Saturday, 15 February 2014

Riding the coast: Wamberal to Newcastle

Perhaps this ex-hire tandem wasn't such a great idea. On our last evening in Wamberal, Patrick's seat post socket snapped. We were so relieved it happened here and not between Tallangatta and Tumbarumba or somewhere really remote, and we were additionally relieved because another sweet family that we'd met in a children's playground invited us to stay for the night. 

Meet Andrew, Mandy, Krys and Marie. We swam in their pool, admired their chooks and hugelkultur, and were treated to dinner. The central coast certainly shared its love.

Also meet Kevin from Cougar Fabrications in Erina. Kevin and Phil fixed the tandem and had us back on the road in fifteen minutes (for a mere fifteen dollars!). These kind men really brought us much relief with grace and warmth and good cheer. 

And then, after an easy morning's ride, we stopped in a park for some lunch near The Entrance and were graced by fellow bike tourer Tom.

We invited Tom to camp with us, but warned him we are slow travellers. He was in no rush himself and we set about looking for a camp spot together.

We swapped notes on touring and the art of free camping in an increasingly private world. We pedaled and sniffed and sighted a little laneway that led down to the water's edge north of The Entrance.

It was a brief co-existence with Tom but he wasted no time immersing himself in family life. We hope to see him again at some point down the track. A truly beautiful dude.

We parted ways the next morning and continued our slow trawl up the coast to Budgewoi where we rode this old bridge onto a little island to camp for the night.

We are getting pretty used to camp life. Every tool and resource we carry must have at least two purposes, as Meg demonstrates here with some local olive oil, used for cooking and for cleaning skin in a post-bathroom reality.

People often ask about Zephyr's schooling as we travel. Our simple reply is this is school on the road, for all of us. However, a minimum of half an hour of reading a day applies and Zeph has just finished writing an article for NSW youth magazine unleash, which explains our project from his (almost twelve year old) perspective.

On leaving our little Budgewoi island we shouldered the busy Old Pacific Highway and came across telling signs of the times,

signs we didn't even have to hack or bust or edit. They seemed to already speak for themselves.

While the Abbott government is selling the country off to more global corporate power, gas frackers, big coal and every other colossal polluter he can rustle up from his big black book, we are biking the country, poaching free camping spots, and improving our fishing.

We exchanged fishing knowledges with fellow free campers, Gary, Rob and Maé in Swansea,

and learned from experienced fishing folk such as Abdul,

and these fellow non-Abbott voters.

We also practiced more Artist as Family trash retrieval while teaching our boys about the ecological problems of line fishing, not just large-scale indiscriminate commercial fishing.

For the first time on our trip we came across patches of autonomous Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides), also known as Indigenous, sea or New Zealand spinach.

And we were relieved to jump on another rail trail utopia, the Fernleigh Track, which enabled a cruisey and very social ride into Newcastle,

where we were spontaneously chaperoned by a fellow Fernleigh Track cyclist into the city

where we did a little shopping,

and restocked our local honey stores.

Within the first hour of our arrival in Newcastle we received two invitations to stay. The first from this awesome couple, Fiona and Phil, who we'll stay with tonight.

The social warming dimension of this trip is truly astonishing. We look forward to a couple of weeks getting to know Newcastle again. Last time we were here, nearly five years ago, we worked on this project. Coming into Newcastle today reminded us of why we love this big town so much.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Warm showers and chance encounters of the coastal kind

Around the camp our bare feet scuff across old shards of broken glass. With our movements the shards are brought to the surface of the humus and lie among the melaleuca needles. It's old glass, previously smashed by rocket-fuel rage or fits of youthful chemistry. The little pieces shine up towards our growing astonishment. Why haven't they sliced us open? There are so many. The melaleuca humus is soft, spongy and comforting under foot. This little forest encloses and protects us, gives us shelter from the coastal winds and privacy from nearby suburbia.

We left Erina Heights with the intention of heading south to Little Beach, but only after a few minutes of riding the heavens opened. Despite the roads becoming greasy and the traffic more dangerous we were at first invigorated by the rain. However soon we became soaked and took refuge in Avoca,

where we were rescued by Carol and John, their kids Ben and Angelina and their dog Kara.

They invited us to stay in their downstairs studio and in return we offered to cook the evening meal. Carol took us in saying we didn't look like psychopaths, and we responded that we were more akin to cycle paths. While staying with this happy family we discovered many common interests, such as a developing productive garden,

a growing love of chooks,

and a mutual respect for wise words.

If Artist as Family were to have an epigraph, it would be this one. It encapulates the joy of chance, mutuality and embracing a no-expectations openness that refuses to cling to the anxieties, pollutions and nihilism of art careerism.

By the next day the rain had cleared and we farewelled Carol's family. We abandoned the idea of Little Beach, and we once again set our intuitive compass north. But we didn't get very far. Just down the hill we were intrigued by a little café growing some of its own produce. We stopped in and met one of the owners, Melissa, who so sweetly picked us basil to take away to have with our breadstick, cheese and tomato lunch.

Melissa and co's cafe Like Minds sees itself as much more than a business. It is a little hub of local food and environmental advocacy. They run a series of sustainability events and talks and it was exciting to experience their spirit. At Like Minds we also met more beautiful peeps. Sonia and Shane invited us to join their family at the Wetlands Not Wastelands Festival at Calga.

The festival was an awareness raising event concerning the proposed mining of sandstone aquifers that lie across the highlands above the Central Coast, as well as the social and environmental costs that extraction ideology causes more broadly. One highlight included Jake Cassar talking about the edible and medicinal benefits of various indigenous plants. Specific to our current project we here publish his gift-economy presentation (with his permission). Thanks Jake!

