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Eating ants, bush fruits and eels, and meeting crocodiles (Narragon Beach to Daintree Village)

It was very hard to leave our free-camping sanctuary with our freshwater pool streaming onto Narragon Beach just down from the Clump Point jetty where we pulled in our evening hauls of fish.

It was also hard to leave our lovely new and not so new friends.

We had our last ride in to Mission Beach with the delightful Tom Dean, the errant wayfarer, before once again setting our compass north.

Our restored senses went immediately into shock after we got back on the Bruce Highway. Trucks, motorhomes, caravans, misnamed ‘eco’ tourists, roadkill, roadside memorials, anthropogenic garbage and sugarcane mayhem all came flooding back to raze the peace and make us harden back up for another dose of digi-industrial reality. Needless to say we took the longer back road to Innisfail, via south Johnstone and Japoon, which rewarded us with this little haul of free fruit,

and a croc safe (at least in the dry season) swimming hole.

Further down the road we stopped to investigate some of the hidden ingredients in conventional banana farming.

This farmer was using two different pesticides: Echo 720, a fungicide and known carcinogen and the herbicide Gramoxone 250, which is an extremely dangerous chemical. The active constituent in Gramoxone 250 is paraquat dichloride, which is banned in 32 countries including China and all the EU nations including Switzerland where Syngenta, the chemical company that produces it, has its headquarters. This chemical has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

What is incredible is that bananas are considered ‘health food’ in Australia! When we’ve been stuck for food and have had to resort to supermarkets on this trip we routinely ask one of the staff where the ‘health food’ and ‘organic’ foods are. These minuscule couple of shelves contain products that have too much packaging or are also packed with hidden nasties such as refined sugar.

To paraphrase Michael Pollan: If it comes from a plant eat it; if it’s made in a plant don’t. The sugar industry in South Johnstone had certainly made its mark on the town, the cane trains surge down the main drag like cocaine through a major vein.

We just keep thinking: what would it look like if the Queensland Government pulled its subsidies from cane farmers, taxed refined sugars like they do tobacco and transferred the revenue to organic food producers or farms transitioning to organic food, bringing the price of organic food down so as everyone could purchase it? Imagine the savings made to public health! Imagine the beautiful ruination of predatory pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors who have built their businesses on an innutritious, immune depleting food system! And then there are the environmental questions.

Imagine if soils were no longer mined to grow a substance that isn’t necessary and that is causing so much ill health. Can you imagine in these razed fields as food forests of Maccadamia nuts, Davidson Plums, paw paws, bananas, grapefruits, oranges and a hundred other fruits all grown as a polyculture with leguminous plants interplanted, used as chop and drop fertilisers, where thick humus would form, repairing the soil and its mycorrhizal strata, and where perennial groundcovers would spread out after the first years of pioneering annual weeds doing their work to repatriate the earth, where a billion organisms live and build soil structure, and who through rigorous competition fight off the threat of dominating species, so as no pesticides, no corporations making decisions about our health, no organic certification was necessary because agricultural pesticides were all banned and common sense prevailed? But for now this is the present: millions of acres of completely unnecessary sugar cane.

Because Woody has never had refined sugar, his taste buds are open to all foods and their sensations. Whereas we older ones in the tribe may have a few blue quandongs here and there, Woody seeks them out with a passion. He’ll eat the tart ones, sour ones, mildly sweet over ripe ones, as well as the way past desirable ones.

He’s becoming the most enthusiastic forager of us all. He’s also partial to autonomus meat. At the free-camping spot at Babinda, Patrick hand speared a small black fish for bait and used it to catch this lovely creature on a 40-pound hand line:

an Australian long-finned eel (Anguilla reinhardti). We made a fire and cooked it on the coals for around 12 minutes each side. It was heavenly dining after peeling back the bitter skin and revealing the extraordinary white, moist flesh.

