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Subsistence permaculture’s feral abundance (the shootin’-fishin’, catch ‘n cook post)

Listen to the audio version (14 mins):

 

Neopeasantry is our way of describing permaculture subsistence, a reaching into a glorious poverty – an abundant, anarchical economy that enables rich culture to spring forth; an earth-first, bankers last economy-culture. That’s neopeasantry. Not capitalism, not communism, more akin to a fair-share distributism, only not a theory but lived.

Today’s post specifically focuses on the abundance that is feral carp and rabbit, here in Djaara Mother Country. You can switch these two species for any weedy or ferally plant, mushroom or animal that is abundant in your region. While the information is specific, the spirit of incorporating unwanted abundance (abundance that capitalism is blind to), can be translated across endless species, riches and relationships, that is if we change our attitudes to things we’ve been told aren’t very good. Here, we intend to explain our techniques of procurement and processing, and share a recipe or two, including Magpie Meg’s famous carp mousse (or feral fish paste).

In this post we will cover how we come by this food, honour it and every part, be the biological controls of these tenacious critters, and generally participate in the flow of gifts that is life inside the thrum and wild grace of Mother Country.

Mother Country herself – the giving-taking earth who enables so much life to be made and unmade – is a sophisticated ecologist. Not an ideological one who sits smugly in the neoliberal academy. Her wisdom goes beyond correct and incorrect species and industry imperatives, and although she is perennially wounded and polluted by the narcissism of a now globalised kidult economic force, this Mother is more interested in those who are ecological participants, those who see her, those who listen, and those who sing divine gratitude into her ground for everything she gives. This is when she ceases to be dead matter, ever ready to be exploited, and instead becomes the Mother of all things.

There is no fear nor favour, no moralising goddess beyond the little walled city of neoliberal materialism, Mother Country is endlessly more vast than this tragic reduction of life. While ferocious and terrifying at times, she doesn’t wreak skygod fear and war-like terror into souls that ignore or exploit her. The mining industry carries on apace unharmed by her, is materially enriched by her, but miners die in their souls independent of her will. It is their souls who become forever unsettled ghosts in Country. Her consciousness extends beyond a childish right and wrong story. She deserves no cult, no pagan worshipping, no church built. She is already church. If she requires anything from us it is just a returned animist culturering, to be in sync with her and thus be a people in participation, wide-eyed appreciators, embodied in her patterns and gifts, which she gives in exchange for language, culture, food, medicine, fuel and magic.

Ferals are some of these gifts. The way we honour all her gifts is directly related to the gratitude we feel for Mother Country, which in turn informs the culture and rituals we perform as community. There is no appropriation here, the culturing is direct, felt, inspired, microbial. It is an exchange of presence.

Our economy as subsistence permaculturists or neopeasants is not based on scarcity. We don’t have anxiety about not having enough money like we once did, although we are still dependent on the monetary economy for about 20% of our needs. This is mainly for foods and resources we cannot grow, husband, witch, procure, wild harvest, or hunt ourselves. As many of you already know, we do not call this self-sufficiency but rather ‘community sufficiency’ – a term we’ve been advancing for a decade now to give power to the relationships that help us transition from narcissism to accountability, from wage-slave consumerism to radical homemaking, from soul-dead materialism to singers in the church of Mother Country. Relationships in this new/old economy are key to the unshackling from the banker’s realm. Trust, acceptance, skills and resilience are our focus.

If we keep developing language to describe our actions as we deepen them, then we can perform new/old forms of economy and culture making. For the language we use either incarcerates or liberates us. If we talk about economy as one thing – a thing in which the bankers alone puppeteer – then we are already ensnared. But step-by-step, season by season, relationship by relationship, word by word we can transform our worlds of the world into economic cultures that are dynamic, giving, in-service-to and receiving. We do not have to be anybody’s slave, and we don’t have to rely on unseen slaves from far away to augment our economic and cultural reality. Believing that we must conform to the universal wanking bankers is swallowing the bourgeois propaganda we’ve been force fed since birth.

We say, Enough! to that. Let’s grow up!

No more Taylor Swift narcissism or gratuitous alcoholic romps that never did fill the great hole in our souls that never needed filling. Rather, here’s the uncle figure at the end of the street who teaches the teenager his drumming, the grandmother who hands down her Polish pickle recipe, the brother who demonstrates his method for field gutting rabbits, the neighbour who shows the child the art of catching carp with compost worms, the story telling adventures of elders. Expensive, bourgeois workshops are not necessary, going into debt to buy land to farm is not required, tooling up can be done in a sleeves-rolled-up spirit of salvaging and repairing. An open-heart, a passion for not being enslaved, and making space to learn and share new skills, is liberty.

Rabbit

Big thanks to Jordan Osmond for the next two pics.

