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Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (sixth excerpt – between the town and the forest)

If you are just coming to these excerpts now – welcome! We spent a year journalling every day and currently we are spending a year releasing excerpts as we combine our journals into one manuscript. If you would like to read the previous five, please start here, then go to two, three, four and five. If you’d like to give to our labours and writing in one of four ways, please visit our Support page. Your comments and questions are always welcome. We’re open to all forms of generative feedback – critical, loving and all that is.

 

November 28
Meg

Our neighbour Andrew brings around a box of dusty jars. He is cleaning out his shed and thinks we might like them. Blackwood and I are cooking our respective dinners when Andrew drops by. He also offers some insulation bats, so I tell him I’ll message our friend Leif who’s building a tiny house to see if he wants them.

After dinner in the tree house, Blackwood and I put on our hiking packs and head torches and walk up the street to go hunting. We are on the lookout for newspaper; a precious resource in our home economy that we wouldn’t waste our money on buying.

We know which recycling bins always have newspaper, but we inspect them all anyway. I take one side of the road and Blackwood takes the other. We turn our head torches off as we run between the bins, and then on again as we open each lid. It’s like lifting up river stones when we hunt yabbies.

After a successful session of collecting and filling our backpacks with newspapers, and some 2-litre plastic bottles, (which we are going to clean, fill with water and put in our chest freezer for Blackwood and Patrick to take next time they go fishing), we drop some newspapers at Andrew’s as he said he’d like some too. Like us, Andrew heats his home with wood, and like us, he doesn’t read newspapers.

There are some huge eucalypts outside Andrew’s house, and while Blackwood tells him about our night of hunting, I collect an armload of kindling from his nature strip. We farewell Andrew then walk home with our heavy backpacks. My arms are full of kindling, while Blackwood is carrying a box he found in someone’s bin containing an internet modem and a whole bunch of cables that he and his friend Django are going to make something with tomorrow.

 

Patrick

The men saw me off last night. I left the warmth of the firecircle and my soft-hearted brothers and walked into the forest without any light except for a fine crescent moon. I didn’t know where I was going or where I was going to sleep. I just headed southwest; everywhere else was town. It was already late.

After some walking towards what I’ve come to call Fear Country, which is mostly country within me, I arrive at a creek but find the water too high over the stepping stones to cross. Without thinking, I’d started on a course to the part of the forest where all my big visions and happenings have occurred over the years. Where a wave of blue wrens had saved me from an abyss of evil and permanent dying, and the place where white serpent revealed himself, writhing elegantly from out of the forest and across the sky, covering me in peace and belonging. All revelations and visions had occurred once I’d gathered up the courage to let go of the fear I held in my body and open to the grace and immensity of Mother Country’s spirit world.

But I turned back. I was spent and did not have the wherewithal or the light to negotiate the creek. My tiredness and growing fear of the dark turned me back towards my goats. To sleep beside them. Something I’ve always wanted to do. I felt shame for turning back and novelty, all mixed up in my fatigue.

Alice, our oldest nanny, was intrigued as I set up a crude bed, and she stayed close to me with her kid Daphne throughout the night. I fell asleep wondering if I’d botched my first challenge on this outing and how that would play its part.

~

I wake with both the dawn and the goats beside me, pack up my dew-sodden gear, wish the horned ones a goodly day, and walk an alternative route to the creek to explore a part of the forest I’ve never camped in.

At Sutton Spring I take a breakfast of mineral water, cross the creek and head off through the brambles, sweet bursaria and broom and on and up to a woodland hill. I sit for a while before I speak my two intentions for coming: to open to the oneness of the worlds of the world, and to fully accept everything. Acceptance and oneness.

The morning holds just enough sun to dry my gear, and with darkening clouds in the afternoon I set up my hammock tent between two trees, the base touching the ground where I’ll sleep. I crawl in and out for the remainder of the day, with a heavy fatigue.

Occasionally I hear bushwalkers, a truck growling up the A300, or an aeroplane going over, though for much of the day I listen to running water, little gusts of wind stirring dry leaves, and continuous bird song and call.

