Saturday, 30 November 2013

From Yack to Clack Clack

We have been on the road for two weeks now and so far we've had the juiciest of times.

We are gathering so much material on frugal living and travelling that we are expanding the scope of our research to include all things obtainable outside the monetary economy.

It is remarkable how much of life is still not monetised, but it is even more remarkable how these things are not commonly valued.

After Beechworth we stayed a few nights in Yackandandah and met Leanne, one of the facilitators of the forthcoming community garden there.

She gave us half a dozen of her delicious hen's eggs, which were pure permaculture gold.

Yack is a joy-filled little town and Woody started to practice his own form of social warming.

Just as the sweet green hills of spring were beginning to dry out we headed towards the high country,

noting more walnuts, apples, cherry plums, figs, peaches and blackberries forming on the roadside verges.

But before we really started to climb we joined another rail trail at Huon, which took us over Lake Hume.

Before colonisation and before it was dammed, this lake was known as Bungoona (Sandy Creek) by the traditional owners. In 1887 a rail line went in to the area which opened it up for further development which saw the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

Today the rail trail offers a peaceful, ecological traverse through this once traumatised country. Can country heal itself after such interrupting violence?

We rode into Tallangatta with a dust storm, found the town's park and rehydrated,

found a municiple powerpoint to recharge, headed across to the local opshop,

and munched out on free, locally-grown grapefruit.

We have started compiling a list of all the free things we are finding and we are realising that these things aren't just good options for frugal travelling, they are generally the least polluting too.

1. free drinking water – water bubblers in public parks and streets
2. free food – foraged, fished, hunted, gleaned and gifted
3. free camping sites – creeks and rivers
4. free electricity – council parks and sports grounds
5. free swimming/ bathing – creeks and rivers
6. free laundry – any public sink (take a universal plug with you)
7. free wifi - neighbourhood centres and libraries
8. free shelters – council parks and sports grounds
9. free knowledges – local knowledge is priceless and most people are willing to offer it
10. free BBQ facilities – council parks, sports grounds, community gardens, etc
Tired and somewhat on the nose we rode around Tallangatta looking for a place to camp. We pulled over to check the map when a local man, putting up his Christmas lights, asked if we needed help. A few minutes later George and his partner Laura had invited us to camp in their backyard, take a shower and join them for dinner.

We happily accepted, bought some accompaniments and helped out where we could.

George gave us a heads-up that we had a big day of riding ahead of us, so we rose early, farewelled our hosts and set off along the rail trail again.

We climbed from Tallangatta (205m above sea level) into Snowy River country,

until we reached the Koetong Pub, where we stopped to recuperate and where we met this bunch of volunteers who have been working on the rail trail since 2002.

They had been working on a new section of the trail that leads all the way to the former Shelley Station, the highest railway station ever built in Victoria (779m above sea level).

At Shelley we found evidence of corporate greenwashing. The same global chemical company responsible for the Bhopal disaster (Dow is Union Carbide as this wonderful piece of satire attests) also aims to become a major controller of the world's food supply. Here Dow is advancing the poisoning of innocuous free food for the sake of peddling its dubious herbicides to Landcare groups. There's no such thing as a good corporate citizen, just clever public relation strategies. 

We got a little lost in the pine plantations trying to leave Shelley, but eventually found our way back out onto the Murray Valley Highway for a several kilometre rollercoaster ride down into Berringama where an old hall signalled it was time for a feed,

and a tune or two.

It had already been a huge day and we knew we were pushing it but we had heard of a sweet caravan park at Colac Colac (pronounced Clack Clack), and it seemed to be in reach. About 5km out Patrick's rear wheel axel broke, the first disaster of our trip. Meg and Woody went on to the park and brought back the extremely generous park owner, Phil, who helped us put the bike onto the tray of his ute and brought us all to this incredibly beautiful park.

We now have a handful of days to wait while the wheel is fixed, sent by courier to Albury.

Time to re-stock, rest up after our massive 74km day yesterday, wash clothes, fish, look for wild plants, write up journals and map the next leg of our trail. Do we push north into apple country or do we head southeast into alpine trout country?

We hope you are having a restorative weekend too.

Monday, 25 November 2013

More free-loading adventures

On our last night in Beechworth we practiced what our community gardens back home preach – free organic food for all!

We found the Beechworth community garden behind the community bookshop and the neighbourhood centre. We noticed the garden was very thirsty and as we were very hungry one of us unpacked our portable kitchen and started chopping into an enormous onion from the garden,

while another started watering all the bolting produce that really needed eating.

We found a BBQ in the shed and we compost-dived for a perfectly good red capsicum (sans some bruising).

