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Neo-peasants rise up!

English writer George Monbiot contests “the oddest insult in the English language [is] when you call someone a peasant, [because] you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive.” Go Woody! You proud lil ‘peasant…

Words such as pagan and heathen were insults Christians used to describe various nameless land-sacred peoples of Europe. In our community our peasant, pagan, heathen women get together to raise awareness about the relocalisation of food and medicine in an age where Christian-capitalism is becoming a spent and dying force.

Zeph and Woody, like true neo-peasants, are learning grafting techniques to expand the food commons in their locasphere.

Woody (pictured here after his first haircut on his birthday morning) gets to four years of age without eating processed sugar,

and for another half year his brother is lovingly unschooled through the gifts of the community.

(Thanks Tosh, Danny, Nick, Kirsten, Pete, Jeff, Cath, Hamish, Fiona, Henri, Edward, Tim, Angela and Gael for aiding Zeph’s learning).

Zeph also experiments with his own forms of neo-peasant culture-making in his video Treeffiti:

and mucks around with developing his own written language.

He helps in numerous home projects such as building the cellar from stone unearthed from our land.

Nice job 14 year-old!

Zephyr is loving having his own pad to sleep in, entertain friends in and as a venue to host impromptu gigs by touring friends Formidable Vegetable Sound System.

This is Angela, who we welcomed as a SWAP (Social Warming Artists + Permaculturists), and who has since become a friend to all of us.

In this photo Angela and Meg are preparing a bed for cabbages.

We have irrigation lines set up for the dry months but for the rainy months we harvest water passively in our swales.

It wasn’t just Angela who arrived to our place by bike. These last few months we have hosted four Warm Showers travellers: Maya, Kirsten, Jaz and Tom, (pictured below). On most days we talk about upcoming cycle trips that we are scheming, but for now we are happy to be home where we can repay some of the kindness shown to us while we were on the road.

We also love being home because we love being community gardeners, helping to build an alternative food system based on care, nourishment and trust. The Daylesford Community Food Gardeners are planning to be in the Daylesford New Year’s Eve parade again this year, so please get in touch if you’d like to join us.

Love the poster, Jeff! We’re rapt you promised a bike or two for next year’s poster.

Learning the art of bicycle maintenance is an ongoing affair at our place. Bicycles are a preferred neo-peasant mobility.

But you always see more when you’re walking, such as this little family of hard shells we spotted at Lake Daylesford,

while fishing for some feral redfin.

Wild plants, fish and mushrooms are part of any neo-peasant sacred economy, as are wild bees. We caught our first wild swarm this spring, aided and tutored by Nick from Milkwood. Thanks Nick!

We’ve been mentoring and handing on knowledges too, while getting fashion tips in exchange. Thanks Ruby!

Harvesting the early planted garlic was an experiment worth repeating. We planted these bulbs in February.

Gift economies only work if the gifts flow in every direction. We’ve been foraging in the nearby forest so carrying out work that enables the diversity of that forest to flourish is the return.

And we’ve been speaking, sharing and learning at a number of events including talks at libraries, sustainability festivals and at this event, Futurelands2, where Patrick introduced Bruce Pascoe in the Kandos community hall.

We shared an event with Kirsten from Milkwood and Uncle Kevin Williams, a Wiradjuri man, at Ganguddy,

and we did a most non neo-peasant thing and flew to Cairns, breaking our no-fly principle. All throughout the flight we had to burp Beverly, our jun mother.

We were invited to Cairns as guests of the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference, and got to spend three days with this wonderful group, each of us sharing stories of resilience and creativity from our respective communities.

Patrick gave a keynote called Fermenting country: caring for the ecology of our guts, and Meg ran a complementary workshop on making fermented drinks, including jun.

Meg separated 16 parts of Beverly to give away. She named each one after a strong woman in our community. Here is Leith, an exhibitor from the Dept of Veteran Affairs.

The gifts flowed our way too. Matthew Tafoya, a Navajo man, designed and made this famous t-shirt in the Bush jnr era. Matt’s talk about his people’s community food gardens was inspirational.

So as you can see we’ve been busy lil’ neo-peasants and raising quite a sweat these past few months. Meg made us some soap so we can clean up a little before new year.
Wishing you all a peaceful summer solstice season, with love from Artist as Family

Eating ants, bush fruits and eels, and meeting crocodiles (Narragon Beach to Daintree Village)

It was very hard to leave our free-camping sanctuary with our freshwater pool streaming onto Narragon Beach just down from the Clump Point jetty where we pulled in our evening hauls of fish.

It was also hard to leave our lovely new and not so new friends.

We had our last ride in to Mission Beach with the delightful Tom Dean, the errant wayfarer, before once again setting our compass north.

Our restored senses went immediately into shock after we got back on the Bruce Highway. Trucks, motorhomes, caravans, misnamed ‘eco’ tourists, roadkill, roadside memorials, anthropogenic garbage and sugarcane mayhem all came flooding back to raze the peace and make us harden back up for another dose of digi-industrial reality. Needless to say we took the longer back road to Innisfail, via south Johnstone and Japoon, which rewarded us with this little haul of free fruit,

and a croc safe (at least in the dry season) swimming hole.

