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.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Cairns to Sydney (at atypical speed)

As Meg and Woody treadle along they make up songs about our experiences. They have songs about going downhill, uphill, about sugarcane, bridges, flags, kangaroos, rocky roads, plants, horses, trucks, bones, beaches, cows and caravans. After staying at Sarah, Renee and Oscar's the caravan song now has fourteen verses, one for each of our caravan experiences.


Oscar (pictured on Zeph's knee) is a delightful and tenacious kid and it was a joy to watch our little boys experimenting in social play.


While we were in Cairns, on Yirrganydji country, Patrick was a guest speaker at the inaugral national Indigenous Men's Conference, which ran alongside the Women's conference and brought together people from all over Australia. We published an earlier version of his paper several posts ago, however we thought we'd share the final version he presented:


Wiradjuri descendent Linda Burney MP opened both conferences,


before the partition rolled in and the two conferences split into their respective groups. John Riley, a nurse with the RFDS who we had met in Hope Vale, gave an account of his time in Aurukun setting up the men's group there with Wik Warrior Vince Koomeeta.


Vince and John were just two of forty men who shared stories about their community projects, and these stories, often harrowing, made Patrick aware of just how much reconcilitory work still has to be done in Australia. Patrick met Simon and Gordon from Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and they discussed how reconciliation doesn't happen in or out of the mouths of prime ministers but rather in and out of the homes and communities of us all.


Gordon and Simon (pictured second and fourth from left) are both descendents of the Yorta Yorta people and will come to Daylesford next year to look at how our town's community gardens, meal trees and other gift economies operate. And while gift economies were very much part of the discussion at the conference, Artist as Family (sans Patrick) were out and about carrying on the plant research, finding our first tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) loaded with tart and healthful surprise.


Being back in Cairns signalled the assembly point for big changes. For eleven months we have had to adjust to much daily change but there has been a rythmn to our travel, which provided us some comfort. But then, in Cairns, we put our bikes on a truck (thanks Steve!),


and hired a car. In the five or so years our family has been car-free we have only had to hire a car once and have borrowed friends cars a handful of times. We knew back at Hervey Bay that if we were to cycle for the entire fourteen months we'd have to turn back south then, missing the wonderful north. We explored various alternatives, but travelling with our dog-kin Zero and children make trains or hitching a ride with trucks fairly impossible. The only option left for us was to hire a car and send our bikes back in a truck. We have cycled 7300 kms on our freedom machines and now we were couped up in a glazed off and air conditioned metal box removed from the world. It made us sick,


a little cuckoo,


and really sad.


It felt like we were undoing all our work and we were hypocrites, participants again in the damage established by global oil lords, administered by governments and their armies and carried out by everyday people who either have no agency or will to resist. We were back in the thick of it; in the clouds of pollution ideology. Our need to be home by a set time justified the use of oil, and we realised that petroleum for us is still an option based on unaccountable and non-renewable privilege. This was both distressing and depressing. But then, after only a short day of driving, we arrived at a little free camp site in Mount Garnet and Zeph lit a fire,


and we set up camp and got ourselves grubbed again before brewing up some grub.


Our simple camp kitchen reclaimed some of the sensibilities we had lost,


and we decided to go a little easy on ourselves and to try to take from this experience what we could, even if it was to be just an expensive reminder of how not to live and how not to make art and sense. As soon as we were out of the car the boys forgot about the ordeal, showing us the way back to the simplicity of camp life.


The following days' driving were again difficult, but compared with most of our fellow creatures we came across in this drought-stricten part of the country, our comfort was off the scale. Cows were hungry,


animals with no agricultural or ecological status were brutally cast aside,


and those better adapted to (and camouflaged in) the environment raced away from the obnoxious intransigence of the motorised world.


Many didn't make it,


others proudly protected their young and resisted the enslaught of digi-industrial civility.


These roads were typical Australian corridors of suffering and our cyclist eyes were still keenly attentive to the man-made mass death around us. We stopped under this tree to take a break,


and discovered its ingenius fertility, which fitted into the palm of a hand.