We harvested broccoli, cauliflower, parsely and fennel from the garden,

added some beans, nuts and cheese that we'd bought at the local grocer, and cooked it all up on the community BBQ.

While waiting for dinner Woody got up to some new tricks:

Until, VOILA!

And did you know that the leaves and flowers from the viola family (violets, pansies etc) are edible?

The joy of uncertainty

On our second (and last) night in Violet Town we were treated to dinner by Denise, who we met at the VT Neighbourhood Centre. 

Denise cooked us a delicious Mexican bean dish served with flat bread and a salad from her garden before we swapped some tunes on her guitar. With Denise's good company and generosity we beaned out of this happy town heading east again towards Benalla, leaving behind our best freeloading camping spot so far, along the Honeysuckle Creek.

At Baddaginnie we spotted critter-like Bulrush flowers. Bulrush, or cumbungi (Typha spp.), was a useful traditional food. The outer rind was peeled off the underground stem and layed before the fire, the fibres were then twisted to loosen out the starch (Tim Low, 1988). The soft white starch of the young shoot can also be eaten raw and the left over fibres can be spun into tough string. The immature flower stalk can be woven into mats. (

A little further on we spotted Salsify (Tragopogon) flowers that had gone to seed. There is so much naturalised free food (thistle roots, salsify tubers, wild lettuce) we've missed the chance to eat this season because they've already become too woody, and there's so much naturalised free food (cherry plums, figs, nectarines, peaches, apples, walnuts) that just aren't quite ready.

So we keep a look out for local produce to supplement what we find and what we have brought with us.

After a brief stop in Benalla we rode out into the heat of the afternoon to find a camping spot along Lake Mokoan. We are really starting to embrace the uncertainties of each day. Where are we going to camp? Who are we going to meet? Will there be drinking water? Will there be power? What will we find to eat?

We arrive to find that the once man-made lake has been returned to a magnificant Yorta Yorta wetlands. It is brimming with more-than-human life, which must necessarily include death to keep things cycling.

With the decommissioning of the lake the caravan park has seen better days. We were welcomed not by the manager but by permanent residents Gary and his grandson Josh, who brought over some beers while we set up camp. We're starting to experience the incredible generosity of people and understand the importance of sharing stories while sharing common ground.

We are also discovering the different plant guilds that are forming in certain regions. At home, oaks, hawthorns, apples and blackberries have formed ecological partnerships with blackwood wattles, peppermints and messmates making habitat and food for numerous species. Here, in northern-central Victoria, we are finding that figs, walnuts and loquats are the naturalising trees. We are regularly seeing newcomer figs (Ficus carica) growing under heavy-drinking eucalptys,

and loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing under nitrogen-capturing wattles. These newly naturalised, drought-hardy food species will be important to observe as the climate changes our growing regions and knowledge of local food becomes increasingly crucial to community health and survival.

After a solid snooze (eaten in quantity, loquats have a gentle but noticeable sedative effect), some oats and juice and a bit of a wash,

we left the wetlands and the caravan park and set out for Wangaratta, cycling through gangster territory, up into the infamous Warby Ranges where we discovered these Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.). The seeds of these plants were ground as flour and the stem was used as a fire-stick for the ingenious fire-stick farming that was so common to Aboriginal land management practices. The resin was used to bond materials together such as stone spearheads to wooden shafts.

We recharged in Wang,

before setting off on the rail trail to Beechworth.

Not far along the trail we came across a splendid black mulberry (Morus) full of ripe fruit.

We are too early for some, too late for others, but just in time for this sweet delicacy rich in vitamins C and K, high in iron, and an anti-inflammatory and will lower blood pressure. Wow, all that free medicine. Who needs multinationals?

Social warming continues to play a big part of our travels. Being on bike and not windscreened off from the world enables plenty of opportunities to meet and sniff the locals.

We're having more opportunities to hunt too, though so far unsuccessfully. We've shot arrows at rabbits and have tried to spear trout in the shallow clear streams we pass. As eleven year old Zeph (who will join us shortly) reminds us by phone, 'it takes time to learn what Aboriginal people know about getting bush food'.

After a leisurely 27 km ride out of Wang we camped at the old Everton Station just 15 kms short of Beechworth. We had previously saved our municiple charge (we're using our motors less and less) and a good night's sleep (more loquats) for this last section of the trail, which we were warned was pretty steep.

And arrived in Beechworth through a sustainable air-conditioning system,

to find a free home for a few days along Spring Creek in the centre of town.

In the past ten days we have slow travelled from Jaara Jaara to Yorta Yorta country inspired by Indigenous patterns of existence and how we might recreate them in a post-oil, climate change world.

We hope you've had a good ride too.