Some of the loveliest moments Patrick has experienced as a dad these past years, is when he’s been out hunting with Blackwood. As day recedes into night, the nocturnal world transforms their psyches in a myriad of ways. Father and son have lain on their backs beholding the stars, waiting for rabbits to return to the fields from their burrows, after gunshots had spooked them. A few rabbits before dusk are always a gift,

but the underworlding of night brings many more treasures. Any opportunity for Patrick to pass on what he’s learnt is the action of the gift in flow. In this picture Patrick demonstrates the field gut, which is the removal of the intestines not long after shooting to save the meat from spoiling.

The rabbits, with pelts still on, go into the fridge overnight, making skinning easier the next day.

It’s not entirely true rabbit meat is devoid of goodly fats and therefore of little nutritional value. The older the rabbit, the more pockets of fat it will have stored. Countless blessings rabbits! We honour and praise you as appropriate food. No industrial inputs grew you up.

In such honouring, all parts have meaning: The intestines left in the field for scavenger animals and soil communities to process, the heart, liver and kidneys used to make pâté, the bodies wrapped and frozen for winter roasts and stews, and the skins stretched and salted,

then sun dried,

to be later tanned and turned into useful textiles.

Other ferals, such as European wasps, help clean off the excess meat from the pelts making the scraping process later on, less work. While we are not engaged in colonially-constructed perverse incentives, meaning that we don’t intentionally help to grow these ecologically domineering, albeit undervalued species, we also don’t hate on them, nor any other more-than-human ferals who have settled as feral kin in Djaara Mother Country. We also eat European wasps.

Blackwood and Patrick went wood collecting yesterday and were set upon by angry wasps for the inconceivable crime of splitting logs too close to their nest. Blackwood received a sting on his leg and Patrick had wasps attempting to sting his neck but fortunately they couldn’t penetrate his beard.

In the past week, Blackwood took the life of a rabbit. His first. He stretched the pelt using a frame on a stand we found on the metal pile at the local tip.

We people, our species, can both love and kill animals. The two expressions are not mutually exclusive. Supermarkets have fed us the hubris and estrangement that they are. On the day after his first rabbit kill, Blackwood accompanied his mum to a neighbour’s home to put away their chooks and pet rabbits. He cuddled so much love into those dopey rabbits. That same night we watched Watership Down for our weekly movie night, and a few days later Blackwood was out again on a hunt with his dad. We, of our species, can hold many paradoxes, stories, ways of relating in the world, and this is a beautiful craft.

After stretching his first rabbit pelt, Blackwood then followed his mum’s recipe to convert the raw wild rabbit meat into jerky – a light, preserved and portable food to take on walking or cycling adventures – a food which can easily be rehydrated in the billy.

Meg’s rabbit jerky recipe: Cut the lean meat into thin slices and place in a bowl. Add spices such as cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, sumac and minced garlic. Splosh in a whole lot of tamari and mix it all together. Cover with a plate and place somewhere cool for 12 – 24 hours. A fridge or cellar is fine. Then place the strips on racks and dehydrate until the meat is fully dry. A low oven (50 degrees C) or dehydrator will do the trick. When dry, place the jerky pieces in a jar, label and store.

Carp

Between the storing of wood and preserving of summer’s abundance in the cellar, we have also found time to go fishing. Here is Patrick’s simple set up for catching carp with compost worms and a hand line. Notice, in the image below, the line between the two stakes is being held down by the weight of leaves still attached to a very light branch. When these leaves rise up it indicates a fish is on, or at least taking the bait.

Carp is often devalued in Australia. If carp isn’t put onto ice packs in an esky or cooked on coals straight away it releases histamines throughout the body which gives it an unappealing flavour. Dealing with this is the first hurdle for enjoying this bountiful critter.

The second is the cooking process. Carp, like barracuda, has many small ‘y’ bones that make it, again, unappealing to eat. So we have developed a strategy to process every part, including the scales, head, tail and bones, only excluding the guts. First up, we cut the fish into chunks, add tallow (or any goodly cooking fat; not harmful vegetable cooking oils which we examined in a recent post), garlic and onion, and bake for an hour in a warm to hot oven,

then we put the parts into a pressure cooker, add a few cups of water, and put on the stove for a number of hours, intermittently checking the water level

Over this time, all of the parts of the fish and alliums melt, and Meg then weaves her magic…

Meg’s carp mousse recipe: Place the pressure cooked fish and allium mix in a food processor and add herbs such as parsley or oregano (fresh is best, but dried is good too), then salt and pepper. Sometimes Meg adds some olive oil if the mix is a bit dry. Process until it forms a cake batter consistency. Best spread on bread or crackers, but also yummy straight from a spoon. Store in a jar in the fridge, or freeze for when abundance wanes.

~

So many skills of economic resilience inform others. When we learn to make chicken liver pâté, we know how to make bunny liver pâté. When we know how to make goat bone broth, we know how to make bunny bone broth. When we know how to make chick pea hummus, we are well on the way to making carp mousse.

What undervalued riches of life do you value, Dear Reader? How are they part of your transition away from economic incarceration? We need not pay for much, but we need skills and knowledges to live this way. What are those skills you value so highly? We’d love you to share your alternative economic lifeways with us, even if you’re only just beginning down this magical, defiant and liberating path.

