English writer George Monbiot contests “the oddest insult in the English language [is] when you call someone a peasant, [because] you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive.” Go Woody! You proud lil ‘peasant…
Words such as pagan and heathen were insults Christians used to describe various nameless land-sacred peoples of Europe. In our community our peasant, pagan, heathen women get together to raise awareness about the relocalisation of food and medicine in an age where Christian-capitalism is becoming a spent and dying force.
Zeph and Woody, like true neo-peasants, are learning grafting techniques to expand the food commons in their locasphere.
Woody (pictured here after his first haircut on his birthday morning) gets to four years of age without eating processed sugar,
and for another half year his brother is lovingly unschooled through the gifts of the community.
(Thanks Tosh, Danny, Nick, Kirsten, Pete, Jeff, Cath, Hamish, Fiona, Henri, Edward, Tim, Angela and Gael for aiding Zeph’s learning).
Zeph also experiments with his own forms of neo-peasant culture-making in his video Treeffiti:
and mucks around with developing his own written language.
He helps in numerous home projects such as building the cellar from stone unearthed from our land.
This is Angela, who we welcomed as a SWAP (Social Warming Artists + Permaculturists), and who has since become a friend to all of us.
In this photo Angela and Meg are preparing a bed for cabbages.
We have irrigation lines set up for the dry months but for the rainy months we harvest water passively in our swales.
It wasn’t just Angela who arrived to our place by bike. These last few months we have hosted four Warm Showers travellers: Maya, Kirsten, Jaz and Tom, (pictured below). On most days we talk about upcoming cycle trips that we are scheming, but for now we are happy to be home where we can repay some of the kindness shown to us while we were on the road.
We also love being home because we love being community gardeners, helping to build an alternative food system based on care, nourishment and trust. The Daylesford Community Food Gardeners are planning to be in the Daylesford New Year’s Eve parade again this year, so please get in touch if you’d like to join us.
Love the poster, Jeff! We’re rapt you promised a bike or two for next year’s poster.
Learning the art of bicycle maintenance is an ongoing affair at our place. Bicycles are a preferred neo-peasant mobility.
But you always see more when you’re walking, such as this little family of hard shells we spotted at Lake Daylesford,
while fishing for some feral redfin.
Wild plants, fish and mushrooms are part of any neo-peasant sacred economy, as are wild bees. We caught our first wild swarm this spring, aided and tutored by Nick from Milkwood. Thanks Nick!
We’ve been mentoring and handing on knowledges too, while getting fashion tips in exchange. Thanks Ruby!
Harvesting the early planted garlic was an experiment worth repeating. We planted these bulbs in February.
Gift economies only work if the gifts flow in every direction. We’ve been foraging in the nearby forest so carrying out work that enables the diversity of that forest to flourish is the return.
And we’ve been speaking, sharing and learning at a number of events including talks at libraries, sustainability festivals and at this event, Futurelands2, where Patrick introduced Bruce Pascoe in the Kandos community hall.
We shared an event with Kirsten from Milkwood and Uncle Kevin Williams, a Wiradjuri man, at Ganguddy,
and we did a most non neo-peasant thing and flew to Cairns, breaking our no-fly principle. All throughout the flight we had to burp Beverly, our jun mother.
We were invited to Cairns as guests of the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference, and got to spend three days with this wonderful group, each of us sharing stories of resilience and creativity from our respective communities.
As Meg and Woody treadle along they make up songs about our experiences. They have songs about going downhill, uphill, about sugarcane, bridges, flags, kangaroos, rocky roads, plants, horses, trucks, bones, beaches, cows and caravans. After staying at Sarah, Renee and Oscar’s the caravan song now has fourteen verses, one for each of our caravan experiences.
Oscar (pictured on Zeph’s knee) is a delightful and tenacious kid and it was a joy to watch our little boys experimenting in social play.
While we were in Cairns, on Yirrganydji country, Patrick was a guest speaker at the inaugral national Indigenous Men’s Conference, which ran alongside the Women’s conference and brought together people from all over Australia. We published an earlier version of his paper several posts ago, however we thought we’d share the final version he presented:
Wiradjuri descendent Linda Burney MP opened both conferences,
before the partition rolled in and the two conferences split into their respective groups. John Riley, a nurse with the RFDS who we had met in Hope Vale, gave an account of his time in Aurukun setting up the men’s group there with Wik Warrior Vince Koomeeta.
