul, disempower and calibrate us to the dominant ideology.

Art requires a direct action that’s no longer ironising and cowardly, no longer self-conscious, anxious or innovative, but rather real and essential; a re-embodiment of natural systems.