With autumnal glow,
Artist as Family

From Gerroa to Genoa (Wet days, warm people, dangerous roads and Dark Emu visitations)

We left Warm Showers Claire, who was busy hosting a number of sodden cycle tourers, such as this jolly soloist Angus,

and rode out of Gerroa to begin our coastal descent. In Nowra we bumped into more fellow pedalist comrades who were riding around the world from France to raise awareness about climate change,

before our book event at Dean Swift ABC book shop, where we spoke to the possibilities of climate changed economies and societies of regard.

More rain and more barely ripe public stonefruit in southern Nowra,

and we were off on another wet leg,

to Huskisson, where booksellers Noela and Jill greeted us for a little signing event,

and Jill and her man David

put us up for the night, avoiding another soaking from the tricky gods of acummulating clouds. We’d had enough of things by now. Dangerous roads, anti-cyclist drivers, unrelenting rains. So we mapped out the alternative (option 2 Huskisson back to Albury),

and even though we thought it would be easier to cancel the remains of the tour and ride back to Nowra, train to Sydney, train to Goulbourn, ride to Albury, train to Melbourne, train to Woodend and ride the last 40 kms home, we didn’t. Something in us wanted to see this through.

Our decision was confirmed by this sweet family, who had read about us in their local paper a year earlier, got in touch and invited us to stay a night.

Ah, the comfort of strangers! Thanks Jo, Bren, Lucinda, Sam and Eliza. Even more gifts awaited us when we returned to one of our favorite guerilla camping spots south of Mollymook.

Last year we ate limpets and speared fish on coals at Collers Beach. This year Zero caught us a big rabbit,

and Patrick speared another bag of fish, including this leatherjacket and red mowrang for one of our meals.

We poached the rabbit in the billy for 25 mins and the flesh just slipped off the bones onto our fingers and into our mouths. For we hungry locavores it was a near perfect moment.

Living on Collers Beach for a few days further nourished our decision to complete this tour.

Further south in Batemans Bay we bumped into Justine and Pat, who like us were perfecting the practice of very very slow travel. When we all met up at about 3pm one afternoon, they’d travelled a whooping 2 kms for the day. We congratulated their efforts. It’s a momentous achievement to go that slow in such a savagely fast world.

While they headed north, we trundled several kms down the road to Batehaven and set up camp on some marginal land beside a little creek inlet.

On the gentler coast road to Moruya we stopped to chat to northbound rider Rapha el, a French tourist.

We picked up supplies from the wonderful bulk wholefoods store when we arrived in town, and rode on as our event had been cancelled at Moruya Books due to a boating accident in the business. We pedalled on to Old Mill Road Biofarm and kept the boating accidents at bay while we cooled down in Kirsti, Marlin, Pickle and Fraser’s luscious dam,

before feasting with this awesome lot — the brains and brawn behind one of the best market gardens on the south coast. As you can imagine the food was exceptional, cooked up by French chefs Nina and Elsa, who may well come and stay with us in Daylesford.

Southwards we rode, on and on our legs rotating, water in litres emptied down our throats, making the brief transit through our varied metabolisms out onto our clothes to transform into what we call cyclist stench. We stayed with this lovely family in Narooma (thanks Barry, Jimmie, Goldy and Em!),

rode on to Tilba,

with the kind promise of a lift to avoid the death trap 10 kms north of Cobargo where Meg and Woody had a near miss thirteen months earlier on our big trip. The kind offer came from Ronnie and her super family of Norris’s, where we got to spend a few days, sit out more rain, swim with them at Bermagui, drink real cows milk and speak on air to one of our favourite ABC presenters, Ian Campbell.

When the sun poked through we hightailed it to Bega, our bikes hitching a ride with Ronnie’s sweet folks in an empty trailer that was predestined for the southern coastal city, and climbed 10 kms west to Autumn Farm to stay with Annie and Genevieve and their kids Oscar and Olive (AKA Jo). They cooked us a beautiful meal in their stunning radical homemakers’ kitchen.

The next day we were greeted by 45 enthusiastic Bega-ites who came to our foraging workshop and/or our book event at the wonderful Candelo Books. All the crazy summer traffic, physical fatigue and rain was rendered totally worth it by this enthusiatic mob.

The Princes Highway is a national road with many signs warning drivers of oncoming petrol stops, beach spots, drowsy driving, narrow bridges, overtaking lanes and wildlife. The highway provides, more or less, a safe lane for both northbound and southbound cars and trucks. But despite the daily use of this road by cyclists, almost nothing appears that aids our safety. This is what a typical lane looks like for a cyclist.

We’re supposed to stick between the dangerous loose gravelly bit and the far left white line (intersecting on Zero’s head in the photo). Now marry the above image with this one below and you’ll get a fairly accurate assessment of just how much work there is to do to create safe transit ways for non-polluters in Australia.

Respite from the terror of this highway was found once more when we stopped in to visit Dale and Jenni in Eden again.

