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Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (fifth excerpt – Blue Wren & Magpie)

November 13
Patrick

Each day begins with cleaning out the fire box before I set and light the fire. It is still too cold in the mornings to move this ritual to the outdoor kitchen, and use the brick rocket stove I’ve built there.

Each week I sift the potash from the charcoal, pound the black char into finer lumps, and soak it in urine to activate this forever carbon before it goes onto the garden or back into the forest. The high nitrogen content of the urine is absorbed by the char so when it is put into a soil ecology the nitrogen is then slowly released for plants to take up. If char is broadcast without being activated it will draw up nitrogen from the soil and may starve plants of it.

Similarly, I use the fine potash in the perennial parts of the garden and in the forest. Broadcasting these materials becomes a ritual of gratitude, a ritual of return for all the gifts that flow from these environments.

In Aboriginal burning methods it is ash that is desired, not coals. The potash – the potassium – renews the ecology, helps to grow more life. If coals are produced during a burn then the fire is too hot and can stunt growth. The Indigenous craft of land management with fire to grow abundance while reducing fuel load, requires relationship beyond the human and technological. Fire crafting thus takes place in mythological space and time, integrating the beyond-human wisdoms of Mother Country and Father Fire.

I’ve come to the forest to cut wood for the men’s gathering and brought my chainsaw, my largest wheelbarrow, a small digging trowel and a metal bucket filled with sifted potash.

Before I cut the fallen wood I go through the forest and flick potash from my trowel until my bucket is empty. Fine ash covers the forest and my clothes.

With a barrow of wood cut I push the heavy load to the fire circle. There is sometimes a dread I carry leading up to a gathering. It stems from me fearing I won’t be in a goodly place to facilitate the night, to set the fire and the intention for the gathering, to listen to the forest, to open to Mother Country, to hear the men who come to share and enter into our culturally specific mythos.

In the lead up to this gathering I have spent time sitting and reflecting and making little rituals throughout the day. Superb fairy wrens are present as I light the fire in the late afternoon, and this brings joy. Blue Wren is the name this Country has given me.

 

November 16
Meg

A number of years ago I got up early to walk around lake Daylesford. It was just after dawn and I was walking down a wallaby track through the forest when I saw a magpie on the path just ahead of me. I stopped and she stopped. I want to say we watched each other, but it was more than that. I am going to use the word beheld.

I felt like the magpie and I had known one another forever, that our ancestors had known each other forever. Even though my people are newcomers to this land, I was thinking and knowing this recognition beyond time. It was after that encounter that I started thanking the ancestors of the magpies each time I gave an honouring of Country at a gathering.

The other day I bent down to snuffle our neighbour’s new puppy, Maggie, when she licked my cheek then scratched my nose with her paw and it started bleeding. I grabbed some plantain from where I knew it was growing near our quince tree, chewed it up and stuck it on my nose.

The scratch has been healing well. Today I am in the bathroom putting some of my homemade calendula oil on it and I turn side on in the mirror. I was teased at school about my pointy nose and chin and how one day they were going to join up. I never took to heart the teasing – I knew they were probably right.

Looking at myself in the mirror today I realise for the first time my features are a remnant from my past. That my pointy chin and pointy nose used to be a beak.

 

Neo-peasants rise up!

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.

Nice job 14 year-old!

Zephyr is loving having his own pad to sleep in, entertain friends in and as a venue to host impromptu gigs by touring friends Formidable Vegetable Sound System.

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.

Patrick gave a keynote called Fermenting country: caring for the ecology of our guts, and Meg ran a complementary workshop on making fermented drinks, including jun.

Meg separated 16 parts of Beverly to give away. She named each one after a strong woman in our community. Here is Leith, an exhibitor from the Dept of Veteran Affairs.

The gifts flowed our way too. Matthew Tafoya, a Navajo man, designed and made this famous t-shirt in the Bush jnr era. Matt’s talk about his people’s community food gardens was inspirational.

So as you can see we’ve been busy lil’ neo-peasants and raising quite a sweat these past few months. Meg made us some soap so we can clean up a little before new year.
Wishing you all a peaceful summer solstice season, with love from Artist as Family

Palm Island: a beautiful, friendly, frontier community

From Becc’s, our Warm Showers host in Townsville, we walked out to explore some of the town’s significant sites.

We finally got to taste ripe bush passionfruit on the hill. Yum!

