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Crossing the equator – the Jakarta to Batam moment

While the electrical experience in Jakarta was fascinating and relatively complex,

the hybrid smog from motor exhaust and cigarettes was heavy going.

We were very much part of the traffic; part of the problem; part of the toxicity. Since arriving in Dili and travelling west by land and sea to Jakarta, we’ve found that hitch hiking is impossible. There are taxi drivers on every street eager to pick up as soon as there’s the smallest intimation that a lift is required. It took about two hours in a cab from the railway station to drive about 20kms, grinding through one continuous traffic jam to where we’d booked a room for a few nights in an apartment building called the Casablanca East Tower.

A $30 a night room with this view.

Since we left Vincent in Surabaya, he being the final thread of relationship woven for us by Yanti way back in Dili, we are socially anchorless in Jakarta. We went in search of connection.

We explored back streets,

and street food warungs,

and were thankful for the delicious gastronomic arts of this city.

We loved the simplicity,

and flavours, and it was here Patrick fell in love with gado gado – an Indonesian salad served with a peanut sauce dressing.

We beheld richness in the poorer suburbs,

and a green emptiness in the bourgeoise ones.

Afternoon storms became a pattern while we were in Jakarta, and we got caught out in one.

Coming across a truck selling sweet potato, our cold climate farming bodies dreamt up crop trials for this coming summer. If tuber vegetables can replace cereals at home, we are another step closer to unshackling from monocultures. While this may sound eco-ideological, it was actually our love of sweet potato for breakfast at Ego and Yanti’s where this desire grew.

We came across a man repairing shoes on the street. Patrick handed his over, and we walked on for a while,

exploring streets inhabited by the transported abundance of Java’s rural productivity,

and stopping here and there to savour the goodly fare.

Between deluges the cobbler had glued, re-stiched and polished Patrick’s shoes. His handiwork cost a mere $3.50.

We were happy to spend a few nights in Jakarta getting high,

and getting down low,

and discovering communities growing food together,

such as Green Farm.

We were happiest in this city either playing music as a family, trying new foods or exploring productive gardens.

However, try as we did with the locals,

we really just consumed food, returned it to leaky, decrepit plumbing systems, and absorbed volumes of pollution. We also got fairly pissed off, at one point.

We booked a boat to the island of Batam, just south of Singapore, and had to stay another night in Jakarta before it set off late the following night. So we took another room in an apartment building. At 9am, dressed and ready to explore the neighbourhood, we caught a lift to the ground floor, only to find we couldn’t get out. We went back up the elevator to a number of floors to try to get help and understand what was going on. One man we met told us people are locked in the building until 10am. WTF! Incredulous, we descended to the basement, budged open a door, and after stumbling around in the dark entered an apocalyptic passageway,

which led to an underground carpark that had no lighting. After a little orientation we came across a bolt of natural sunlight descending into this creepy underworld, indicating a road out. As we entered daylight and approached the security guards lingering at the laneway behind the building – thinking they were going to chastise us for leaving before 10am – Patrick started penning this message on the translation app:

It read: “You cannot incarcerate people in a building against their will, it is an abuse of human rights.” But the guards looked unfazed as we drew up next to them, so we walked on, away from that strange moment into the mayhem of street life, where we practiced the art of crossing busy roads,

by doing what the locals do – walk out in front of the traffic, gesturing to motorists to slow down or stop. We crossed many roads during the morning looking for an op-shop to buy Woody a t-shirt. He’s a fast growing boy, especially in the tropics.

The roads are anarchical here; they hold their own flow and logic,

and while there are few footpaths and everyone seems to drive anywhere they can, including against the traffic, it is not entirely impossible to be a pedestrian.

On our last afternoon in Indonesia’s capital we reflected on the city and its future in an energy descent reality.

There’s a makeshift spirit here and an absence of safetyism that will likely aid residents, and while the examples of retrosuburban farming we saw in the wealthier parts of Jakarta may well keep producer knowledges alive, the infrastructure collapse that is already advanced in this metropolis, could undermine any such resilience.

In our final hours in Jakarta we played music, and slept and swam,

before joining the traffic, again, to the port, to board this boat, the KM Kelud.

We’d wanted economy tickets for both the affordability and sociability but they’d sold out, so we paid for lodgings in bunk rooms.