These two lovelies put us up last time we rode through Eden. They cooked up a beautiful feast of their home-produced chicken and veggies,

and the next morning Dale offered to drop us 25 kms down the highway where he had to drive to work.

Despite all the generous and wonderful people on the South Coast we didn’t enjoy cycling down this highway on the first big trip. And this time has been little different with few opportunities to get onto quieter roads, so getting to the Victorian border signalled a kind of home coming, a kind of relief.

About four months ago, before we left on our tour, Patrick had contacted Bruce Pascoe to see whether we could visit him at Gipsy Point near Mallacoota. Bruce’s book Dark Emu is a remarkable work of Australian history written by an Aboriginal writer concerning the profound and little known agrarianism that existed in Australia pre-colonisation. His book opens the door to a completely alternative history. We spoke in his nursery,

where he is growing yam daisies (murnongs), which were once a big part of the Aboriginal economies of regard in south-temperate Australia pre 1788. He gave us some seed to plant out in April. Dr Beth Gott, an ethnobotanist from Monash University, claims that a murnong tuber has nearly 10 times the nutrient properties of a potato and was an important part of the health of Aboriginal people.

It was in Mallacoota, Gipsy Point and Genoa that we hooked up with our friends Maya and James, who came with us to meet Bruce and his partner Lyn. Bruce offered us his boat to go fishing in and we cruised the gentle waters of the Genoa River, fishing for tailor, speaking of our river loves without, of course, the use of a motor.

We hope, Dear Reader, that whatever propels you forward into your days this year is just as enjoyable, thrilling, frightening and vital as what has been casting us forward. Thank you for accompanying us on this leg of our journey.

Cold season food and family cloth

The cold months in Daylesford are a time of surprise and pleasure. It has given us much delight, for example, to suck out the bletted jelly from medlars plucked from the tree.
The currawongs have loved them too.

We’ve been praising walked-for snared rabbit, stewing the flesh, brothing the bones and salting the pelts.

We’ve been digging up dandelion roots for roasting and brewing into a dark thick coffee. Patrick discusses the full process in the next issue of Pip magazine.

Our goodly neighbours brought us back some fish they’d caught on the coast and we cooked them on coals in the garden, which made us nostalgic for what we loved about living on the road.

We’ve been hunting common pine mushrooms like these saffron milk caps,

and slippery jacks,

We’ve been harvesting and drying hawthorn berries for Meg’s nourishing herbal infusions (with rosemary, rose hips, elderberries, parsley and fennel).

We’ve been juicing autumn’s cellared fruit and winter’s wondrous weeds.

We’ve been free-ranging the chooks to make sure they are healthy to get them through the sub-zero nights.

We’ve been finishing off the SWAP* shed, ready for our next guests.

We’ve been reclaiming our peasant sensibilities with our friend Vasko, herding his sheep on common land as part of an organic land management model.

This is the current land management model: herbicides kill a patch of the nutritious free street vegetable mallow in Daylesford and the toxic residues end up in the local water supply.

One of the big break throughs AaF has made since our last post was to rid our household of toilet paper. We once spent around $260 a year on this unsustainable, forest-pulp product.

Here is our bathroom. Notice anything unusual?

Instead of toilet paper there are numerous cut up rectangles of cloth sitting on the cistern that are used over and over again. We cut this cloth from an old flannelette bed sheet.

In our SWAP* shed we have built a simple composting bucket toilet, note the family cloth here too.

After wiping with a rectangle of family cloth, we simply fold the cloth and put it in a bucket with a lid that sits beside the toilet. Family cloth is much softer than toilet paper and much much easier to process than cloth nappies.

Inside the bucket it is dry. Occasionally we throw in a few drops of eucalyptus oil. It doesn’t smell at all (although we may have to adapt the process in the warmer months). We learnt by trial and error that cutting the cloth with pinking shears,

didn’t help with the cloth fraying when they went through the wash.

So we bartered a sour-dough lesson with the delightful Mathilda, who beautifully over-locked them.

This is what they now look like up close.

About once or twice a week we put on a hot wash of our family cloth and hang them out to dry.

Thanks boys! And thank you Dear Reader for checking in with us again.

*SWAP (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturalists) is our version of WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms).

From the Snowy to the Yarra (Orbost to Warburton)

We set out from Orbost with the prospect of travelling almost 100 kms along the East Gippsland Rail Trail, passing over the Snowy River,

and past an incredible hedge of wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), an early relative of cos that is also called opium lettuce. Yes, it is mildly psychoactive taken in large quantities and is supposed to have a chill pill effect; good for people suffering from high blood pressure.

After about 10 kms on the trail we decided that the rough surface was better suited to mountain bikes and that our heavy bikes on touring frames and tyres were not really suited. We got back on the bitumen and rode with the noisy ones to a wonderful little caravan park in Nowa Nowa that sported this awesome open communal kitchen, and whose owners greeted us with just-picked strawberries and fresh eggs. Thanks Helen and Neil!

With more rain about we stayed a few wet nights, swimming during the sunny days in the creek.