And we were newsworthy down on The Strand. The article neighbouring ours is fairly amusing. It features a male, Jones, 44 years old, involved with bikes; a description that matches Patrick…

While in Townsville we asked the Palm Island Council permission to visit their island. Palm has been a closed community until this year, but it’s not open to tourists. Council filters those who come by asking them to state their intention. We told council about our free food project and the research we were doing and they kindly decided to sponsor us by offering a much reduced rate to stay in the council-run motel, the only accomadation for visitors on the island. We still had a few days to wait for the next ferry and were lucky enough to stay with more Warm Showers hosts, Mick and Jen. Mick runs The Bicycle Pedlar shop in Townsville, specialising in touring. He gave Patrick’s bike a good going over. Thanks Mick!

On the first night Jen cooked us all a beautiful curry. Thanks Jen! So we reciprocated on the second, beginning the meal with a haul of foraged passionfruit we found at a nearby abandoned house site.

We thanked and farewelled Jen and Mick and boarded the ferry for Palm Island, otherwise known by its Aboriginal name Bwgcolman, meaning many tribes, one people.

Palm, as the locals call it, was like stepping into another country.

One of the most joyous things we soon discovered was all the free-ranging going on. Quite a contrast to surbanite Australia. On Palm, horses,

dogs,

goats,

and children have free range of the island.

It was a beautiful thing, and so too were all the foods we discovered. Over the week we were there we compiled a list of 60 autonomous edibles we found or locals told us exist on the island. Bush cucumber grows along the beaches,

as do tropical almonds,

peanut trees,

native gooseberries,

and coconuts.

The local kids were very knowledgeable about fishing,

hunting,

and having a good time.

So we followed their lead. Zero mixed it with Big Girl and Mango,

Meg fished for Burracuda,

Patrick for mullet,

and Woody foraged Burdekin plums and cluster figs.

Each day we found more and more species of both traditional bush tucker and newcomers. We met Uncle Nick and he took us out foraging.

He showed us a number of plants including this weed, possibly a spurge, which is good for treating worts,

and these ripe emu berries.

By the end of the week we had discovered living on or around the island the following species: mango, chinee apple, banana, bush banana, African tulip tree, bush lemon, amaranth, coconut, barracuda, barramundi cod, sea turtle, bush passionfruit, snakeweed, snapper, trevally, brush turkey, echidna, possum, Burdekin plum, bush cucumber, cluster fig, autonomous goat, queenfish, clam, native mulberry, rock wallaby, mud mussel, spider shell, crab, pipi, cassava, sweet potato, naturalised squash, mangrove snail, mud whelk, stingray, sea caper, beach cherry, autonomous pig, jackfruit, emu berry, Pacific rosewood, lady apple, fleabane, goats foot, dugong, grasshopper, naturalised tomato, green ant, guava, mullet, nardoo, native gooseberry, native rock fig, pandanus, paw paw, peanut or monkey nut tree, mackerel, purslane, oyster, emu berry and tropical almond.

The green fruit of the tropical or beach almond looks like this:

During the week Patrick wrote a paper for the forthcoming Indigenous Men’s Health Conference in Cairns. His paper is called Future food, future health: Remodelling tradional Indigenous food and lifeways. For those wishing to delve into more detail of our time on Palm Island and his thesis of walked-for food, you can read his draft.

Later in the week we also got to hang out with these two lovely peeps, Yo and Jarrod,

who are involved with Kinfolk in Melbourne, a café whose sole purpose is to generate funds to support goodly things. They were on Palm with one such enterprise, the Cathy Freeman Foundation, which is set up to assist Indigenous kids education. While on Palm Artist as Family considered ways to help improve non-Indigenous kids education around Australia, to ‘close the gap’ so to speak, with the lack of knowledge in free-ranging, foraging, fishing, hunting and general life resilience. Palm kids were simply awesome and each afternoon fishing off the jetty we met a great number of them and shared our stories and knowledge.

Many outsiders consider Palm Island a third world country and focus on the negatives well publicised in the media. But to us this island represents a frontier, and much is to be learnt from Bwgcolman people as we move into an energy descent era. Resilient kids are certainly the future, as are Indigenous knowledges.

Palm has been a such a highlight in our journey. Thank you to all on the island for sharing your stories, skills and knowledges. It has been a wonderful learning for us.