$70 per bunk for a 40 hour voyage, and all meals included.

We found we were again the only caucasian travellers on the boat sans one young couple, perhaps Dutch, who had no thirst to converse and held a permanent look of worry in their faces. Without any phone signal, our translation app was rendered useless so we defaulted to body language with fellow passengers, were invited many times to make selfie, and practiced what little Indonesian we’ve gathered.

After several weeks of travelling west, we are now heading north again.

On the way to the port the taxi driver warned us about our belongings both at the port and on the boat. We have heeded such advice along the way, and used the lockers provided on the boat, however, neither in Jakarta nor on this boat have we felt unsafe.

We spent July 6 at sea on Indonesian waters, crossing the equator. July 6 is an important day for both Indonesians and West Papuans, as it marks the anniversary of the Biak massacre of possibly hundreds of West Papuans by the Indonesian army, 26 years ago (as Alison Bevege reports). A US mining giant, Freeport, and the Indonesian government make considerable wealth from their joint colonial project in West Papua.

There is no getting away from it, colonisation is insidious. It is in this boat. It is in the food on this boat. It is the fuel powering this boat. Industrial civilisation is nothing more than extravagant displays of colonialism rebranded as global development. While the machine of Empire sets out to conquer and destroy, perhaps all we have as a meaningful antidote is connection, even at 3am when this photo was taken. (From left Jernih, Meg, Shanty and Wenti).

Around 2.30am as we approached Batam our fellow bunk bedders’ phones came to life. It had been an enjoyable 36 hours without signal, but all that changed in the early hours. Phone addiction is next level in Indonesia. It was a media frenzy and we just went along for the ride.

The blurriness of us compared to Jernih and her husband speaks not only of device foreshortening but also of how tired our lil family felt in this moment.

Both nights on the boat our sleep was disturbed with multiple comings and goings of people, as well as their pre-downloaded media, which was played at full volume throughout the night.

We had perhaps vague, even romantic notions of an island oasis before arriving in Batam,

only to find a fully industrial port city,

where the empire had long since come, and dumped its shit.

There were remnants of ecological culture on the street. The indigenous mob here has been reduced to just 5 remaining Orang Darat people.

A culture replaced by a civilisation that has little regard for life.

These practical baskets made us laugh thinking about the local council back home, neatly ticking their sustainability boxes, rolling out ever more coloured plastic bins to the streets to organise (and hide) the various wastes of we residents.

Once again, the pollution was overwhelming in this city, whether it be cigarette smoke, burning plastic waste,

or motor fumes, which sat as an unpleasant smog above this produce market.

Motor bikes and scooters bellowed fumes across all the lovely food tables. The antioxidant medicine of chilli almost negated by the immune wrecking smog.

We bought salak, banana and longans,

and we booked another $30 room for two nights. Patrick slept for two days as he is struggling most with the pollution, while Meg went on little exploratory journeys into the city with Woody, and researched the next leg.

A big part of this trip is to put ourselves in situations where we are out of our comfort zones, to have our Magpie and Blue Wren feathers ruffled, and our Blackwood branches shaken. We are here to learn, to be jimmied open. There are things we keep learning over and over about ourselves. That we are creatures of place, creatures of a sacred Mother Country. This trip is not open ended, and although we are travelling slowly in industrial terms, we are moving quite swiftly towards India. Where we can, we are trying to stay put in one place so we have time and spaciousness to explore where we are, from the inside out. We love markets, hot food warungs, and produce stores, and understanding how other people do food.

The lesson we keep learning over and over is that we are not city people. The hustle and bustle overwhelms us and again and again we gravitate to the backstreets. The side alleys, the quieter moments. Gardens and green spaces, where our lungs and souls can breathe. We are grateful to the cities for enabling our transit, but we don’t understand what they are for and why people choose to live in such places. But that’s of course a long civilisational story, which is different for each of us.

So, here we are. Open and willing to learn, feeling the estrangement while trying to see the beauty of every moment.

For the fruiting, ferrying, vomiting, gifting and train travelling love of Indonesia

We left Amá Mar and Apá Yan’s home for the Indonesian border with a pod of family members and local villagers who were going to spend the day at the beach. On the last night in this warm and loving home, Yanti, Thaddeus and Bella came to stay. Yanti has been such a big help in the organisation of our travels since we left Dili, for which we are so appreciative. Thank you Yanti and all your family and adopted kin for making us feel so at home in Timor-Leste.

