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Our last leg north: Daintree Village to the Aboriginal community of Hope Vale (via the dreaded Bloomfield Track)

We left Daintree Village rested and ready for the ominous Bloomfield Track. We had met so many lovely folk in the village and a crowd gathered to cheer us off. But despite this warmth, racism was also around us; sometimes blatant, sometimes inverted or blind. In the face of this, local elder Linda Burchill, whose ancestral country we camped on, showed us her resilience, love and (as mentioned in the previous post) a handful of her haul of freshwater mussels.

On the way to Cape Tribulation, just before we crossed the Daintree River, we stopped to munch on cotton tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus) flowers, which are great eating and are out and about throughout the year. The internal bark of the tree was traditionally made into a poultice to dress wounds and used as a cure for ulcers.

Just over the road from this medicinal bush tucker is the opposite story. Conventional western farming using harmful chemicals to grow a plant that is not necessary in our diets, costs money and is harmful to people.

Nufarm, a member of the powerful chemical agriculture and GMO lobby group CropLife Australia (along with Dow, Monsanto, Bayer and co), produce the chemical drum on the right. Glyphosate is the active constituent in many herbicides, most notably Roundup, and used extensively by conventional farmers, conventional gardeners and conventional councils. It permeates western food and environments and is linked to gut flora collapse and the myriad inflammatory diseases that stem from it. Every year more evidence stacks up against this chemical, but so far Australia’s regulatory bodies are asleep at the wheel.

We crossed the Daintree by ferry,

and rode into cooler forest country, finally leaving behind the sugarcane monocultures that had begun in Lawrence in NSW many months earlier. We sensed relief.

We camped the night under this Blue Quandong tree, which provided food and shelter for us and some delightful others.

We rode quietly straining to eye a cassowary, only spotting orange-footed scrub fowls (Megapodius reinwardt),

and what we suspected were cassowary droppings. You can see how they make excellent forest regenerators, lightly spreading seed and manure like best-practice forest gardeners.

In a post-oil world these remote bitumen roads could gradually become road-bergs, break up and disintergrate into a geological layer that people are calling the Anthropocene. After this era it will be the seeds and manure, mushrooms and leaf litter that will transform the polluted world’s worlds as we know them, a toxic layer will be embedded representing this age of intransigence. Obama and his neo-con arms dealers, Abbott and his ISIS marriage of violence and we and our way of life that determines such violence will be mere composted remnants of a stupid age of fossil-fuel damage, there will be nothing left of the strangler fig’s host.

Fan palms (Livistona spp.) may well be eaten again, but only in a survivalist manner. When the cabbage or terminal bud is removed for food the palm dies.

By the time we began the Bloomfield track the sun was high in the sky and the 4WDs were loaded up with Middle-Eastern resources – one planet fuelled by one continuous oil war since Iraq 1914.

We were pretty chipper with ourselves getting to Emmagen Creek so spritely. So far so good, perhaps this track will be a breaze afterall. We had a swim and carried on.

Then the real work began. Photographs always flatten the picture plane making this steep incline look horizontal. Believe us, it wasn’t. Meg’s bike with Woody on it weighs 70 kgs and Patrick had to push his bike up the hill and then return to push Meg’s. Killer hard times!

We went into a time warp on that track as we heaved and huffed up and down the Owen and then the Donovan ranges. We have never perspired to the degree that we did and were extremely grateful for the intermittent shade across the track.

You might think it ridiculous that we were spruiking a bicycle bumbag political message on a road so remote, but the world’s most powerful and damaging were also travelling these roads.

On our first and only night on the Bloomfield Track we collapsed into this little dusty hidey hole,

and woke early the next day to beat the heat.

We no longer had fresh muscles or the stamina that had propelled us the previous day and we struggled with the heat, dust, motorised encounters and general discomfort.

But we made it! And where the road came down to meet the Bloomfield River we stopped and had our picture taken by friendly 4WD anthropocenes.

We soon arrived in Wujal Wujal at low tide, observed the fire reduction burns, rode the spanking new bridge over the Bloomfield River,

and headed to the Bana Yirriji Art and Cultural Centre where we met community elder, Sharon Walker, who showed us custard apples (Annona reticulate) that had naturalised near the river. Wow, what a delightful free food. Thanks Sharon!

We wandered up to the Bloomfield Falls,

and spent the afternoon cooking,


and swimming.

We stayed the night in Wujal Wujal, talking with local people about the range of public food in the town, including these star apples (Chrysophyllum cainito).

The purple latex glue of the fruit is to be avoided and can bond your lips together, but the white of the fruit is not only edible, it’s delicious.

The next day we followed the Bloomfield River north out of town where we spotted this little fellow taking in a spot of sun.

A little later in Ayton we met a loan bush-poet wanderer aptly called Bushy who encouraged us to try on his handcrafted crocodile vest. Good one Bushy!

