Blog

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.

Subsistence permaculture’s feral abundance (the shootin’-fishin’, catch ‘n cook post)

Listen to the audio version (14 mins):

 

Neopeasantry is our way of describing permaculture subsistence, a reaching into a glorious poverty – an abundant, anarchical economy that enables rich culture to spring forth; an earth-first, bankers last economy-culture. That’s neopeasantry. Not capitalism, not communism, more akin to a fair-share distributism, only not a theory but lived.

Today’s post specifically focuses on the abundance that is feral carp and rabbit, here in Djaara Mother Country. You can switch these two species for any weedy or ferally plant, mushroom or animal that is abundant in your region. While the information is specific, the spirit of incorporating unwanted abundance (abundance that capitalism is blind to), can be translated across endless species, riches and relationships, that is if we change our attitudes to things we’ve been told aren’t very good. Here, we intend to explain our techniques of procurement and processing, and share a recipe or two, including Magpie Meg’s famous carp mousse (or feral fish paste).

In this post we will cover how we come by this food, honour it and every part, be the biological controls of these tenacious critters, and generally participate in the flow of gifts that is life inside the thrum and wild grace of Mother Country.

Mother Country herself – the giving-taking earth who enables so much life to be made and unmade – is a sophisticated ecologist. Not an ideological one who sits smugly in the neoliberal academy. Her wisdom goes beyond correct and incorrect species and industry imperatives, and although she is perennially wounded and polluted by the narcissism of a now globalised kidult economic force, this Mother is more interested in those who are ecological participants, those who see her, those who listen, and those who sing divine gratitude into her ground for everything she gives. This is when she ceases to be dead matter, ever ready to be exploited, and instead becomes the Mother of all things.

There is no fear nor favour, no moralising goddess beyond the little walled city of neoliberal materialism, Mother Country is endlessly more vast than this tragic reduction of life. While ferocious and terrifying at times, she doesn’t wreak skygod fear and war-like terror into souls that ignore or exploit her. The mining industry carries on apace unharmed by her, is materially enriched by her, but miners die in their souls independent of her will. It is their souls who become forever unsettled ghosts in Country. Her consciousness extends beyond a childish right and wrong story. She deserves no cult, no pagan worshipping, no church built. She is already church. If she requires anything from us it is just a returned animist culturering, to be in sync with her and thus be a people in participation, wide-eyed appreciators, embodied in her patterns and gifts, which she gives in exchange for language, culture, food, medicine, fuel and magic.

Ferals are some of these gifts. The way we honour all her gifts is directly related to the gratitude we feel for Mother Country, which in turn informs the culture and rituals we perform as community. There is no appropriation here, the culturing is direct, felt, inspired, microbial. It is an exchange of presence.

Our economy as subsistence permaculturists or neopeasants is not based on scarcity. We don’t have anxiety about not having enough money like we once did, although we are still dependent on the monetary economy for about 20% of our needs. This is mainly for foods and resources we cannot grow, husband, witch, procure, wild harvest, or hunt ourselves. As many of you already know, we do not call this self-sufficiency but rather ‘community sufficiency’ – a term we’ve been advancing for a decade now to give power to the relationships that help us transition from narcissism to accountability, from wage-slave consumerism to radical homemaking, from soul-dead materialism to singers in the church of Mother Country. Relationships in this new/old economy are key to the unshackling from the banker’s realm. Trust, acceptance, skills and resilience are our focus.

If we keep developing language to describe our actions as we deepen them, then we can perform new/old forms of economy and culture making. For the language we use either incarcerates or liberates us. If we talk about economy as one thing – a thing in which the bankers alone puppeteer – then we are already ensnared. But step-by-step, season by season, relationship by relationship, word by word we can transform our worlds of the world into economic cultures that are dynamic, giving, in-service-to and receiving. We do not have to be anybody’s slave, and we don’t have to rely on unseen slaves from far away to augment our economic and cultural reality. Believing that we must conform to the universal wanking bankers is swallowing the bourgeois propaganda we’ve been force fed since birth.

We say, Enough! to that. Let’s grow up!

No more Taylor Swift narcissism or gratuitous alcoholic romps that never did fill the great hole in our souls that never needed filling. Rather, here’s the uncle figure at the end of the street who teaches the teenager his drumming, the grandmother who hands down her Polish pickle recipe, the brother who demonstrates his method for field gutting rabbits, the neighbour who shows the child the art of catching carp with compost worms, the story telling adventures of elders. Expensive, bourgeois workshops are not necessary, going into debt to buy land to farm is not required, tooling up can be done in a sleeves-rolled-up spirit of salvaging and repairing. An open-heart, a passion for not being enslaved, and making space to learn and share new skills, is liberty.

