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.
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.
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.
In our latest video, Patrick takes us through the management of gorse by goats and the ecological significance of slow and small solutions for post-industrial, subsistence and land-less farming. Big thanks to Bangles, Alice and Tilly for their ecological restoration services, their companionship, their fertiliser and for their co-operation in making this video.
Fire. One of the most significant phenomenons of this world. Fire makes us human, transports us into technological animals, transforms ecologies, and devastates life when we do not accept its uncompromising feedback.
The seven year old on the right in the below pic is Patrick, joined by his older brother Sam in 1977. They are on a camping trip with their father, Robert. On this night Robert (the photographer) lit a fathering fire after making a fire circle – an early rites of passage for his boys – and cooked a meal.
Four decades later Patrick and Meg light monthly fire circles and gather with community folk to listen deeply to one another and more-than-human life. Each circle, held within the Southwest community forest in the south of Djaara peoples’ land, starts with a listening to country. In an unprecedented time of fear, anxiety and aggregating bushfire cycles, these fire circles provide opportunities for collective reflection and care. And for transformation.
While a far greater acceptance and understanding of fire in Australia is required throughout the various non-Indigenous communities, there are things we can do to reduce bushfire risks.
For us, the most obvious things to mitigate bushfires have been to refuse air travel, boycott drought-producing supermarket products, and compost car ownership. Increasingly refusing drought-making economy and tools, has enabled an advancing of our form of neopeasantry, slowly transitioning over the past 12 years, making an immeasurable number of mistakes, which we’ve converted into an education, and a home.
Five years ago we began taking action in the forest near to us, on the edge of town in one of the most fire-prone regions in the terra-nullius-fiction state of Victoria. We work with neighbours and friends, transforming ourselves into community shepherds.
Our forestry practices marry bushfire mitigation with post-correct biodiversity values. Djaara people, First Custodians to this land, traditionally have managed their country through lores that maintain such a marriage. We’ve been organising community working bees to remove tyres from the creek,
and herd the most ecologically-sound weeders we know.
Above are a few of our co-op’s goats reducing weeds and bushfire risk at Daylesford Secondary College in the spring. Below are our goats carrying out guerrilla bushfire prevention on the edge of town this summer. Working with animals outside industrial-commercial relations connects us with our animal selves. We become dog and goat people.
Animals. Labouring with animals, being animals, eating and honouring them after fire has cooked up all those acres of medicinal fodder – blackberry, gorse, elderberry, broom, wild apple and oak – connects us to our ancestors and produces relationships of interbelonging between species and with land. To kill for food is sacred work. Whether we pull up a carrot or slit a throat. Souls are transformed. Life and death dance together to make more life possible.
There are always hierarchies, the question for us is whether the ideological order we subscribe to supports ecological hierarchy or mass-death hierarchy? The food we produce is some of the most nutritious money will never buy. Food that has been produced requiring almost no transportation fuels, no deforested pastures, no irrigation, no packaging or additives, and no industry-science laboratories.
Some of our walked-for food is produced by reducing the dominance of pioneer plants and their fire hazards, and in doing so moving ecological succession into the next phase to increase the number of species in the biome. The question of meat or not to meat is not a simply-packaged reductionist exercise, it’s an enquiry into ecological, cultural and economic functioning, or dysfunction, depending on what sort of consumer we are.
As ecological eaters and actors on Djarra peoples’ country, 100% of our manures – goat, dog, duck, hen and human – go back into the soil to make more life possible. This flow of goodly shit within a closed-cycle and walked-for poop-loop, gives to plants – the great converters of life.
Cultures that remove forests remove rain. Ingenious swidden agriculture grew Mayan cities and civilisation, for a while. As civilisations grow, increasingly more people become urban-centric and thus increasingly estranged from direct connection to land. Thankfully, all city-empires collapse. Ours will too. Cities represent the pinnacle of primitive thought, smugly bound up in ideologies of abstracted culture making, which inside the context of the city appear sophisticated and advanced. When such smugness reaches a tipping point cities collapse, the monocultures that feed the city return to forests or diverse perennial ecologies, rain returns, populations decrease, animism flourishes again.
Planting fire-mitigating, carbon-sequestering, shade-producing and moisture-retaining trees is now our emphasis. We’re being led by the trees themselves, oldtimer and newcomer species that have established their own inter-indigenous logic on Djaara country – blackwood wattles, English oaks, native ballart, wild apples, sweet bursaria, elder, holly and common hawthorn.