Artist as Family gave blessings to this powerful water creature and slept with the watery whirlings of the eel inside us. The next day we packed up early,

and took to the road. Our long-finned fuel powering us all the way into Cairns where we stayed with this delightful family:

Meet warm showers hosts Sarah, Oscar and Renee, who we look forward to spending more time with when we return to Cairns. After a night of great conversation, games, showers and delicious shared food, we picked up some supplies from the community food co-op and from a local park,

and headed north again. Sarah and Oscar rode ahead to steer our departure as Zero was having an RDO as our biological GPS.

One species that we have camped with everywhere, been stung by, admired their architecture but so far failed to try out as a bush food is the green ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

These amazing fruitarians are everywhere and we’ve now incorporated them into our everyday diet as a robust free food species. Like whitchetty grubs they have a high fat content; perfect as a cycling fuel. They are a zingy citrus-like edible, which is not surprising as they love citrus. We have all, including Woody, learnt to catch them by the head with our pincers, killing them instantly and popping them whole into our mouths.

We only got as far as Smithfield, an outer suburb of Cairns, and Patrick’s front wheel rim spilt open, possibly as a result of his eating too many green ants.

While waiting for the repairs we walked for a few hours in an industrial wasteland along the A1 and found these delicious ripe bush passionfruits (Passiflora foetida).

They oozed the devine right off the vine: no built religious environment was necessary to partake in this godly moment.

We were rather abruptly asked to leave the bike shop in Smithfield, prompting Patrick to write the following poem from our campsite at Unity Reef.

It felt right to be kicked out of the bicycle shop
in Cairns. We had coveted all their back room
power points with our touring stench. Baby and dog
running in and out of the place unsettling the gloss
while we waited for the expensive repair.
But perhaps it was really the ‘G20 – – – – LIES’
writ large across one of our tail panniers
that prompted the call for our exile by the boss.
After all the city was in feverish preparation
eager to celebrate the international visitors
with a cultural festival of entertainers
known as ‘the arts’.

Even if our schooling system today does its best to breed out the inquistive and critical in the population this doesn’t mean that the forthcoming G20 bankers get-together in Cairns isn’t a pox on the planet. But obviously many disagree, especially in Port Douglas where we came across this holidaying couple near the beach. When we asked the lady wearing it about her singlet she boasted it cost only $3 from K-Mart. Is it a joke? Are we missing the irony? Where do you start with such intransigence to life and the suffering of others for the sake of a $3 joke?

No doubt G20 finance delegates will flock to Port Douglas with all its monetary shmaltz. We on the other hand couldn’t wait to leave, legging it back to the A1 after a picnic lunch with fake artisan bread, temporarily being split up by big sugar before the town of Mossman in Kuku Yalanji country, on the way to the Daintree.

Not far on we met this fantastic duo who were heading south and who are working on a very exciting bicycle touring project. It was lovely to meet you Simon and Alia!

Just nearby we found a laden grapefruit tree, loaded up, gave some to our fellow tourers before pushing on to find some ripe guavas, which we have commonly picked all along the east coast from as far south as Kempsey.

We camped the night at Newell Beach and the following day arrived at the village of Daintree.

Prone to regular flooding and therefore constant change the Daintree River is an ecological hive of activity.

We adults were as wide-eyed and excited as Woody when we saw fishing birds such as this pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius),

the numerous reptilian water critters such as this grand male estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porous),

and these common tree snakes, sunning themselves.

While in the Daintree village we also learned more about Far North Queensland plant life, such as native taro (Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis), which requires much lengthy preparation in order to make the tubers edible,

and Woody, completely unprompted, collected up all the Kuku Yalanji forest delights he knew including blue quandongs, satin ash fruit, peanut tree pods and hibiscus flower.

We were fortunate enough to meet Linda, a Kuku Yalanji elder, who was collecting freshwater mussels (Velesunio ambiguous) from the river. Linda told us that there are many important Aboriginal places around the village including a burial site that the local historical society is simply not interested in marking. Daintree village seems to be another case of white history told, black history conveniently disappeared.

