“There are dangers with using disconnected, abstract metaphors,” says Tyson Yunkaporta on his podcast The Other Others. Like Victor Steffensen, Beckett Carmody and other Indigenous thinker-maker-actors, Yunkaporta argues for a lived (and living) scientific methodology to return to Country.
We finished a magical stay in Apollo Bay in Gadubanud Country with a feast. With all the communing with local fishers on the jetties, with all the quiet adherences to the five mother countries we’ve travelled since leaving, with all the applying what we’ve learnt in a lived, everyday performance of making home on the road, we finally had our first feast of abundance.
With bellies full with the grace of the ancestors of the sea we said farewell to our main teacher. Seal languished, slept, growled and snarled, meditated, lolled about playfully in the saltwater and stole fish straight from our line. In every movement, gesture and action Seal revealed to us our exceptional inadequacies and the structural problems of the culture we were born into. What a gift to be shown our flaws without words or judgement.
Our little caravan of wheels and panniers, mammals, tools and instruments stopped for one last picture a stone’s throw from our secreted campsite, which had cradled us for five nights. We felt gratitude for the hospitality, ease and kindness that was expressed to us by this town.
Then we climbed. We hadn’t looked at a topographical map beforehand, and we were glad. We just headed west along the Great Ocean Road. About a century ago Alfred Korzybski remarked that “The map is not the territory” and “The word is not the thing.” Later Alan Watts added, “The menu is not the meal.” Should we have understood the immense labour required of our legs before leaving (over the next four days we were to climb 1269m and descend 1265m), we may have been less present to what we experienced.
As we climbed the land changed. Tree ferns began to appear lodged in the understorey. All the while magpies, blue wrens and blackwoods continued to accompany us.
We got hot climbing and stripped off, then the rain came in as the forest densified and we added layers. Blackwood asked many questions like why do trees make more rain and why does a steep hill look flat in a photograph? On a train some years ago we overheard two school kids taking about hills while looking out the window. One said to the other, “What are hills even for?”
Climbing a hill has many gifts – becoming aware of what we are biophysically capable of, exuding toxins through sweat, building fitness and immunity, and developing a muscle memory for resilience. Cresting a hill has many gifts too – a sense of palpable achievement, being present to the magic of water rehydrating your body, experiencing an elevated view of Country, and a chance to rest and praise each other. Descending a hill has more known gifts. For us it’s utterly psychedelic coming down a steep, serpentining beautiful hill road with the full weight of our packed bikes (Merlin the tandem 50kg and Cosmo 40kg) and us (Blue Wren 75kg, Magpie 52Kg, Blackwood 33kg and Zero 7kg) upon them. Then to find a campsite among the she-oaks with another flush of wood blewit mushrooms… oh, the utter exhausting, exhilarating joy of the ups and downs.
Making home for us on this winter’s pilgrimage is drying tents and making fire. Making home on the road is sleeping in a half dry tent so that the tent as home becomes a more tangible metaphor – a lived, felt metaphor. Same goes for scratching around for kindling to make a fire. ‘Leave no trace’ is a daily performance, a lived process that keeps the authorities off our back and dirt under our nails while honouring Mother Country.
Similarly, cooking with coals is a relationship with fire making and fire enquiry, because fire is many fires – a hot fire to warm coldness, a settled fire idling to conserve resources and labour, a burned-through fire to produce goodly coals for cooking. Fire is what we eat alongside that which we cook upon. All these stories come into relationship together – wood blewit, she-oak, store-bought flour, souring microbes, fermenting vessel, walked-for kindling, found ciggie lighter – in and of the fire, in and of the body. The morning sun that germinates the seed, the midday rain that grows it up, the mycelium that connects all the trees in the forest, the ordinary everyday processes of death and decay that brought the old wood into this common earthly moment of fire making story.
As Deborah Bird Rose came to learn as a student of Aboriginal elders in the the Victoria River District, NT, Indigenous knowledge centres on foregrounding relationships and backgrounding technologies. This of course doesn’t mean tools are unimportant, it just means they don’t dominate culture because of the deleterious effects this inevitably has on Country. Why create new tools when old ones suffice? Is progress really just an anxiety for innovation? A year ago Professor Thomas Borody from the Centre for Digestive Diseases in Sydney developed a “triple therapy” treatment using Ivermectin, Zinc and Doxycycline. All of these are old, established and well-studied medicines. Old, at least, in relative terms. “When Ivermectin and zinc combine,” he said back then, “it’s very important in killing the reproductive cycle where multiplication occurs…Virtually everybody gets cured – it’s so simple and in 10 days, side effects are virtually unheard of.”
