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, 13 April 2014

Three stellar women

We were fortunate to meet three stellar women while we stayed in Iluka. 

The first, Linda Marney, welcomed us onboard the ferry from Yamba and offered us her flat as a sanctuary while we awaited a bike part to come from Brisbane. Linda has a wealth of experience in all things maritime and spent several years sailing up the east coast of Australia. Her most recent project has been to develop a vibrant community garden in Iluka, which supplies fresh local organic food to the local branch of Meals on Wheels. The food is grown on the same site as it is cooked.


These pumpkins from the garden will go from spade to blade with the bare minimum of food kilometres and retain most of their nutrition before being consumed. Amazing stuff Linda!


The second, Rhoda Roberts, pictured here with her man Steve Field, we met up the main drag. Rhoda is a member of the Wiyebal Clan of Northern NSW, which is part of the Bundjalung Nation of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. She was the first Aboriginal presenter on prime-time television, fronting SBS's First In Line and presented Radio National's Awaye! programme. As an actor, she appeared on stage in the original production of Louis Nowra's Radiance, in a role written for her. She introduced the term "Welcome to country" and established protocol manuals by local custodians for the arts industry during the 1980s. She is currently head of Indigenous programming at the Sydney Opera House, the creative director at VIBE Australia and director of a new Indigenous multi-arts event called the Boomerang Festival.


This is her ancestral country. So lovely to meet you Rhoda.


The third, Eddy Carroll, not a local but a friend from Melbourne currently staying in Yamba, caught the ferry over to visit us in Iluka. Eddy is a textile artist who has exhibited widely. She is a passionate advocate of local organic food networks and, like us, is currently living at no fixed address. Last year Eddy travelled to Thailand where she worked at Borderline Collective. Borderline Collective specialises in working with women in exile, developing their artistic skills in creating and marketing art work.


Eddy brought us over the gift of wild caught tuna jerky that she and a friend made with a local catch. Needless to say Artist as Family devoured it in moments. Thanks Eddy, great to see you again!


We will be leaving Iluka shortly to head to Bentley to join hundreds of kin fighting the gas-fracking juggernauts

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mixing it with the northerners (from Lawrence to Iluka)

We had three wet, windy but nonetheless restful days in Lawrence.


Our tents took a battering from two large storms but we remained fairly dry and warm. We fished catching only undersized bream (Abramis) from the Clarence,


and we learnt about these relative newcomers, cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which are the smallest species of egret that live in this region.


This country is blessed with a diversity of bird life no longer seen in most parts of the world, and every morning we wake in some bird-rich neighbourhood singing their praises. But this region around Lawrence is even more exceptional for its bird life. Hundreds of feathered species live here as permanents or seasonal migrants, and all day their activity is pronounced in this quiet little town.


We made long leisurely walks and picked a belly full of guavas,


from this guy’s paddock,


which we woofed down with grunting rigour.


We tried some local cumbungi (Typha), from a roadside bourgie café, but found it was a little stringy at this time of year.


While in Lawrence pecans and guavas were our greatest finds,


and with local bananas and farm gate cucumber they made a fine start to the day.


After breakfast and after drying out the tents we departed Lawrence by catching the ferry punt across the Clarence.


We passed a barn that seemed to be in hiding, or was it just shy?


We passed houses that were being retrofitted for the aggregating effects of climate change – people are preparing even though their governments, who could greatly help mitigate the effects, are not.


We spotted a Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) that, like the beginnings of the sugar cane monocultures just south of Lawrence, signifies we are entering the north of Australia.


We arrived in Maclean to a spot of op-shopping (undies for Woody and some local pickles),


and looked for a place to camp. But none availed in Maclean so we rode on to Yamba, found a site on Hickey Island and moved in.


Looks magical doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the frame you’re peering through, this image doesn’t reveal the millions of tiny predators that all vied for our blood from the moment we arrived. This is more the reality:



If you’re not used to them, like us, sandfly bites are extremely itchy. Mozzies are definately preferred. We tried to forget both despite their large numbers in Yamba and headed along to the mid-weekly farmer’s market where we bought garlic, corn, zucchini, capsicum and a few of these old variety cucumbers.