We are resting up here for a few days, readying ourselves for the final northern leg, up the Broomfield Track to Cooktown, which is going to be quite a challenge from all accounts. We hope you are meeting all your challenges too, Dear Reader, and we thank you, once again, for joining us on our adventure.

Our medicine is free and found in both our food and physicality (from Bundaberg to Gladstone)

The days here in Queensland have been sunny and warm but the nights very cool. Before we left Bundaberg we went op-shoping for some warmer clothes. Woody scored this great vest.

Outside an opshop we met Clint, a local Kalki man. We got talking about bush food and he noticed Woody’s amber teething necklace. He told us that witchetty grubs (Endoxyla leucomochla) are a natural anaesthetic and that teething babies were traditionally fed the grubs to numb the gums. Clint also told us he is a kind of pastor but that he didn’t need to preach to us because we already knew our path. That path, for now, continues north on some quieter roads.

Building knowledge on the life forms around us that provide food fit for human consumption free of monetary interference and ecological damage is another path we’re simultaneously following. Finding ripe passion fruits fallen onto public land on the outskirts of Bundy may not seem like much,

but first sights can be deceiving.

We had a quiet ride to Avondale passing more of Queensland’s great obesity fields,

but we skipped on the pesticidal cane, picking roadside citrus instead.

When we arrived in the one-pub locality of Avondale we had Zero’s basket half-filled with autonomous medicine,

and we were greeted with the prospect of a free camping spot and shower.

Not only is Avondale generous to travellers, it is also good to itself, recognising that community protection from greed and ecological intransigence is sound, long-term thinking.

We found a kitchen bench and got on with preparing dinner with some store-bought produce.

We woke with the sun after our first night’s sleep in our new tents. After many years of camping, the old ones had become irreparable. We donated them to a Bundy opshop as they would be great as children’s cubbies.

We started the day by collecting onions that had fallen off the back of a truck. No, really! Out of all the conventionally-grown vegies and fruits, according to the US Environmental Working Group, onions are the least contaminated with pesticide residue. For dumpster divers and others who rely on conventionally-grown foods this list is probably as good a guide as any.

Various autonomous species have accompanied us along the roads from central Victoria such as the scavenger ravens and crows. But this mushroom, Pisolithus sp. is one of the hardiest of them all. The preferred medium on which it builds its life is bitumen and its spores are carried by motorists, trucks and more than likely the humble treadlie.

We arrived in Rosedale a few days too early for Friday night bingo,

pitched our tents at the Ivan Sbresni Oval,

and while we brewed a billy, Zero got to work flushing out some local rabbits.

While he continued to hunt we processed his game, these non-industrial gifts of the land, as both food and textile.

We skinned and salted the pelts and poached the meat briefly,

before removing the bones and tossing the tender meat through a pasta dish of raw chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, kale and zucchini.

The next morning Woody had a lesson on herbivore dung recognition, an education in craps, scats and animal fats,

before we hitched up our gear, set a drying rack for the pelts,

and again drank the sun north. Another autonomous species which has become a favourite free food since Kempsey is the cut-and-come-again guava, which never seems to stop fruiting.

Just when we thought the season had ended, along comes another tree laden. This harvest was made just south of the micro town of Lowmead.

In this area the land was no longer flat and caney, but undulating and scrubby.

These country roads have been a pleasure to ride, and even though the townships themselves offer little cultural nourishment,

generosity always sticks its head out. The hotel staff kindly let us recharge our batteries while we had a beer and got talking to some of the locals. Brett, a retired army man, took us across the road to a friend’s house so as we could collect mandarins from her garden, and the pub was giving away grapefruit from another local’s tree.

We were going to camp at Lowmead but Brett told us about a free campsite 17 kms away on the Bruce Highway and we still had the afternoon to play. He warned us that the road to the highway was partly unsealed but not too rough. The complete lack of traffic was wonderful.

We arrived at the highway campsite to this laden orange tree to complete our three-day catch of free and preventative medicines.

But just to be sure we had enough vitamin C we gathered and hoed down a handful of chickweed that was growing at the rest area.