We still haven't found out anything about it. If you know, Dear Reader, please share with us. A little further on, in the town with the Game of Thrones name, Charters Towers, we came across some pods we did know something about.


The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) hails from the Mediterraen and Middle East and has been cultivated in these regions for around 4000 years. After removing the seeds the fully dried pods can be ground into a delicious powder. This is very easy to do at home and prefereable as apparently most commerical carob powder is not raw but rather pasteurised at high temperatures.


Another edible pod-producing tree found in this part of Australia is the boab or bottle tree (Adansonia gregorii). Many streets are planted with this beautiful tree in the inland central Queensland towns that we teared through.


In winter, large pods are produced that contain a white edible flesh or pith. This is what the dried pods look like after they have been emptied of seed and pith.


An annual weed we saw plenty of along the road verges is golden crown beard (Verbesina encelioides), which has been used in folk medicine around the world. Research suggests the plant exhibits significant antiviral, antitumour, antimicrobial and antiinflammatory activies. The plant is also known to be mildly toxic so care is required to use this plant.


Just north of the little town of Springsure we had a history lesson on the Frontier Wars; histroy we were never taught at school. The Cullin-la-Ringo massacre took place here in 1861. It was the largest massacre of settlers by Aborigines in Australia, and thus a significant moment of nulla nulla resistance to gun-barrel invasion.


And we found evidence that gun-barrel invasion is still very much alive in Central Queensland. The Frontier Wars were fought for access to land and its resources. For those who had been on country for millennia, stealing the sheep of the newcomers often incited violent retaliations and even bloody massacres. This same war continues today; dingos are the victims of grazier intransigence and violence.


Deborah Bird Rose first alerted us to this commonplace occurance in her book, Wild Dog Dreaming. In his doctoral thesis Walking for food: regaining permapoesis, Patrick wrote: "Australian writer Deborah Bird Rose (2011) wants us to stay close to images of the slung remains of shot or poisoned dingoes on fences, whose trophied, atrophying bodies are kept from making a return to soil, kept from re-entering the continuum of living, dying and renewing. They are the images of settler indifference that continue to haunt Aboriginal people today, and continue to attack the we ethic of Aboriginal inclusivity, an ethic that extends well beyond the human." (2014)


We were hurtling towards Sydney with temple-strained awareness of this deadly form of travel, stopping to document significant places and species, but mostly the land and its many forms were just a simulated blur, a land escaped by speed and speed's abstractions.


The most notable edible outside our walled-city-on-four-wheels was prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). They mark these remote roads as signifiers of agricultural desertification but also as radical adaptation and future drought-hardy food.


This was the heart of the Queensland dust lands—cattle, sheep and coal doing much of the damage, which was quite a contrast to the no-less-damaging sugar cane and reef tourism found on the Queensland coast. There would be little chance of us cycling this inland route with such large distances between towns and so few opportunities to refill with potable water. Much of the water we came across was fairly undesirable, but at times it was hot enough for a dip...


For eleven months we have been hardy to all weather, living in it, but now that hardiness has been challenged by the health-negating convenience of air-conditioning. For the first time in eleven months we had sore throats and flu-like symptoms, unheard of in our car-free family. A cayenne pepper tonic is our preferred rescue for such occasions and similarly Jacarandas brought moments of framed ecstasy as they flashed out at us from Cairns,


to the New South Wales border,


as we hurtled on south to Gary Trindall's home in Walgett. Gary, a Gamilaraay man who Patrick met at the Cairns conference, welcomed us into his home and shared with us a few of his traditional bush medicines.


Gary and his wife Jenny put on a BBQ, gave us their camper to sleep in, cooked us a beautiful breakfast using their hen's eggs before bidding us farewell the next morning. Thanks Trindalls, we'd love to come back (a mere 1000 km bike ride from home) next winter and film more of Gary's bush food and medicine knowledges.


Zeph had a great night getting to know Gary and Jenny's grandchildren Markell and Kevin, playing tag in the snake hours around the house. Many tags but no bites.


As we dropped further south into NSW the land changed, the climate cooled and water was evidently more available. It had been many months since we had witnessed cool temperate climate weeds such as plantain, dock and clover. It reminded us of the weed salads we make back home, using twenty or so species including the three mentioned here.