Further down the road we stopped to investigate some of the hidden ingredients in conventional banana farming.

This farmer was using two different pesticides: Echo 720, a fungicide and known carcinogen and the herbicide Gramoxone 250, which is an extremely dangerous chemical. The active constituent in Gramoxone 250 is paraquat dichloride, which is banned in 32 countries including China and all the EU nations including Switzerland where Syngenta, the chemical company that produces it, has its headquarters. This chemical has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

What is incredible is that bananas are considered ‘health food’ in Australia! When we’ve been stuck for food and have had to resort to supermarkets on this trip we routinely ask one of the staff where the ‘health food’ and ‘organic’ foods are. These minuscule couple of shelves contain products that have too much packaging or are also packed with hidden nasties such as refined sugar.

To paraphrase Michael Pollan: If it comes from a plant eat it; if it’s made in a plant don’t. The sugar industry in South Johnstone had certainly made its mark on the town, the cane trains surge down the main drag like cocaine through a major vein.

We just keep thinking: what would it look like if the Queensland Government pulled its subsidies from cane farmers, taxed refined sugars like they do tobacco and transferred the revenue to organic food producers or farms transitioning to organic food, bringing the price of organic food down so as everyone could purchase it? Imagine the savings made to public health! Imagine the beautiful ruination of predatory pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors who have built their businesses on an innutritious, immune depleting food system! And then there are the environmental questions.

Imagine if soils were no longer mined to grow a substance that isn’t necessary and that is causing so much ill health. Can you imagine in these razed fields as food forests of Maccadamia nuts, Davidson Plums, paw paws, bananas, grapefruits, oranges and a hundred other fruits all grown as a polyculture with leguminous plants interplanted, used as chop and drop fertilisers, where thick humus would form, repairing the soil and its mycorrhizal strata, and where perennial groundcovers would spread out after the first years of pioneering annual weeds doing their work to repatriate the earth, where a billion organisms live and build soil structure, and who through rigorous competition fight off the threat of dominating species, so as no pesticides, no corporations making decisions about our health, no organic certification was necessary because agricultural pesticides were all banned and common sense prevailed? But for now this is the present: millions of acres of completely unnecessary sugar cane.

Because Woody has never had refined sugar, his taste buds are open to all foods and their sensations. Whereas we older ones in the tribe may have a few blue quandongs here and there, Woody seeks them out with a passion. He’ll eat the tart ones, sour ones, mildly sweet over ripe ones, as well as the way past desirable ones.

He’s becoming the most enthusiastic forager of us all. He’s also partial to autonomus meat. At the free-camping spot at Babinda, Patrick hand speared a small black fish for bait and used it to catch this lovely creature on a 40-pound hand line:

an Australian long-finned eel (Anguilla reinhardti). We made a fire and cooked it on the coals for around 12 minutes each side. It was heavenly dining after peeling back the bitter skin and revealing the extraordinary white, moist flesh.

Artist as Family gave blessings to this powerful water creature and slept with the watery whirlings of the eel inside us. The next day we packed up early,

and took to the road. Our long-finned fuel powering us all the way into Cairns where we stayed with this delightful family:

Meet warm showers hosts Sarah, Oscar and Renee, who we look forward to spending more time with when we return to Cairns. After a night of great conversation, games, showers and delicious shared food, we picked up some supplies from the community food co-op and from a local park,

and headed north again. Sarah and Oscar rode ahead to steer our departure as Zero was having an RDO as our biological GPS.

One species that we have camped with everywhere, been stung by, admired their architecture but so far failed to try out as a bush food is the green ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

These amazing fruitarians are everywhere and we’ve now incorporated them into our everyday diet as a robust free food species. Like whitchetty grubs they have a high fat content; perfect as a cycling fuel. They are a zingy citrus-like edible, which is not surprising as they love citrus. We have all, including Woody, learnt to catch them by the head with our pincers, killing them instantly and popping them whole into our mouths.

We only got as far as Smithfield, an outer suburb of Cairns, and Patrick’s front wheel rim spilt open, possibly as a result of his eating too many green ants.

While waiting for the repairs we walked for a few hours in an industrial wasteland along the A1 and found these delicious ripe bush passionfruits (Passiflora foetida).

They oozed the devine right off the vine: no built religious environment was necessary to partake in this godly moment.

We were rather abruptly asked to leave the bike shop in Smithfield, prompting Patrick to write the following poem from our campsite at Unity Reef.

It felt right to be kicked out of the bicycle shop
in Cairns. We had coveted all their back room
power points with our touring stench. Baby and dog
running in and out of the place unsettling the gloss
while we waited for the expensive repair.
But perhaps it was really the ‘G20 – – – – LIES’
writ large across one of our tail panniers
that prompted the call for our exile by the boss.
After all the city was in feverish preparation
eager to celebrate the international visitors
with a cultural festival of entertainers
known as ‘the arts’.

