We were only going to spend a night or two at Yarramundi Reserve, but it was difficult to leave, partly because of the swimming,
and partly because of the local people. This is Kate, a community nurse who walks her dogs at Yarramundi, (which is named after the respected Indigenous doctor sometimes referred to as Yellomundee). Each morning we would greet Kate on the beach, and one morning she brought us a box of chocolates. Thanks Kate!
While camped at Yarramundi we rode into Richmond and found a shop that sold Australian organic produce in bulk. We met the owners, Theresa and Yves,
who generously invited us to visit their home garden to pick as many white figs as we wished.
Edible fruiting figs (Ficus carica) belong to the mulberry family (Moraceae). They contain fiber, anti-oxidants and minerals including potassium, manganese, calcium, copper, selenium, iron and zinc. They also contain B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, niacin, pyridoxine and pantothenic acid. These vitamins help metabolise proteins, carbohydrates and fats. What a blessing from the gods.
We also discovered a considerable Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) patch in Theresa and Yves’ backyard. This is a fruit we’ve read was good eating in Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland’s fantastic The Weed Forager’s Handbook, but had never tried it.
We made the stupid mistake of handling the fruit without first rubbing off the fine prickles. Ouch! So after tweezing them out we cut the fruit in situ and scooped out some watery flesh to try. It was delicious; a combination of pomegranate and watermelon, and another species to add to our list of desirable drought-hardy weeds.
Theresa also gave us the number of Danielle Wheeler, a local permaculture teacher, Greens candidate and home-schooling mum. Zeph has been a little wanting of his own peers of late and Theresa told us that Danielle and her partner Mark have a boy slightly older than him. G’day Patrick! We organised a play for the boys at Yarramundi Reserve where they swam, played with a small dinghy (we’d found and repaired) and cooked campfire damper.
While the boys played we adults talked all things weeds, plant sucession, permaculture, raising boys and home-educating.
We asked Danielle about a few local weeds that we haven’t seen before, such as this plant,
the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis). Traditionally castor oil has been used as a remedy for constipation and child birthing, although more recently as a non-freezing lubricant for machinery. But beware, the seeds from which the relatively harmless oil is made can be fatal. The seeds bear the potent toxin riciniii that if ingested will kill the ribosomes of your cells. Eating only a few could be fatal!
This knowledge reminds us just how important it is to be vigilant when there are little foragers around who are enthusiastic experimenters.
We finally left our Yarramundi utopia,
and headed for Wilberforce, passing numerous turf farms that were mining fertile river flats and river water to grow ridiculously unsustainable and unnecessary lawn product.
Danielle, Mark and Patrick had invited us to camp in their permie garden at Wilberforce and do some washing.
So we returned their kind hospitality with a blogging lesson. Danielle cooked us some beautiful meals and even though Zeph and Patrick hit it off, Patrick and Woody also got along.
It was sadly only a short stay, but very nourishing. Thank you Mark, Danielle, Patrick and Rory!
We rode up to Sackville and caught our first ferry for the day, crossing the Hawkesbury underneath its sandstone cliffs,
and near Maroota bought a watermelon direct from the grower for a mere $1 a kilo.
We did a fair bit of climbing on our ride but eventually descended to Wisemans Ferry, where we joined Stretch and a number of other bikies, who were out on a charity ride, for a beer.
While we waited for the day’s second ferry we demolished six kilos of watermelon, and boy, did it taste good.
Simple pleasures, simple travel. We hope your life has plenty of simplicity too.
This jaunt, this adventure, this research trip, this AaF-for-president-national-tour, this blessed extreme year on bikes in this new era of extreme weather, collapsing economies and peaking crude oil supply is the best bloody thing we’ve ever done. Predicated on chance encounters, uncertain destinations, biophysical challenges, autonomous foods and unpredictable weathers we approach each day as it so generously comes.
After a week in Katoomba the weather turned fairly wet and cold. We’d earlier met a particularly sweet family in a local park and they messaged us to come over and stay with them to see the bad weather out.
“Yes, we’d love to but only if we could do some sort of exchange, like a garden design…”
Our two babies, Woody and Lily, were born on the very same day, only two hours apart. But we had more in common than this remarkable fact. Food, what we consume and where it comes from, was a significant topic of discussion and so was the subject of permaculture. We took it in turns to cook and we showed off again the gentle delight of daylily buds by tossing them through a pasta dish.
Thanks Lily, Guy and Kirsten! So great to have met you and spent a few days in your home. After leaving Katoomba our new destination was just a short ride away to the town of Leura, passing through beautiful country to get there.
It was in Leura we stayed with another family, old friends through poetry networks: Ruby, Kate, Pete and Felix.
