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Warm showers and chance encounters of the coastal kind

Around the camp our bare feet scuff across old shards of broken glass. With our movements the shards are brought to the surface of the humus and lie among the melaleuca needles. It’s old glass, previously smashed by rocket-fuel rage or fits of youthful chemistry. The little pieces shine up towards our growing astonishment. Why haven’t they sliced us open? There are so many. The melaleuca humus is soft, spongy and comforting under foot. This little forest encloses and protects us, gives us shelter from the coastal winds and privacy from nearby suburbia.

We left Erina Heights with the intention of heading south to Little Beach, but only after a few minutes of riding the heavens opened. Despite the roads becoming greasy and the traffic more dangerous we were at first invigorated by the rain. However soon we became soaked and took refuge in Avoca,

where we were rescued by Carol and John, their kids Ben and Angelina and their dog Kara.

They invited us to stay in their downstairs studio and in return we offered to cook the evening meal. Carol took us in saying we didn’t look like psychopaths, and we responded that we were more akin to cycle paths. While staying with this happy family we discovered many common interests, such as a developing productive garden,

a growing love of chooks,

and a mutual respect for wise words.

If Artist as Family were to have an epigraph, it would be this one. It encapulates the joy of chance, mutuality and embracing a no-expectations openness that refuses to cling to the anxieties, pollutions and nihilism of art careerism.

By the next day the rain had cleared and we farewelled Carol’s family. We abandoned the idea of Little Beach, and we once again set our intuitive compass north. But we didn’t get very far. Just down the hill we were intrigued by a little café growing some of its own produce. We stopped in and met one of the owners, Melissa, who so sweetly picked us basil to take away to have with our breadstick, cheese and tomato lunch.

Melissa and co’s cafe Like Minds sees itself as much more than a business. It is a little hub of local food and environmental advocacy. They run a series of sustainability events and talks and it was exciting to experience their spirit. At Like Minds we also met more beautiful peeps. Sonia and Shane invited us to join their family at the Wetlands Not Wastelands Festival at Calga.

The festival was an awareness raising event concerning the proposed mining of sandstone aquifers that lie across the highlands above the Central Coast, as well as the social and environmental costs that extraction ideology causes more broadly. One highlight included Jake Cassar talking about the edible and medicinal benefits of various indigenous plants. Specific to our current project we here publish his gift-economy presentation (with his permission). Thanks Jake!

As we move further north our plant knowledges are decreasing. Local knowledge therefore becomes more and more important, especially if we are to keep eating well, and as much outside the damaging industrial system as we can manage. While at the festival we were also inspired by a young group of Indigenous performers who so confidently shared some of the riches of their culture, including a very local (non sweat-shop) textile of their own making.

We are finding other local resources too. A while back we signed up to Warm Showers, a bike touring (couch surfing) website hooking up like-minds all over the globe. So when we arrived in Terrigal, found some local produce,

set up camp among the melaleucas,

played shenanigans on the beach,

and built a cubby,

we called a couple of Warm Shower locals, who live just around the next beach at Wamberal. Meet the delightful Rodney and Deborah, who invited us around to do some laundry, share meals with them (including Rod’s mum’s home grown produce) and exchange bike touring stories.

These generous peeps went out of their way to host us, including taking Zeph out for a surfing lesson,

while we older ones got to work designing Rod and Deb a simple permaculture garden that features wicking beds, a food forest, a compost rotation system and a chook tractor on their 600 sqm block overlooking the Wamberal Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean.

We were getting pretty settled in the Terrigal-Wamberal area and despite all the gift economy exchanges, lovely people and delicious meals, we were also keen to stop buying so much food. We knew of the joys of Bower Spinach (Tetragonia implexicoma), which we found in great plenty along the edges of the lagoon.

All we needed to complete our non– transported, packaged or farmed meal was to spear a fish large enough for dinner,

and to cook it up with garlic, lemon and the freshly picked bower spinach. In this case the fish we caught was a predator species called the dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus). While hunting fish we are both predator and prey. We saw large stingrays in the water and a grey nurse shark was reported nearby.

Living just doesn’t get anymore simple and pleasurable than this.

Thank you to all the wonderful people we have met, dined or camped with on this journey. You have enriched our travels infinitely.

Possible Sites

While Meg and Zephyr have been tending the Artist as Family’s home garden, Patrick has been in Sydney looking at possible sites to plant the Food Forest. At one point today he was captivated by how wild nature goes about reclaiming urban environments to build habitat.

The following act of self-seeded brilliance is occurring at about 40cm above street level. The spider is a trusty companion, ready to gobble unwanted pests. Competition is often heralded as the main gig in evolution, but co-dependancy and cooperation are as much a part of evolutionary life. Working together and sharing resources and environments is key to interspecies survival.

Later in the day, Patrick and MCA curator Anna Davis arrived at CarriageWorks where they met with the executive producer Jamie Dawson who showed them a couple of possible sites. CarriageWorks is such a beautifully loaded locality that brings with it an enthusiastic community that is showing much support for our project. However, it’s a difficult site in terms of planting a forest outdoors, and the awesome space indoors, with great overhead light wells and rain collection opportunities, would sadly restrict the movement of helpful pollinators and predators – lizards, bees, spiders and frogs – into the forest. Jamie and his team would be great to work with, so we’re remaining very open.
Next stop: St Michael’s church in Surry Hills.
A community member, Heide, living near to the church, contacted the MCA when she heard our project was looking for a home, and mentioned St Michael’s as a possible site. Dotted around the world church grounds are currently being transformed into community gardens, which makes good sense as there are often soup kitchens being run from them, and fresh organic produce goes hand in hand with such great initiatives. Also, old churches such as St Michael’s generally have ‘clean’ soil from which heavy metals are absent. Not that a combination of the right plants, compost, biomass, fungi and microbial life couldn’t detoxify the soil organically.
We are working with the MCA on a proposal tonight, which will be taken to the church Warden meeting tomorrow night.
There’s one or two other things worth noting here before we sign off. Here’s a link to William Blake’s The Garden of Love, which has been a precursory text for our Food Forest and for Patrick’s presentation this coming Friday as part of Open Fields at UTS. Blake’s poem is a kind of elegy for a lost erotic Eden; a lament about that which became divided. Rev Frances at St Michael’s mentioned Eden too when we briefly met with him today. David Graeber (2007, p23), in a much broader context, bares this fruit on the subject:

Sexual relations, after all, need not be represented as a matter of one partner consuming the other; they can also be imagined as two people sharing food.

If you’re in the area on Friday, come by and say g’day to Patrick at UTS. We’d love to hear your tips on what specifically keeps your garden or local environment full of wild love and reciprocity.