We were fast-tracking it to Sydney for many reasons, namely to return the expensive hire car and spend time with family, but also to catch our dear friend Brett (who rode and camped with us for a few weeks in northern NSW) before he left again for Brussels. Brett's work for Médecins Sans Frontières has been significant over many years and of late he has been in Liberia managing the MSF Ebola hospital in Montrovia, which by all accounts is functioning more as a morgue than a hospital. Brett has given many interviews, written articles and appeared on TV attempting to make the Abbott government aware of the extent of the crisis in West Africa. We are so proud of you Brett! Here he is in May harvesting roadside passionfruit with us near Uki.


We camped in Mudgee and used a public BBQ to cook up both some roadside and out-of-season produce for dinner. Thanks chooks!


We also camped at Lake Wallace where we spent a night in this little shelter. Who needs tents? Our sleep was fairly disturbed and at one stage in the night the rain whipped in with gusty weather, spraying our bedding and faces, but we woke alive and joyous.


In the morning Woody got all WorkmanJones on us.


And then, after a few more hours travelling arrived in Sydney – 2800 kms, 170 litres of unleaded petrol with a fuel cost of $250 – relieved to see our bikes and our family. Hello Eliza, Tildy, Hen (Patrick's sister), Ant and Millie! Sadly, we had missed Brett by a day.


While in Sydney we are hosting a working bee and workshop at a community garden that we designed and planted with the community in 2010. We'd love to see you there.


And then after a week or so in Sydney we will head to the Southern Highlands to help other family members construct their food garden, before we push off for the final two months on the road along the coast from Kiama to Melbourne, and then back home to Daylesford.

Thanks once again, Dear Reader, for joining us on our journey.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Headwinds south and the return of the Zephyr (from Hope Vale back to Cairns)

We left Hope Vale exhilarated. Well, what a week! But we were somewhat overstimulated and oh so exhuasted, especially after we retraced our pedals on a large map of the country. Woah, Daylesford to Hope Vale! We smashed the record for the slowest transit on bicycle by a family riding with their dog-kin from southern Victoria to Cape York! Woohoo!!


We hobbled south over bone-and-cog-shaking road down to Zazen, an organic Garden of Eden 40 kms south of Hope Vale.


Peter, a former conventional WA wheatbelt farmer turned zen-permie, and Saeng, who grew up in Thailand and learned the pharmacopeia of traditional medicinal foods and ferments of her region, make an awesome partnership.


Saeng and Peter, pictured above with their daughter Bo and two-fifths of Artist as Family, know how to create abundance. They gave us a tour of their 5 acre garden, which remarkably is only a few years old.


This is the wonderful WWOOFer lodgings Peter built, complete with mozzie net over the double bed.


We were to stay there, but were beaten to it by Juz and Dave who were actually going to do some work at Zazen. We all communed together in the main house, which spills into the garden with few walls, and Saeng cooked us a feast using mostly produce she had grown. Needless to say, the meal was delicious.


We had a wonderful, but brief stay at Zazen. We were again inspired but still very overstimulated and needed some respite from all our incredible learning. We are overbrimming with knowledge and experience and we've had little time to process anything. We needed to become wandering mammals again. We needed a desert, at least a communications desert, to cross.


We found it once we left Cooktown, stopping in for some supplies and taking off into the heat of the afternoon. Beside the cool waters of the Little Annan River we cooked some tucker,


 and set up camp in the open shelter there.


 It was hot riding to Lakeland the next day too,


where we stayed with a gnostic farmer and teacher, Gary, and his many animals.


Again we were nourished by lovingly grown organic food. Thanks Gary! Gary has been teaching Indigenous kids in the NT and Cape York for the past 40 years. One of his students was Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Gary drove us to the Aborignal settlement of Laura, passing a chia seed monoculture that had been planted across the old lands of the Uw Olkolo people.


It was in Laura that we came across and tasted for the first time the very rare native water cherry (Syzygium aqueum), specific only to Cape York. This tree was planted at the Quinkan Regional and Cultural Centre.