In the public park where the markets were held we discovered pandanus fruit (Pandanus tectorius), parts of which are edible when roasted and parts can be eaten raw. A fruit we’re eager to try once we come across a ripe one.


Yamba also boasts edible community gardens throughout its streets, encouraging people to pick the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing there.


We like Yamba but felt we couldn’t camp another night because of the insect life, and so we decided to catch the ferry over to Iluka and ride 15 kms north to Woombah, where Deanne, the sister of the delightful Sonia who we met back in Avoca, was offering us hospitality. We had a few hours before the next ferry, so we set up a Woody nap tent in a local park (to say the mozzies swarmed here is no exaggeration),


while Patrick visited the local bike shop, as the tandem was having problems again. Bill from Xtreme Cycle and Skate took the rear wheel axle apart but didn't have the right size cassette pawls to replace the ones he discovered were damaged. The tandem was still rideable though and we thought it could make it to a bike shop in Ballina. Despite his time and effort, and giving us a place to charge our phone, Bill refused payment. Thanks so much Bill!


We rolled onto the ferry and were greeted by the effervescent Linda, who accommodated a family on extra long bikes with great enthusiasm.


By the end of the ferry trip Linda had offered us her granny flat in Iluka. We were extremely grateful because the tandem didn't last the short ride to Linda's before it became unrideable. We were grateful too for a warm shower, something we hadn't had for a week. Thanks for ferrying us to your sanctuary, Linda!


So, we were in Iluka, being hosted by a lovely lady and her son, Nicholas, with everything we required


except a particular bike part for a particularly uncommon bike. It was then that we sensed again our significant dependance on industrialised travel: the need for a specific bike part and a car, loaned to us by the lovely Deanne, to head into Lismore to obtain it. While driving there we passed a cycle tourer and were mortified that we were not, for this moment of the trip, part of his community. We discovered in Lismore that our bike problem was bigger than we thought, and we were going to have to wait several days, so we set about looking for some good food to stock up on,


with minimal packaging. Linda kindly offered us the flat until the bike was sorted. These forced stoppages certainly do work for us. We are able to rest now in beautiful Iluka, joining Woody for midday sleeps and taking walks through the Bundjalung rainforest that is home to these incredible public composting toilets,


(talk about biomimicry!), and walk across the rocks at low tide at Iluka Bluff in Yaegl country.


Without these forced stops we have the tendency to keep moving because there is nothing quite like having all that you need attached to your bike and taking off into the unknown again and again.


This life is becoming very addictive.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Novel fruits, roadside memorials, tiredness and general life making (from Coffs to Lawrence)

We left Coffs Harbour and headed north along the Pacific Highway, passing banana and blueberry plantations and,


sadly, more visions of life interrupted.


We met a family from Woolgoolga at Steve Hill's skydiving centre and they invited us to stay with them. Woolgoolga, we found out on our arrival, is home to a large Sikh population. According to wikipedia nearly 13% of Woolgoolgians speak Punjabi at home.


The name Woolgoolga comes from the Gumbaynggir word Wiigulga, meaning black apple (Planchonella australis) and not lilly pilly (Syzygium) as wikipedia suggests. Out on the headland we joined the local hunters to try to snaffle some autonomous ocean food,


to bring to the dinner table at the Feeney's.


Meet Mark, Vivienne and Denise. Mark is a teacher and musician who plays a mean tin whistle in a folk band called Headland. Vivienne is studying for her HSC, and Denise's passion is the circus.


She gave us a couple of stellar backyard performances of aerial acrobatics, while Woody worked on the hoops.


It was at the Feeney's, under their paw paw tree and passionfruit vine, that Artist as Family first sampled starfruit (Carambola).


A mildly astringent but nonetheless delicious fruit native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, that is grown locally in Woolgoolga, no doubt as a result of the local Sikh population. After a couple of restful nights with the Feeney's (thank you! thank you!) we bid them farewell and headed for Red Rock passing more signifiers of loss on the Pacific.