These forests make rain and they retard fires, while producing for us and countless others nourishing food, materials for habitat and more-than-human medicines that the Capitalocene will never access.
Food. There are well meaning people who are always trying to get us to scale up, put our food into a marketplace, subject ourselves to time-poverty, grow our art in capital-career terms, and generally get us to be more real in the realm of the Capitalocene. But what we do is modest, and we recognise that the scale must remain small, intimate, informal, flexible, and it must embrace uncertainty and constant change.
The market demands assurity, which in turn becomes a force against life. Assurity is essentially boring, so the transaction is a boredom in exchange for money, which can buy empty promises to fill the hollowness of modernity. While the spirit and ethic of what we do is free to grow, our household-community economy operates at a scale that enables ecological accountability and market degrowth. If the scale of everything is small, everything is novel, everyday there is a mosaic of labours, which never get boring.
We now know the origin stories of our food,
the medicinal properties of hundreds of plants.
how to turn raw materials into fermented wealth.
and many processes for making prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
People. An increasing urbanised civilisation produces ever greater enclosure laws. Peasants are kicked off ancestral lands, forests are cut down, ships are built, people once bonded to sacred land become transported slaves who in turn find their way to freedom and join their equally traumatised jailers in dispossessing other indigenous peoples. For the Capitalocene is really the Traumaocene. Healing societal trauma begins with a consciousness of the ruptures and displacements and the severing off from connection to ancestral (loved) land.
While living our ethics and values is foregrounded in forest, garden and community biomes, the political work to protect what’s left of the Djaara commons is also important.
We are currently fighting our local council on their proposed revised local laws, which are effectively new enclosure laws being brought onto unceded Djaara peoples’ country, drafted by lawyers in Melbourne. One such local law seeks to ban open fires in a public place, on non-total fire ban days. As Patrick argues, this attacks ancient cultural practices. Other laws stop us from salvaging waste, or mitigating bushfire threat. The laws are supposed to make us safer, they often don’t. Five people have died in cars in our shire in less than one month and our council is concerned about someone cutting themselves on the metal piles at the local tips while salvaging the waste of the Traumaocene. Cars kill animals, people, poison waterways and stoke up the bushfire gods, yet they are the most protected machines of hypertechnocivility.
Then on Invasion day, January 26, we came together to ‘fess up to the legal fiction of Terra Nullius.
People make a difference. Four years ago council was livid we established the Terra Nullius Breakfast outside the Daylesford Town Hall, without a permit. If we had asked permission, or applied for a permit, we would have likely been refused. This year council reached out to be involved. We are not Libertarians, but we’re not compliant puppets either. We believe in strict lores. We do however baulk at Capitalocene legalism. People make a difference. Unregulated actions change the culture. We all have a role to play in reculturing society from pollution ideology to diverse modes of low-carbon living.
People make a difference. Showing up makes a difference. Grandparents make a difference!
Permaculture scholars and filmmakers make a difference!
Wise forest women make a difference!
People on bikes make a difference!
Walked-for regenerative energy makes a difference!
And forest children (who are Free to Learn and who will never know what NAPLAN means) make a world of difference!
Until next time, Dear Reader, we need to get back to the real work now…
For those wishing to come to one of our two next house and garden tours you can find more info here.
If you’re just beginning your transition and would like a non-monetary online course in permacultural neopeasantry, start at the beginning of this blog (2009) and read forward, then smash your device and get digging. Working the soil gets you high.
A special thanks to Giulia and Michal, doctoral students currently living with us and sharing knowledges, labour and love. All the better pics in this post are theirs. We love you both and we love living with you.
OK, let’s take the oak tree, for example. Air conditioner, alkalising leaf compost, fine timber, Green Man cosmology, edible tree crop, and a now sacred feral tree of our homeplace in southern Djaara country. Is such reculturing neopeasantry?
Is neopeasantry the walking, harvesting, shelling, cracking, steeping, drying, grinding, baking and celebrating of acorns? For us honouring the fruits of this old deity tree as food and soil maker where both remain outside of an economic lock and key is precisely neopeasantry. Teaching this and the following skills, ethics and lifeways non-monetarily where the exchange is labour for learning, is what our School of Applied Neopeasantry at Tree Elbow University is all about.