Despite being old friends we were keen to continue the communitarian gift economy exchange, sharing the kitchen work,
the gardening work (which included summer pruning, tomato bed preparation and compost setting),
and, on our last night together, some gentle foraging to make a Blue Mountains salad.
After adding olive oil, lemon and salt we had a classic bitter bowl of goodness to finish the meal.
We said farewell to our sweet friends of the mountains on a cool sunny morning,
and legged it downhill at thrilling speed. Our destination was to be somewhere along a river near Richmond, and so inevitably we passed both the regeneration and rebuilding that was occurring after the recent bushfires.
We arrived at Yarramundi in the heat of the afternoon and hopped straight in to the cool waters where the Nepean and Grose Rivers empty in to the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River,
where we remained until dusk and prepared dinner,
fished for mullet and bass and aired out our bedding under the river she-oaks.
Much love and gratitude to the beautiful Blue Mountains and the people we met and stayed with. If you’re in South Australia, our thoughts are with you. More Catastrophic fire weather there right now, moving across to our loved ones in Victoria. With love and pedalspeed, AaF.
Having set up the tents and locked up the bikes we have walked into town to see what purchasable foods are on offer. Towns like Wallacia, we’re discovering, generally sell all kinds of the wrong sort of things. It is another hot day and the traffic tries to outcompete the male cicadas, whose shrill cacophony reaches fever pitch in the heat of the day. We walk back to our river hideaway with unloved bread, oats, juice and some tinned corn to help tempt fish onto the end of our line. We dwell on the magic of free camping, little or no amenities, just tree shade and river water and a nearby tap for drinking. We swim in the lovely cool water and some who come down to fish tell us they are horrified we are swimming in that dirty muck.
As we travel from state to state we’re finding many Australians are frightened by unsterilised environments and approach such autonomous places with contempt and dread. If we reply to such a phobia at all it is with something along the lines of: fish guts and duck poo are prefered friends over a cocktail of municiple-sanctioned corporate chemicals, or maybe something a little less wordy. We rarely if ever get sick. In fact it seems that the rougher we live the healthier we feel, provided we are eating well. Up in town we saw visions and heard stories of unwellness and hospitalisation, my father’s gone back in for treatment, the cancer has come back, said one obese woman. What sort of society allows foods that make people so unwell? While we’ll occasionally indulge in hot chips and industrial bread if there is nothing else, there is no better antidote to such impoverishment than the autonomous foods we are finding along the way. Foods such as blackberries (Rubus),
which, like plums, apples, spinach and grapes don’t need ad men to persuade us to eat them and are unparalelled sources of bioflavonoids and rich in Vitamin C. Like raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves make a great bush tea and are high in iron, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins. Of course, we have to be careful with these generous autonomous foods because they too are often treated by councils on ideological grounds, which big chemical companies profit from. We always check the leaves and surrounding vegetation first to ensure they haven’t been sprayed. Straight off the plant there is nothing quite like this free, sweet medicinal treat. Well, perhaps except for this gorgeous plant.
Echinacea (Asteraceae), according to Medical News Today, is used to treat acid indigestion, chronic fatigue syndrome, diphtheria, dizziness, genital herpes, gum disease, malaria, migraines, pain, snake bites, rheumatism, septicemia and bloodstream infections, streptococcus infections, syphilis, the flu, tonsillitis, typhoid, urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. We simply dry the flower heads and make a restorative tea with them. Although various university conducted studies have found varying results regarding the benefits of Echinacea, most likely none of them observe what other foods are being used in combination. If you try to throw in a delicate plant medicine on top of a diet of industrialised food the results will most likely be poor. Similarly, finding the right place to camp means getting proper rest from the intensity of bike touring, which is another type of medicine based on our wits not our wallets. On leaving Moss Vale, following the awesome bike track along the Wingecarribee River to Burradoo where the autonomous roadside apples were almost ripe to pluck,
we joined a continuous stream of bike-unfriendly traffic from Bowral to Mittagong before we were able to relax in apple orchard country at Yerrinbool and join the Old Hume Highway. This was the first bike touring leg of our trip that included Zeph, who came to join us in Moss Vale at Xmas. So with our full tribe of five beings on two bikes, we set off for Thirlmere Lakes National Park, 52 km away.
In order to have the freedom to live well and experience the profound fullness of this country we are having to write our own laws, which we believe are closer to Aboriginal sensibilities than European legalities. There are notices and rules everywhere, no doubt made for a growing number of dickheads that refuse to respect the land and its diverse critters and ecologies. Thirlmere Lakes does not accept dogs, camping, people after dark and in some places even the innocent bicycle is banned. With only our bikes to hide from rangers in the bracken understory we set up camp as the mozzies descended.