As we move further north our plant knowledges are decreasing. Local knowledge therefore becomes more and more important, especially if we are to keep eating well, and as much outside the damaging industrial system as we can manage. While at the festival we were also inspired by a young group of Indigenous performers who so confidently shared some of the riches of their culture, including a very local (non sweat-shop) textile of their own making.

We are finding other local resources too. A while back we signed up to Warm Showers, a bike touring (couch surfing) website hooking up like-minds all over the globe. So when we arrived in Terrigal, found some local produce,

set up camp among the melaleucas,

played shenanigans on the beach,

and built a cubby,

we called a couple of Warm Shower locals, who live just around the next beach at Wamberal. Meet the delightful Rodney and Deborah, who invited us around to do some laundry, share meals with them (including Rod's mum's home grown produce) and exchange bike touring stories.

These generous peeps went out of their way to host us, including taking Zeph out for a surfing lesson,

while we older ones got to work designing Rod and Deb a simple permaculture garden that features wicking beds, a food forest, a compost rotation system and a chook tractor on their 600 sqm block overlooking the Wamberal Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean.

We were getting pretty settled in the Terrigal-Wamberal area and despite all the gift economy exchanges, lovely people and delicious meals, we were also keen to stop buying so much food. We knew of the joys of Bower Spinach (Tetragonia implexicoma), which we found in great plenty along the edges of the lagoon.

All we needed to complete our non– transported, packaged or farmed meal was to spear a fish large enough for dinner,

and to cook it up with garlic, lemon and the freshly picked bower spinach. In this case the fish we caught was a predator species called the dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus). While hunting fish we are both predator and prey. We saw large stingrays in the water and a grey nurse shark was reported nearby.

Living just doesn't get anymore simple and pleasurable than this.

Thank you to all the wonderful people we have met, dined or camped with on this journey. You have enriched our travels infinitely.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The lessons of salt (for an inlander family)

Crossing the Hawkesbury at Wisemans Ferry signalled our first real taste of salt water. To mark this ecological shift Zeph got stung by a jelly fish while swimming at Wisemans before we jumped on the friendly ferry. The kind lady at the ferry kiosk gave us some vinegar to calm the stinging as we couldn't find any plantain and none of us had any wee on offer.

On the other side of the River, at Mill Creek, another ecological shift took place. Freely forageable bananas. After two and a half months since leaving our cool Highlands home, the land, and what it has on offer, is really starting to change.

We camped the night in the national park but didn't stay long as we had become the prey of some rather fierce mosquitos. We left before breakfast, riding several kilometres along the river before stopping to cook porridge,

where another ecological transformation took place. Mangrove country. Zeph hunted for crabs.

The Hawkesbury is a beautiful river and we snaked along Wisemans Ferry Road for another hour before coming across a rural fire brigade and a community centre, both abuzz with people. We asked a volunteer fire fighter whether we could recharge Meg's bike. Meet Captain 'Jock' Ross.

Jock, it turned out, was the founding president of the notorious bikie gang the Comancheros, made famous in 1984 for their part in the Milperra massacre. We took our photo with a warm and generous elder, but having since done a little research we have learned what horrific violence can be committed by an ex-military man unable to settle back into ordinary civilian life. Perhaps this local creek, situated near to where we met Jock, could be renamed, Perplexity Creek. We certainly have met some interesting characters.

We passed through the small one-shop town of Spencer in the late afternoon, bought some supplies and got some local advice to camp at Mangrove River Reserve,

where we set up the tents, swam in the lovely cool water and collected fuel to cook with.

Seeing there were prawns in the river, we set about making a makeshift net with Meg's torn stockings and some bamboo stakes that were lying around.

The net wasn't ideal, but we still managed to catch two prawns while spotlighting that night. We quickly set this live bait on a simple tackle of hook and small sinker. With each prawn we caught a short-finned eel (Anguilla australis), both within a few minutes of casting.

We gutted them, hung them in a tree over night and prepared them for breakfast the next morning, cooking them in a little olive oil and adding a spritz of lemon that we'd been given by Danielle Wheeler, picked fresh from her tree a few days earlier.

We packed up camp, extinguished the fire and prepared ourselves for a gruelling climb. The locals told us it would probably take a few hours to ride the five kilometre ascent, and we weren't really looking forward to it. But the mind is an amazing thing. We gritted our teeth, accepted the unpleasant task ahead and took off, stopping briefly for a rest halfway up.

Pictures are deceiving, the ascent was much steeper than it looks. Finally we arrived at the top of the hill, collapsed in shade, rehydrated, relaxed for a while and pushed on to Mangrove Mountain, coming across citrus farms along the way.

Our destination for the night was Erina Heights. It seemed to take forever to get there. Zeph took a spill in Gosford after stopping for supplies.

We were all exhuasted and poorly informed by Google maps who took us up several dead end roads before we finally arrived at Dave and Emily's family home farm.

They treated us to warm showers, comfortable beds and delicious food. We adults sat up talking about what is motivating us to grow our own food – the challenges, practacalities and ethics of relocalised nourishables – at home.

The next day we had a tour of their property, Blindberry Farm, a forest garden where indigenous plants, weeds and green manures

all provide forageables for their free-ranging rabbits, chooks and pigs.

It is Dave and Emily's ideal to be completely sufficient in their meat supply by 2015. We also spoke of the merits of hunting for supplementary meat and gave Joseph a basic lesson in firing a bow.

Thank you so much Berlach family! It was so lovely to meet you and share in your transition to sustainable and ethical food production.