We arrived at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the late afternoon,


where we met the delightful Kim, a Gumbaynggirr woman, and bought some dried bush tomatoes (Solanum diversiflorum), which we tossed through the evening's pasta dish a little further on at Red Rock.


The local Garby elders call Red Rock 'Blood Rock' because of the massacre of their people by Europeans that took place in the 1880s. Thankfully today Aboriginal culture remains strong in the area. Bush tomatoes, a food traditionally found in more arid parts of Australia, have a sweet, mildly spicy flavour. After dinner we went in search of a camp site, which we found on dusk and hurriedly set up while being predated by the local mozzie population. As Jake Cassar taught us back on the Central Coast, Aboriginal people burned the leaves of native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) to keep mozzies afar, but lighting a fire would have given our game away in this country of incessant prohibitions. The next morning we woke to a flat tyre and a heavy dew that permeated throughout all our bedding. We are always dry inside our tents under heavy rain, but condensation knows no barriers.


So it was a late start in getting away by the time everything dried. We sensed we couldn't stay where we were camped after a couple of locals expressed their disapproval of our chosen lodgings. So we left Red Rock,


and jumped back on to the Pacific, with no other choice of road to push north to Grafton. It was to become a very long and draining day.


Meg and Woody were sporting a cold, Meg was still fighting off a UTI, our tyres were deteriorating after nearly 2500 kms and kept puncturing, we had numerous patches of dangerous road with little shoulder to ride on, and to top things off we had a stiff headwind for the entire way. It took us a whole day to ride a mere 50 kms. It was one of our hardest days yet.



We cooked dinner at a free BBQ facility and sneaked a camp spot in an arboretum originally planted by the Grafton Girl Guides, near the local tennis courts.


We had only a morning in Grafton, purchasing and fitting new tubes and tyres. It was fairly hot by the time we rode out of town in search of a place of rest.


On the quiet road out of Grafton towards Lawrence we stopped for a watermelon break in the shade.


This delicious melon cost a mere $2 bought directly from the farmer, across the road. Woody devoured his share with gusto.


It was such a relief to be off the Pacific and not having cars and trucks dominate our senses.


But even so, on this quiet road meandering alongside the Clarence River, reminders of the normalised brutality of fast travel prevailed,


in numerous forms.


But there were also forms of life suited to slow travel and slow food,


which was ironic as we began to pass more and more sugar cane monocultures, the most south this crop is grown in Australia. Hot and fairly fatigued we hobbled into the beautiful township of Lawrence, made a late lunch by the Clarence, enjoyed a rumble on the grass,


and were again hurried to set up camp, this time on sighting a formidable storm approaching.


We prepared camp, tarped over the bikes and walked up to the local pub. We had the priviledge of speaking with local cane farmer Rex, who claims his household doesn't use any processed sugar in their diet, and sings the praises of cold extracted honey, as we do. We also shared other environmental concerns, such as the toxic wastes of bottled water. He couldn't work out why greenies don't focus more on disposable wastes, especially plastic pollution, and couldn't work out why bubblers are not more widespread in Australia. We shared with him this link and this link to suggest that 'greenies' are doing this work, but that it takes more than a few activists to instill change. The next morning we woke and after a brief walk were gifted the discovery of ripe pecans (Carya illinoinensis), just fifty metres from our camp.


It was in hindsight that we realised we needed some golden find like this to rejuvenate our motivations for this trip, after some very draining days. Pecans are high in fibre, manganese, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and protein, and there is just so much pleasure climbing a public tree for food that has (more than likely) never been sprayed with pesticides.


We harvested a bagfull of these lovely nuts and eagerly cracked their shells to reveal the largest and most buttery pecans we've ever had.


We will stop now for a few days in Lawrence, whose postcode just happens to be 2460, to forage and fish and generally recharge our tired Daylesford (3460) bodies. There is something special about this place, and we like the way the locals encourage free camping (despite the local council's prohibition signs littering the reserves).


Thanks Feeney and Lawrence folks, thanks for giving us places of rest.