Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Household gift economies, Blue Mountains style

This jaunt, this adventure, this research trip, this AaF-for-president-national-tour, this blessed extreme year on bikes in this new era of extreme weather, collapsing economies and peaking crude oil supply is the best bloody thing we've ever done. Predicated on chance encounters, uncertain destinations, biophysical challenges, autonomous foods and unpredictable weathers we approach each day as it so generously comes.

After a week in Katoomba the weather turned fairly wet and cold. We'd earlier met a particularly sweet family in a local park and they messaged us to come over and stay with them to see the bad weather out.

"Yes, we'd love to but only if we could do some sort of exchange, like a garden design..."

Our two babies, Woody and Lily, were born on the very same day, only two hours apart. But we had more in common than this remarkable fact. Food, what we consume and where it comes from, was a significant topic of discussion and so was the subject of permaculture. We took it in turns to cook and we showed off again the gentle delight of daylily buds by tossing them through a pasta dish.

Thanks Lily, Guy and Kirsten! So great to have met you and spent a few days in your home. After leaving Katoomba our new destination was just a short ride away to the town of Leura, passing through beautiful country to get there.

It was in Leura we stayed with another family, old friends through poetry networks: Ruby, Kate, Pete and Felix.

Despite being old friends we were keen to continue the communitarian gift economy exchange, sharing the kitchen work,

the gardening work (which included summer pruning, tomato bed preparation and compost setting),

and, on our last night together, some gentle foraging to make a Blue Mountains salad.

After adding olive oil, lemon and salt we had a classic bitter bowl of goodness to finish the meal.

We said farewell to our sweet friends of the mountains on a cool sunny morning,

and legged it downhill at thrilling speed. Our destination was to be somewhere along a river near Richmond, and so inevitably we passed both the regeneration and rebuilding that was occurring after the recent bushfires.

We arrived at Yarramundi in the heat of the afternoon and hopped straight in to the cool waters where the Nepean and Grose Rivers empty in to the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River,

where we remained until dusk and prepared dinner,

fished for mullet and bass and aired out our bedding under the river she-oaks.

Much love and gratitude to the beautiful Blue Mountains and the people we met and stayed with. If you're in South Australia, our thoughts are with you. More Catastrophic fire weather there right now, moving across to our loved ones in Victoria. With love and pedalspeed, AaF.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Day by daylily: one week in Katoomba

Over the last week of camping in our hideaway location on the edge of the township of Katoomba, we left the bikes at camp and walked everywhere, observing the ancient landforms that brings people from all over the world to this special place.

During the week Meg turned 40, on a day that nearly paralleled that number in degrees Celsius. We hid out in a shady park butressed by a cool and stately old stone wall. Happy Birthday Meg!

Meg's parents, Vivienne and Ross, came to visit to help celebrate this special occasion, and we did a number of touristy things due to their generosity. Thanks Bee and Ra!

Vivienne and Ross also took us out for dinner where we played Hepburn Heads, a version of Celebrity Heads only replacing celebrities for members of our community.

On most days throughout the week we bought food from the Blue Mountains Food Co Op, which is the oldest food co op in the country, and the best we've ever seen. Because we belong to our own food co op we received the same member discount as the locals. Thanks BMFCO! Of a morning we bought organic Aussie oats and some local juice and set up breakfast outside on the communal table.

But with all our walking we also came across non-commercial foods, ripe for the picking. The last hot spell helped ripen the first wild apples we've had on our trip.

They may be small for lack of nutrients, but we're often amazed how delicious and free of disease wild apples are. This is probably because they are generally growing in diverse ecologies where pests can't plague due to the number of variable competitors. Wild apples are excellent for making cider and cider vinegar, and the very easy to make vinegar is an essential alkalising tonic for both internal organs and the skin. It is a great general antidote to the very acidic western diet most of us eat. Every autumn we ferment enough to last the year and this special gift of the autonomous gods costs us nothing.

We collected many more blackberries that had overnight ripened because of the heat of the previous week.