While in the park we kept Zero on a lead, not because his poo is polluting (he doesn’t eat canned or commercial dog biscuits and we bury all his organic wastes, and ours for that matter), but because there are signs around the park telling us 1080 poison bait has been put about. Zero may chase away but never catches birds such as this swamp hen perching out of harm’s way,
Rabbits are Zero’s preferred game, although he’s not much good at hunting them. So, in such a location, we devise that his potential to negatively impact the ecology is extremely low. Three thoughts emerged while we were at Thirlmere Lakes. Firstly, there should be exemptions for walkers and cyclists who wish to camp in all National Parks. There must be rewards for those who travel lightly in this day and age. Secondly, the use of 1080 is the very opposite of an environmental solution because the entire food chain is affected, not just the feral predators at the top. Once again governments are giving damaging chemical companies power by buying these non-solutions. Thirdly, it is not littering, we reflected as we picked up other peoples’ rubbish in the park or came across dumped waste,
that is the problem. All species litter. It is only now what humans leave behind that is damaging. To mitigate toxicity in our environments, business should be taxed heavily on all products they produce deemed to cause a negative effect by what is left of independent science. These would include such things as fast food and supermarket packaging, pesticides, plastics, petroleum products and poisonous baits, etc. When we emerged from our lake hideaway in the morning we were greeted by a happy group who go by the name of the Picton Puffers,
who offered us hot drinks, apple strudel and home-grown peaches. One enlightened soul from this gang of walkers and runners sang the praises of Sweden, who have laws that state that land owners must give one night’s access of a patch of ground on which travellers can camp. After a little research we discovered that this universal ethic is called Freedom to roam, and in Sweden is specifically called allemansrätten (the everyman’s right). Despite our increasingly privatised country, Australia is large enough geographically and still small enough in population to devise and implement our own rules for respectful, non-damaging and frugal travel. But alas, there are forces about that are against this ancient will-to-roam, as recently articulated by fellow camper, Bill Garner in The Age. We left the Puffers at Thirlemere Lakes, travelled on to Picton and camped beside a small creek that ran beside the town’s botanic gardens. We were told by the friendly council gardeners (who knew we were camping illegally and who encouraged our adventures) that the creek was inhabited by giant eels.
We didn’t come across any eels though there were plenty of ducks, prompting us to explain to the younger amongst us that semi-domesticated birds in a park are not fair game for food. We have never caught eels in Australia, although Meg caught and ate some in New Zealand many moons ago. They are something on our long list of autonomous meats we wish to hunt.
Another free meat that none of us have caught or consumed is carp, which is considered an environmental menace. So when we put up camp near the banks of the Nepean River near Wallacia
and set about fishing for Bass with surface lures, we very unexpectedly and unconventionally landed a good sized bottom-feeding carp. The young local boy who actually caught the fish was about to throw it back (after having his photo taken holding it) when Zeph asked whether we could have it. We knew carp would be good eating, despite the bad press it has in Australia, and after a little online research found that carp need to be eaten straight away or put on ice because as its body temperature rises it releases histamines that give the meat a muddy flavour. We did neither of these things, instead hanging the meat in night shade while we slept
and cooking it for breakfast the following day in olive oil we’d bought in Sutton Forest, organic garden-grown garlic we’d bought in Tumut and roadside toms we bought in Warregamba.
The result was delicious and we honoured this life by devouring every skerick of its wonderfully edible self as participants of the web of ecological life.
In order to move towards an ecological culture we need to become the biological controls, participatory ecologists (as our sensible friend Russell Edwards would say) and ecological playmakers (as we would say) that industrial culture has all but perverted in its short life. We need to reinstate a non-waste, non polluting sensibility in everything we do. It is not possible to do this if we go along with mainstream modes of living and ideologies, especially concerning travel and food consumption. All the prejudices surrounding the edibility of this now common fish dissolved with each mouthful. No muddiness was detected despite the Nepean being a heavily disturbed river with motor boats and storm water damage. People just aren’t hungry enough, proclaimed Meg.
Carp now joins our growing list of desirable autonomous foods that need to be eaten on the long march from economic to ecological rationalism.
After a few days on the Nepean we left our blissful river camp of muddy swimming and fish treats and headed towards Penrith in near heatwave conditions. We decided to stow Zero in a box and jump a train from Penrith up to the Blue Mountains to escape the scorching heat that was daily progressing in the foothills.
We spent a hot afternoon in Katoomba looking for a place we could secretly settle for a while and nearing dusk we met Shane, an awesome local who completely read our needs. He gave us a tour of some hidden locations,
from which we chose our quiet little camp spot,
a ten minute walk to the heart of town, and only a two minute amble to this hidden away billabong.
Shane, you are the embodiment of the universal spirit of the freedom to roam. Thank you! We will rest now and wash,
and bring you shortly, dear blog reader, a post or two of our Blue Mountains’ adventure.
Signing off with love and lessons learned for the future,