Even if our schooling system today does its best to breed out the inquistive and critical in the population this doesn’t mean that the forthcoming G20 bankers get-together in Cairns isn’t a pox on the planet. But obviously many disagree, especially in Port Douglas where we came across this holidaying couple near the beach. When we asked the lady wearing it about her singlet she boasted it cost only $3 from K-Mart. Is it a joke? Are we missing the irony? Where do you start with such intransigence to life and the suffering of others for the sake of a $3 joke?

No doubt G20 finance delegates will flock to Port Douglas with all its monetary shmaltz. We on the other hand couldn’t wait to leave, legging it back to the A1 after a picnic lunch with fake artisan bread, temporarily being split up by big sugar before the town of Mossman in Kuku Yalanji country, on the way to the Daintree.

Not far on we met this fantastic duo who were heading south and who are working on a very exciting bicycle touring project. It was lovely to meet you Simon and Alia!

Just nearby we found a laden grapefruit tree, loaded up, gave some to our fellow tourers before pushing on to find some ripe guavas, which we have commonly picked all along the east coast from as far south as Kempsey.

We camped the night at Newell Beach and the following day arrived at the village of Daintree.

Prone to regular flooding and therefore constant change the Daintree River is an ecological hive of activity.

We adults were as wide-eyed and excited as Woody when we saw fishing birds such as this pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius),

the numerous reptilian water critters such as this grand male estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porous),

and these common tree snakes, sunning themselves.

While in the Daintree village we also learned more about Far North Queensland plant life, such as native taro (Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis), which requires much lengthy preparation in order to make the tubers edible,

and Woody, completely unprompted, collected up all the Kuku Yalanji forest delights he knew including blue quandongs, satin ash fruit, peanut tree pods and hibiscus flower.

We were fortunate enough to meet Linda, a Kuku Yalanji elder, who was collecting freshwater mussels (Velesunio ambiguous) from the river. Linda told us that there are many important Aboriginal places around the village including a burial site that the local historical society is simply not interested in marking. Daintree village seems to be another case of white history told, black history conveniently disappeared.

We are resting up here for a few days, readying ourselves for the final northern leg, up the Broomfield Track to Cooktown, which is going to be quite a challenge from all accounts. We hope you are meeting all your challenges too, Dear Reader, and we thank you, once again, for joining us on our adventure.

Crashes, kills, stacks and new edibles (Rockhampton to Mackay)

On leaving Rockhampton we discovered this strange scene:

The local council had laid fake grass beside the Bruce Highway, then an alive grass had penetrated the fake grass and remarkably grew until the council then sprayed it with glysophate (a poison Monsanto tells us is safe, as they did with Agent Orange and DDT). Someone then stubbed out their cigarette butt and threw it into the mix. The logic of the city is beyond us. Time to reconnect with the intelligence of autonomous, uncivil things.

Not far north of Rocky on the Ridgelands Road we came across bush cucumbers (Cucumis spp.),

which weren’t quite ripe,

although we did find one almost formed and ready.

And not far on again we came across our first Ber fruit (Ziziphus mauritiana), otherwise known as Chinee Apple, Jujube, Indian plum and Masau.

These small trees from south-east Asia have naturalised in northern Australia. We look forward to trying them next time now we know what they are.

We had decided on the Ridgelands – Glenroy Station route to avoid the Road of Death, but our rather paltry map didn’t warn us that most of the way to Marlborough would be gravel.

After 70 kms or so of riding we made camp beside the road, bloody exhausted.

Being on gravel certainly slowed us down, which was only a problem of water. We filled up two bottles at the Glenroy Crossing of the Fitzroy River, just in case we needed them. Zero’s iron constitution surely wouldn’t have a problem drinking this water.

This was cattle station country, and we got a view into this altered ecology firstpedal.

We also got a view of our own vulnerability without water. We banged on this farmer’s door to ask for a tap.

No one was home, so we took his water upon ourselves. Thanks unknown farmer!

Relief!! We passed water-savvy emus,

and motorised ones.

Aching, dust-covered and sorely parched we arrived in the little town of Marlborough, pulled up outside the pub and were immediately greeted by Jeff and Linda, who invited us home for an impromptu party.

After a bonfire and rowdy dancing sesh with several locals and a Swede, we passed out in their backyard caravan and awoke rested,

ate a delicious home-cooked breakfast then farewelled our new friends (hi Digs!),

and ventured back onto the Bruce.

Over the 31 kms that we rode that day from Marlborough to Tooloobah Creek we counted 212 individual road-killed animals on the left lane, shoulder and verge alone. Assuming the other side would produce a similar number (it certainly looked like it), we concluded that on this stretch of the Bruce Highway there was one roadkill every 75 metres of bitumen. Staggering!

This number exceeds tenfold the bodies we encounted along a 60km stretch of the Hume Highway last December. We stopped to rest at Tooloobah Creek Roadhouse and after only a few minutes of sitting in the shade witnessed this:

We were only moments from being roadkill ourselves. No one was hurt, the owners were even fairly jokey about it, praising insurance and airbags. We walked away from the amounting spectacle, set up our tents,