Vince and John were just two of forty men who shared stories about their community projects, and these stories, often harrowing, made Patrick aware of just how much reconcilitory work still has to be done in Australia. Patrick met Simon and Gordon from Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and they discussed how reconciliation doesn’t happen in or out of the mouths of prime ministers but rather in and out of the homes and communities of us all.
Gordon and Simon (pictured second and fourth from left) are both descendents of the Yorta Yorta people and will come to Daylesford next year to look at how our town’s community gardens, meal trees and other gift economies operate. And while gift economies were very much part of the discussion at the conference, Artist as Family (sans Patrick) were out and about carrying on the plant research, finding our first tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) loaded with tart and healthful surprise.
Being back in Cairns signalled the assembly point for big changes. For eleven months we have had to adjust to much daily change but there has been a rythmn to our travel, which provided us some comfort. But then, in Cairns, we put our bikes on a truck (thanks Steve!),
and hired a car. In the five or so years our family has been car-free we have only had to hire a car once and have borrowed friends cars a handful of times. We knew back at Hervey Bay that if we were to cycle for the entire fourteen months we’d have to turn back south then, missing the wonderful north. We explored various alternatives, but travelling with our dog-kin Zero and children make trains or hitching a ride with trucks fairly impossible. The only option left for us was to hire a car and send our bikes back in a truck. We have cycled 7300 kms on our freedom machines and now we were couped up in a glazed off and air conditioned metal box removed from the world. It made us sick,
a little cuckoo,
and really sad.
It felt like we were undoing all our work and we were hypocrites, participants again in the damage established by global oil lords, administered by governments and their armies and carried out by everyday people who either have no agency or will to resist. We were back in the thick of it; in the clouds of pollution ideology. Our need to be home by a set time justified the use of oil, and we realised that petroleum for us is still an option based on unaccountable and non-renewable privilege. This was both distressing and depressing. But then, after only a short day of driving, we arrived at a little free camp site in Mount Garnet and Zeph lit a fire,
and we set up camp and got ourselves grubbed again before brewing up some grub.
Our simple camp kitchen reclaimed some of the sensibilities we had lost,
and we decided to go a little easy on ourselves and to try to take from this experience what we could, even if it was to be just an expensive reminder of how not to live and how not to make art and sense. As soon as we were out of the car the boys forgot about the ordeal, showing us the way back to the simplicity of camp life.
The following days’ driving were again difficult, but compared with most of our fellow creatures we came across in this drought-stricten part of the country, our comfort was off the scale. Cows were hungry,
animals with no agricultural or ecological status were brutally cast aside,
and those better adapted to (and camouflaged in) the environment raced away from the obnoxious intransigence of the motorised world.
Many didn’t make it,
others proudly protected their young and resisted the enslaught of digi-industrial civility.
These roads were typical Australian corridors of suffering and our cyclist eyes were still keenly attentive to the man-made mass death around us. We stopped under this tree to take a break,
and discovered its ingenius fertility, which fitted into the palm of a hand.
We still haven’t found out anything about it. If you know, Dear Reader, please share with us. A little further on, in the town with the Game of Thrones name, Charters Towers, we came across some pods we did know something about.
The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) hails from the Mediterraen and Middle East and has been cultivated in these regions for around 4000 years. After removing the seeds the fully dried pods can be ground into a delicious powder. This is very easy to do at home and prefereable as apparently most commerical carob powder is not raw but rather pasteurised at high temperatures.
Another edible pod-producing tree found in this part of Australia is the boab or bottle tree (Adansonia gregorii). Many streets are planted with this beautiful tree in the inland central Queensland towns that we teared through.
In winter, large pods are produced that contain a white edible flesh or pith. This is what the dried pods look like after they have been emptied of seed and pith.
An annual weed we saw plenty of along the road verges is golden crown beard (Verbesina encelioides), which has been used in folk medicine around the world. Research suggests the plant exhibits significant antiviral, antitumour, antimicrobial and antiinflammatory activies. The plant is also known to be mildly toxic so care is required to use this plant.