Our farewell was emotional. We’ve made so many connections over the past week or so, and we extended warm invitations to many to visit us in Australia.

Then, when all the hugs and waves and bondias (good mornings) and obrigadu/as (thank yous) and nadas (not at all) ran out, we were off in a little black pickup,

driving on roads that were in various stages of construction and deconstruction, the latter due to the common floodings in the wet season. Buildings too along our path were at various stages of their lifespan.

It was good to be travelling under a tarp with natural air conditioning because Patrick was heavy with cold symptoms for the second time this trip. Before we left we wondered whether we could find a place to rest for several days, as he was fairly run down. We are all still adjusting to the relentless heat, which is exhausting for we cold climate loving folk. Siestas, when we can take them, have been a godsend.

As it’s the dry season, everywhere cows free range on the soured stubble of the last rice harvest.

After about an hour or so in the pickup we arrived in Balibo, a town where five Australian journalists were killed in 1975 by pro-Indonesian militia.

Amá Mar came with us to check out this little museum dedicated to that grief story, which still touches our home town as one of the five, Tony Stewart, has family there. Tony was just twenty years old when he died.

The people of Timor, before European settlement, were not divided between east or west. They were, and, to a large extent still are, people of land, and therefore of ritual and ceremony, whose remnant traditional buildings still hold the traces of an earth-honouring and aesthetically astute culture.

While thankfully invading armies have stopped assaulting Timorese people, environmental pollutants brought in by colonising industries are killing the country in more insidious ways. While subsistence to local market economies remain strong, and are probably the reason why there is little obesity and type-2 diabetes here,

we have seen the many tendrils of the global greed machine at work in this beautiful country, and we hope the Timorese people will continue to fight for their independence from all forms of colonisation. Before lunch we arrived at the border,

said goodbye to our fellow travellers,

and were escorted to the start of our visa transfer process. Farewell Amá Mar and granddaughter Domin!

and farewell dear Timor-Leste!

On the other side of the line we were met by Yanti’s brother, Agus, who led us into Indonesia,

where we went through another visa process, which, as in Timor-Leste, was relaxed, and a stunning constrast to the increasingly paranoid corporatised nanny-state some call Australia. We’re happy to attest we didn’t bring to Indonesia paranoia or fear, but instead we walked through the metal detecting threshold with our knives on our hips, (after being told it was fine), dwindling stores of kangaroo and rabbit jerky, openness in our hearts, and

our trust for what comes next.

Agus took us into the town centre of Atapupu to change currency,

before backtracking us to his family home in Silawan. Seated here with us is Agus’ wife Anita (far left) and neighbourhood friends.

After school Alfan, Anita and Agus’ eldest child (13), and Woody (11) met, much to the hilarity of the younger kids.

It was a sweet moment of connection. We have come across no fellow caucasian visitors or residents in this part of the world. We met a few westerners in Dili, but have seen no others on our trip outside Australia, so far.

We are a bit of a novelty in these parts and everywhere we go what we find to be novel and interesting is often amusing for the locals. Meg and Patrick haven’t travelled overseas in the mobile phone age, and our snaps back then weren’t as instantly interactive and shareable as they are now.

In the afternoon, Agus took us for a walk around his village, where we met a man and his monkey,

and where we beheld this beautiful doe goat, who we’d love to cross with our buck, Hawthorn,

and we spoke with neighbours growing, tending and drying all manners of food, including cassava.

We returned home to this exquisite dinner made by Anita. Rice, fish, chicken, vegetables and always, always fermented chilli and lime. Sooo good!

The continual grace and generosity people offer us only grows our gratitude the deeper we go into this journey.

The myth that humans are selfish and narrow self-interested is promulgated by the ruling classes and their quasi-intellectual stooges, who are blind to other values and lifeways due to the social circles they keep. Think Noah Harari and Steven Pinker, for example. While some folk buy into the myth of the selfish gene, most don’t and their souls are very much intact as a result.

Agus lost his employment as a driver due to the Covid measures of his government. He had to sell his car, and economically things have been very hard since. One villager, Torie, who was keen to hang out and practice her English, told us “People didn’t suffer from Covid here, they suffered from the health measures.”