The Permaculture Living Courses we’ve been running over the past year have been a radical experiment in education held in the centre of our family life. This is worts and all learning and sharing. There is no convention centre, no powerpoint presentations, no absence of non-human kin and children, dirt and rich microbial life, as Woody and his friend Fab (juicing gleaned crab apples) can attest.
Life is cooked, dried, stewed, fermented, stored and consumed, and so too are all the apples we can reach that haven’t been eaten by our fellow friends of the non-monetary economies – the local fruit-eating birds.
Apples that come from the mothering earth are dried by the fathering sky within a gender fluid logic that is both ancient and present and calls the future to account. Apple cider vinegar and scrap apple cider vinegars brew alongside one another. Before bottling the strong vinegar and the weaker scrap vinegar they are strained and mixed together to get a strength we desire with minimal waste.
Neopeasantry is a physical life (no gym memberships required), and lifting heavy items (such as this basket of vinegar bottles to take down to the cellar) without damaging our backs is crucial in maintaining the capacity to perform such economy and culture, which keeps us fit.
Making sourdough fruit loaves using biodynamic spelt grain and our dried fruit, dried ground orange peels and some spices (purchased from the not-for-profit food co-op we belong to) means we can eat highly nutritional luxuries for around $2.50 a loaf.
All of our bread making occurs in a bowl and tins. We are too busy to clean the mess that benchwork requires, so we’ve adapted our method – stretching the gluten in the bowl every hour throughout the day (or when we’re home), and doing the final rise in tins that will hold this incredibly wet loaf together. It’s a 24-hour ferment that takes 12 minutes of our attention throughout the day and 60 minutes in the oven, which we fuel with bicycled and hand-cut tree waste.
We reckon our high-hydration sourdough (which costs $1.80 a loaf) is the “best thing since the return to unsliced bread,” a favourite saying in our home. It is a locally grown staple (thanks Tania and Steve from Burrum Biodynamics for growing it) that even our gluten intolerant friends can happily eat.
The starter is made from Burrum rye and because of the diverse microbiology attracted to rye grain it always makes the starter (leaven) very active. Buying yeast, which must come in single-use packaging, is avoided when keeping a starter. So are the safe industrial strains of yeast that men in white lab coats have prepared for the money chasers since the 1960s. A starter becomes one of the household kin, it needs attention, love and regular feeding. Excess starter makes lovely crumpets, just tip it (like wet pancake mix) into a hot oily pan and cook off both sides.
For about 9 months of the year we make neopeasant cheeses and yoghurt from contraband local raw milk when the cows are not being rested. Neopeasants resist state encroachment into our lives and the ridiculous rules that come with a nanny state. We don’t passively accept all laws. Many need challenging and resisting, especially if we are to live again in relationship with the cycles of abundance and limits that constitutes the living of the world.
Going without cheese and yogurt for approximately three months of the year bonds us to the cycles of the year and the need to rest, which enables us to appreciate these gifts of pasture and cow, sunlight and water even more. Yum!
Meg loves to teach from this important hearth of our home,
and also from this hub of the community – the free-to-learn Culture Club where wild microbes enable the possibility of what she calls ‘community-immunity’ without a single cent going to any pharmaceutical company.
Patrick teaches from other commons in the town – the Daylesford Community Food Gardens for one – de-privatising his food growing knowledges to any participant who sees the value of a community flow of gifts economy.
Banana passionfruit vine creeps slowly across the library garden, while the pumpkins spread out across the front annual bed inviting all to behold community food that is not under economic lock and key. Keeping away the encroachment of private interests has taken some work and even among permaculture peers has created tension. This model draws on traditional Djaara food and energy provisioning and our own peasant and indig ancestors’, albeit not in the cultural or technical details, but rather in the spirit of keeping food and energy resources non-polluting and free from narrow self-interest. We call this community-provisioning or community-sufficiency.
Household-provisioning is the foremost economy for us. Neopeasant household provisioning requires broad self-interest. We grow it for ourselves, volunteers, friends and to trade with community but we do it in a way that is ecologically-integrated. Making cookies with seeds, oats and dried fruit we either grow, glean or buy through our local co-op enables us to eat non-packaged healthy snacks that cost very little money. A neopeasant economy is a time-rich/cash-poor economy.
Tending and growing tiger worms is integral to such an economy. These worms are soil makers and provide home-grown bait for more provisioning.