And because of this rich hit of vitamin C we were well prepared for the cold wet weather that came in leaving us quite damp but nonetheless invigorated.

But the greatest revelation of the week was the inclusion of daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) to our growing list of desirable edible hardy weeds that grow throughout temperate Australia. They are very easy to grow or forage for, and in some regions they're known as ditch lilies because they'll grow almost anywhere, including ditches.

Several weeks earlier at the Moss Vale Community Garden, permaculture teacher Jill Cochrane had sung the praises of daylilies as a source of food. So when we came across great swathes of them in Katoomba we were determined to find out for ourselves just how edible they were.

We hung out for some of the wet in the Katoomba library, researching the plant. From a compliment of websites, stitching together a myriad of culinary experiments, we found out that depending on the time of year almost the entire plant is edible:
Young leaves – spring to early summer, eaten raw in a salad.
Shoots – late winter to early spring, eaten raw in a salad or cooked as a vegetable.
Flowers – late spring to summer, dried for soups, remove pistil and stamens before use.
Flower buds (about to open) – late spring to summer, lightly sautéed.
Tubers – autumn to winter, sautéed, mashed or roasted. Similar to a sweet potato.
Because it is mid-summer and there are plenty of flower buds around we harvested these, and to our delight every good thing that has been written about them was confirmed.

They were delicate and sweet sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic. We can definitely recommend this plant for any perennial food garden, for their flavour, hardiness and beauty. 

We look forward to sharing more free food treats with you again shortly. We hope wherever you are you are you're eating delicious free food that you've found growing right under your nose.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Highland hopping; blackberries and carp

Having set up the tents and locked up the bikes we have walked into town to see what purchasable foods are on offer. Towns like Wallacia, we're discovering, generally sell all kinds of the wrong sort of things. It is another hot day and the traffic tries to outcompete the male cicadas, whose shrill cacophony reaches fever pitch in the heat of the day. We walk back to our river hideaway with unloved bread, oats, juice and some tinned corn to help tempt fish onto the end of our line. We dwell on the magic of free camping, little or no amenities, just tree shade and river water and a nearby tap for drinking. We swim in the lovely cool water and some who come down to fish tell us they are horrified we are swimming in that dirty muck.

As we travel from state to state we're finding many Australians are frightened by unsterilised environments and approach such autonomous places with contempt and dread. If we reply to such a phobia at all it is with something along the lines of: fish guts and duck poo are prefered friends over a cocktail of municiple-sanctioned corporate chemicals, or maybe something a little less wordy. We rarely if ever get sick. In fact it seems that the rougher we live the healthier we feel, provided we are eating well. Up in town we saw visions and heard stories of unwellness and hospitalisation, my father's gone back in for treatment, the cancer has come back, said one obese woman. What sort of society allows foods that make people so unwell? While we'll occasionally indulge in hot chips and industrial bread if there is nothing else, there is no better antidote to such impoverishment than the autonomous foods we are finding along the way. Foods such as blackberries (Rubus),

which, like plums, apples, spinach and grapes don't need ad men to persuade us to eat them and are unparalelled sources of bioflavonoids and rich in Vitamin C. Like raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves make a great bush tea and are high in iron, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins. Of course, we have to be careful with these generous autonomous foods because they too are often treated by councils on ideological grounds, which big chemical companies profit from. We always check the leaves and surrounding vegetation first to ensure they haven't been sprayed. Straight off the plant there is nothing quite like this free, sweet medicinal treat. Well, perhaps except for this gorgeous plant.