But rather than see themselves as victims, Agus and Anita’s home life speaks of a loving resilience inseparably connected to people and place,

a home life without running water, where they forego their own bedroom for strangers passing through.

After bean cakes and Timor-Leste coffee for breakfast, Agus loaded up his friend’s car with backpacks and people and all six of us headed off to Kupang at 7am.

The roads are on the whole smoother in Indonesia, but nonetheless the average speed we travelled was only around 40kms/hr. We were happy for this slowness. It’s not only conducive to animals, cyclists, tourists and the longevity of vehicles, but friendlier for pedestrians too.

On more internal matters, our microbiomes have been in radical transformation since we left home. Constant changes in our diets and body temperatures have rearranged our guts and not necessarily for the worse. Patrick and Meg have been eating much chilli and seeking out tuber vegetables such as sweet potato varieties, taro and cassava. There are always a bounty of bananas to collect, and we’ve all been trying to steer clear of fried foods because, as we reported in a previous post, cooking with vegetable oils longterm is a fairly reliable path to cancer. The confluence of nutritious foods and industrial contaminants mix in our bodies, and the toxins are either getting sweated out in the intense heat of the afternoons, or end up in one of these, which we’re getting more adept at using.

As we travelled we saw many examples of subsistence garden agriculture, as well as much uncultivated land, and therefore much potential for radical economies of place to grow from.

We stopped for a delicious lunch with Agus and fellow remaining passenger, Vincent, who was, like us, heading to Kupang to catch the ferry to Surabaya. We absolutely love Indonesian food.

Despite the fried parts (which would be fine if they were cooked in ghee or animal fats), such simple and delicious road food is very affordable costing just AU$14 for five hearty meals and tea. Imagine if we could get this quality of food with no plastic at a truck stop in Australia!

We drove on for another few hours passing many examples of local food and energy productions,

until we arrived at Yanti’s sister’s home. Tilde and her husband, Ady, welcomed us into their beautiful home and replenished us with dried bananas and hot tea.

From left in the above image is daughter of the house, Ningsih, mother Tilde, then to the right of Artist as Family, neighbour Ardy and father Ady. Using a translation app has been a godsend since arriving in Indonesia. For many of the people we are meeting, a foreigner is a very rare thing and an app has allowed us to speak across languages and share stories. Our hosts were informed that we are travelling with instruments and we were invited to play. After we shared a song, Ady and Tilde replied with a favourite of theirs, accompanied by their son, Lodri, on guitar. As a family who plays music together, this was super lovely to behold.

At Ady and Tilde’s home we continued to receive generous hospitality and delicious food.

We adults are particularly loving the vegetable dishes, and Woody could practically live off rice, chicken and fresh cucumber, which came out from the kitchen a moment after this photo was taken.

Woody has become quite the hit with the young women we are meeting, who shyly ask whether they can take a pic or two with him for their Instagram pages. He reluctantly and awkwardly agrees.

In just one sweet hour together our families had bonded.

Trust, grace, generosity and openness are infectious qualities, and Tilde and Ady’s home flowed with them.

We got back into Agus’ borrowed car-for-hire, and followed a banana truck further west,

until we landed at a fruit shop, where fruit bat Woody really brought out his amorous side.

The boy takes his fruit pretty seriously.

Night came in fast, as it does here, and we finally descended on the port at Kupang, where we farewelled dear Agus,

while we settled in for a four hour wait to board the ferry to Surabaya.

At 10pm, after ingesting volumes of exhaust fumes outside the ferry terminal, hundreds of we tired folk piled through two small doors eager to get onboard. It was chaotic. We’re not sure what was the culprit – something he ate, tiredness, the all day car ride, or perhaps just the petroleum and cigarette fumes none of us could escape – but Woody vomited several times on a tree at the dock as we waited to get through the next threshold. “You’re supposed to vomit on the boat, Woody,” said Patrick. We adults were fairly cooked as well, and somewhat delirious with fatigue.

Then, about thirty minutes later the call was announced, the wide gates opened and we were rushed onboard, a collective slug of people starting to fill the hull. We knew we shouldn’t dilly, though at this moment we didn’t know why.

