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, 12 October 2014

Headwinds south and the return of the Zephyr (from Hope Vale back to Cairns)

We left Hope Vale exhilarated. Well, what a week! But we were somewhat overstimulated and oh so exhuasted, especially after we retraced our pedals on a large map of the country. Woah, Daylesford to Hope Vale! We smashed the record for the slowest transit on bicycle by a family riding with their dog-kin from southern Victoria to Cape York! Woohoo!!


We hobbled south over bone-and-cog-shaking road down to Zazen, an organic Garden of Eden 40 kms south of Hope Vale.


Peter, a former conventional WA wheatbelt farmer turned zen-permie, and Saeng, who grew up in Thailand and learned the pharmacopeia of traditional medicinal foods and ferments of her region, make an awesome partnership.


Saeng and Peter, pictured above with their daughter Bo and two-fifths of Artist as Family, know how to create abundance. They gave us a tour of their 5 acre garden, which remarkably is only a few years old.


This is the wonderful WWOOFer lodgings Peter built, complete with mozzie net over the double bed.


We were to stay there, but were beaten to it by Juz and Dave who were actually going to do some work at Zazen. We all communed together in the main house, which spills into the garden with few walls, and Saeng cooked us a feast using mostly produce she had grown. Needless to say, the meal was delicious.


We had a wonderful, but brief stay at Zazen. We were again inspired but still very overstimulated and needed some respite from all our incredible learning. We are overbrimming with knowledge and experience and we've had little time to process anything. We needed to become wandering mammals again. We needed a desert, at least a communications desert, to cross.


We found it once we left Cooktown, stopping in for some supplies and taking off into the heat of the afternoon. Beside the cool waters of the Little Annan River we cooked some tucker,


 and set up camp in the open shelter there.


 It was hot riding to Lakeland the next day too,


where we stayed with a gnostic farmer and teacher, Gary, and his many animals.


Again we were nourished by lovingly grown organic food. Thanks Gary! Gary has been teaching Indigenous kids in the NT and Cape York for the past 40 years. One of his students was Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Gary drove us to the Aborignal settlement of Laura, passing a chia seed monoculture that had been planted across the old lands of the Uw Olkolo people.


It was in Laura that we came across and tasted for the first time the very rare native water cherry (Syzygium aqueum), specific only to Cape York. This tree was planted at the Quinkan Regional and Cultural Centre.


They were tart and needed further ripening, but we could see the potential once this fruit was further bletted or sun-dried for fruit leather. On leaving Gary in Lakeland we came across another traditional food of the region, only this time it hadn't been valued as food, rather wasted by speed.


The trauma of Queensland roads has had a considerable effect on us, and soon we too will join the speed brigade as we hire a car to drop down south for a considerable part of our journey home. In a car, which we call a city on four wheels – walled off from the dust, pollens, stinging critters, blossoms, calls of animals and their rotting kin, air conditioned away from the relentless sun and radiation glare from the bitumen, unaware of the deafening grinding of truck and caravan gears, the groaning of engines and the fear of cyclists and other creatures travelling in ecological time and space – we know we will struggle with our momentary participation in such madness and privilege.


But for the time being it's bums on well-worn leather. We climbed our first range on our southbound leg and took a breather here, looking down on where we'd come.


We shouted ourselves a $50 donga at the Palmer River Roadhouse, blowing our daily budget to pieces.


Talk about affordable housing! It would probably cost about $2000 to produce this elegant little shack. We got an early start to try and avoid the south-easterly headwinds that were picking up around 10am each morning. But there was no avoiding wandering cattle,


or playful dogs,


or the poetree of the place. A wordless blue sign nailed to a eucalypt is a very beautiful thing, but we couldn't resist embellishing it.


Then, another first. Native Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri).


The petals can be eaten raw, which we loved, and the roots are best roasted, apparently. Inside the pods of this bush is the kapok, which when dry makes an excellent fire starter.


