Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.


In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 


A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.


We hadn't developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.


Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.


The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.


Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.


After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn't done since his home-ed days.


Woody was keen to help on the site too and knowing how eager he is to join all aspects of life, James had brought back with him his childhood tools to hand on. As you can imagine Woody was pretty chuffed. He took great care to place each item in the tool belt that was Zeph's when he was Woody's age.


The build progressed in the rain, snow and rare pockets of sun. Gifts flowed in from the community such as these wonderful windows from our permie friend Vasko, old floorboards from Sarah, structural timbers from Bee and Ra, bearers and cladding from Bob and Beth, sisalation from Koos, roof iron from Pete, and old decking boards from Nicko.


Some days were so wet we dropped our tools and headed into the bush. The learning that takes place out of school has no status in this age of fear and institutional incarceration, but we know it can be explosive and expansive. Seeing our boys thrive through their own will to learn is a joy to behold. All we need to do is provide the right environment, and they do the rest.


Over 95% of the materials we used were salvaged from the local tip and nearby building skips. We borrowed our neighbour's ute and a friend's car on a few occasions to collect them, but much was collected on our bicycle trailer. James and Zeph learned all the steps of building and soon became confident users of tools.


There were hard days, cold days and joy-filled days as they grew their knowledge, strength and resilience. After the winter solstice the days became longer, which also meant more eggs being laid in our chicken coup. Thanks chooks!


Chickweed, full of vitamin C and abundant at this time of year, was another local medicine food that fuelled the build, and helped us through our winter colds.


The entire build took 6 weeks (not including the time to collect the materials), and we were all fairly exhausted by the end of it. Zeph, at the ripe age of 14 years old, worked his first 10 hour day.


Give a young person a project in which all their regard and care and skills can shine and you'll have a gem who has great self-esteem and the ability to transition from centre of the universe to participant of the universe. The Cumquat build was very much part of Zeph's initiation into life.


The mentorship and maturity of James was a big part of Zeph's learning and growth. The two worked so well together and as much as possible Patrick stepped back and allowed them both to go through the processes themselves. We all had things to learn from each other and despite the ordinary strains of such activity, the building of The Cumquat was a remarkable moment in our family's trajectory, and we thank James and Zeph for making it such a special time, and we thank our local, online and permacultural communities for loving The Cumquat into being in so many diverse ways. And we thank the snow for reminding us of older, colder winters in this region, and the gifts of the sun and the earth that create the radiation and thermal mass that keeps us warm.


The last stage of the build was to insulate the walls with straw, which we bought direct from local farmer Ian Miller in Smeaton 22 kms away. We contemplated lining the walls with old floorboards or old sheets of tin, but when permie friend Dean Farago offered his expertise, materials and labour to finish the walls using a traditional rendering method, we knew we couldn't refuse.


We have made a little video of the build that shows the entire process, and is accompanied by our talented singer-songwriter friend, Anthony Petrucci, who sings us intensely through the build with his old band Souls on Board.



Thank you, Dear Reader, for calling in to hear the song of The Cumquat being sung into life, to witness a boy's initiation and to behold a young man's apprenticeship. We hope it has inspired you and the young people in your worlds to keep performing life outside the banker's realm and the institution's cage.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

On the bike path to fairer economies, politics and societies

In July 2007 The Age newspaper published a letter of Patrick's where he conjured up a little vista into what a fairer, more just society might look like. One that was beginning to repair the damages of an extractive, anti-ecological culture and hold accountable those who knowingly act against life to the detriment of the world's communities. Malcolm was then environmental minister in the Howard government and we were in the thick of the ten-year drought.


Almost nine years later our household and community economies, based on relationships more than money, are slowly maturing. We have been practicing a low-waste, low-fuel, walked-for food economy with community and friends where gifts play a big part. "I'm just going to drop off the compost to Malcolm and his colleagues, my darling!" yells Meg, as she heads off with Woody.


We held a mushroom foraging and identification workshop a week ago, and offered two forms of payment. Cash or working bee. More than half opted for the latter. This is another Meg. She took the work in the garden option and weeded around the veggies.


And this is Angela, who helped her.


Angelica, our previous SWAP, returned and brought her typical joy, and new pruning skills direct from her urban farming course at CERES.


