Blog

A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

Forest & free – an out-of-school experience and the power of risk

There are few places left where kids can use knives, climb trees, navigate forests, tend fires, sit in circle, speak their story, and generally get scratched up and stung by being participants of life. This is why we re-established a children’s forest group this year and why we volunteer our time to run it.

Forest & Free not about setting challenges that are too great for children, and we don’t encourage an overtly competitive or risk-taking culture, rather we encourage children to meet their own challenges and learn from others around them, and of course from the forest. We are observing, however, that the broader cultural narrative of ‘safety at all costs’ is harming children, making them less resilient, less mobile and suffering more health problems at an increasingly early age.

Forest & Free is about embodying resilience, meeting difficult (at times) challenges, and allowing uncomfortable things to occur – cutting oneself, standing on a Jumping Jack ant nest, putting all your weight on a rotten tree branch while climbing, taking off from the group and getting lost, and generally playing around with life.

Our culture, up until recently, used to see breaking a bone, receiving stitches, getting lost and a myriad of other uncomfortable things as ordinary rites of passage for 7-12 year olds – the pre-initiation age – necessary for the development of children. In the past few decades the possibility of embracing and learning through discomfort has been almost completely eliminated. This doesn’t serve children.

While we don’t wish on anyone any great pain – and we explain each skill, challenge, game or wild food in terms of the risks involved – adversity is the underlying, ever present flip side of enabling such learning and growth. That’s why we ask parents, carers and children to share the risk with us. This is the community model of organisation, which is a powerful antidote to the culture of fear and risk aversion that so greatly limits and incarcerates our children, and therefore inevitably our society.

As adults we come to understand that our greatest learnings come through some sort of discomfort, pain or suffering. And it’s how we respond to these things that really matters in building resilience, wisdom, freedom and bouncebackability. Overcoming fear is liberation!

In allowing a child to attend Forest & Free we ask parents to accept that some learning occurs through risk taking, that sometimes adversity will present itself as part of this risk, and in turn this presents itself as a gift of learning for everyone. When we go through adversity we gather in circle and share our story.

Children choose a forest name when they participate in Forest & Free. That is, when their forest names avail themselves. Sometimes this is a rapid process, sometimes a slow one. We have in our mob Echidna, Plantain, Blackberry, Deer, Silva, Blackwood, Jumping Jack, Thistle, Silent Night, Raven, Black Thorn, Fox, Black Cockatoo, Gum Tree, Huntsman, Brown Snake, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Pine Cone, Kangaroo and Kookaburra, amongst the dwellers who gather on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brown Snake’s mother: “I have watched such growth and confidence blossoming in Brown Snake recently, in huge part because of what you are offering – this space of adventure, risk, freedom, resilience, learning and cooperation. He holds himself slightly taller, prouder because he inhabits this space and can carry it with him. Without risk in the equation, as cliched as it is, there wld be no such reward.”

Huntsman’s mother: “There’s nowhere where the skills you share are offered in this manner & we are extremely grateful to be a part of it. Each week Huntsman is ecstatic when we meet up and can’t wait to tell his family and friends about the adventures you’ve been on.”

Pine Cone’s mother: “Thank you for all you do, for encouraging, empowering and enabling our children to rewild and connect with nature. We all try to avoid our children’s suffering at times, even when it’s beneficial for them to go through the process. It’s good to reflect upon this.”

Kangaroo’s mum: I love how much extra perception Kangaroo has of what’s going on in nature. That a tree has fallen on its own, or has been cut down, which [plants] to use for ailments etc. Probably most importantly, he has developed a better sense of his limits. So when he is climbing a tree, or a cliff, I feel more comfortable knowing he can make decisions for himself about how to stay safe and still take risks.

Black Cockatoo’s mother: “Forest & Free has given our child a sense of belonging and place at a time where he has been challenged to find that. It has reinforced and amplified his joy of being a part of a group and the relevance of safe behaviours in risky settings. Our child has been put down by educators for his engagement in “risky behaviours” such as jumping from things or climbing things that are “too high”, for questioning and pushing boundaries with a desire to understand. He has been made to feel like he is bad and naughty for wanting to explore and push the edges of his curiosity which has led to his exit from the education “system”. Through beautifully held mentoring where he feels respected and therefore chooses to be respectful… What is more, he is learning [to be in] a space where his intelligence, silence, ideas AND his wildness are ALL embraced. At F&F the world makes sense and therefore the boundaries are respected and embraced (because they make sense). Best of all, he feels like he is a part of something, something special, it is a place for belonging, a place to be his wild, loving, risk taking self and it grounds him, fills him up. Every week upon returning from forest and free he returns in the dark, dirty, beaming and bright eyed. He gets in the car and shows me his wet feet, scratches and cuts with joy from a good time well had. When asked how it was he always says it was awesome, or the best, something he never said about school.”

Many thanks to all who have contributed to the fun, adversity and adventure of Forest & Free this year. A big thank you to Blue Tongue and Thornbill who have both assisted us with the children. It doesn’t take much to organise a bush group, and the forest has so much to teach us, it’s just about getting children into forests, deserts, grasslands and any other non-mediated environments, and not placing too many restrictions on how they engage in these places so they can keep connecting to the living of the world’s worlds. Here is a short video made by Thornbill Fizzy Mitchell that gives a little more insight into how children connect if they have the opportunity.

Sending much love out to you, Dear Reader,

Magpie and Blue Wren

 

Collective preparedness

Back in 2018 Artist as Family was asked to be involved in an art event called Pandemic at Arts House in North Melbourne. The exhibition, coordinated by artists Lizzy Sampson & Asha Bee Abraham, was one of a number of Refuge events centred on where art meets emergency.

Artist as Family’s role was to address the topic of Collective Preparedness. A dinner was held and Patrick joined a Médecins Sans Frontières field coordinator, a herbalist, an epidemiologist, a Melbourne Uni outbreak forecaster, an Indigenous Futurist, a medical ethicist, and a human rights academic as one of eight Sanatorium Hosts.

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

This was one of the questions he was asked:

What do you do individually and what should we be doing collectively to prepare for the future?

And this was his reply:

[We are] learning ever more knowledges that decouple our household further from the monetary economy and help model ecologically focussed and resilient communities of place. [We are] re-establishing economies that make returns to people, biomes and the future.

Patrick took some talking point objects and brews with him. Our hand-made hunting and fishing equipment, hand carved tools, medicinal mushrooms, shade-dried herbs, Meg’s fermented mistress tonic, elderberry syrup, and our hawthorn fruit leathers as our walked-for Vitamin C, “fermented by the sun.”

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

Nearly two years later, we find ourselves no longer in an art event, no longer in a dress rehearsal, but actually cancelling house and garden tours (today’s was again fully booked), cancelling visitors, volunteers, public talks, play dates, community meetings and events, and basically every social hang. Today we also cancelled all future bookings for our Permie Love Shack. A first known case of Coronavirus, albeit still unofficial, has landed in our small town.

Things have been moving pretty fast over the past two weeks and we’ve been following the speed of the Coronavirus pandemic closely. However, this morning when a friend sent a link to Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, we decided we wouldn’t wait for our leadershipless leaders to finally recommend everyone socially distance themselves. After reading the article we feel it is a social responsibility to act now, for the sake of health-compromised people and the health system more generally. There will be medical shortages, and therefore those of us who are prepared and have good health must step back from services and equipment that will be vital for those at greater risk.

Today we are pressing grapes to make wine, stewing and bottling apples, quince and pears, chopping and bringing in firewood, making bread and pancakes and pickling gherkins.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

We do these things as we always do them, but now with a greater sense of urgency and intent. Our non-monetary home chemist will keep us as well as we can be.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

Several weeks back, after the bushfire crisis, we were in Melbourne to speak as part of another art-meets-emergency event, Earth: A Place of Reconciliation, a Reconciliation of Place. Listening back to that talk is a strange thing now, as world events race across our local places and intersect with our local lives. One crisis follows another. The next will be another global recession.

Innumerable well-meaning folk have said to us over the years, “When the shit hits the fan, we’ll be knocking on your door.” While this comment is perhaps supposed to compliment us, it actually always makes us feel vulnerable and angry. The comment isn’t “we can see the resilience, economic logic and environmentalism of what you’re doing, and we’re also going to get on with our transition before the shit hits the fan.”

It’s time we all share in the responsibility of the predicaments of our time. We’ve been advocating for years decoupling from the Capitalocene before affluence-descent sends smug Modernity into chaos. Those luxurious days are numbered. Speaking of luxuries: five years of using family cloth, and these little op-shopped squares of soft flannel cotton are still going strong!

We’ll keep blogging in this time of social distancing and keep our sharing going digitally. We’re looking forward to honing our hunting, sewing, repairing and foraging skills. Reading all those books we haven’t had time for. Carving new objects, fixing tools, sowing more veg, and generally resting. We’ll prepare another post on what we’re up to shortly. You might find yourselves having more time for things you’ve been meaning to do too. We hope so. In grief there is learning, there is praise, there is renewal and opportunity.