We pedalled 60 km from Palmer River to McLeods River, soaked our tired muscles in the cool water and set up camp in the only truly shady sanctuary for hundreds of kms. Needless to say the birds, night and day, were noisesome and brilliant. We heard calls and songs that were strange and magnificent,


and we found other new fruits such as these on the Quinine Tree (Petalostigma pubescent), which were thought to contain the malaria fighting drug quinine, but actually doesn't according to a James Cook University study. The traditional uses of the fruit include holding the fruit in the mouth to relieve toothache and chewing the fruit to avoid pregnancy. The bark has been used to make an antiseptic wash and the bark and fruit used to make an eye drop.


We crawled into Mt Molloy. Do motorists feel headwinds? We can't remember. The publican at Mt Molloy let us camp at the back of the hotel for free so we obliged him by buying a few beers. Thanks Scott!


On the way out of town the next day we filled a bag with fallen Burdekin plums (Pleiogynium timorense), which fuelled us to Mareeba.


We travelled over 300 kms through old dry country from Hope Vale to Mareeba and we were frayed and ready to rest. We'd met online a man named Konrad through Warm Showers, and although he was not going to be there invited us to stay at his home. HE HAS A BATH, soooooo WE HAD A BATH! and went for a long walk around the streets picking feral tomatoes, overhanging citrus, horseradish leaf, mulberries,


and satinash fruit.


We left Mareeba and rode towards Kuranda. Some motorists had told us it was all down hill from Mareeba to Cairns, but it was nothing like it. To listen to motorists who don't ride bikes is a consistent mistake we've made on this trip. The cool and rainforested entry into Kuranda was a treat, after a shoulderless and hot hike along the busy Kennedy Highway, but the village itself was less than interesting. If you like tourist havens you'll love this place, but for us we high-tailed the tandem and long-tail out of there, after finding little but trinkets and shyster businesses. We headed up the range for several kms (with an emphasis on up) until we could finally come down.


After 45 kms of hard work we flew down the 10 km serpentine road to Smithfield. What a thrill! And fell into Cairns from the north of the city to stay with the lovely Sarah, Renee and Oscar, again. Just a few sleeps, a critical mass ride to a popular picnic and swimming hole,


and the return (from the sky) of the wonderful Zephyr!


After an absence of six months (in which time Zeph was playing for Ballarat U13s in the National Premier League, while being home educated by his mum Mel and our dear friend, teacher and poet, Peter O'Mara), we are once again five happy mammals on two bikes.


We hope you too, Dear Readers, are happy mammals enjoying simple pleasures with kin and loved ones.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The apex of our adventure: our week on Guugu Yimithirr country

Not surprisingly, for a people who depended for their existence on a detailed knowledge of their surroundings, Guugu Yimidhirr people were (and still are) marvellously observant and well-informed about the physical environment, master bushmen who note subtle differences between species of plants and animals and who know how to take advantage of their particular properties or habits. –– John B Haviland, 1980
It is thirty-five years since the anthropologist John Haviland spent time with his family on the red dirt (durrbil) of Hope Vale, staying with their friends the Jackos, working with Tulo Gordon to write down the old stories and archive some of the old people's knowledges. Now we too have had the priviledge to stay with a generous local family and meet the next generation of elders and knowledge holders. These past eight days spent with the Guugu Yimithirr people, guests of senior elder Tim McGreen and community elder Elaine McGreen, have been the pinnacle of our trip, not only because Hope Vale is our furthest point north, but because of what we learnt and what we shared with this remarkable community.


Wherever we cycled we were joined by a critical mass of Guugu Yimithirr kids, taking it in turns to ride on the tandem.


Tim and Elaine's grandson Zaymon and his friend Muundhu are knowledgeable spear fisherboys and they showed us how they dive (nguurmal-dudaa guuju-wi) in the river (birri) holes looking for crayfish (yilnggurr), jewfish (biguthirr) and bream (barrbal). Zaymon's sister Irie was never far from the action.


