Artist as Family practice a unique form of performance art. Performances comprise how we live, get our food and move around; performing low-carbon modes of life making. We invite you to contribute comments and share your own experiences and knowledges as we travel Australia by bicycle, skip on the greenwash and attempt to pioneer truly sustainable food and travel ways in an era of destabilising climate, ecological crises, economic contraction and energy powerdown.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

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.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

From Bwgcolman to Djiru country: entering the wet (Cassowary) tropics

We jumped off the ferry from Palm Island late in the afternoon, grabbed some supplies and hightailed it out of Townsville for several kms until we found this little, unofficial, free camp site/ office at Bushland Beach.


We were fairly exhausted after a big learning week on Palm, so we travelled only a handful of kms north the next day too, to Bluewater's official free camping ground, and where this lovely lady greeted us with tea, cake and a banana for Woody.


Thanks Irene! We set up camp on the sports oval,


and headed across the field to the community hall for the Friday night social to dance with the locals and caravaning nomads. The downside was we ate some really bad tucker that night, and with poor fuel in our tanks we sluggishly rode on to Rollingstone the following day and camped beside the Rollingstone River where turtles,


eels and black bream are in numbers plenty.


It was great to get some decent tucker again, tucker we were actively engaged in procuring,


and rest up for a few days.


Heading north from Rollingstone we came across Pandanus spiralis for the first time. This is why these trees are called screw palms and like pandanus species generally they have edible base leaves and kernels.


We rode back into sugar country as we approached Ingham and found excellent public interest billboards put out by the health ministry of the Artist as Family collective.


We'd heard there was a free camp ground behind the tourist info centre in Ingham, so we stopped in, only to find that bikes carrying small tents weren't allowed, only RVs with their own toilets. We went inside the centre and politely asked if there was any free camping for non-polluters. Zero, like the rest of us, wasn't impressed with their answer.


As it happens it was Woody and Patrick's birthday so we celebrated by having a shower and washing our clothes, booking in for a night's camp at the town's carvan park. The next day after a fearless night's sleep coralled by mobile nursing units and other such caravans we climbed the Hinchinbrook Range,


and entered Cassowary country and the base of the Cape York Pennisula, where these particular fruits grow.


The Beach Calophyllum or ball tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) is called Wiri by the Girramay people, who valued the kernel of the seed for its pain-relieving body oil. Nuts were eaten after a lengthy process of washing and roasting.


We arrived in Cardwell, a town recently rebuilt after Cyclone Yasi, and found another useful species, the Cardwell cabbage (Scaevola taccada).


The Cardwell cabbage, unlike the Camberwell carrot, is a coastal plant and the juice of the ripe fruits were traditionally used to sooth dry or inflamed eyes.


We fished on Cardwell jetty, but the previous days of wind had stirred up the mud in the water making visibility a problem for jagging white bait or silver spinning for trevally.


We free-camped looking out to this little vista, back-dropped by the ancient, mountainous Hinchinbrook Island.


We were nicely tucked in behind the public toilets in a local beach front municipal park, until the floodlights came on and played all night with our circadian rhythms.


We left Cardwell a little tired again, stopping to pick up some supplies from Sue's Store,


including delicious sun-dried bananas. Sugar, temporarily, had a rival monocrop in this part of Queensland.


Not far out of town we rode into Martin, a cycle tourer from Newcastle in the UK. Hello Martin! Stay safe on the Bruce, our beloved Road of Death.


After another short day we stopped and rested at Bilyana.


This micro-touring is very agreeable, although the Bruce is considerably dull. Next stop Tully, an industrial town framed by the industry that cooks sugar into a more harmful drug than cocaine. We found little to sustain us,


so we headed to the Cassowary Coast where we found immediate sustenence in these Blue Quandongs (Elaeocarpus angustifolius).


They may be reported to have little nutritional value compared with other autonomous foods, but compare them with supermarket fare today and we're sure they would romp it in. This was the first time we'd come across these beautiful sour, zingy blue fruits and they were pretty good eating. At Mission Beach we also came across scurvy weed (Commelina cyanea) in flower,


blue flax lily (Dianella caerulea),


and this supposed whichetty grub, the larvae of the cossid moth Endoxyla leucomochla. Although according to knowledgeable Matt (see below), it might be the larvae of a rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae). If you know for certain Dear Reader, we'd love to hear from you. In two minds we decided not to experiment with eating this critter.


We did however have no qualms eating the delicious flowers and flower buds of the Pacific Rosewood (Thespesia populneoides),


one of us gobbling them up with great gusto.


These beautiful flowers turn into these beautiful fruits and the tree timber was sometimes used for making spears.


We camped at Mission Beach in the council run caravan park, and met this beautiful lady, who bestowed on us gifts of homemade sauerkraut, yoghurt and tumeric she had grown at her local community garden and had ground herself.


Thanks Claire! We left the park topped up on fermented probiotics and headed north a few kms to do some fishing at Clump Point jetty, where we met this awesome couple:


Lavina and Hola. Lavina is an elder on council of the Djiru tribe, a descendant of the Clump Mountain people of Mission Beach. Hola, originally from Tonga, is her man. We fished with these two on the jetty on several afternoons,


and talked about raising children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous sovreignty and the ethics of killing animals, which to all of us concerned is nothing to do with sport. We asked Lavina's permission to camp on her country, and she warmly agreed. We found a beautiful spot just north of the jetty on Narragon Beach.


We stayed a week, swimming in the fresh water coming into the sea,


washing there (using no soaps or detergents),


and fishing on the jetty where we caught yellow-fin trevally,


queenfish, jewfish and herring.


Each day we cooked fish on a small beach fire.


While in Djiru country we also came across a number of Great Morinda (Morinda citrifolia) trees, some with nearly ripe fruits or cheeses. When ripe the fruits apparently turn almost translucent white, smell like rancid cheese and can be eaten raw or cooked.


And we met many beautiful peeps as we settled in to this paradise where rainforest meets the reef, such as this sweet family:


Meet (from left) Matt, Eli, Jill and Nina. Nina, Jill's sister, has co-written a local text on Indigenous foods and medicines in the area. We hope to get hold of a copy before we leave. 

And to top off a wonderful stay we reunited with the awesome Tom Dean, our fellow cycle-touring mate originally from cold Melbourne but equally comfortable up a coconut tree. 


This is our third hook-up with Tom and each time our little tribe has loved his company.


We have enjoyed your fine company too, Dear Reader and hope to share the next leg of our journey with you as it comes to pass.