Echinacea (Asteraceae), according to Medical News Today, is used to treat acid indigestion, chronic fatigue syndrome, diphtheria, dizziness, genital herpes, gum disease, malaria, migraines, pain, snake bites, rheumatism, septicemia and bloodstream infections, streptococcus infections, syphilis, the flu, tonsillitis, typhoid, urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. We simply dry the flower heads and make a restorative tea with them. Although various university conducted studies have found varying results regarding the benefits of Echinacea, most likely none of them observe what other foods are being used in combination. If you try to throw in a delicate plant medicine on top of a diet of industrialised food the results will most likely be poor. Similarly, finding the right place to camp means getting proper rest from the intensity of bike touring, which is another type of medicine based on our wits not our wallets. On leaving Moss Vale, following the awesome bike track along the Wingecarribee River to Burradoo where the autonomous roadside apples were almost ripe to pluck,

we joined a continuous stream of bike-unfriendly traffic from Bowral to Mittagong before we were able to relax in apple orchard country at Yerrinbool and join the Old Hume Highway. This was the first bike touring leg of our trip that included Zeph, who came to join us in Moss Vale at Xmas. So with our full tribe of five beings on two bikes, we set off for Thirlmere Lakes National Park, 52 km away.

In order to have the freedom to live well and experience the profound fullness of this country we are having to write our own laws, which we believe are closer to Aboriginal sensibilities than European legalities. There are notices and rules everywhere, no doubt made for a growing number of dickheads that refuse to respect the land and its diverse critters and ecologies. Thirlmere Lakes does not accept dogs, camping, people after dark and in some places even the innocent bicycle is banned. With only our bikes to hide from rangers in the bracken understory we set up camp as the mozzies descended.

While in the park we kept Zero on a lead, not because his poo is polluting (he doesn't eat canned or commercial dog biscuits and we bury all his organic wastes, and ours for that matter), but because there are signs around the park telling us 1080 poison bait has been put about. Zero may chase away but never catches birds such as this swamp hen perching out of harm's way,

Rabbits are Zero's preferred game, although he's not much good at hunting them. So, in such a location, we devise that his potential to negatively impact the ecology is extremely low. Three thoughts emerged while we were at Thirlmere Lakes. Firstly, there should be exemptions for walkers and cyclists who wish to camp in all National Parks. There must be rewards for those who travel lightly in this day and age. Secondly, the use of 1080 is the very opposite of an environmental solution because the entire food chain is affected, not just the feral predators at the top. Once again governments are giving damaging chemical companies power by buying these non-solutions. Thirdly, it is not littering, we reflected as we picked up other peoples' rubbish in the park or came across dumped waste,

that is the problem. All species litter. It is only now what humans leave behind that is damaging. To mitigate toxicity in our environments, business should be taxed heavily on all products they produce deemed to cause a negative effect by what is left of independent science. These would include such things as fast food and supermarket packaging, pesticides, plastics, petroleum products and poisonous baits, etc. When we emerged from our lake hideaway in the morning we were greeted by a happy group who go by the name of the Picton Puffers,

who offered us hot drinks, apple strudel and home-grown peaches. One enlightened soul from this gang of walkers and runners sang the praises of Sweden, who have laws that state that land owners must give one night's access of a patch of ground on which travellers can camp. After a little research we discovered that this universal ethic is called Freedom to roam, and in Sweden is specifically called allemansrätten (the everyman's right). Despite our increasingly privatised country, Australia is large enough geographically and still small enough in population to devise and implement our own rules for respectful, non-damaging and frugal travel. But alas, there are forces about that are against this ancient will-to-roam, as recently articulated by fellow camper, Bill Garner in The Age. We left the Puffers at Thirlemere Lakes, travelled on to Picton and camped beside a small creek that ran beside the town's botanic gardens. We were told by the friendly council gardeners (who knew we were camping illegally and who encouraged our adventures) that the creek was inhabited by giant eels.

We didn't come across any eels though there were plenty of ducks, prompting us to explain to the younger amongst us that semi-domesticated birds in a park are not fair game for food. We have never caught eels in Australia, although Meg caught and ate some in New Zealand many moons ago. They are something on our long list of autonomous meats we wish to hunt.

Another free meat that none of us have caught or consumed is carp, which is considered an environmental menace. So when we put up camp near the banks of the Nepean River near Wallacia

and set about fishing for Bass with surface lures, we very unexpectedly and unconventionally landed a good sized bottom-feeding carp. The young local boy who actually caught the fish was about to throw it back (after having his photo taken holding it) when Zeph asked whether we could have it. We knew carp would be good eating, despite the bad press it has in Australia, and after a little online research found that carp need to be eaten straight away or put on ice because as its body temperature rises it releases histamines that give the meat a muddy flavour. We did neither of these things, instead hanging the meat in night shade while we slept

and cooking it for breakfast the following day in olive oil we'd bought in Sutton Forest, organic garden-grown garlic we'd bought in Tumut and roadside toms we bought in Warregamba.