Tim spoke to us about the ecological importance of eels (biganh) in the upper catchments of rivers and said that Guugu Yimithirr people do not hunt biganh there as they 'keep the river flowing'. Only down stream should biganh be caught, he said. Tim also taught us about fire management. Small spot fires, burning-off grass (dulngga) and excessive fallen limbs, patiently carried out over many weeks and under the right conditions will reduce fuel load while regenerating and enhancing the bush, he told us. We saw evidence of this burning practice around Tim and Elaine's, 4 km east of Hope Vale.


We met Dora Gibson who runs the Hope Vale Knowledge Centre and she took us out to see the community orchard,


where we sampled Brazilian cherries (Eugenia uniflora) for the first time,


and witnessed the effects of Cyclone Ita in how they applied to this soursop (Annona muricata) tree.


We harvested a few mulberries (Morus) and collected mulberry leaves,


and the leaves of purple snakeweed (Stachytarpheta cayennensis), a common weed found around the town that we first encountered on Palm Island.


When we got back to the knowledge centre we made up a brew of the mulberry and snakeweed leaves and let it steep. We then handed out cups to several people working in the centre and we were each impressed with the taste of this refreshing concoction. The plants are reported to treat a differing range of complaints, but both tackle diabetes. Dora mentioned that the Great Morinda or cheesefruit (dugunyja) is juiced in the community to also treat diabetes. Dora's brother Clarry Bowen is another community member who carries an interest in and practice of, plant medicines. Patrick filmed him making up two of his regular bark brews:


We were also fortunate to met the wise and witty retired pastor, George Rosendale, at the age care centre,


and he spoke to us about three other medicines that were once commonly used. The first was dugong (girrbathi, munhaarri) oil, a traditional food-medicine which was also administered daily by the Lutheran pastor Schwartz (Muni) at the original mission at Hope Valley. The second was green ant (thinggan) juice, full of citric acid and administered to treat colds and flus and also used as a natural antiseptic whereby a host of ants are rubbed into the hands of spear and woomera (babaar) makers when working with the poisonous ironwood (biniirr). The third was fruit bat (thulgu, thiibuul, jungginh, gaambi) soup, which was administered to children for a range of health issues; the Guugu Yimithirr version of chicken soup (when chickens were happy free-rangers, ate a diversity of seeds, grubs, grass grains and insects, and were not caged, pumped full of hormones and bathed in chemicals). The Guugu Yimithirr know that fruitarians, such as fruit bats, make excellent food medicine.


Pastor George lamented that much of the old peoples' knowledge was becomming lost, but we saw in the younger generations something quite different. We met Neville Bowen, Clarry and Dora's brother who holds the knowledge of fishing spear (banyjarr) making and hunting. We were impressed to learn about the exacting science and art to making a Guugu Yimithirr spear, each one weighted to the spear thrower's arm reach.


The babaar is made of the extremely hard timber ironwood and is also used as a fish scaler and a hatchett for opening coconuts. The tar from ironwwood root (ngurran) is used as a glue on both spear and babaar.


Neville's medicine tree that he prepares in the same way as Clarry is the rubbertree or bally-gum (gundaar). He uses this bark medicine for toothache, high blood pressure and broken bones. Each day we were more and more impressed with the knowledge holders in Hope Vale and the seed was planted for us to one day return to make a film archive of all the diverse knowledges people hold in the community and to honour the likes of Pastor George and the Guugu Yimithirr ancestors (muguulmuguuul) by demonstrating that ecological culture and knowledge remains strong, as we also witnessed at the Hope Vale Arts and Cultural Centre. A traditional axe (warrbi) was one of many things exhibited.


Dilly bags (ngunyin, bayji) and other woven bags for either collecting, straining or for leaching toxins out of plants are still made in the community. Tara Zaicz is the business mentor at the centre, and is also a passionate advocate of new cultural forms and expressions in the community.