While at Nowa Nowa we received an invitation to join some friends in Traralgon for Christmas. We had just a day to ride 170 kms, not quite manageable for us, so we took off early in the morning passing these roadside walnut trees,

noting the central problem of our culture: paid for food, or as Daniel Quinn puts it:

Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key – and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn’t under lock and key, who would work?

After 50 kms of riding we arrived at Bairnsdale station with a bright blue box to help smuggle Zero onto the train to make up the remaining 120 kms.

We hadn’t been separated from Zero the other times we smuggled him on public transport. He always kept quiet because he knew we were there, beside him. This time he whined for us from the cargo carriage and we were paid a visit from the conductor, who thankfully was delightful and explained that next time we travel we have to have a proper regulation travel box for our dog-kin. Even though this is absurd, we weren’t about to argue with this nice fella. He didn’t kick us off the train and we got to Traralgon, where our friend Ben Grubb met us and led us through the town and out into the outlaying fields to his parents’ home.

We all got to work preparing for the feast. Patrick and Ben killed and dressed a chicken,

Jaala and Shannon Freeman (friends of ours from Daylesford, and who are also Grubb family members) joined the festivities and helped Jim and Jeni (Ben’s parents) and Meg in the food preparation. It was a joyous collective effort using herbs, vegetables and fruits from the garden,

to deliver a delicious lunch. Thanks earth! Thanks chicken. Thanks Grubbs and Freemans.

The following day more food prep continued, turning cherry plums,

into fruit leathers,

until it was time to thank Jim and Jeni for so generously hosting us, and say goodbye, Zeph feeling pretty poorly with a cold. Ben rode with us for several kms showing us the back roads and short cuts, and

he also helped Zero catch a rabbit by blocking one end of a drain with sticks and his feet. It is a technique worth finessing…

Patrick butchered the rabbit, apportioned a share to Zero and we kept the rest for later in the day. Not far on from the rabbit catch we came across Aaron, a solo cycle tourer on his maiden voyage. Go Aaaron!

We farewelled Aaron, and a little later on Ben, and rode into the altered country of dirty coal.

About 70% of water in Australia is used by industry, a remaining 20% is used by government and a tiny percentage, less than 10%, is used in domestic use. As we rode past the old relic of old thinking that is Yalourn power station we listened to the millions of litres of water running through the cooling towers, reflecting on these figures.

We ate our free lunch a little further on, poaching the rabbit for 4 minutes in the billy and separating the soft and tender meat from the bone.

On another invitation, from an old Hepburn Relocalisation Network friend Liz, we visited Entropia eco-village near Moe. Liz is one of a number of residents who are about to live rent free on the 20 acre site for one year and be filmed for a documentary, which sounds a bit like Hippy Big Brother. Watch that space!

There are a number of small or tiny houses being built at Entropia, which came about after Samuel Alexander’s book of the same name.

Part of the land is bush and we found a few geebungs (Persoonia linearis) growing there. When the fruit is ripe it will yellow and fall to the ground. The skin and the seed was traditionally discarded when eaten.

Certainly Woody found utopia at Entropia.

But the dystopian road called us back, and the prospect of home.

Play fighting has been a fun part of our day to day. It gives the boys an opportunity to push back from we ever steering adults. It builds strength and body control and develops emotions that can cope under physical pressure.

Research is another thing we’ve all been learning: how to find out stuff that interests us and grow our knowledges.

By the time we reached Yarragon, Zeph was on the mend from his cold but Meg and Patrick were starting to fall apart. We’ve all been fit and strong the whole way and now in the final weeks our defences are crumbling. We nestled into this little wetland forest setting up our version of a MASH rehab camp,

but after another short leg we figured some hot water and a place to get out of the strong winds was needed in Warragul.

We were all sporting hacking coughs and rode up to Neerim South in blustery, wet conditions and again took refuge in a motel room. The next day the winds abated and the sun shone and we rode through the prettiest country, passing wild displays of the sweet flower of the coffee substitute chicory (Cichorium intybus),

and later moist valleys filled with giant tree ferns,

along quiet C roads with little traffic.

We rode 66 kms to Warburton in time for New Years eve,

to stay with our friend Maya Ward in her tiny house that she designed and helped build,

and to see in the New Year a festive picnic followed by fireside music and intimate chats.

The first day of 2015 saw Zeph gearing up for high school. Go Zeph!

Maya and her lovely man James treated us to delicious meals and restorative places. Thank you both so much, it has been a gentle few days in beautiful Warburton and now we are ready to begin our final leg towards home.

We wish you, Dear Reader, a peaceful and productive International Year of Soils, filled with great adventure, slow travel, encouraging friends and free, walked-for food.

Our medicine is free and found in both our food and physicality (from Bundaberg to Gladstone)

The days here in Queensland have been sunny and warm but the nights very cool. Before we left Bundaberg we went op-shoping for some warmer clothes. Woody scored this great vest.