After little sleep (how have we made the same mistake twice to camp beside the Bruce?) we returned to the intense highway,

and rode to Miriam Vale where we discovered a little knowledge regarding some of the bush tuckers we’ll likely see more of as we continue north.

While exploring the public gardens Woody asked for his favourite bush tucker to chew on – the starchy base of lomandra leaves.

A little on the nose we booked a cheap room in the Miriam Vale Hotel, which came with a gorgeous view.

We had a 50 km ride to Tannum Sands, with little on the way to hold our attention, or time,

except of course for the inevitable memorials, which kept coming at phenomenal rates.

We arrived in the late afternoon. Patrick went for a spearfish, returning fishless and blue from the cold ocean. Near where we were to camp at Canoe Point we spotted this fine creature,

the Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), which according to another Indigenous man, Barry Miller, who we also met back in Bundaberg, is really good tucker. Woody took his afternoon nap while the rest of us went about our business.

We cooked dinner and waited for dark before we set up camp.

Having earlier seen a council warning sign we went to bed a little nervous about crocodiles, but after some cursory phone research we discovered attacks by crocs in Australia have only occurred in or on the edge of water, never through a tent and never this far south. We awoke to a beautiful, unlawful camp ground,

and conceptually snubbed our noses at all the rip-off caravan park operators in the country wanting to charge us $40 a night for a patch of dead ground near a toilet block surrounded by caravans and motor homes.

From Tannum Sands we looked across the water to the Boyne Smelters, one of the industries that has made the small city of Gladstone momentarily affluent and no doubt permanently toxic.

For the next two nights we stayed with couchsurfing host Mike Koens. Mike lives just outside Gladstone with his housemate Paul, dog Rocko and three cats Girlfriend, Boyfriend and Thor. Mike works for Boyne Smelters as an air-conditioning and refrigeration man.

He told us that Gladstone’s mining boom is well and truly over, the housing market has slumped and he has begun his own transition to a more environmental life, collecting solar radiation and water from his roof, growing his own wood to heat his house and starting to grow his own food.

While we stayed with Mike we helped him turn his soil, removing couch grass from where his crops will soon thrive. We also helped him chop wood and we cooked for him. It’s no accident that synthetic medicine goes hand in hand with industrial food and energy. The pharmaceutical industry thrives on an unwell population that eats empty and lifeless food and uses cars for all travel.

“Is there anything you might do today,” the writer Padgett Powell timely asks of us, “that would distinguish you from being just a vessel of consumption and pollution with a proper presence in the herd?” Yes there is Padgett, thanks for asking.

Novel fruits, roadside memorials, tiredness and general life making (from Coffs to Lawrence)

We left Coffs Harbour and headed north along the Pacific Highway, passing banana and blueberry plantations and,

sadly, more visions of life interrupted.

We met a family from Woolgoolga at Steve Hill’s skydiving centre and they invited us to stay with them. Woolgoolga, we found out on our arrival, is home to a large Sikh population. According to wikipedia nearly 13% of Woolgoolgians speak Punjabi at home.

The name Woolgoolga comes from the Gumbaynggir word Wiigulga, meaning black apple (Planchonella australis) and not lilly pilly (Syzygium) as wikipedia suggests. Out on the headland we joined the local hunters to try to snaffle some autonomous ocean food,

to bring to the dinner table at the Feeney’s.

Meet Mark, Vivienne and Denise. Mark is a teacher and musician who plays a mean tin whistle in a folk band called Headland. Vivienne is studying for her HSC, and Denise’s passion is the circus.

She gave us a couple of stellar backyard performances of aerial acrobatics, while Woody worked on the hoops.

It was at the Feeney’s, under their paw paw tree and passionfruit vine, that Artist as Family first sampled starfruit (Carambola).

A mildly astringent but nonetheless delicious fruit native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, that is grown locally in Woolgoolga, no doubt as a result of the local Sikh population. After a couple of restful nights with the Feeney’s (thank you! thank you!) we bid them farewell and headed for Red Rock passing more signifiers of loss on the Pacific.

We arrived at the