We went on many walks and discovered a number of plants that Guugu Yimithirr people use for both sustenance, medicine and culture, such as these bloodroot lilies (tandai, jijiran). The roots were dug up, peeled and boiled to produce a brilliant red dye used to colour grasses for basket and bag making.


We also sampled Bloodwood (babatha) apples (Cystococcus sp.) for the first time. A delicious bush tucker that's out in the bush in abundance. You take the top off the 'apple' of this little woody parasite to reveal the sweet jellied larvae (insect gall) that you can eat with the moist inner lining, which is a little like coconut flesh.


Over the weekend Tim and his family went up to his father's country at Jack River (barranhtha), north of Hope Vale for a few days and we stayed back and looked after the farm and hung out with the family's dogs (gudaa, ngaatharr), including Jimbo the dingo (gudaa yinil, ngamu ngaatharr).


When they returned they brought back a wild boar (bigibigi), a newcomer species that has joined the long list of local bush tuckers Guugu Yimithirr people regularly eat.


On our walks we also discovered evidence of more traditional foods consumed in the near coastal community; the dogs leading us to a site where we found sea turtle (guugu) shells (digirr).


We also learnt that termite mounds and ant hills (bugul) were prised open, the eggs were eaten and the termite dirt was used as fish burley.


All of this food and all of this knowledge enacts lifeways that are health giving, economically independent and non-polluting. In the Hope Vale store, as we found in the government owned Palm Island store, the exact opposite takes place:


Western food (leached of any significant nutrition and thus requiring the purchase of synthetic medicines to accompany it) is probably the greatest threat to the Guugu Yimithirr people, as it is throughout indigenous (and non-indigenous) communities worldwide. In the face of billion dollar ad campaigns and the addictive nature of refined sugar and other impurities, local food and medicines have lost their cultural status, so that directly-picked local foods, such as these delightful satinash (Syzygium fibrous) berries,


and the slow ripening Native Monstera (Rhaphidophora pinnata), have become strangers to young people, such is the legacy of economic and cultural assimilation.


On our last night Patrick was invited to go along to the men's group. After being shown the various things made in the workshop and speaking with the men about bush foods, fire management and the NRL, Pastor David arrived and got us all singing a hymn. He then announced that the subject of discussion for the night was to be 'fear'. He proceeded to talk of the possibility of terrorist attacks in Australia and, remarkably, even Hope Vale, he planted the seed of the possibility of public beheadings, he spoke of trucks carrying fertiliser that could be used for making bombs and he spoke about placing our faith in Jesus to protect us from all of this evil. Fairly soon it became clear that fear wasn't the subject but rather the intention of the meeting. Patrick was not sure who this informal sermon was really for.


While some folk want to continue to manipulate Aboriginal people, it is our intention to be wholly manipulated by Aboriginal lifeways, especially as they apply to land, more-than-human kin and non-monetary economics. As one bama said to us a while back, Adam and Eve could not have been blackfellas because Adam would have eaten the snake before the apple. Our intention for visiting Hope Vale involves our attempt to rebuild our own ecological heritages within our household and freely share our findings. We wish to reinstate the principles of indigenous regenerative (ecological) economics and transition away from extractive (pollution) economics. In the space of a relatively short time we were treated to a rich trove of knowledge in Hope Vale, and were lucky enough to be welcomed and trusted by many in the community. Woody was given a barrabarra bean (yulnga) shaker, one of the things some of the men make in the workshop. It delights him daily, then after the men's group, Tim and Elaine put on a farewell dinner for us with some friends and family.


Meet (from left) Bryanne, Christine, Rick, Elaine, Deltone and Tim. We invited our lovely hosts (mayi-gujin) to come and be our guests in our community when we return. We hope they do. And as we have found pleasure in geebungs and wompoo doves in Guugu Yimithirr country,


we hope our new friends will experience the delights of yam daisies and blue wrens in Jaara Jaara country. Leaving Tim and Elaine's home and the community of Hope Vale meant that we were finally turning south after ten and a half months of northerly transiting. