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Picking up and setting down new and old friends (from Violet Town to Jingellic)

Leaving David Arnold’s highly productive Murrnong Farm was difficult. We worked for a few days within a (micro) global village where kid goat feeding, beer bottling, pancake and sourdough making, elder flower champagne producing, last season’s chestnuts into hummus creating, mulberry picking and orchard netting activies flowed between stories and laughter and shared meals. Thanks Dave, Nils, Benny, Shyeni and Coufong.

Not wanting to burn ourselves out early on this 20 event book tour in 90 days, we rode to the Violet Town train station and made use of the bike and dog friendly train services again before they dry up in NSW. NSW Rail don’t allow non-human kin on their trains (with the exception of assistance dogs, and bikes, annoyingly, have to be flat packed meaning that’s it’s a ridiculously big job to undertake as bike parts have to be taken off and specialty tools and excessively large cardboard boxes have to be carried.) We arrived in Wangaratta and headed onto the Wang to Beechworth rail trail. We visited the same abundant Mulberry tree as we did in 2013,

and hunted the same (possibly) Charlie carp in one of the creeks. He outcarped us again.

Taking off again in spring has many advantages. New possibilities for life are everywhere and we are lead by a general atmosphere of renewal.

We made camp at the disused community tennis courts at Everton Station,

and landed at our guest digs in Beechworth,

at Pete and Anni’s place. They’d heard of our travels and got in touch. Thanks so much kind hosts and kind dogs!

Meg and Woody helped out in their veggie patch,

while Patrick helped Pete sort out the felled radiator pine into useable parts,

before we all had a wash, Woody in his typical fashion.

Our book event in Beechworth comprised of a lovely crowd, hosted by Diane at her excellent independant bookshop.

On the way out of Beechworth an invitation to stay in Wodonga was shouted from a passing car, and although we quickley exchanged social media handles, we were headed for Yackandandah to stay with Warm Showers hosts Matt, Michelle and Tarn. Sadly Matt had left for work before we took this photo:

We were a perfect match with this family. Woody and Tarn soon became good mates,

and so did we with a portion of the town folk. What a darn friendly village Yack is!

We had a second night down by the Yackandandah Creek,

before pushing off the next day and copping our first puncture.

Woody wants to know everything and asks his parents a thousand questions every day. Not quite a thousand answers, his parents have much to learn too, such as, what is this fruit? Is it a parasite, a geebung or wattle nut?

With air back in all four tyres we treadlied to Albury where a dude Patrick used to play football with at university lives and invited us to stay. Patrick hadn’t seen Mick for over 20 years and hadn’t been in contact and what’s more we didn’t even get to meet him as he was away for work. We stayed with his gorgeous wife Bernie and tenacious teen Paris and they embraced us like long lost kin. Thanks Bernie, home from a morning’s run!

And thanks Mick, who hooked us up with the Border Mail to do a story. He also insisted we get in touch with pollinator guru and local permaculturalist Karen Retra and her man Ralph,

and we were given a tour of their pollinator-friendly, south-facing 1/4 acre that is either all under food production, under habitat creation or both in the same breath.

Karen in turn hooked us up with ABC Goulburn Murray and we were interviewed at length about our adventuring before we collided with Roy, a cycle tourer from Japan.

Roy accompanied us to our 5th book event where we met a lively cross-section of local sustainability activists, permies and ecologists. What an awesome crew!

Our community friend Mara met us in Albury and we rode with her and Roy along the majestic Murray River Road crossing back into Victoria.

What a joy it was to ride with these happy bike-campers along such a quiet, almost carless road,

and to wake to such mornings.

To top it off our book was ‘Pick of the week’ in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

We farewelled Mara at Kennedy’s Reserve and Roy at Jingellic where he videoed an Artist as Family jam sesh,

before we settled in to one of the prettiest free camp sites in Australia, cooking up plantain, sow thistle and flatweed to add to the evening pasta, breakfasting on carp and dandelion coffee,

and generally hanging out, getting to know the virtues of the Upper Murray River.

We have much gratitute for those we meet along the way. Those who come to ride with us. Those who put us up for the night. Those that nourish us as food. The roads we travel. The fellow campers. The community of the living that fuels all this possibility.

Friends and foes en route (Mackay to Airlie Beach)

We left Mackay and travelled the long but quiet route to Calen, witnessing more ill-effects of the sugar industry.

Dispersed beside the monocultural fields we found plants that have no economic or ecological status, such as these health-giving sow thistles (eat the young tender less bitter leaves),

guava (this is the largest fruit we’ve seen so far, measuring 80mm in length, and oh so delicious!),

and public citrus. (If you’re in the air when you pick private fruit does that make it public??)

We got a bike-eye view of sugar processing, which confirmed our resolve to remain a processed-sugar-free family (which means not purchasing the great majority of supermarket items),

as we travelled along the cane fields,

and beside the cane trains that were busily moving Australia’s obesity epidemic around in little carts.

We travelled the Mirani – Mt Ossa Road west of Mackay until we got to Boulder Creek,

where Jeanie and Peppe, our Warm Showers hosts in Mackay, had suggested we camp. We’re glad they did. Thanks J and P! The water was pristine and we refilled our bottles with this dynamic, autonomous mountain brew (there’s not many places left in Australia where the water hasn’t been polluted by conventional agriculture).

We met a bunch of unruly free campers at Boulder Creek, and we shared stories about our respective communities and where we are heading before it was time to take to the road, once again under Queensland’s mid-winter sky.

These quiet roads really are a blessing. Our senses are alive with the absence of motorised transport.

Collecting free citrus in the region is also an absolute treat, and there’s no shortage.

In this little public park at Calen, just before we returned to the Bruce Highway, we helped ourselves to free oranges, bush lemons and grapefruits, as well as free power, recharging our devices behind the public toilet block while we feasted.

Not far north of Calen we spotted for the first time these cluster figs (Ficus racemosa),

a well-known bush food of northern Australia, which also grows in India and South-east Asia. When ripe they turn soft, orange and then red, and have a similar texture to commercially-grown figs, only less sweet to taste. They were lovely to eat but a week or more ripening time would have produced a better result.

After nearly nine months of cycle touring we have seen hundreds of snakes on the road. All of them dead, until now. This lively black snake went to cross the Road of Death just south of Bloomsbury, then decided against it, possibly after sensing the hysterical vibrations of Zero’s barking. Needless to say we quickly tethered Zero, snake bite being a common cause of death for Jack Russells.

Later in the day we passed another couple of road-killed snakes, several birds of prey, a grass owl, countless kangaroos and wallabies and this little quoll.

We took a few side quiet roads into Bloomsbury and discovered this very interesting vine:

the elephant creeper (Argyreia nervosa), aka Hawaiian baby woodrose, Adhoguda, woolly morning glory, elephant climber, elephant ear vine or silver morning glory. This plant may have been introduced by Aborigines on their route from India thousands of years ago, however some botanists believe it is a relative newcomer and an invasive weed. An ancient healing plant, the seeds are said to be psychoactive, producing similar effects as LSD. We just need a baby-sitter for several hours so we can investigate…

We stopped for the night in Bloomsbury, knocking on the principal’s door of the local primary school to ask permisssion to camp the night. Sam, the school’s delightful principal, whole-heartedly agreed and offered us use of the staff’s bathroom and shower. Blessed warm water and a quiet place (after hours) to lay our heads. Thanks Sam!

For all the interrupting death we witnessed the day before on the Bruce, we instead found abundant life living among the sugarcane wastelands the next day, riding towards Proserpine.

Magpie geese eggs are certainly something we’d like to try, but will have to seek permission from local Indigenous elders before we do.

We spotted the magpie geese at Deadman Creek, just south of Proserpine, on the way to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays,

another painfully beautiful area on the east coast of Australia done over by rampant corporate-bogan tourism,

with absolutely no evidence or recognition of the original culture, the Ngaro people, to be seen anywhere.

It was in Airlie Beach that we met up with community friends from Daylesford, and shared a camping ground site with them. We had four lovely days with Fiona, Tim and their kids Max and Rose, sharing meals, walks into town and along the beach,

and conversations about our respective research. Tim is currently working on the Healing Ground project, a work combining photography and oral history, recording Indigenous massacre sites and stories from around Australia from the descendants of those who suffered. Please support Tim’s project if you have a spare $20 or $50, or whatever you can.


Myall Creek Gallery Piece from Tim Burder on Vimeo.

We enjoyed our time with Tim and Fiona’s happy tribe, unclipping our heavy panniers to explore the coastline,

went fishing (Well done Max! Catching your first haul of fish, feeding your family and friends at age 9 is no small feat),

and generally took in the sea.

Thanks for reading this little leg. We’ll see you in Townsville…

Autonomous foods of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island)

One rule he [Oodgeroo’s father] told us we must strictly obey. When we went hunting, we must understand that our weapons were to be used only for the gathering of food. We must never use them for the sake of killing. This is in fact one of the strictest laws of the Aborigine, and no excuse is accepted for abusing it. –– Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Minjerribah elder)

We have had a wonderful week and more on Minjerribah, sampling Quandamooka bush tucker and being the biological (not chemical) controls of more newly naturalised autonomous foods (agricultural weeds, etc.), while hiding out in the bush.

It is early winter on the island and at this time of year, like home in cold highlands Victoria, chickweed (Stellaria media) commonly appears, packed with vitamin C at a time when it is most needed. Clover is also pictured below and is also edible in salads; the flowers used for tea.

And while chickweed is just appearing we foraged the last of the season’s apple guavas (Psidium guajava),

and midjim (Austromyrtus dulcis) berries.

Even though none of the delicious red sweet-salty fruits of pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) were about, some flowers were present,

and biting the base of these flowers, where the fruits will later form, can offer some small delight.

Like home, black nightshade (Solanum nigram) berries enjoy the cooler weather, a favourite of Woody’s on the island.

And we tried beach flax lily (Dianella congesta) berries and weren’t unimpressed, even though the Quandamooka people apparently didn’t eat this food.

We cooked fish with Indigenous spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes),

and succulent purslane (Portulaca oleracea), otherwise known as pigweed.

And we tried chewing the ripe fruits of Pandanus (P. tectorius),

at first raw, which irritated our throats, then roasted on coals, with wave-washed-in pilchards (Sardinops neopilchardus).

We sucked the sweetness out of the pandanus kernels after they were roasted for about 15 minutes. Although a modest pleasure, we think there must be a better technique to eating this food and getting more from it. If anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Fish we speared included grey mowrang (Nemadactylus douglasii) and a number of sand whiting (Sillago ciliata),

and fish we caught by rod and line also included sand whiting and a new one for us, swallowtail dart (Trachinotus coppingeri). A surprising delicacy, easy to catch, tasting even better than the whiting, which is an excellent eating fish as well.

We met Megan from Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation and she generously passed on the knowledge required for eugarie or pipi (Plebidonax deltoides) gathering and cooking. We walked for a few kilometres down Main Beach with our dandelion root foraging tool, setting off an hour before low tide. Then suddenly,

small mounds began appearing,

and lo and behold, eugaries!

We harvested enough for lunch and some for the evening’s fishing.

Megan told us the best way to cook them was straight on the coals of a small campfire. This really was a Minjerribah treat.

Other autonomous edibles we foraged on the island included common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus),

wandering jew (Commelina diffusa),

and cobbler’s peg (Bidens pilosa), otherwise known as farmer’s friend. Eating the leaves raw provides a good source of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin C, chlorophyll and magnesium.

We’ll be sad to leave this beautiful island, but we’ll take with us many delightful experiences.