It turned out that our tickets, like many others, were for ‘no seats’ for a 78 hour voyage, and fellow no-seats-folk (several hundred of us) were eagerly taking up little patches of carpet to make home for the journey. This photo was taken just moments after Woody vomited into a rubbish bin. The boat was still docked in the port.

He then promptly passed out, and eventually so did his parents. This tripodded image (taken early the next morning) is effectively how we spent the night, sans Patrick’s shoes and any available floor room.

Woody woke very pale and,

gingerly, he entered the noisy, busy fray of the morning, as Patrick made tea.

But the boy had slept, and this is our best medicine on the road, as indeed it is at home. He quickly came back into himself after a breakfast of fruit and the last of our oats, before Vincent came around and offered to give Woody a tour of the boat.

while Meg and Patrick connected with those sweet souls we slept beside and near. Instead of fighting over scarce real estate, people made room and connections.

On the middle day of our three night journey, an anniversary poem flowed out of Patrick, which we shared. There is something conducive to creativity when everything is stripped back to a vast ocean,

and all one has to do is sleep, converse with fellow travellers,

try their traditional foods, such as this Shabu rice preserved with the sugar taken from the Lontar palm and wrapped in a banana leaf,

catch up with correspondence (when there is signal), or stare mindlessly at the innumerable screens playing B-grade films in languages both spoken and subtitled that we don’t understand. We are so impressed how Indonesian people can sleep anywhere, and we’re learning to do this too, sleeping under bright lights and a cacophony of chatter, laughter, hacking coughs, loud phone media and crying babies.

The plastic pileups on this voyage, and indeed since leaving Australia, have been the most depressing aspect of our journey so far. So many banana leaves and rich fermentation and preserving traditions here, though sadly people have been steered down a path of convenience by the plastic industrial complex.

To combat our participation in this tragedy of Grandmother Gaia and her oceans, we’ve kept topping up our bulk food stores as we travel and we bought as much fruit with us as we could carry onto the boat, including watermelon, bananas, papaya, longons and salak. Salak is also called snake fruit due to the scale-like skin, and also memory fruit. As Indonesian traditional (or peoples’) medicine reports, it improves memory and brain function, no doubt due to its high levels of beta-carotene, potassium and pectin, which can improve blood flow to the brain.

Over the month we’ve been away, Woody has been taking his own photos on his little camera and writing regular journal entries. He has also been a keen editor of this blog, reminding us of things we’ve left out.

This three day passage began with vomiting and trepidation, but fairly soon we were thankful for all the connections we made, and the new foods we tried because of those connections, such as this traditional homemade food from Sumba incorporating nuts and banana. Yum!

We were also grateful we bought the cheapest tickets, as we found out the more expensive ones would have put us in these sardine cans.

Give us that floor of interweaving bodies any day! We came into Surabaya on the island of Java at around lunch time on the third day, took a final journey to the upper deck with Vincent,

passed by, with wide open eyes, the mountain of anthropogenic waste amassed in just 24 hours since the last port stop, (similar, no doubt, to an afternoon spectacle at the MCG back in Australia),

and alighted the ferry into the heat and haze of the afternoon.

We booked a AU$42 room 40 minutes by car from the ferry terminal. With cyclist guilt, caught a taxi there for AU$20, which we found out was about twice the going rate. The pedal-powered and heat-intense mobility we saw from the domesticity and AC of the cab reminded us of our previous adventures. There are different challenges with this journey.

Indonesia, gratefully, is much cheaper than Timor-Leste, whose currency is in US dollars. For an Australian family who lives well below the poverty line (that is, in money terms), we are both grateful for and mindful that this frugal adventure can occasionally bring a little more comfort.

We hadn’t washed for days, our clothes were putrid, and we longed for cold water. The apartment building provided.

On the street outside our apartment, a laundry business washed, dried and folded our clothes for around AU$4, and a five minute walk brought us to a little nasi goreng warung (fried rice roadside stall), where we bought dinner for AU$6. The meal was delicious. We’ll spare you another family selfie or food porn pic. We passed out early, woke early, and as we had to get across town before 8am, hailed another cab.

Taking selfies for social media isn’t ordinarily a cultural practice for our family, but since arriving in Timor and now Indonesia, it has become an everyday thing. Sunsr (sunset), our driver, wanted to “make selfie” with us. How could we refuse such a happy fella??

