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The Newcastle moment

Newcastle would have to be one of the most likeable Australian cities. ‘Keep Newcastle Weird’ was a slogan we admired on the streets. It is a great place to find your own sub-culture and it has a climate that sings to be lightly dressed and loosely behaved. The scale of Newcastle is probably the key to its liveability, and the coastline, which is highly accessible, is transformative.

We had made a few local friends from our previous adventure in 2009, but never fathomed making so many others this time around. Some of whom invited us to stay with them, like Fiona and Phil that featured at the end of the last post, and Michelle and Tom and their boys Sonny and Max, who put on a bonza BBQ on our first night with them.

This artist as family clan playfully call themselves Boghemians. Of an evening and in dream states, Zeph and Zero became part of the art of this vibrant home.

Riding through the streets we met stay-at-home dad Billy and his kids Charlie and Isabelle. They were riding around on a cargo bike Billy had brilliantly fashioned from mostly reclaimed parts.

Billy invited us back to his home where we were able to put Woody down for a long sleep. Billy and his partner Amy, briefly home from work, hosted us for lunch, while Charlie also had a snooze.

We stayed and shared meals with Suzie, Dom and Bowie,

a gorgeous family Fiona and Phil had introduced us to and who live near the Sandhills community garden. Suzie, Dom, Bowie and Fiona all help out in the garden, which has been growing steadily for eight years under the direction of this remarkable person, Christine.

After a week of couch surfing and rich social life we decided to hang out for several days in Awabakal country. We headed south, climbed some hills and set up camp in Glenrock Reserve,

a two kilometre beach walk to the Glenrock Lagoon, where there was fish to catch,

and coastal greens to gather and cook.

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens), we have found, is not always palatable. Sometimes the leaves are very astringent and leave an unpleasant film on your teeth. The best we’ve tasted them is when we’ve gathered young leaves and cooked them well on a fast heat with fish. We are realising we could live well on just fish, coastal leafies (Warrigal greens, Bower spinach and Pigface) and one or two other things. But there is still so much to learn.

The key is camping close to these food sources, something not always possible when the population is large. After three nights at Glenrock we again, by chance, met another lovely family who invited us to stay with them. Meet Gavin and Beck and their kids Barney and Lottie.

Gav and Beck had cycle-toured throughout Europe pre-kids and were intrigued we were doing it in Australia with children. We traded notes around saftey and the improvements local governments need to make for cycling to become a more dominant mode of transport. When car lanes become exclusively bike lanes we will start to see more and more people on the roads commuting, touring or just pollutionless having fun. Afterall, we may as well adapt now, the end of oil is on its way as our friend Charlie McGee will happily tell you.

While exploring Newcastle we came across this sand filter just off Nobby’s Beach. It is designed to process the pollution from cars and stop it from entering the water catchment and the beach.

The sand filter’s storyboard lists the lethal ‘cocktail’ of chemicals that cars produce (including lead, nickel, chromium, copper, P.C.Bs, Manganese, Zinc, Cadmium, P.A.Bs, Oil and Grease, Dioxine, Sulphates and Detergents) that end up in our streets and in our environments. With this list alone how are cars legal?

Is it possible to work towards industrialism’s end, not just through scholarly texts but actually lived? We say Yes!

But love miles (or love kilometres) are sometimes difficult to reconcile, as we too are finding. Because of the power of fossil fuels people have spread out around the globe. Meet Zeph’s lovely mum, Mel, who is Woody’s guide-mother and who lives in our home community over 1000 km from Newcastle as the ravin flies (there are no crows in Australia).

Throughout our year of supposedly low-carbon travel, Zeph will return home to see and stay with his mum on a number of occasions, and this will generally mean a number of highly polluting transits. AaF gave up air travel the year before we became carless in 2010, and even though the overall trend for us is a slow movement away from fossil fuel dependancy we can’t help but compromise at times, especially for love. Marrying values of care for the earth with care for each other does at times create contradictions. This is typical of transition, but it doesn’t undermine our household’s challenge of moving to a low-carbon existence, and teaching our children the skills and ethics to do so. Imagine if the norm in our society was to walk, ride and catch public transport, and cars were the exception?

The last time we were in Newcastle we flew here to take up an artist-in-residence project at the Lock-up Cultural Centre. We loaned bikes from the Newcastle Bike Ecology Library and became friends with Gerry Bobsien, the then director, now chair of the Lock-up. It was Gerry and her family that we had originally come to visit in Newcastle this time, but it took us a few weeks to hook up as we were inundated with chance invitations to stay with generous others.

Gerry (far head of the table) and her youngest child Polly (close head of the table) introduced us to their friends Rhiannon and Steele (either side of Polly). Rhiannon is one of the art teachers at Polly’s school, the Newcastle Waldorf School, a school that actually allows children to climb trees, hug calfs, get muddy, learn about growing food and making great things, like canoes. Zeph and Polly really hit it off,

and Zeph was keen to go to her school the next day. Rhiannon and Gerry arranged it, and after a day of immercing himself in probably the happiest school he’d experienced, the rest of the AaF were then invited to spend the following day talking to students about our trip and our practice. We spoke with Rhiannon’s awesome art class about making performative ecological and activist art.