Rabbit

Big thanks to Jordan Osmond for the next two pics.

Some of the loveliest moments Patrick has experienced as a dad these past years, is when he’s been out hunting with Blackwood. As day recedes into night, the nocturnal world transforms their psyches in a myriad of ways. Father and son have lain on their backs beholding the stars, waiting for rabbits to return to the fields from their burrows, after gunshots had spooked them. A few rabbits before dusk are always a gift,

but the underworlding of night brings many more treasures. Any opportunity for Patrick to pass on what he’s learnt is the action of the gift in flow. In this picture Patrick demonstrates the field gut, which is the removal of the intestines not long after shooting to save the meat from spoiling.

The rabbits, with pelts still on, go into the fridge overnight, making skinning easier the next day.

It’s not entirely true rabbit meat is devoid of goodly fats and therefore of little nutritional value. The older the rabbit, the more pockets of fat it will have stored. Countless blessings rabbits! We honour and praise you as appropriate food. No industrial inputs grew you up.

In such honouring, all parts have meaning: The intestines left in the field for scavenger animals and soil communities to process, the heart, liver and kidneys used to make pâté, the bodies wrapped and frozen for winter roasts and stews, and the skins stretched and salted,

then sun dried,

to be later tanned and turned into useful textiles.

Other ferals, such as European wasps, help clean off the excess meat from the pelts making the scraping process later on, less work. While we are not engaged in colonially-constructed perverse incentives, meaning that we don’t intentionally help to grow these ecologically domineering, albeit undervalued species, we also don’t hate on them, nor any other more-than-human ferals who have settled as feral kin in Djaara Mother Country. We also eat European wasps.

Blackwood and Patrick went wood collecting yesterday and were set upon by angry wasps for the inconceivable crime of splitting logs too close to their nest. Blackwood received a sting on his leg and Patrick had wasps attempting to sting his neck but fortunately they couldn’t penetrate his beard.

In the past week, Blackwood took the life of a rabbit. His first. He stretched the pelt using a frame on a stand we found on the metal pile at the local tip.

We people, our species, can both love and kill animals. The two expressions are not mutually exclusive. Supermarkets have fed us the hubris and estrangement that they are. On the day after his first rabbit kill, Blackwood accompanied his mum to a neighbour’s home to put away their chooks and pet rabbits. He cuddled so much love into those dopey rabbits. That same night we watched Watership Down for our weekly movie night, and a few days later Blackwood was out again on a hunt with his dad. We, of our species, can hold many paradoxes, stories, ways of relating in the world, and this is a beautiful craft.

After stretching his first rabbit pelt, Blackwood then followed his mum’s recipe to convert the raw wild rabbit meat into jerky – a light, preserved and portable food to take on walking or cycling adventures – a food which can easily be rehydrated in the billy.

Meg’s rabbit jerky recipe: Cut the lean meat into thin slices and place in a bowl. Add spices such as cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, sumac and minced garlic. Splosh in a whole lot of tamari and mix it all together. Cover with a plate and place somewhere cool for 12 – 24 hours. A fridge or cellar is fine. Then place the strips on racks and dehydrate until the meat is fully dry. A low oven (50 degrees C) or dehydrator will do the trick. When dry, place the jerky pieces in a jar, label and store.

Carp

Between the storing of wood and preserving of summer’s abundance in the cellar, we have also found time to go fishing. Here is Patrick’s simple set up for catching carp with compost worms and a hand line. Notice, in the image below, the line between the two stakes is being held down by the weight of leaves still attached to a very light branch. When these leaves rise up it indicates a fish is on, or at least taking the bait.

Carp is often devalued in Australia. If carp isn’t put onto ice packs in an esky or cooked on coals straight away it releases histamines throughout the body which gives it an unappealing flavour. Dealing with this is the first hurdle for enjoying this bountiful critter.