But there was not much more smiling that afternoon. Hot and exhausted we hobbled into The Lion’s Den Hotel, a pub that doubles as a camping ground. The Bloomfield had completely ruined us.

It was at The Lion’s Den that we met Julie Frame, who was intrigued by our story and invited us to stay with her family in Cooktown. Thanks Julie, you anticipated we needed somewhere to rest for a while.

Wow! We rode our bikes from Daylesford to Cooktown along a very curly, zigzagging path and landed in a similarly sized and friendly town where we quickly got to work to catch some dinner gifts to take to the Frame’s.

What good fortune – two magnificent Spanish Mackerels (Scomberomorini) to share with this delightful family:

Meet Alistair, Amber, Savannah, Julie and Tess, the family pooch. We spent three nights with the Frame tribe, perched high up above Cooktown looking north,

The girls spoiled Woody with endless play, and Amber taught us all about the soap tree (Alphitonia excels) they had growing in their garden,

and how to crush up the leaves with a little water to create an instant bush shampoo.

Savannah taught us that the orange part of the broad-leaved native cherry (Exocarpos latifolius) is edible when it turns red. This plant is a sister species to our native cherry back home, Exocarpos cupressiformis, also known as cherry ballart.

We spent a few hours in the Cooktown Botanical Garden, which held a great collection of local bush foods, including Native Rosella (Hibiscus heterophyllus), otherwise known in the local Guugu Yimithirr langauge as Ya-bu,

and the Great Morinda or cheese fruit (Morinda citrifolia), known in the local language as Wuulabi or Dugunyja, which can be juiced and is supposed to be a cure for all things from cancer to AIDS. It remains a medicine food for Indigenous Australians.

While walking through the streets of Cooktown we came across our first ripe mango (Mangifera indica) of the trip. This little wind-fallen early bolter was a sweet jewel to our lips. We have been salivating in anticipation of mango season, which is still several weeks away.

While we stayed in Cooktown we went to the local markets and met this super-permie couple, Peter and Saeng,

who make a wicked green tea brew that includes pandanus, mulberry leaf, lime, ginger, tumeric and soursop leaf. We also met numerous other gardeners, permies and farmers all working towards a better food future in the region. When we left Cooktown on our truly last northern leg to Hope Vale, we stayed a night with farmer Cass and her pet cookatoo, Esme.

Cyclone Ita had ripped through the farm only five months earlier and we got to work helping clean up the damaged teak platation, from which Cass and her partner Rick had been able to salvage and mill a considerable amount.

The next day we rode on to Hope Vale, stopping off at Endeavour Falls for a splash,

and where we found the matchbox bean (Entada phasceoloides) known locally by the Guugu Yimithirr people as Yulnga, which was fruiting down by the water. The bark was traditionally used as a wound wash and a hairwash for lice and skin diseases. The seeds are toxic, but made edible through extensive preparation – roasting, pounding, leaching and baking.

On the way back from the falls we found the health giving naturalised herb, Gota Kola (Centella asiatica). We each ate four leaves for good measure.

The sun fried us savagely as we came into Hope Vale. Have we finally got to our most northern point on this incredible adventure? It seems fitting that Hope Vale, one of a number of Cape York Aboriginal Communities, is the place we stay, reflect, learn, commune and rest before we begin to head south.

We had earlier met Duncan Murray from the Cape York Institute and he arranged for us to meet several people in Hope Vale including senior elder on council Tim McGreen and Tim’s wife Elaine McGreen, a nurse and community elder.

Tim and Elaine invited us to stay in their home for a week where Woody immediately discovered Nonda Plums (Parinari nonda),

and we traded hunting knowledges with Tim and Elaine’s grandchildren and their community friends.

Tim and Elaine have been introducing us to many people in the community and we are learning much about traditional food and medicine here as well as new initiatives for developing community food resilience, which we will share with you in our next post.

Wherever you are, we hope that there’s plenty of medicine in your food and resilience in your community.

Much free food love from Artist as Family.

Strange fruits, bush tucker, diverse cultures and generally composting ‘Team Australia’ (from Airlie Beach to Townsville)

On leaving Airlie Beach we discovered this woody vine and stopped to investigate.

Despite all our best efforts we haven’t been able to work out what plant produces such a fruit and whether it is at all edible. Perhaps you can help dear reader? [UPDATE: Thanks Amanda Ramsay for identifying this fruit as the creeping or climbing fig (Ficus pumila var. awkeotsang). Apparently in Taiwan the fruit is dried for eating and the seeds help form a jelly.] 

We left our mystery fruit, collected some roadside citrus and Black Sapote (Diospyros nigra),

raced a cane train engine back to the Bruce Highway (thanks for the peg Tim Burder!),

and discovered our first cocky apple (Planchonia careya), a traditional bush food of the north.