We spoke to the year 10 students about renewable energies, the history of oil, and why we’re travelling around the country on our bikes. And, for Polly and Zeph’s class, we took a foraging walk, identifying dandelion, chickweed, flatweed, wild strawberry and spear thistle.

Polly’s dad Jeremy (above) is also a teacher at the school and responsible for teaching children to make all manners of things from wooden spoons to functional canoes. The AaF don’t usually endorse schools as places of learning fit for the future, but this school is definitely an exception. The students are happy, relaxed, fulfilled and are allowed to be children. The staff are also treated well and that seems to reflect how they then teach. We were invited to one of the staff’s delicious and life-affirming lunches,

which was concluded with some delicious, in-season baked fruit. This is when gift economies are at their best; when both parties are generous and both recieve beneficial gifts.

Because Zeph’s twelfth birthday is almost upon us and we’re away from his mates from home, he and Polly got to work to throw an impromtu (no gifts) beach party,

inviting all the kids in Polly’s class. The weather, however, had other plans and not everyone braved the cold.

Some of us hung back from the water and got into the serious business of eating.

We’ll be very sad to leave Newcastle and all our old and new friends, but our time in this lovely centre is coming to a close. We have once again what we call itchy pedals, and feel the call to part company with settled life and get on our freedom machines and sail north.

What ever you are doing and however you are travelling we hope you have gentle winds in your sail.

Riding the coast: Wamberal to Newcastle

Perhaps this ex-hire tandem wasn’t such a great idea. On our last evening in Wamberal, Patrick’s seat post socket snapped. We were so relieved it happened here and not between Tallangatta and Tumbarumba or somewhere really remote, and we were additionally relieved because another sweet family that we’d met in a children’s playground invited us to stay for the night. 

Meet Andrew, Mandy, Krys and Marie. We swam in their pool, admired their chooks and hugelkultur, and were treated to dinner. The central coast certainly shared its love.

Also meet Kevin from Cougar Fabrications in Erina. Kevin and Phil fixed the tandem and had us back on the road in fifteen minutes (for a mere fifteen dollars!). These kind men really brought us much relief with grace and warmth and good cheer. 

And then, after an easy morning’s ride, we stopped in a park for some lunch near The Entrance and were graced by fellow bike tourer Tom.

We invited Tom to camp with us, but warned him we are slow travellers. He was in no rush himself and we set about looking for a camp spot together.

We swapped notes on touring and the art of free camping in an increasingly private world. We pedaled and sniffed and sighted a little laneway that led down to the water’s edge north of The Entrance.

It was a brief co-existence with Tom but he wasted no time immersing himself in family life. We hope to see him again at some point down the track. A truly beautiful dude.

We parted ways the next morning and continued our slow trawl up the coast to Budgewoi where we rode this old bridge onto a little island to camp for the night.

We are getting pretty used to camp life. Every tool and resource we carry must have at least two purposes, as Meg demonstrates here with some local olive oil, used for cooking and for cleaning skin in a post-bathroom reality.

People often ask about Zephyr’s schooling as we travel. Our simple reply is this is school on the road, for all of us. However, a minimum of half an hour of reading a day applies and Zeph has just finished writing an article for NSW youth magazine unleash, which explains our project from his (almost twelve year old) perspective.

On leaving our little Budgewoi island we shouldered the busy Old Pacific Highway and came across telling signs of the times,

signs we didn’t even have to hack or bust or edit. They seemed to already speak for themselves.

While the Abbott government is selling the country off to more global corporate power, gas frackers, big coal and every other colossal polluter he can rustle up from his big black book, we are biking the country, poaching free camping spots, and improving our fishing.

We exchanged fishing knowledges with fellow free campers, Gary, Rob and Maé in Swansea,

and learned from experienced fishing folk such as Abdul,

and these fellow non-Abbott voters.

We also practiced more Artist as Family trash retrieval while teaching our boys about the ecological problems of line fishing, not just large-scale indiscriminate commercial fishing.

For the first time on our trip we came across patches of autonomous Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides), also known as Indigenous, sea or New Zealand spinach.

And we were relieved to jump on another rail trail utopia, the Fernleigh Track, which enabled a cruisey and very social ride into Newcastle,

where we were spontaneously chaperoned by a fellow Fernleigh Track cyclist into the city

where we did a little shopping,

and restocked our local honey stores.

Within the first hour of our arrival in Newcastle we received two invitations to stay. The first from this awesome couple, Fiona and Phil, who we’ll stay with tonight.

The social warming dimension of this trip is truly astonishing. We look forward to a couple of weeks getting to know Newcastle again. Last time we were here, nearly five years ago, we worked on this project. Coming into Newcastle today reminded us of why we love this big town so much.