We hope, Dear Reader, while this pandemic is still largely an abstract and mediated phenomenon, you are not vulnerable, not in despair or panic, but are preparing as adults in any capacity to meet this global predicament, remaining eternal students within this shapeshifting world as the Anthropocene matures deeper into systemic crises and calls on our adult selves to step forward.

Much love, community-immunity, social warming and joy,
Patrick, Meg, Woody and Zero

A gut healing book warming (and the importance of home)

There are so many entities to thank when a book comes into being. Convention dictates we thank humans only, which makes sense because a book is a fairly human-orientated thing. Yet a book has many other contributors who make it possible, so before we begin this post on the social warming event that brought re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic into the community, we wish to give thanks and praise to the vegetal flowerings, barks and pulp, the nitrogenous rain cycles and carbonous roots, the mycelial meanderings, bacterial bounties, autonomous chewers, borers and suckers, and much more life besides. Thank you for your part in making this book become.

Just before the punters arrived, each with their life-giving, much-more-than-human microbiomes, we put the finishing touches on the fermented foods that we wanted to warm people into our home with, and get their guts zinging.

The word home has become a pejorative term, initially engineered by industrial capitalists to shame unwilling peasants into leave the economic autonomy of home and get a “real job” in a factory. Then later the word was further degraded by a strain of industrialised feminism, those who could only imagine home as a stereotypical 1950s domain of feminine incarceration and boredom. Both these corrupted versions of home are not ours. As radical-homemaking-feminist-neopeasants we think of home as a place of intimate dwelling, and the most empowering environment we could possibly imagine. Of course, by home we don’t just mean the confine of our house and garden, but also our walked common land to neighbours, friends, community gardens, near forests, creeks and places of many other relationships that enable wellness to spring forth in relation to our own labours and insights. From such empowerment springs forth such food.

Home for us is a place of healing, growing, consuming, decaying, dying, birthing and giving back in order to keep the gifts of the earth flowering. Under this order all is compost, all is fermentation, all is food and labour and new life that sprouts from the necessity of death.

It was to be a day to celebrate poetics and philosophy in the community sphere and what better way to do this than share the food we consume that is our fuel for poesis. By 3pm we were ready for all comers. Speakers, guests, children, dogs – all manner of goodly folk – began to arrive after an earlier rain shower that filled the garden with a miraculous energy that was impossible not to sense.

Woody sang and strummed the warmers into the hearth of our homelife.

We were brought many gifts, such as wild fermented sourdough from Mara to add to the ferments table.

Some of the non-alcoholic fermented beverages Meg brewed for the day were turmeric tonic, jun and rejuvelac, all flavoured with various flowers and herbs from the garden including wild fennel and elderflower.

It was a day of bright light, colours and ongoing Woody instrumentations.

It was also a day of raffling hard-to-get-hold-of things, such as these hops vines that we divided from the mother plant and potted up in the winter. In the raffle we raised over $60 for the community gardens. That’s a lot of seed!

Woody tried every instrument in the house as more and more warmers assembled and he developed further a role for himself as musical host.

Summery peeps and chilled dogs wandered through the garden, where they beheld our neopeasant homestead on a quarter acre, being tended to and developed on a household income well below the poverty line. Such wealth is possible with a volunteered poverty.

Vegetal life and built environments are complimentary forces at Tree Elbow, and everyone at the warming got to feel the physicality of such energy transference between the formed and the forming.

More musical delighters rolled in.

Old and new friends came to the party.

The outdoor kitchen became a bar for chance encounters and a place of simple feeding. All the food and drink, including the acorn beer and elderflower mead, were fermented with ingredients that came from our homeplace. There were happy guts everywhere; in season and in step with life.

And there were serious conversation guts too. There’s so much work to be done by all of us to keep health flowering in a world being killed off by unhappy gut people whose main concern is money.

Steve brought some old ferments to trade for a book. They came with quite a story.

Maya, before giving her remarkable gut-heart-mind talk, catches up with David and Su, grandfolk of permaculture.

Hal was introduced to Su, just one of a myriad encounters that brought people together.

People gathered round the house as Patrick signed books and talked his passions – gut logic, Pandora and the creation stories our culture has all but buried.

Children gathered under the oak tree. They found their place before the talks began.

Our book table offered an assortment of publications written by Artist as Family members. Thanks Kat for minding the stall where money and non-money exchanges were made.

Despite the incredible weather to be outside we decided to welcome people into the house for an non amplified honouring of the book through deeply collected thoughts. Ant played a few sweet tunes as around 80 folk found a seat or a comfortable standing place.

Mara MC’d the proceedings. The gentle formality of such a relaxed event gave ritual regard to the purpose of why we’d gathered.