Patrick regrets he didn’t get the number of Sunsr’s dentist. At the conversion rate here, we might just be able to afford an implant or two. Not for the missing front tooth – Patrick loves his well-earned pirate face – more on the sides where numerous missing teeth make it difficult to chew. In Australia, for our overseas readers, we have universal healthcare called Medicare, though something our family doesn’t use, and thus doesn’t draw public money from, because of the way we live and because we don’t trust the medical industrial complex. Dentistry, however, something we would ues, isn’t covered by Medicare, at least in real terms. Meaning low income folk can get only rudimentary dental work done if they wait a year or so, but they cannot seek out a dentist they trust or who comes recommended. For decades, a lobby of dentists has pressured the government to make sure dentistry isn’t covered by Medicare, and so proper teeth doctoring remains a luxury treatment. Pulling out teeth when a problem arises has been the only affordable treatment for us, and more recently we’ve developed practices of self-applied dental work, which we’ll share in a future post at some stage. It’s not a big thing, we are happy neopeasants who make-do to keep ourselves free from economic slavery, but we are keeping open the possibility of dental work while on this journey, so if you have any hot tips for goodly dentists in Asia, please let us know.


Cities are not really the point of this journey. We are not the sort of tourists who seek out cities and their sights. Instead, we’re much more curious about farming practices, socio-ecological relationships, food and cultural habits, rituals and ceremony, stories and songs, and technologies that keep both bodies and Mother Country well.

At 7.15am we arrived at the railway station, found a stall that served black coffee,

and boarded a train to Jakarta.

This all-day train journey brought us into contact with the extent of small farming practices in Java. Field after field grew rice, taro, cassava, banana, cabbage, corn, sweet potato, bok choy, various alliums and a plethora of other crops we couldn’t identify from the train.

Unsurprisingly, rice is the dominant crop. Even in the dry season there is abundant water here, to flood field after field of this staple monoculture. We witnessed the use of herbicides in the rice fields, but unlike the broad-acre, boom spraying regimes of conventional agriculture back in Australia, small-scale farmers here frugally spot spray weeds by foot and with backpacks. Not ideal, especially for we neopeasants who avoid growing and eating sprayed monocultural crops back home, but a far more superior farming method in comparison to US agribusiness colonialism, so reliant on dumping endless tonnes of pesticides into the world.

As we approach Jakarta, we are reminded of the warnings about this city people have shared with us along the way. Yanti told us to keep a careful watch on Woody as child trafficking exists in this mega city of 10.5 million people. Others told us theft is big and we’ll need to be careful of our belongings. This is all curious to us because we have felt so safe on this journey so far, despite the hitch-hiking in Australia and despite being virtually the only folk of our ethnicity we’ve seen since leaving Darwin.

As we have moved west from Timor-Leste, where the dominant religion is Catholicism, to the island of Java, where the dominant religion is Islam, we have felt the social functionality formal religions bring to people’s lives. Yes, we understand the colonial threads of these newer religions, but have observed such a deep cherishing of them here. For us, we feel much more aligned to the older animist practices we have witnessed on our travels, because of the centrality of earth story rather than sky god honouring .

For society to function, for there to be peace and respect, people need a story. We have not been judged for ours, which is neither Christian nor Muslim, rather we’ve been embraced and cared for. Where our stories overlap with people, there is always humility, intrigue and gratitude. Our family’s big universal story, the story we serve so as we don’t require the use of a formal religion or unconsciously default to the cult of materialism, centres on the sacredness, abundance and teachings of Grandmother Gaia and Mother Country. So our big story goes a little like this: If we serve the communities of life that make more life possible, if we are the humus-informed participants of the materiality and physics of life source, and we honour, give to and receive from the living and dying of the worlds of the world, then so much more than ourselves can leap forward into more divine life, and our spirits and souls can dance with abundance and sing more fruit into being.

Sitting on a diesel powered train, using a rare-earthed mined laptop, and eating food we don’t know the origin story of, might seem a trillion miles from such an earth-honouring cosmology, and it truly is. However, unless we have a story that we love, a story we can cherish for its possibility, how can we move to where our souls want to lead us?