Outside an opshop we met Clint, a local Kalki man. We got talking about bush food and he noticed Woody’s amber teething necklace. He told us that witchetty grubs (Endoxyla leucomochla) are a natural anaesthetic and that teething babies were traditionally fed the grubs to numb the gums. Clint also told us he is a kind of pastor but that he didn’t need to preach to us because we already knew our path. That path, for now, continues north on some quieter roads.

Building knowledge on the life forms around us that provide food fit for human consumption free of monetary interference and ecological damage is another path we’re simultaneously following. Finding ripe passion fruits fallen onto public land on the outskirts of Bundy may not seem like much,

but first sights can be deceiving.

We had a quiet ride to Avondale passing more of Queensland’s great obesity fields,

but we skipped on the pesticidal cane, picking roadside citrus instead.

When we arrived in the one-pub locality of Avondale we had Zero’s basket half-filled with autonomous medicine,

and we were greeted with the prospect of a free camping spot and shower.

Not only is Avondale generous to travellers, it is also good to itself, recognising that community protection from greed and ecological intransigence is sound, long-term thinking.

We found a kitchen bench and got on with preparing dinner with some store-bought produce.

We woke with the sun after our first night’s sleep in our new tents. After many years of camping, the old ones had become irreparable. We donated them to a Bundy opshop as they would be great as children’s cubbies.

We started the day by collecting onions that had fallen off the back of a truck. No, really! Out of all the conventionally-grown vegies and fruits, according to the US Environmental Working Group, onions are the least contaminated with pesticide residue. For dumpster divers and others who rely on conventionally-grown foods this list is probably as good a guide as any.

Various autonomous species have accompanied us along the roads from central Victoria such as the scavenger ravens and crows. But this mushroom, Pisolithus sp. is one of the hardiest of them all. The preferred medium on which it builds its life is bitumen and its spores are carried by motorists, trucks and more than likely the humble treadlie.

We arrived in Rosedale a few days too early for Friday night bingo,

pitched our tents at the Ivan Sbresni Oval,

and while we brewed a billy, Zero got to work flushing out some local rabbits.

While he continued to hunt we processed his game, these non-industrial gifts of the land, as both food and textile.

We skinned and salted the pelts and poached the meat briefly,

before removing the bones and tossing the tender meat through a pasta dish of raw chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, kale and zucchini.

The next morning Woody had a lesson on herbivore dung recognition, an education in craps, scats and animal fats,

before we hitched up our gear, set a drying rack for the pelts,

and again drank the sun north. Another autonomous species which has become a favourite free food since Kempsey is the cut-and-come-again guava, which never seems to stop fruiting.

Just when we thought the season had ended, along comes another tree laden. This harvest was made just south of the micro town of Lowmead.

In this area the land was no longer flat and caney, but undulating and scrubby.

These country roads have been a pleasure to ride, and even though the townships themselves offer little cultural nourishment,

generosity always sticks its head out. The hotel staff kindly let us recharge our batteries while we had a beer and got talking to some of the locals. Brett, a retired army man, took us across the road to a friend’s house so as we could collect mandarins from her garden, and the pub was giving away grapefruit from another local’s tree.

We were going to camp at Lowmead but Brett told us about a free campsite 17 kms away on the Bruce Highway and we still had the afternoon to play. He warned us that the road to the highway was partly unsealed but not too rough. The complete lack of traffic was wonderful.

We arrived at the highway campsite to this laden orange tree to complete our three-day catch of free and preventative medicines.

But just to be sure we had enough vitamin C we gathered and hoed down a handful of chickweed that was growing at the rest area.

After little sleep (how have we made the same mistake twice to camp beside the Bruce?) we returned to the intense highway,

and rode to Miriam Vale where we discovered a little knowledge regarding some of the bush tuckers we’ll likely see more of as we continue north.

While exploring the public gardens Woody asked for his favourite bush tucker to chew on – the starchy base of lomandra leaves.

A little on the nose we booked a cheap room in the Miriam Vale Hotel, which came with a gorgeous view.

We had a 50 km ride to Tannum Sands, with little on the way to hold our attention, or time,

except of course for the inevitable memorials, which kept coming at phenomenal rates.

We arrived in the late afternoon. Patrick went for a spearfish, returning fishless and blue from the cold ocean. Near where we were to camp at Canoe Point we spotted this fine creature,

the Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), which according to another Indigenous man, Barry Miller, who we also met back in Bundaberg, is really good tucker. Woody took his afternoon nap while the rest of us went about our business.

We cooked dinner and waited for dark before we set up camp.

Having earlier seen a council warning sign we went to bed a little nervous about crocodiles, but after some cursory phone research we discovered attacks by crocs in Australia have only occurred in or on the edge of water, never through a tent and never this far south. We awoke to a beautiful, unlawful camp ground,

and conceptually snubbed our noses at all the rip-off caravan park operators in the country wanting to charge us $40 a night for a patch of dead ground near a toilet block surrounded by caravans and motor homes.

From Tannum Sands we looked across the water to the Boyne Smelters, one of the industries that has made the small city of Gladstone momentarily affluent and no doubt permanently toxic.