Today, Borody’s triple treatment is being trialled alongside other treatments as Covid vaccines efficacy falls in the most vaccinated countries. In our video, The Pandemic Game, we featured many voices to try to diversify the Covid narrative. One of these was Dr Pierre Cory who has been another significant doctor championing the use of Ivermectin from early on. We shared this video on our local Hepburn Shire Coronavirus Support Group Facebook page back in June and it was immediately taken down. The consensus-driven agenda of this pandemic has been extremely dangerous to public health and to science itself. When we read the long list of corporate criminality committed by Pfizer we smell old fish bait left to rot in a public rubbish bin. We do not sense a scientific methodology that gives to the living of the world. Can we imagine what this pandemic would look like now had Ivermectin and Zinc combo treatments not been cancelled, blocked and ridiculed by the biggest media conglomerates in the world right down to small community Facebook pages? We are no longer surprised by the vested narratives of a corporatised media that has infiltrated the establishmentarian Left.
The costs of the absence of a democratic press aggregate every year. Speed and greed do not make for permanent cultures.
The day we climbed up Lavers Hill from Glenaire we heaved and grieved, hauled and bawled. It was hard going on top of already tired muscles from the day before. We were thankful for the lack of tourist buses and cars, which we were told by a local cyclist would have made our journey much more difficult. We crested at the quiet little town, made lunch outside the CFA headquarters and began our descent.
Halfway down Merlin snapped a brake cable and Blue Wren and Blackwood made an emergency landing. It took boot brakes to pull up a fast travelling Merlin that had only one operating brake with fairly worn pads.
On dusk that night we made home on Eastern Maar Peoples’ Country. When we find a place to lay our heads for the night Magpie usually makes up the beds,
Blue Wren gets with the billy to make dinner,
while Blackwood goes exploring or helps with the homemaking. On this night we fell asleep with the bleating of lambs and their mothers to the left and the crashing of waves to the right, too tired to properly acknowledge Country and thank the ancestors. The Great Ocean Road had spent much time over these past few days taking us inland, but now it ran right along the coast. This is ordinarily a tourist-intensive part of the road, though for us travelling with dog kin Zero, we were not permitted to venture off it to the designated National Park viewing platforms. The new morning was sunny, the road empty, and our perception of the coast was felt in our tiredness.
This coastline is shapeshifting, is being made and remade by many players – granule, water, wind, light, heat. The picture of it below is not us trying to rip off Impressionist painting stylistically, rather we’re pushing our rare-earth camera-phone to the max from our (National Park) exiled vantage point to help tell this story. But what does such an image try to reveal? The certainty that we were there? The certainty of life itself? The complexity of beauty? The preservation of impermanence? We’ve had many conversations on this trip about the role of technology, especially the technologies that data mine us, exploit rare-earth minerals and take us away from Country, mediating our travels. Most of our family arguments occur over this kind of technology. It takes a day to organise our photos for a blog post and another day to write and edit the post. Young Blackwood loathes this disruption to the magical and lived. We keep saying to him, ‘We are story tellers, and if independent-minded people don’t share their stories all we will be left with is a corporatised media.” Malcolm X once stated:
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal… If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
We hear you Blackwood, we feel the emptiness of our explanation because it ultimately relies on so much hyper-mediated time on screens, and we see the emptiness of pictures like this that is trying to hold memory.
Later in the day we rolled into Port Campbell, received a call from Zephyr, made some lunch and did the customary drying of the tent. While Blue Wren took a swim, Magpie wrote postcards, Blackwood refilled water containers and Zero mixed with the locals. Later in the afternoon the little scruffy fella made an exhibition of himself chasing a rabbit down the main drag.
Colonisation keeps rearing its head on this pilgrimage in both abstract and tangible ways. We wish we could listen to the dreaming of this old rock in language, rather than read its settler name, London Bridge. Since being on the Great Ocean road we’ve not come across a single sign indicating which Aboriginal country we’re in.
Our third night on this double humpback leg between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool we found home on the edge of the old netball court in Nirranda.