In honour of Meg ‘Magpie’ Ulman

We gathered a few days ago to celebrate Meg’s 50th orbit around the sun, neopeasant village style.

As individuals or in small groups we spoke our praise of Magpie in heartfelt words and song, including ‘Clearing the inbox’ to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, created and performed by Meg’s frolleagues (friend-colleagues) at Melliodora – David, Ostii, Catie, Beck and Su.

We ate nourishing, potluck, home-tended/crafted food while we kept warm by the fire.

There were also many potluck poems, stories, and honourings shared into the night, including by Ruth,

and Trace,

and Maya,

who, like Catie, shared gratitude and love in a hand drawn card. Did you notice Catie’s worm font?!

Thanks Kim and Jordan for taking these pics, especially this one Kim, capturing Magpie in her nest of love ones.

We each expressed our love uniquely for Magpie, who’d returned that morning from three days and nights fasting and listening in the nearby forest by herself. While she was away, Patrick wove a love poem as long as Meg is tall, attempting to portray a little of her love- and lifemaking adventures, and their shared collaborations. (9min listen)


Four things about this recording: Firstly, if you haven’t heard of The Decameron referred to in this piece, you might want to get to know it, if only for the horny monks and nuns in 14th century plagued Europe. Secondly, Patrick’s piece ends with a recorder solo performed by Meg, which is situated towards the end of a newish Artist as Family song called Fish, which we’re still working on. Thirdly, in the piece, Patrick is referring to a virologist in Beijing called Dr Song, who he has been corresponding with. Maybe more on that in a future post. Fourthly, here is the bunny merkin-sporran Patrick made for Meg as an accompanying gift with his poem, which is mentioned (indirectly) in the piece.

Now, back to this Neopeasant Queen (née Jewish Princess).

Another piece delivered on the night was written by our old friend Pete O’Mara, who was MC for the night and who’d predicted Meg and Patrick’s suitability even before they’d met, 18 years ago, when Meg was just new to Djaara Country.

Thank you for the warmth and radiance you bring to life, Meg. You are a lit and giving hearth in the rebuilding of our village, and your love reverberates out into the living of the world.

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (second excerpt)


October 18

I’ve been meaning to check on them for ages and after work today I finally do. I take the tea towel off the bucket that’s been sitting under the fermenting table and realise I’ve left it too late. A 20-litre bucket of Jerusalem artichokes with a plate on top to keep them submerged under the brine. There is a thick crust of mould, and all of the pickles have gone soft. I’m so disappointed, and I curse myself for not putting a reminder in the calendar to check it earlier, as I usually do.

I scoop the mould off the top and feel around with my hand all through the bucket and find one big one that may be salvageable. It smells fine, so I give it a quick rinse and take a bite but it’s not as firm as I hope. I put it back in the bucket and carry the soft gloopy mess down off the deck, through the muddy swales and into the chicken coop to the very back corner and dump the whole lot there among 15 years of rotten down mouldy ferments.

When I come back up to the house Patrick asks me where I tipped them and I tell him.

‘Onto my midden of failures.’



October 23

A plunge in the cold water tank, nude tea drinking by the fire, loft steps lovemaking, followed by more tea, reading out to each other the missives from thoughtsmiths and journos we subscribe to on Substack.

Blackwood wakes around nine and we ride our bikes up to the Sunday market. A sign catches my eye as we pass through town, ‘Relaxation Massage – $40 for 30 minutes.’ I’d seen the sign before but never given it a thought. Our usual cohort of body healers are not currently available, and I don’t see Kris for a massage in exchange for gardening, until Friday.

We continue onto the market and I buy a banana passionfruit vine from Florian, one of the organic growers there. Banana passionfruit are the only fruit ripe at this time of year and I’m determined to keep this one frost protected until it grows hardy.

I chat with Florian and later with Edward, another grower who grows without chemicals. Meg and Blackwood wander around the market, yarning with people, looking for old tools and useful things like containers filled with an assortment of nails and screws.

On the way home riding in convoy I notice the massage sign again, and feeling the pain rising in my back I call out to Meg and Blackwood, ‘See you at home, I’ll see if I can get a treatment.’