The biodynamic duo, Moe and Chris, worked on a bed overrun by rhyzome-cunning bent grass,


while the helpful, engineer-minded Pearson assisted Patrick in building the almond, quail and bee enclosure.


The morning's productive working bee ended with Meg's delicious potato and leek soup cooked on a fire outside with a loaf of Patrick's fresh sourbread to dip in. The shared lunch gave over to the afternoon's mushroom foraging walk, and despite the 8 days since rain we found several edible species, some dangerous tikes and a whole heap we put into the category of little brown mushroom.


This time of year this is what our dinner hauls look like:


The day after the mushroom walk, Meg put on her teaching cap and shared her passion for fermented drinks with co-conspirator Raia Faith Baster. This second Culture Club event at the Senior Citizens wing of the Daylesford town hall was free, which Meg organised with her HRN cap on. The disseminating of knowledge where all have access to skills and ideas is very much part of performing a fair society.


Our most recent SWAP is Letitia, who has been learning from us forest crafts, wholistic land management practices and other performances of regeneration and renewal. Notice the possum dreys above her and below.


While she was turning 2m high blackberry canes into useful groundcover with a simple tool and her stomping boots Letitia uncovered a ringtail drey in the hawthorn and blackberries. If we don't do this work the CFA will set a fire to this forest next season and all the possums will be smoked out or killed. Here's an example of indigenous and newcomer species non-dualism.



We shared lunch and a walk around a nearby sculpture garden with our friend Richard Tipping (whose sign work you can see) and his partner Chris Mansell. 


We spent time at the community park in town helping create a new natural playscape area, under the guidance of our friend and low impact building designer, Annabel Mazzotti. 


We attended a meeting at our local council to discuss the very real possibility of implementing wholistic and organic land management practices – perhaps a first in Australia.


We said farewell to Nina, who SWAPped with us during the Bruce Pascoe fest. Nina is heading back to France after two years of travelling and knowledge building and sharing in Australia. You will be missed, but you've hooked us up with Danny. Merci Nina et bonne chance!


We are about to begin a 6-week building apprenticeship with former SWAP James and Artist as Family's Zephyr, so we've been busy collecting materials from building skip bins and the local tip.


The building that James and Zeph will construct, under Patrick's tutelage, is called The cumquat, and at the end of their 6-week crash course they should be fairly confident to build their own home.


Stay tuned, Dear Reader. We look forward to showing you the development of The cumquat, which will become a dwelling for more non-monetised SWAPping, thus enabling more learning and sharing of the knowledges that are attempting to model a set of responses to the multifarious predicaments of our time.

VOTE 1 for relocalised, low-monetary, low-carbon, more-than-human transitions to fairer, more diverse and biodiverse societies!

or in Bill Mollison's words:
The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.
from Introduction to Permaculture 1991, p177 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A month of growing, fermenting, retrofitting, foraging, forest work and lively, lovely people

It's been a busy time for us up here in the hills to the north of the falsely-bartered city of Melbourne. We've had a string of wonderful young SWAPs come stay. This is Nina, far left, who was SWAPping with us when Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood came to visit and speak at our town hall with David Holmgren and Su Dennett — we consider all four true elders of our respective communities, as well as our close friend, Pete O'Mara (far right and almost off screen), who dedicates so much time to the young people in our town. 


The couple of days we had with Bruce and Lyn were wonderful and Nina took some sweet snaps as well as pitched in with whatever needed doing. Here Patrick and Bruce get ready to plant yam daisies in Daylesford's community garden beside the library.


About 400 people came to the various different events we (working on behalf of HRN) organised. Our dear mate Ant, and Patrick have begun work on a film that will cover the incredible day of knowledge sharing and thinking, particularly the social warming aspect of the day and of course David Holmgren and Bruce Pascoe's wisdom and research.


Our dear friend Su, who started HRN back in the day (with Maureen Corbett), gave thanks to the 40 plus people who helped shape the day.


While Patrick had the idea to get Bruce and David together in one room and call it Land Cultures, Meg brewed up Culture Club. This was the poster we hacked up for the first get-together:


About 30 people came for what was a wonderful evening of knowledge sharing and the imperatives of wild fermented foods addressing the chronic health issues of industrialised food and medicine and what this has done to our guts. The energy was established for ongoing monthly meets. This is the next meet:


Actually Meg has gone quite fermenting mad over the past several months. Anything that walks in or is carried through our door gets utterly cultured.