It was a long day in the saddle riding 80 kms to windy-as-hell Bowen, where we took an obligatory peg under the big mango (note the edible, fruit-loving  green ant, which we still have to try).

Bowen is a kind of birthplace for the mango industry in Australia, dating back to the 1880s when the Kensington variety was first grown for commerical purposes. Now mangoes have naturalised and are considered weeds by landcare groups where they grow without monetary intention. Sadly we’re too late (or is it too early?) for mangoes freely foraged or commercially grown.

We also discovered bananas that have naturalised in this region,

and another weed of great significance for a country arriving at peak affluence, coconuts!

We have so enjoyed this nut, which is so freely available everywhere along the coast. We have developed a fast technique to remove the husk (note the hatchet) and to drill through the eyes (note the three-pronged fishing spear head) to extract the nutritious milk. Every tool we carry has to have multiple uses.

Bowen was a haven for new species we hadn’t previously documented. We came across another strange fruit, which despite all our reference books and online searching we also haven’t been able to identify.

We discovered bush passionfruit (Passiflora foetida),

Burdekin plums (Pleigynium timorense),

and the (apparently) good eating brush turkey (Alectura lathami),

all at Horseshoe Bay. This little place was something quite special.

On the beach we noted the forageable and medicinal but nonetheless potentially poisonous goats foot (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Traditionally, the fleshy part of the taproot was removed, washed and then steamed over coals wrapped in pandanus or some like leaves, making the root edible.

Bowen is also a town of citrus at this time of year and we knocked on several doors to ask if we could harvest a little. While there is still little value given to fruit grown on trees in front and backyards, it is easy pickings to travel Australia and everyday find something good to eat.

Bowen is also a town of capsicum and tomato monocultures,

and like all conventionally grown fruit, petrochemical pesticides are absolutely necessary, and significant waste goes with the territory. This is one season’s weed matting and irrigation pipe ready for the tip.

We left Bowen spotting Mexican prickly poppies (Argemone mexicana), a traditional medicine plant of Sonora in Mexico, used to treat severe headaches and constipation. The oil the plant produces (katkar oil) can be toxic and has been known to cause epidemic dropsy in humans when other edible oils (especially mustard seed oil) have been adulterated by it. Notably severe headaches and loose bowels are just some of the symptoms produced by poisoning.

While the dry tropics at this time of year have been conducive to living outdoors, the temperature increases as we head north make for thirsty cycling.

We rode a short leg to Gumlu where we paid $10 to camp the night and take a warm shower,

at a caravan park that’s seen better days,

and is now in transition to an energy descent scenario.

Woody found a store of corn kept for the animals, helped himself and also picked up some unwanted guests.

It was at Gumlu Caravan Park that we first tasted Ber fruit (Ziziphus mauritiana), also known as Chinee Apple, Jujube, Indian plum and Masau. Look how appley they look.

It is a rather dry fruit, not overly sweet but much richer in Vitamin C than all types of citrus. As Woody will tell you the orange fruit indicates they’re ready to eat.

We harvested a bunch for the road,

set out to seek more species but for a while only found ‘nature’ just south of Ayr,

crossed a rather big bridge,

and set up home in a park south of the town.

It was in Ayr we first came across candle nut (Aleurites moluccana), which gets its common name from its traditional use as a light source. This very oily nut can be burnt as a candle.

We were also introduced to the beach cherry (Eugenia reinwardtiana), otherwise known as the Ceder Bay cherry.

This was a delicious, moist, sweet find and we relished the few fruit we consumed.

On the way out of Ayr we discovered our third mystery fruit for this 300 km leg.

We asked the owners of the property we found it on, but they had no idea. Even though our main research focuses on naturalised, uncultivated food sources, anything edible, medicinal or useful is of interest, especially those species that yield much food,

and can lead us away from sickness.

We rode to a little sugar cane town called Giru, and asked a local man whether we could harvest his Kumquats. He happily obliged.

Beside this abundant tree was a Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). We tapped on the larger fruits to see whether they were hollow and ready to eat, but we were too early in the season for them.

We stopped at the local pub for an afternoon ale and got the lowdown on free camping in Giru. As we pulled up and we adults began to set up, Woody noticed little red fruits at our feet.

Naturalised tomatoes. Yum!

We threw them through a pasta with locally gardened garlic and olive oil before rumbles in the tent.

With the new day we had a rather testing ride into Townsville with gusty side winds and disappearing shoulders,

arriving fairly exhuasted to stay with Becc, a local bicycle advocate and warm showers host.

Becc took us down to The Strand for a cultural parade that had little to do with ‘Team Australia’ and all to do with celebrating diversity,

and cooked us a beautiful dinner which we enjoyed with other lovely local cycle tourists. We’ll stay a little while in Townsville and rest up to ready ourselves for our next leg of discovery.