I cross the road and roll my bike down a little lane and walk into the reception area. The lady says she is available and takes my card and charges me $49. I feel as though I missed something in the exchange. English isn’t her first language and Mandarin isn’t mine. She shows me into the room, and leaves me there to undress. She returns as I’m laying on my stomach with a towel across my body. She asks whether I want my legs and buttocks done. ‘My back is what’s really hurting me,’ I reply.

Before I know it she has removed my underpants. Well, that’s pretty weird. I have the feeling again as though I have missed something. She uses her hands, elbows and forearms to work my tight back muscles. I begin to relax and breathe deeply in and out through my nose.

After about twenty minutes she asks me to turn over and places the towel back over my body. She speaks again, something about a ‘special’ and taps me on my groin. Oh, I realise, it’s this kind of massage parlour. ‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘but thanks for asking.’

She works my legs and arms and I lay there thinking about how unattached and pragmatic she is. My thought drifts to all the lonely men in the district starved of intimacy, starved of touch, where this service would at least be some kind of connection. I feel pangs of grief for all people who don’t have intimacy in their lives, which leads on to a wave of gratitude for the diversity of love and touch I receive each day.

After 30 minutes she thanks me and leaves the room. I put my farming clothes back on my farming body. No one is in the reception. There’s a ghostly feeling as I leave. It’s not exactly what I went in for, but there’s a little relief in my back.

I gently ride home and share my adventure with Meg. ‘Wow,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know such a thing existed in Daylesford.’ We laugh at how naive we are. Blackwood is in the workshop cleaning up rusted steel blades from old hedge trimmers he bought at the market.

‘Were you tempted?’ Meg asks me, grinning.


Drifting, fudging, dancing, initiation and subsistence with Gregori Papanastasiou

We’ve had the joy of spending this week with Gregori Papanastasiou, and numerous conversations have flowed through the labours of each day. As we’re beginning to take in volunteers again, which we call SWAPs (social warming artists & permaculturists) or SWANs (social warming artisans & neopeasants), we thought we’d share some of the gifts people bring to Tree Elbow and our School of Applied Neopeasantry, exchanging food, labour, fuel, medicine and story.

In this first, long-form podcast offering, we hear Greg’s passage from migrant parents to growing up in suburban Melbourne, his self-directed rites of passage as a youth, to dance, music, meditation and exploring subsistence lifeways in an urban context.


The conversation goes for well over an hour, and contains the wisdom, curiosity and direction of a young man seeking meaning and rich life without money. So feel free make some space for it, and let it slowly unfurl. Like much slow media the gold is hidden in the fissures of deep and open listening.

We hope you enjoy this gentle, meandering yarn. What is your rites of passage story as a young person? Where are your nodes of connection to Greg and his story? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Here are the books Greg and Patrick mentioned:
Martín Prechtel’s Long Life Honey in the Heart: A story of Initiation and Eloquence
Vandana Shiva’s Oneness Vs the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeking Freedom

Replacing growth with belonging economies

Last year we were invited to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming book, Food for Degrowth: Perspectives and Practices, to be published by Routledge later this year. Although, let’s not count on anything like that occurring.

We called our chapter, ‘Replacing growth with belonging economies: a neopeasant response’. We completed it in November.

Due to the times we’re living we offer it here as a film. It’s our most significant collaborative writing project since our book, The Art of Free Travel. (If you’re a subscriber and reading this in your inbox, you won’t see the below video, so here’s a link to it).

Replacing growth with belonging economies 
Lived, written and spoken by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman
Text editing by Anitra Nelson and Ferne Edwards
Sound by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman (assisted by Jordan Osmond)
Video editing and seven drawings by Patrick Jones (the second, third and fourth are in collaboration with David Holmgren)
Photographs and footage by Artist as Family, David Jablonka, Nina Sahraoui, Mara Ripani, Michelle Dunn, Thomas Dorleans, Michal Krawczyk, Giulia Lepori, Nicholas Walton-Healey, Ponch Hawkes, Gab Connole, Zac Imhoof, Anthony Petrucci, Jordan Osmond, Jason Workman, Ian Robertson and David Holmgren
Soundtrack: A place of simple feeding – a poem-recipe by Patrick Jones, arranged and performed by Anthony Petrucci
Gift Ecology Films
Shared under a creative commons license/non-commercial
an Artist as Family home production
Please let us know about your own transition from hypertechnocivility