Just north of the little town of Springsure we had a history lesson on the Frontier Wars; histroy we were never taught at school. The Cullin-la-Ringo massacre took place here in 1861. It was the largest massacre of settlers by Aborigines in Australia, and thus a significant moment of nulla nulla resistance to gun-barrel invasion.
And we found evidence that gun-barrel invasion is still very much alive in Central Queensland. The Frontier Wars were fought for access to land and its resources. For those who had been on country for millennia, stealing the sheep of the newcomers often incited violent retaliations and even bloody massacres. This same war continues today; dingos are the victims of grazier intransigence and violence.
Deborah Bird Rose first alerted us to this commonplace occurance in her book, Wild Dog Dreaming. In his doctoral thesis Walking for food: regaining permapoesis, Patrick wrote: “Australian writer Deborah Bird Rose (2011) wants us to stay close to images of the slung remains of shot or poisoned dingoes on fences, whose trophied, atrophying bodies are kept from making a return to soil, kept from re-entering the continuum of living, dying and renewing. They are the images of settler indifference that continue to haunt Aboriginal people today, and continue to attack the we ethic of Aboriginal inclusivity, an ethic that extends well beyond the human.” (2014)
We were hurtling towards Sydney with temple-strained awareness of this deadly form of travel, stopping to document significant places and species, but mostly the land and its many forms were just a simulated blur, a land escaped by speed and speed’s abstractions.
The most notable edible outside our walled-city-on-four-wheels was prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). They mark these remote roads as signifiers of agricultural desertification but also as radical adaptation and future drought-hardy food.
This was the heart of the Queensland dust lands—cattle, sheep and coal doing much of the damage, which was quite a contrast to the no-less-damaging sugar cane and reef tourism found on the Queensland coast. There would be little chance of us cycling this inland route with such large distances between towns and so few opportunities to refill with potable water. Much of the water we came across was fairly undesirable, but at times it was hot enough for a dip…
For eleven months we have been hardy to all weather, living in it, but now that hardiness has been challenged by the health-negating convenience of air-conditioning. For the first time in eleven months we had sore throats and flu-like symptoms, unheard of in our car-free family. A cayenne pepper tonic is our preferred rescue for such occasions and similarly Jacarandas brought moments of framed ecstasy as they flashed out at us from Cairns,
to the New South Wales border,
as we hurtled on south to Gary Trindall’s home in Walgett. Gary, a Gamilaraay man who Patrick met at the Cairns conference, welcomed us into his home and shared with us a few of his traditional bush medicines.
Gary and his wife Jenny put on a BBQ, gave us their camper to sleep in, cooked us a beautiful breakfast using their hen’s eggs before bidding us farewell the next morning. Thanks Trindalls, we’d love to come back (a mere 1000 km bike ride from home) next winter and film more of Gary’s bush food and medicine knowledges.
Zeph had a great night getting to know Gary and Jenny’s grandchildren Markell and Kevin, playing tag in the snake hours around the house. Many tags but no bites.
As we dropped further south into NSW the land changed, the climate cooled and water was evidently more available. It had been many months since we had witnessed cool temperate climate weeds such as plantain, dock and clover. It reminded us of the weed salads we make back home, using twenty or so species including the three mentioned here.
We camped in Mudgee and used a public BBQ to cook up both some roadside and out-of-season produce for dinner. Thanks chooks!
We also camped at Lake Wallace where we spent a night in this little shelter. Who needs tents? Our sleep was fairly disturbed and at one stage in the night the rain whipped in with gusty weather, spraying our bedding and faces, but we woke alive and joyous.
And then, after a few more hours travelling arrived in Sydney – 2800 kms, 170 litres of unleaded petrol with a fuel cost of $250 – relieved to see our bikes and our family. Hello Eliza, Tildy, Hen (Patrick’s sister), Ant and Millie! Sadly, we had missed Brett by a day.
And then after a week or so in Sydney we will head to the Southern Highlands to help other family members construct their food garden, before we push off for the final two months on the road along the coast from Kiama to Melbourne, and then back home to Daylesford.
Thanks once again, Dear Reader, for joining us on our journey.