Falling in and out of sleep I dissolve into the thrum of the forest.

 

Wise and curious Alice has taught us much about oneness and acceptance.

The buildings, growings, gatherings and storings of this regenerative age

It’s been a busy 6 months of building, producing, gathering and crafting, so busy in fact that we haven’t had a moment to blog. Until today.

Teaching younger folk to build has been our focus over the past year, starting with James and Zeph building The Cumquat, then more recently, Connor, Jeremy and Marta helping with the north-facing greenhouse.

We’ve built a number of other buildings too, including the Yause (named after Jeremy Yau, who came to SWAP with us in February and has been here ever since).

Jeremy moved into the Yause after just 7 weeks of building.

We also built the Cookhouse, the name we gave our low-tech sauna.

We used local cypress timber and discarded sheep’s wool to line the inside of Zeph’s old cubby, and we found an old wood heater at the tip which we bought for $30 and restored with a lick of stove paint. Thanks Zeph!

It works a treat!

We also installed more water tanks for further veggie production (nearly everything we spend money on is intended to take us away from further requiring it),

To preserve our gifted old timber windows (thanks Vasko!), Connor painted them before the rains set in.

and we started work on the Smithy, where Jeremy and Patrick will be setting up a blacksmith and wood crafting workshop to teach others.

There have been many other smaller projects we have worked on this year, such as completing the cellar – building more storage for our preserves, ferments, booze and cheeses. We are so close to going fridge-less now! Just a cool cupboard to build and a fridge to offload.

Home production has also been extensive with many hands making light work. Buster, who rode her bicycle from Brisbane, came to SWAP with us and hung about with Woody, decking the trampoline with summer fruit to sun-preserve. Thanks Buster!

Our bees have had a remarkable first season, storing food for themselves and for us in the near completed anti-aviary.

We robbed them of a third of their summer production,

obtaining a whopping 15 kgs out of a total of 45 kgs of honey that they produced in just 6 months. Astounding! Thank you beautiful creatures.

The annual veggie production began to ramp up again too,

and not only did we learn more about bees from our friends at Milkwood Permaculture, we learnt a thing or two about intensive veggie production too. We have begun to double dig all our beds.

Home production of perennials has also increased this year with plants such as hops for brewing and for sleepytime tea,

and kiwi fruits, which tease Woody with their unripeness well into early winter.
We have been gathering other perennial crops in the garden too, such as acorns – harvesting them for pancake meal and beer making,

and gathering together for all sorts of events with kin and community. From community garden working bees and free workshops that we’ve organised,

to fermenting workshops, including Culture Club’s wonderful community pickling day,

mushroom and weed foraging workshops that we’ve led,

and Friday night local food gatherings, which we’ve hosted weekly at Tree Elbow.

We’ve had so many remarkable guests stay with us over the past 6 months. David Asher came from Canada to share his passion for wild fermented raw cheeses,

permaculture teacher, Penny Livingston-Stark, came and feasted with our community and shared her remarkable story alongside David Holmgren,

cousin Pepper and Ra were regular visitors,

comedian Lawrence Leung (who slept in the Yause) and independent filmmaker, Celeste Geer, came with a crew to film for Catalyst,

and of course our three long-term SWAPs, Connor and Marta (here stacking a fine compost on the nature strip),

and Jeremy (here working on a forge blower he’s making from discarded material), have all been stalwarts at Tree Elbow this year.

Long term resident Zero, a huge personality in a little dog suit, will turn 49 this winter, rendering him the most significant elder of Artist as (extended) Family,

and while Zeph has been extricating himself from Artist as Family collaborations, he still makes regular appearances (often with friend Owen) to Tree Elbow, bringing his zest for disruption, bravado and beautiful independence, and keeping us all on our toes. Onya Zeph!

The way we get around and retrieve resources, or go out to participate in the community is very much about our continued practice of a low carbon consciousness. Bikes are essential for this cultural and economic transition. We’ve been car-less now for seven years!