For the next two nights we stayed with couchsurfing host Mike Koens. Mike lives just outside Gladstone with his housemate Paul, dog Rocko and three cats Girlfriend, Boyfriend and Thor. Mike works for Boyne Smelters as an air-conditioning and refrigeration man.

He told us that Gladstone’s mining boom is well and truly over, the housing market has slumped and he has begun his own transition to a more environmental life, collecting solar radiation and water from his roof, growing his own wood to heat his house and starting to grow his own food.

While we stayed with Mike we helped him turn his soil, removing couch grass from where his crops will soon thrive. We also helped him chop wood and we cooked for him. It’s no accident that synthetic medicine goes hand in hand with industrial food and energy. The pharmaceutical industry thrives on an unwell population that eats empty and lifeless food and uses cars for all travel.

“Is there anything you might do today,” the writer Padgett Powell timely asks of us, “that would distinguish you from being just a vessel of consumption and pollution with a proper presence in the herd?” Yes there is Padgett, thanks for asking.

Coming of age: love and illegitimacy from Newcastle to Diamond Beach

Before leaving Newcastle and riding on the worst road of our adventure so far, there were a few things we needed to do. The first was to sing the praises of Lilly Pilly (Syzygium) fruit that we collected daily from the abundant street trees in Newcastle.

They were a particular favourite of Woody’s.

The second was to catch up with an old mate, Chris Brown – a fellow artist, community gardener and super-fermenter. Here Chris is pouring us a glass of his awe inspiring home brew made from ingredients foraged within 500m of his home: dandelion, ginger, nettle, sugarcane and bramhi (Bacopa monnieri).

Thanks Chris! The third was to celebrate Zeph’s twelfth birthday, with a cake he made himself,

and tickets to his first big concert – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – who just happened to be in Newcastle on Zeph’s actual birthday.

The next morning it was away to the Stockton Ferry for we concert-weary folk, bidding adieu to all the sweet peeps we met and stayed with, high from the gig and the generosity of Novacastrians.

And we rode northeast away from the city, along a loud and crazed Nelson Bay Road stopping for respite after forty odd kms at the beautiful Noamunga Reserve where we brazenly pitched our tents,

much to the chagrin of one local who took exception to Zeph rabbiting for dinner with our fold down bow. He’d obviously been watching far too much tele and mistook a boy’s joyous quest to live off the land for something dark and threatening. The two policemen who came to our camp told us rabbits are protected wild animals and we were in a National Park. Really? We thought rabbits were considered an environmental menace and therefore the sort of animal we should be hunting. Silly us. We were also challenged for camping on public land, and in no uncertain terms were told by the policemen they had the interests of the nearby property owners to protect. Oh boy, even what’s left of the commons is subject to private property policing. We’re obviously so naive regarding the imperatives of the state. We were however allowed to stay the night and woke up to this beautiful morning for our troubles.

A little rattled by the previous day’s ride and the previous night’s interrupted hunt and camp we headed to Nelson Bay to find a permissible place to spear fish, which was not easy in a marine park.

Ah, now we’re starting to get it. We’re illegitimate on public roads, on public land and in public waters. I think the law makers are trying to tell us something: don’t move around without causing shit loads of pollution; don’t free camp, you’ll piss off the legit land owners and caravan park operators and don’t try to eat off the land and be accountable for your resources, we don’t want to upset Woolworths, Coles, Monsanto et al. Feeling a little depressed and feeling the strain of all this illegitimacy we turned again to the self-governing Warm Showers website and found this lovely couple, Brian and Doris, not far from where we were.

At very late notice Brian and Doris put us up for the night and we all slept soundly in their beautiful treetops home. Recharged and with a bag full of their home-grown produce, we rolled down to the ferry that was to slowly take us across Port Stephens to Tea Gardens.

We asked one of the crew if they knew of anywhere we could free camp. Try Winda Woppa Reserve, there are always free campers there. Great, a community of illegitimates, sounds like home, we just need to get across the drink to Hawks Nest.

So we crossed the Singing Bridge on our day’s song cycle and travelled for several kilometers around to Winda Woppa past Hawks Nest where we put Woody down for a sleep among the freeloaders and mosquitos.

We found a camp site just in the bush from this gentle beach, perfect for spear fishing flathead and playing in the sand.

We camped a few days here as predators eating fish and as prey being eaten by sandflies and mosquitos. Inadvertently we became textile makers too. Zero and another dog found a recently killed rabbit and brought it to us.

By the smell of it this little being had been dead for quite a few hours and its death was quite a mystery. It was a good opportunity to give the boys an impromptu rabbit skinning workshop. Zero lucked in on the meat and offal as we skinned and scraped, washed and hung the pelt out to dry. After a couple of hours drying a labrador came onto the beach, found the pelt and gobbled it whole. That put an end to making a little fishing tackle pouch, but it certainly enlivened our thoughts about the value of such skins.