They were tart and needed further ripening, but we could see the potential once this fruit was further bletted or sun-dried for fruit leather. On leaving Gary in Lakeland we came across another traditional food of the region, only this time it hadn't been valued as food, rather wasted by speed.


The trauma of Queensland roads has had a considerable effect on us, and soon we too will join the speed brigade as we hire a car to drop down south for a considerable part of our journey home. In a car, which we call a city on four wheels – walled off from the dust, pollens, stinging critters, blossoms, calls of animals and their rotting kin, air conditioned away from the relentless sun and radiation glare from the bitumen, unaware of the deafening grinding of truck and caravan gears, the groaning of engines and the fear of cyclists and other creatures travelling in ecological time and space – we know we will struggle with our momentary participation in such madness and privilege.


But for the time being it's bums on well-worn leather. We climbed our first range on our southbound leg and took a breather here, looking down on where we'd come.


We shouted ourselves a $50 donga at the Palmer River Roadhouse, blowing our daily budget to pieces.


Talk about affordable housing! It would probably cost about $2000 to produce this elegant little shack. We got an early start to try and avoid the south-easterly headwinds that were picking up around 10am each morning. But there was no avoiding wandering cattle,


or playful dogs,


or the poetree of the place. A wordless blue sign nailed to a eucalypt is a very beautiful thing, but we couldn't resist embellishing it.


Then, another first. Native Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri).


The petals can be eaten raw, which we loved, and the roots are best roasted, apparently. Inside the pods of this bush is the kapok, which when dry makes an excellent fire starter.


We pedalled 60 km from Palmer River to McLeods River, soaked our tired muscles in the cool water and set up camp in the only truly shady sanctuary for hundreds of kms. Needless to say the birds, night and day, were noisesome and brilliant. We heard calls and songs that were strange and magnificent,


and we found other new fruits such as these on the Quinine Tree (Petalostigma pubescent), which were thought to contain the malaria fighting drug quinine, but actually doesn't according to a James Cook University study. The traditional uses of the fruit include holding the fruit in the mouth to relieve toothache and chewing the fruit to avoid pregnancy. The bark has been used to make an antiseptic wash and the bark and fruit used to make an eye drop.


We crawled into Mt Molloy. Do motorists feel headwinds? We can't remember. The publican at Mt Molloy let us camp at the back of the hotel for free so we obliged him by buying a few beers. Thanks Scott!


On the way out of town the next day we filled a bag with fallen Burdekin plums (Pleiogynium timorense), which fuelled us to Mareeba.


We travelled over 300 kms through old dry country from Hope Vale to Mareeba and we were frayed and ready to rest. We'd met online a man named Konrad through Warm Showers, and although he was not going to be there invited us to stay at his home. HE HAS A BATH, soooooo WE HAD A BATH! and went for a long walk around the streets picking feral tomatoes, overhanging citrus, horseradish leaf, mulberries,


and satinash fruit.


We left Mareeba and rode towards Kuranda. Some motorists had told us it was all down hill from Mareeba to Cairns, but it was nothing like it. To listen to motorists who don't ride bikes is a consistent mistake we've made on this trip. The cool and rainforested entry into Kuranda was a treat, after a shoulderless and hot hike along the busy Kennedy Highway, but the village itself was less than interesting. If you like tourist havens you'll love this place, but for us we high-tailed the tandem and long-tail out of there, after finding little but trinkets and shyster businesses. We headed up the range for several kms (with an emphasis on up) until we could finally come down.


After 45 kms of hard work we flew down the 10 km serpentine road to Smithfield. What a thrill! And fell into Cairns from the north of the city to stay with the lovely Sarah, Renee and Oscar, again. Just a few sleeps, a critical mass ride to a popular picnic and swimming hole,


and the return (from the sky) of the wonderful Zephyr!


After an absence of six months (in which time Zeph was playing for Ballarat U13s in the National Premier League, while being home educated by his mum Mel and our dear friend, teacher and poet, Peter O'Mara), we are once again five happy mammals on two bikes.


We hope you too, Dear Readers, are happy mammals enjoying simple pleasures with kin and loved ones.