The result was delicious and we honoured this life by devouring every skerick of its wonderfully edible self as participants of the web of ecological life.

In order to move towards an ecological culture we need to become the biological controls, participatory ecologists (as our sensible friend Russell Edwards would say) and ecological playmakers (as we would say) that industrial culture has all but perverted in its short life. We need to reinstate a non-waste, non polluting sensibility in everything we do. It is not possible to do this if we go along with mainstream modes of living and ideologies, especially concerning travel and food consumption. All the prejudices surrounding the edibility of this now common fish dissolved with each mouthful. No muddiness was detected despite the Nepean being a heavily disturbed river with motor boats and storm water damage. People just aren't hungry enough, proclaimed Meg.

Carp now joins our growing list of desirable autonomous foods that need to be eaten on the long march from economic to ecological rationalism.

After a few days on the Nepean we left our blissful river camp of muddy swimming and fish treats and headed towards Penrith in near heatwave conditions. We decided to stow Zero in a box and jump a train from Penrith up to the Blue Mountains to escape the scorching heat that was daily progressing in the foothills.

We spent a hot afternoon in Katoomba looking for a place we could secretly settle for a while and nearing dusk we met Shane, an awesome local who completely read our needs. He gave us a tour of some hidden locations,

from which we chose our quiet little camp spot,

a ten minute walk to the heart of town, and only a two minute amble to this hidden away billabong.

Shane, you are the embodiment of the universal spirit of the freedom to roam. Thank you! We will rest now and wash,

and bring you shortly, dear blog reader, a post or two of our Blue Mountains' adventure.

Signing off with love and lessons learned for the future,


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Utopian glimpses, dystopian blitzes

Some months ago we contacted the Moss Vale Community Garden to request a visit having heard from a friend it is well worth investigating. We spoke to Jill Cockram, the facilitator, who invited us to meet up when we came to town.

Jill gave us a tour of this wonderful garden based on permaculture principles and social-ecology,

she told us even daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) are edible, all parts,

and pointed out hundreds of other edible roots, bulbs, fruits, herbs, leaf veggies and nuts, such as these hazels coming into fruit.

We picked and dug and munched and shared our knowledges,

before Jill put together an enormous bag of goodies for us to take. Thanks Jill and thanks MVCG!

Moss Vale has been good to us. We've caught up with family and old friends, we chatted on local radio and problem solved our bike situation...

We decided to take the bikes to Sydney by bus as we felt it was too dangerous to ride into the city. We wanted to have the electrics looked at to see whether they could be repaired. We also had a number of other things to do, such as visit our old friend the Surry Hills Food Forest.

In just three and a half years since we planted out this flat church lawn, incredible things have happened involving free access to the sun, rain and soil; tended by a loving community.

While in Sydney we also stopped in at the Art Gallery of NSW to witness our small part in the earth-sensible show The Yeomans Project, which was produced by artists Ian Millis and Lucas Ihlein.

We visited a small group of gentle folk held in limbo by Dickensian ASIO bureaucracy at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

We staged our own feed-in outside a restaurant where a few days earlier a mother had been asked to finish breastfeeding her child in the toilets as she was offending customers (our intention was to feed inside but it was closed when we arrived). We took this photo as part of an online campaign.

And, as a novel tourist caper, we rode across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to family digs in the northern burbs.

Near Artarmon we found naturalised bananas growing in a public reserve,

and in Willoughby we killed two unwanted backyard roosters,

which we roasted gratefully, stuffed with homegrown lemons.

We have had a full plate of a time in Sydney, and we are looking forward to returning to the bush where we will have more opportunities to forage, hunt and glean, pedal and camp in air that is clean and practice, once again, a logic that is lean.