And if we don’t catch a feral redfin at Lake Daylesford,
we might go home via the creek and bring a little yabby protein home to join the dinner.
Commoning is a big part of ours and a growing number of neopeasants in the town. This is Bluey, a mama Boer goat who through our participation as shepherds in Goathand Cooperative, we’ve got to know and love.
Ryan, a former PLC student, interested in alternative forestry practices, gives young Ella a cuddle. Ella will become one of the herd working sensitively and biologically to reduce fuel loads in the climate changing and thus fire prone forests around town.
Tess gives herd alpha Woodison a scratch while he’s on the job in the Cornish Hill commons in Daylesford. Where these lovely mammals are standing couldn’t be accessed for the 3 metre high blackberry a few weeks earlier. This photo shows you where they’ve got to.
Hand tool forestry is complimentary to the goat browsing. And planting useful trees, such as this strawberry gum (thanks John + Emmanuelle for the gift), into the commons has been something many of the PLC participants have done,
especially after multiple sessions of blackberry surfing.
Once again, this area was impenetrable before our board crushing (blackberry surfing) work, allowing Zero to do more rabbit hunting in areas that were too dense even for this little tough nut.
With each harvesting of the abundance of perennial crops at home comes learning. Little learnings about when to harvest, where to pick from, what is labour intensive, what is not.
A year’s supply of brewing hops can be harvested by three people in a morning. Audréane shows her haul.
Some things we do still calls for money, such as the 3-hour house and garden tours we hold from time to time. While we’re forever transitioning away from the hold and grief money once played in our lives we still require some.
Demonstrating the harvesting of garlic scapes on one of these tours raises awareness about growing your own bulbs and getting an extra feed out of them, instead of leaving the scapes on which will put the energy into the flowers instead of the bulbs.
Demonstrating the simple processes of humanure composting on these tours can encourage a transition from fecaphobe to fecaphile and a way forward in a peak phosphate rock era.
Recognising we are the largest mammals on our quarter-acre plot means our shit is out of the outhouse and back on the table,
via a very safe and slow method,
that is fool-proof once you know how to do it.
And this is our shit on our table. Beautiful produce enabled by a closed-poop-loop.
And this is what Zac, Tess and Audréane turned some of that goodly shit into.
Learning and making on the go is a big part of a PLC course, which came out of the teaching we were already doing with our SWAPs or volunteers. Many had said to us they’d done a Permaculture Design Course but it wasn’t until they came here that all that theory was actually performed and they could see how to begin to embody it.
Keeping bees and making mead,
knowing the farmers who grow our staples, the earth processes given freely for us to make pasta,
to learn skills for life so our consumption is conscious and full of story and indebtedness,
and caring for the ecologies that make more living possible,
is the heart of neopeasantry, which is a deliberate refusal to follow the intransigence of global economic rationalism and all its waste, separations and despair. While the land on which we make this alternative economy has never been ceded, and we stand in the trouble of this, we have found that capitalist food, energy and medicine resources can be divorced with a little access to land and a lot of will, attention and care.
If you missed it here is ABC Gardening Australia’s take on what we’re doing. It’s cheesy but generous and they reveal a complex story of economic and cultural change in simple and accessible terms, for which we are grateful. (If you’re reading this in your inbox you’ll need to click through to our blog to view it.)
There have been so many learnings, diggings, explosions, failures, accidents, fermentations, tears, discoveries, haulings, screamings, inventions, reclaimings, cuttings, upcyclings and salvagings to get to this point in our neopeasant transition. When we began we saw the internet as a friendly commons, that is before the dopamine engineers and greedy manipulators polluted it. So each year we contribute less and less to it, weaning ourselves off a digi-dependancy that further plays into the hands of powerful interests and their non-transparent algorithms and spying ways, the data of which they sell to third parties who forever try to claim our attention.
With three course participants at a time and six two-week courses now complete this means that 18 students have completed a Permaculture Living Course with us. A big thanks to Marty, Cara, Teeka, Mo, Liam, Christy, Ryan, Claire and Lucille who came in the late spring and early summer months and Felix A, Felix L, Nat, Audréane, Zac*, Tess, Peter, Patrick and Tara who came from late summer to mid autumn. We hope you are all out there in your homeplaces stirring up big pots of microbes and trouble.
* Thank you so much Zac Imhoof for taking all of the beautiful photos above!