For our last breakfast at Winda Woppa we had porridge on the beach. With cooler autumn days, camp fires will become more and more possible. We packed up camp in a crazed shooing sandfly dance and legged it to Bulahdelah along the Pacific Highway.

It was in Bulahdelah we found a great little public park with BBQ facilities, so we cooked dinner with some locally bought produce and we set up the Artist as Family correspondence office,

before making camp at what we thought was a legit free camping spot on the Myall River.

However,  it turned out that this was a free camping ground for RVs and caravans only. Our legitimacy was a momentary illusion derived by refusing to read the prohibition signs. We can’t have tents messing up the town, geez, we might attract unwashed types. Terrible stuff! We camped there anyway.

This anti-tent fascism sent us a clear message to move on. We had only come to this inland town because there was no coast road to follow. We left Bulahdelah, 12m above sea level, and climbed east up and down to this point of The Lakes Way, 165m asl, where we stopped for a fruit break.

Coming down the hills by the heavy weight of our bikes was exhilarating and we rested for the night at Boomerang Point at another sneaky camp spot that we found. The following morning we got chatting to a mum and her kids who were on their way to school. She asked us where we had stayed and we didn’t beat about the bush. She then told us she was the local ranger and kindly invited us to camp at her place next time we were in the area. Thanks Katrina, you could have thrown the book at us, but instead you showed compassion and encouraged our travels.

A gentle flattish morning ride from Boomerang Point brought us to Forster. We hung out at the library for the afternoon putting Woody to sleep under a desk before heading down to the beach for a swim.

While at the library we met Glenn, a fellow cyclist and (we found out later) the council’s general manager. He kindly invited us back to spend the night with himself, his wife Maryanne and son James. They cooked us a bonza meal, provided us with beds, showers and laundry and an opportunity to discuss the not-so-meritorious history of Monsanto from DDT to Agent Orange to GM foods. There’s change in the air and it’s no longer infused with Roundup. Thanks for your generous hospitality Glenn and Maryanne!

James, who is a student by correspondence, told us about The Tank, a place his older brother goes to spear fish. Despite an empty catch bag it was a snorkeling treat with a multiplicity of marine life all responding to the dramatic effects of waves and their tidal gods.

We liked being in this town and decided to spend another night in the area, so we crossed the exceedingly long Forster-Tuncurry bridge in search of a place to make camp.

We swam and fished and cooked up dinner before setting up our sneaky camp behind some bushes in a municipal park near to this very convenient public BBQ.

Everything was going swimmingly in our hidden camp spot until 1am when a series of pop-up sprinklers woke us and Meg and Patrick were up ’til all hours holding the rotating jets away from our gear.

While packing up the next morning we met a bunch of friendly volunteers from Tuncurry Dune Care who were weeding out Asparagus fern. This is Carl, who, with fifty or so others, has been aiding the restoration of the dune ecology in the area for more than a decade. We asked Carl if Asparagus fern is edible. He wasn’t sure although told us it was related to the edible Asparagus officinalis.

As we have a passion for being the biological controls of domineering species, we were keen to find out the benefits of this invasive plant. Our initial online research was inconclusive, some saying the plant’s berries are toxic to humans as well as to cats and dogs, and some saying the little starchy tubers are no more toxic than the tips of raw Asparagus officinalis. Certainly you could collect enough of the small starchy tubers in a short time to make a meal. We’ll do some more investigation and get back to you on this one.

Another thing we have a passion for is passing on knowledges. Zeph has become a keen fisherman on the trip and here he shows Woody how to attach bait to a hook,

and here how to collect wood for fire or cubby making.

After another morning’s fish we rode with our catch to Redhead (near Black Head) and found a perfect camp spot – flat ground, shade, privacy and drinking water nearby.

We cooked the fish on the beach,

before Zero gave Patrick a sound critique of his first draft Bulahdelah–Boomerang Point Holiday Family Cycle, the title ripped from Les Murray’s magical redneck poem of a similar name. We have our friend Michael Farrell to blame for this grumpy greenneck poem in its infancy.

Patrick was made even more grumpy at Redhead when the fully loaded and very long tandem fell over while the front wheel was stuck in an inadequate sized bike rack, radically buckling it. ****! Then, just as we were deciding what to do, as if sent from the cycle gods themselves, local resident David Coyle wandered up to us. He was fascinated to see another tandem bike just like the one he rides; a bike he went halves in with his 80 year old neighbour who is now blind. What a joy it was to come back to David’s home, meet his two girls Isabel and Lucy, their Isa Brown chooks,

listen to the story of his and neighbour Walter’s tandem escapades, and stay in a little garden bungalow that David built from reclaimed materials.

The next day David took the buckled wheel with him to work in Taree and got the rim straightened at his local bike shop, enough so as we could get to Taree for further repairs. Thanks David, Lucy and Isabel, your home is certainly a sanctuary.

Despite all the by-laws and prohibition signs that constantly negate the possibility for sustainable travel, we are only able to do it with the help and love of people who share our common values and embrace our spirit for adventure.