When Angelica came to SWAP for a week, she learned to make sauerkraut, and many other useful things. In return she brought ebullience and taught us the art of making ghee.


In our household everyone has numerous roles to play. Zeph is proving to be the best cracker spreader in the 'hood, and even though he's exploring other 'cultural' realities at the moment, he's usually willing to lend a hand.


Processing acorns from our inherited tree this autumn and milling them for pancake and bread flour has given us renewed focus on making sure seasonal local gifts are not wasted. This involves everyone chipping in as these processes can be laborious if there's not a collective effort.


James has also come to SWAP with us for a week. His interests have been particularly focussed on the politics of permaculture. In our words: how old conservative processes (akin to peasant activities) are part of the radical household and community economies of the present and future. Something AaF is passionate about. We showed James some of our activities that reperform an engagement with public-Indigenous land. Here, he and Woody harvest Coprinus comatus for dinner.


James, like Nina, has a developed eye behind a camera and documented many activities, learning the meaning of doing-saying — thought and action. He learned our mantra: Ecological culture can only be modelled biophysically, on a small scale, in relationship and with many neighbouring models/relationships all responding to the predicament of our time.


Fun is essential in this life-making. Constant. Loose. Stupid behaviour. All are critical in our household's transition. We are seriously not well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society, and we want to sing that from the tree-tops, and the compost buckets.


We are well-adjusted, however, to our soil; it is simply humming with life.


And we're well adjusted to the nearby forest. We've entered into a gift exchange relationship with it, stomping down blackberries so they become dynamic soil-building and soil-holding ground covers, no longer a dry cane fire threat, nor a dominating species.


When we lay down the 2m high canes and let in sunlight to the earth, the gods of the forest offer up gifts for our efforts. In this case parasol mushrooms. Yum!


A few simple hand tools is all we need to engage in a stewardship relationship with the forest.


One of the reasons we want to reduce the fuel load in the forest is because land management authorities deem it unsafe every few years, and set fire to it. This affects not only the global climate, but the local ring tail possums who build their dreys in the forest's hawthorns and apple trees. The hawthorns and wild apples are considered weeds around here and have no ecological status, so they can be burnt and cut and poisoned. However, if we use the fallen wood of the forest to heat our home, press the blackberries down to a groundcover, and thus limit the need for burn-offs, then the humus and moisture levels build up in the forest lessening the chance of fire.


Designing more community gardens is part of our public work too. This simple little garden (stage1) is about to go ahead at the local child-care centre. And with not a penny spent.


Eating weeds is another example of gift exchange with our biological commons or locasphere. The below weed is wild radish, the plant Patrick has chosen to feature (and give status back to) in the next Pip magazine Eat Your Weeds column.


Wild mushrooms are also a part of the gifts that return from the gods once a relationship is established.


Getting to know how the world's more-than-human communities provide the opportunities for human life is essential learning, but how many kids are taught such a thing in school? Schools are factories for producing human-centricity.


Our boys know where their food and energy resources come from. They know their origins. But this knowledge is not valued in school. Zeph's knowledge of bush craft, care and resilient living is ignored or shamed in his industrialised school environment. Go figure.


Woody will not go to school unless he decides to (like his brother did) when he becomes a teenager. Show us the boy at 7 and you'll see the man. May this three-year-old always remain comfortable in a dress, just like his old man.


Woody and Zeph will leave home knowing how to turn rubbish from the tip into useful things, how to repair and service their means of mobility, how to build a house, how to capture and store energy, how to grow, preserve and ferment their food, and how to steward their local environment and help it spring forth more life.


Despite what they become, they'll be prepared to adapt to whatever the future brings. We just wish that schools were aiding their contemporaries with real-life skills and knowledges, and valuing sustainable practices of life-making,


so more kids will grow into the kind of elders the world's communities and environments really need right now. Elders not focussed on money and property, but on caring for the health of all the living, and keeping the gods nourished on our gifts. For our gods are our ancestors of regard. Those who lived before mass war and pollution, hierarchy and greed, who knew how to care for the earth.

Thanks Nina and James for your photos in this post. And thanks Dear Reader for checking in with us. We hope you have much autonomous and beneficial fungi popping up in your neck of the woods, be that in your local forests or in your wild urban kitchens.