The second is the cooking process. Carp, like barracuda, has many small ‘y’ bones that make it, again, unappealing to eat. So we have developed a strategy to process every part, including the scales, head, tail and bones, only excluding the guts. First up, we cut the fish into chunks, add tallow (or any goodly cooking fat; not harmful vegetable cooking oils which we examined in a recent post), garlic and onion, and bake for an hour in a warm to hot oven,

then we put the parts into a pressure cooker, add a few cups of water, and put on the stove for a number of hours, intermittently checking the water level

Over this time, all of the parts of the fish and alliums melt, and Meg then weaves her magic…

Meg’s carp mousse recipe: Place the pressure cooked fish and allium mix in a food processor and add herbs such as parsley or oregano (fresh is best, but dried is good too), then salt and pepper. Sometimes Meg adds some olive oil if the mix is a bit dry. Process until it forms a cake batter consistency. Best spread on bread or crackers, but also yummy straight from a spoon. Store in a jar in the fridge, or freeze for when abundance wanes.

~

So many skills of economic resilience inform others. When we learn to make chicken liver pâté, we know how to make bunny liver pâté. When we know how to make goat bone broth, we know how to make bunny bone broth. When we know how to make chick pea hummus, we are well on the way to making carp mousse.

What undervalued riches of life do you value, Dear Reader? How are they part of your transition away from economic incarceration? We need not pay for much, but we need skills and knowledges to live this way. What are those skills you value so highly? We’d love you to share your alternative economic lifeways with us, even if you’re only just beginning down this magical, defiant and liberating path.

With autumnal glow,
Artist as Family

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.

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 Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the late afternoon,

where we met the delightful Kim, a Gumbaynggirr woman, and bought some dried bush tomatoes (Solanum diversiflorum), which we tossed through the evening’s pasta dish a little further on at Red Rock.

The local Garby elders call Red Rock ‘Blood Rock’ because of the massacre of their people by Europeans that took place in the 1880s. Thankfully today Aboriginal culture remains strong in the area. Bush tomatoes, a food traditionally found in more arid parts of Australia, have a sweet, mildly spicy flavour. After dinner we went in search of a camp site, which we found on dusk and hurriedly set up while being predated by the local mozzie population. As Jake Cassar taught us back on the Central Coast, Aboriginal people burned the leaves of native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) to keep mozzies afar, but lighting a fire would have given our game away in this country of incessant prohibitions. The next morning we woke to a flat tyre and a heavy dew that permeated throughout all our bedding. We are always dry inside our tents under heavy rain, but condensation knows no barriers.

So it was a late start in getting away by the time everything dried. We sensed we couldn’t stay where we were camped after a couple of locals expressed their disapproval of our chosen lodgings. So we left Red Rock,

and jumped back on to the Pacific, with no other choice of road to push north to Grafton. It was to become a very long and draining day.

Meg and Woody were sporting a cold, Meg was still fighting off a UTI, our tyres were deteriorating after nearly 2500 kms and kept puncturing, we had numerous patches of dangerous road with little shoulder to ride on, and to top things off we had a stiff headwind for the entire way. It took us a whole day to ride a mere 50 kms. It was one of our hardest days yet.

We cooked dinner at a free BBQ facility and sneaked a camp spot in an arboretum originally planted by the Grafton Girl Guides, near the local tennis courts.

We had only a morning in Grafton, purchasing and fitting new tubes and tyres. It was fairly hot by the time we rode out of town in search of a place of rest.

On the quiet road out of Grafton towards Lawrence we stopped for a watermelon break in the shade.

This delicious melon cost a mere $2 bought directly from the farmer, across the road. Woody devoured his share with gusto.

It was such a relief to be off the Pacific and not having cars and trucks dominate our senses.

But even so, on this quiet road meandering alongside the Clarence River, reminders of the normalised brutality of fast travel prevailed,

in numerous forms.

But there were also forms of life suited to slow travel and slow food,

which was ironic as we began to pass more and more sugar cane monocultures, the most south this crop is grown in Australia. Hot and fairly fatigued we hobbled into the beautiful township of Lawrence, made a late lunch by the Clarence, enjoyed a rumble on the grass,

and were again hurried to set up camp, this time on sighting a formidable storm approaching.

We prepared camp, tarped over the bikes and walked up to the local pub. We had the priviledge of speaking with local cane farmer Rex, who claims his household doesn’t use any processed sugar in their diet, and sings the praises of cold extracted honey, as we do. We also shared other environmental concerns, such as the toxic wastes of bottled water. He couldn’t work out why greenies don’t focus more on disposable wastes, especially plastic pollution, and couldn’t work out why bubblers are not more widespread in Australia. We shared with him this link and this link to suggest that ‘greenies’ are doing this work, but that it takes more than a few activists to instill change. The next morning we woke and after a brief walk were gifted the discovery of ripe pecans (Carya illinoinensis), just fifty metres from our camp.

