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Telling our story

This week saw Patrick telling two versions of our story. At Melbourne Free University Patrick speaks about why we use the term neopeasant, and how this term found us and what it means in the context of conquest, dispossessions, stolen land and climate change.

The word peasant is from the Latin pagus meaning country or land.


Earlier in the week he was in conversation with Bushy, Adam and Ged on 3RRR’s show Greening the Apocalypse.

 

Both these talks here are audio only.

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.

Pop-up community, outbreak of democracy, the imminent arrival of riot police

If we wind back 150 years or so, pop-up tent settlements were rapidly sprouting around the country. Mining licenses were granted, pick axes took to rock, hopes for a better future flared along quartz seams, land was savaged, duckboards tracked through drenched camp lanes. 

Today another sort of rush is taking place, only this time things have flipped. Miners are no longer the poor and land dispossessed of Europe wanting to establish a better life, rather they are already affluent wanting to take more resources than they need in a way that could poison the land, water and air and inhibit life for future generations. Creating jobs is no justification for causing damage. The pop-up tent settlement at Bentley in northern NSW does not house miners, but rather protectors, demonstrating how to mass organise against such ecological intransigence.

Metgasco, the mining company wishing to exploit subterranean gas reserves by a method called tight sands fracking, may have a miner’s license acquired through an arcane legal system that favours damage, but they certainly don’t have a social license granted by the people. For this stance, this ‘outbreak of democracy’ (for the people, by the people) we’ve been told we may incur the full wrath of the state’s riot police. But we will not be bullied by state-sanctioned violence, and despite our tiredness and occasional flare-ups with one another, we are united in our commitment to protect the land from narrow self-interest and greed.

Artist as Family have never sat up so many nights on vigil defending country, never observed so many shooting stars, never witnessed so many magical dawns.

We have never seen so many cultures comes together for a common cause,

never witnessed such making that attempts to remodel and re-sense the ancient and sustainable practices of Indigenous Australians.

We have never shared so many stories and personal frailties,

and rarely have we felt the power of community to work towards significant change; to enact outbreaks of vital democracy.

We are so privileged to be at the Bentley Blockade,

to learn important skills to take back to our own community. To witness, contribute and be part of the love.

For life is worth protecting.

Food and energy: social transformers (Iluka to Bentley blockade)

The night before we left Iluka we were invited to a feast of crabs with Deanne and her family.

Deanne is yet another stellar local woman working at the coalface of the mostly male dominated industry of civil construction. She invited us for dinner and cooked mud crabs and these beautiful blue swimmers (Portunus pelagicus) in a chilli sauce.

Nine of us feasted for about an hour and a half on two dozen crabs, slowly working out all the delicious flesh from under the shell. The crabs had been caught by Deanne’s family and friends the previous day in the Clarence River. This area is abundant in coastal foods and has a long growing season for plants, including this one:

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), a plant that belongs to the large lily (Liliaceae) family and includes day lilies and edible asparagus. We were introduced to this invasive plant back in Forster by the Tuncurry Dune Care folk and we said back then we’d try to find out if it was edible. This has been a difficult task and our online research proved inconclusive. So we thought we’d conduct a little experiment of our own. Our hypothesis or hunch was that asparagus fern tubers would be edible, perhaps even desirable, and if that was the case then we carbon-heavy humans could embrace this plant as a food and become the biological controls of it.

Our experiment empirically demonstrated that asparagus fern doesn’t stack up as food. If only a small amount caused pronounced intestinal discomfort then we think a proper meal of it could really cause some problems. We can probably say now that asparagus fern tubers are NOT food fit for human consumption. Although, there is always a slim chance that something else caused Patrick’s discomfort several hours after he ate a few small tubers, we’re going to trust his reaction and not pursue this plant any further. With this somewhat intrepid experiment under our belts we loaded up the bikes, thanked Linda and Nicholas for hosting us so graciously, and left Iluka passing this rather wishful sign on the way out.

Let’s hope this decommissioned station is an image we’ll see more and more. The only fuel in this picture that we can see as viable for the future is solar radiation (the blue sky)… And on we pedalled towards another chronic fuel problem, as we’ll see shortly, stopping after a 55 km ride up the Pacific Highway at Woodburn to cook dinner on the banks of the Richmond River,

and later to the Woodburn football ground to set up camp under the light that was offered freely to us.

 We woke with the sun to heavy dew,

we had another 55km day ahead of us, so we packed up the tents wet, stocked up on our standard organic Aussie oat porridge sweetened with local ironbark blossom honey and currants,

crossed the Pacific and the Richmond River, and headed north to Lismore.

On the way we spotted some happy free range hens so we knocked on the door and bought a dozen eggs for $3 from these peeps.

A little further on we collected some guavas for our tucker bag.

As we approached Lismore we came to understand how conscientious this community is:

and we were drawn to this conscientiousness ourselves.

We found home at Camp Liberty with hundreds of others, 15 kms west of Lismore in an area aptly called Disputed Plains, near Bentley.

Camp Liberty is a pop-up settlement established to offer all forms of support, supplies, personnel, communications and a cultural sanctuary for the blockade of three gateways that give access to a proposed mine site for invasive gas exploration.

It’s an incredibly well organised camp,

with some clear-eyed thinking.

We volunteered for the first aid tent and have so far treated a number of people with minor ailments.

While getting to know the multiplicity of people stationed here,

managing,

and witnessing,

and getting to know more intimately the land we are all protecting.

While the corporatised media tellingly ignore what is happening at this camp, social media has come alive to represent this very special transformation of people power.