She welcomed Meg to speak who gave us considerable laughter (her very own gut-made serotonin and dopamine at work) and an impassioned insight into what we’d been eating – the origins and techniques of such food (which included delicious pickled spear thistle stems) are unobtainable in any supermarket.

Then Mara welcomed Nikki to speak,. Nikki had prepared an eloquent dissertation of the book, which Patrick will share later on his permapoesis blog.

The fermenting vessel Nikki used to illustrate her talk had been made especially by Petrus. The vessel was sculptured, broken and the shards put back together as a metaphor for Patrick’s putting back the fragments of the Pandora myth and the cosmology surrounding it so important to rethinking culture after the effects of misogyny and misogyny’s retaliating sister, misandry. Both hatreds neuter life and are in service only to more war making. Like Nikki’s talk, Petrus’ fermenting vessel becomes a gift back to Tree Elbow in exchange for the book. The vessel more than symbolising a return to sensible culture after the rupturing of industrial modernity that although masculine in form has harmed both women and men, and taken us away from an intimacy with a loved land and from each other. Thank you Petrus and Nikki! What a lovely ordering of thought and form from two giving elders.

Maya then spoke, with such force and insight that not a single photograph was taken. She held us in a homeplace where reclaiming life, refermenting it, taking in the medicine of the possibility of post-industrialism and orienteering our cultures again towards their permanent regeneration could be more than dreamt.

With Meg earlier speaking on the alive foods and drinks we wished to nourish our guests, Mara acknowledging country, the Dja Dja Wurrung elders upon whose land we were gathering, as well as our own elders before introducing everyone, Ant soulfully playing songs he has arranged using Patrick’s poems, and Nikki and Maya delivering their profound addresses concerning this new little book, it was the author’s time to speak.

After all the thank yous, and a brief talk on the imperatives of writing such a work right now, Patrick read Part 1, Vessel (a slow text poem) from re:)Fermenting culture. This work is the not-so-easy gateway into the book, into the underworld of it. It sets up a physical hurdle for the reader, which requires the time, personal resolve and quietude to engage. The book is divided into 3 parts – a poem, an essay and a recipe (the poetical, theoretical and practical) and we offer it here as an ebook to freely share (email us) or a hardcopy that can be purchased via this blog (see righthand side bar of this website). If you wish to read more about the book head to Patrick’s blog. And if you wish to get your local library to order it in they can do so through us here.

Thank you Brett for taking all the pics on the day. And thank you Nikki, Maya, Ant, Mara, Jeremy, Brett and Kat for helping out on the day. Thank you to all present and future readers of re:)Fermenting culture and for the goodly labours you each perform to keep the earth flowering, fruiting and producing more and more fermentable fibres on the loved ground you call your home.

Mixing it with the northerners (from Lawrence to Iluka)

We had three wet, windy but nonetheless restful days in Lawrence.

Our tents took a battering from two large storms but we remained fairly dry and warm. We fished catching only undersized bream (Abramis) from the Clarence,

and we learnt about these relative newcomers, cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which are the smallest species of egret that live in this region.

This country is blessed with a diversity of bird life no longer seen in most parts of the world, and every morning we wake in some bird-rich neighbourhood singing their praises. But this region around Lawrence is even more exceptional for its bird life. Hundreds of feathered species live here as permanents or seasonal migrants, and all day their activity is pronounced in this quiet little town.

We made long leisurely walks and picked a belly full of guavas,

from this guy’s paddock,

which we woofed down with grunting rigour.

We tried some local cumbungi (Typha), from a roadside bourgie café, but found it was a little stringy at this time of year.

While in Lawrence pecans and guavas were our greatest finds,

and with local bananas and farm gate cucumber they made a fine start to the day.

After breakfast and after drying out the tents we departed Lawrence by catching the ferry punt across the Clarence.

We passed a barn that seemed to be in hiding, or was it just shy?

We passed houses that were being retrofitted for the aggregating effects of climate change – people are preparing even though their governments, who could greatly help mitigate the effects, are not.

We spotted a Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) that, like the beginnings of the sugar cane monocultures just south of Lawrence, signifies we are entering the north of Australia.

We arrived in Maclean to a spot of op-shopping (undies for Woody and some local pickles),

and looked for a place to camp. But none availed in Maclean so we rode on to Yamba, found a site on Hickey Island and moved in.
Looks magical doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the frame you’re peering through, this image doesn’t reveal the millions of tiny predators that all vied for our blood from the moment we arrived. This is more the reality:

If you’re not used to them, like us, sandfly bites are extremely itchy. Mozzies are definately preferred. We tried to forget both despite their large numbers in Yamba and headed along to the mid-weekly farmer’s market where we bought garlic, corn, zucchini, capsicum and a few of these old variety cucumbers.