Riding and walking into yet another wet and cold season means we are once again hardy to the change of weather. While community friends and other loved ones fall sick around us, colds and flu will be a long time coming into our neo-peasant home.

Walked-for, dug, and directly-picked food, dirt on hands, active and accountable living and mobility, goodly sleep, and generally being outside all gather as the ingredients for a health-filled, resilient and low-carbon life. While this is not THE solution to the many varied problems of industrialisation, it is for us a genuine response to the predicament of our age.

We hope you have found some spirit here, spirit to aid your resolve as we find strength and inspiration in yours. For those interested in a deeper unpacking of our practice and of our cultural fermentations, Patrick has an essay just published in Garland magazine. If you have similar life hacks you would like to share with us or any other Qs related to how we live, please leave a comment or send us a message. (NB: Trolls will be composted.)

Over for now,
much loving and flowing of gifts to you, and from and to the worlds of the world,
Artist as Family

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.
In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 
A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.

We hadn’t developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.

Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.

The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.

Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.

After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn’t done since his home-ed days.

Woody was keen to help on the site too and knowing how eager he is to join all aspects of life, James had brought back with him his childhood tools to hand on. As you can imagine Woody was pretty chuffed. He took great care to place each item in the tool belt that was Zeph’s when he was Woody’s age.

The build progressed in the rain, snow and rare pockets of sun. Gifts flowed in from the community such as these wonderful windows from our permie friend Vasko, old floorboards from Sarah, structural timbers from Bee and Ra, bearers and cladding from Bob and Beth, sisalation from Koos, roof iron from Pete, and old decking boards from Nicko.

Some days were so wet we dropped our tools and headed into the bush. The learning that takes place out of school has no status in this age of fear and institutional incarceration, but we know it can be explosive and expansive. Seeing our boys thrive through their own will to learn is a joy to behold. All we need to do is provide the right environment, and they do the rest.

Over 95% of the materials we used were salvaged from the local tip and nearby building skips. We borrowed our neighbour’s ute and a friend’s car on a few occasions to collect them, but much was collected on our bicycle trailer. James and Zeph learned all the steps of building and soon became confident users of tools.

There were hard days, cold days and joy-filled days as they grew their knowledge, strength and resilience. After the winter solstice the days became longer, which also meant more eggs being laid in our chicken coup. Thanks chooks!

Chickweed, full of vitamin C and abundant at this time of year, was another local medicine food that fuelled the build, and helped us through our winter colds.

The entire build took 6 weeks (not including the time to collect the materials), and we were all fairly exhausted by the end of it. Zeph, at the ripe age of 14 years old, worked his first 10 hour day.

Give a young person a project in which all their regard and care and skills can shine and you’ll have a gem who has great self-esteem and the ability to transition from centre of the universe to participant of the universe. The Cumquat build was very much part of Zeph’s initiation into life.

The mentorship and maturity of James was a big part of Zeph’s learning and growth. The two worked so well together and as much as possible Patrick stepped back and allowed them both to go through the processes themselves. We all had things to learn from each other and despite the ordinary strains of such activity, the building of The Cumquat was a remarkable moment in our family’s trajectory, and we thank James and Zeph for making it such a special time, and we thank our local, online and permacultural communities for loving The Cumquat into being in so many diverse ways. And we thank the snow for reminding us of older, colder winters in this region, and the gifts of the sun and the earth that create the radiation and thermal mass that keeps us warm.

The last stage of the build was to insulate the walls with straw, which we bought direct from local farmer Ian Miller in Smeaton 22 kms away. We contemplated lining the walls with old floorboards or old sheets of tin, but when permie friend Dean Farago offered his expertise, materials and labour to finish the walls using a traditional rendering method, we knew we couldn’t refuse.

We have made a little video of the build that shows the entire process, and is accompanied by our talented singer-songwriter friend, Anthony Petrucci, who sings us intensely through the build with his old band Souls on Board.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for calling in to hear the song of The Cumquat being sung into life, to witness a boy’s initiation and to behold a young man’s apprenticeship. We hope it has inspired you and the young people in your worlds to keep performing life outside the banker’s realm and the institution’s cage.