A left behind bench is always welcome technology. Every place has its special offerings and we need to observe what that place is happy to give and, as perpetual blow-ins, how we might leave traces of gratitude and little other noise.
These momentary home places are song places for dreaming. A south facing besser brick wall is welcome relief on a night of north blowing winds and it shields us from the road too.
The forth day of this short leg saw us absolutely exhausted. We were met by head winds, cross winds and rain. We quickly covered up to keep dry in the coldness of the day, then a few kms down the road the sun popped out and we stopped to strip off again. We danced like this for 35km.
Our leg muscles felt like jelly. We would have loved a jug of raw milk from one of the many dairies we were passing.
For the past few days we’d been travelling in cow and swan country. The temporary flooded paddocks of farms and other wilder waterways become the seasonal homes for nesting swan couples. We didn’t apply the term ‘heteronormative’ to them, it didn’t seem to translate in the lived, much more than human world. Instead we observed and praised the temporaneous nature of their home making. Their context of temporary dwelling sites – making little islands of safety as home – was also ours.
A very hard last haul into Warrnambool saw many tears as Magpie and Zero were almost sucked under a truck. The driver was doing nothing nefarious; Magpie was within the tiny shoulder the road provided. Rather it was the combination of escalated traffic into the little city and the headwind that created a vacuum that has taken down many a cyclist before. Tears of shock, anger and tiredness flowed and we hobbled into town in this most eastern part of Gunditjmara Mother Country to find the local Unpackaged Food Cooperative. It was time to restock our supplies. Thanks Brenda and Peter for volunteering on this day and thanks to all the other volunteers who have given their time to this food co-op over the past thirty years. We feel a special kindred connection to food co-ops, as we are so lucky to have such a special one back home.
As we generate our own power to ride this pilgrimage, what we eat is as essential as the stories our food comes wrapped in. Another Indigenous teacher of ours, Martín Prechtel, describes in his numerous books that the ascension of food and medicine that comes without story or without known origins is at the very root of a culture of separation. A food co-op is a first small step on the way back to living in connection and with care for Country.
Care, tenderness and generosity has flowed in abundance on this journey. We arrived in Warrnambool to be taken in by the family of our dear friend Connor. They offered us a self-contained granny flat for what was looking like the next impending lockdown. We are so grateful for the opportunity to rest, recuperate, and dry out the tent. Thanks Hanna, Rod, Maya, Stella and Max for providing a little pad to collapse into.
Before Victoria’s 8th lockdown (the third for our trip) a local Gunditjmara family met us on the pier with a bag of fresh produce, worms for bait, and warm hearts. Blue Wren hooked a shark while our families yarned. The shark thrashed furiously, snapped the hook and swam off looking for the next fisher’s bait. Mark and Blue Wren exchanged stories about being danced into Country by the old women of their respective Countries, and Mark brought the old language back to the pier. Rod fished the jetty too, shared his local knowledge with Blackwood, and spoke of his Gunditjmara relatives and how that story was shameful to mention in the culture just a generation ago.
The jetties and piers on this pilgrimage have provided endless sources of community and kinship. With seals, dogs, people, fish, winds, sharks, salt, whales and gulls. We have travelled over 500 kms now in six weeks, adding another 164 kms this leg, which has been the most physically challenging so far. Blackwood takes these challenges in his stride. He may have only been a baby and toddler when we rode to Cape York seven years ago, but the muscle memory of travelling within limits has deeply imprinted as he edges very close to being nine years old.
Not long after we arrived in Warrnambool we were contacted by Ros from Permaculture South West Victoria who welcomed us and asked if we needed anything. We asked her if she had some seeds to plant a garden while we’re here. She brought seeds and some homegrown fresh and dried produce. Thanks so much Ros!
Behind where we’re staying is a goodly neighbourhood compost heap and common, and with the go ahead to garden it that’s what we’ll do while we’re here.
That is, garden and fish.
We hope, Dear Reader, you too are planting seeds of renewal and interrelation or fishing for some magic. Back home an outside cold water plunge for five minutes a day was enough to reawaken us to raw, tangible life and to remind us what unmediated living is. It doesn’t take a year-long pilgrimage on bicycles to attempt to put back into the foreground relationships with the living of the world and background the technologies that domesticate and incarcerate us. It only takes our naked bodies plunging into brackish water to begin to enliven our senses and to remember what it is to be human.