It was in hindsight that we realised we needed some golden find like this to rejuvenate our motivations for this trip, after some very draining days. Pecans are high in fibre, manganese, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and protein, and there is just so much pleasure climbing a public tree for food that has (more than likely) never been sprayed with pesticides.

We harvested a bagfull of these lovely nuts and eagerly cracked their shells to reveal the largest and most buttery pecans we’ve ever had.

We will stop now for a few days in Lawrence, whose postcode just happens to be 2460, to forage and fish and generally recharge our tired Daylesford (3460) bodies. There is something special about this place, and we like the way the locals encourage free camping (despite the local council’s prohibition signs littering the reserves).

Thanks Feeney and Lawrence folks, thanks for giving us places of rest.

The lessons of salt (for an inlander family)

Crossing the Hawkesbury at Wisemans Ferry signalled our first real taste of salt water. To mark this ecological shift Zeph got stung by a jelly fish while swimming at Wisemans before we jumped on the friendly ferry. The kind lady at the ferry kiosk gave us some vinegar to calm the stinging as we couldn’t find any plantain and none of us had any wee on offer.

On the other side of the River, at Mill Creek, another ecological shift took place. Freely forageable bananas. After two and a half months since leaving our cool Highlands home, the land, and what it has on offer, is really starting to change.

We camped the night in the national park but didn’t stay long as we had become the prey of some rather fierce mosquitos. We left before breakfast, riding several kilometres along the river before stopping to cook porridge,

where another ecological transformation took place. Mangrove country. Zeph hunted for crabs.

The Hawkesbury is a beautiful river and we snaked along Wisemans Ferry Road for another hour before coming across a rural fire brigade and a community centre, both abuzz with people. We asked a volunteer fire fighter whether we could recharge Meg’s bike. Meet Captain ‘Jock’ Ross.

Jock, it turned out, was the founding president of the notorious bikie gang the Comancheros, made famous in 1984 for their part in the Milperra massacre. We took our photo with a warm and generous elder, but having since done a little research we have learned what horrific violence can be committed by an ex-military man unable to settle back into ordinary civilian life. Perhaps this local creek, situated near to where we met Jock, could be renamed, Perplexity Creek. We certainly have met some interesting characters.

We passed through the small one-shop town of Spencer in the late afternoon, bought some supplies and got some local advice to camp at Mangrove River Reserve,

where we set up the tents, swam in the lovely cool water and collected fuel to cook with.

Seeing there were prawns in the river, we set about making a makeshift net with Meg’s torn stockings and some bamboo stakes that were lying around.

The net wasn’t ideal, but we still managed to catch two prawns while spotlighting that night. We quickly set this live bait on a simple tackle of hook and small sinker. With each prawn we caught a short-finned eel (Anguilla australis), both within a few minutes of casting.

We gutted them, hung them in a tree over night and prepared them for breakfast the next morning, cooking them in a little olive oil and adding a spritz of lemon that we’d been given by Danielle Wheeler, picked fresh from her tree a few days earlier.

We packed up camp, extinguished the fire and prepared ourselves for a gruelling climb. The locals told us it would probably take a few hours to ride the five kilometre ascent, and we weren’t really looking forward to it. But the mind is an amazing thing. We gritted our teeth, accepted the unpleasant task ahead and took off, stopping briefly for a rest halfway up.

Pictures are deceiving, the ascent was much steeper than it looks. Finally we arrived at the top of the hill, collapsed in shade, rehydrated, relaxed for a while and pushed on to Mangrove Mountain, coming across citrus farms along the way.

Our destination for the night was Erina Heights. It seemed to take forever to get there. Zeph took a spill in Gosford after stopping for supplies.

We were all exhuasted and poorly informed by Google maps who took us up several dead end roads before we finally arrived at Dave and Emily‘s family home farm.

They treated us to warm showers, comfortable beds and delicious food. We adults sat up talking about what is motivating us to grow our own food – the challenges, practacalities and ethics of relocalised nourishables – at home.

The next day we had a tour of their property, Blindberry Farm, a forest garden where indigenous plants, weeds and green manures

all provide forageables for their free-ranging rabbits, chooks and pigs.

It is Dave and Emily’s ideal to be completely sufficient in their meat supply by 2015. We also spoke of the merits of hunting for supplementary meat and gave Joseph a basic lesson in firing a bow.

Thank you so much Berlach family! It was so lovely to meet you and share in your transition to sustainable and ethical food production.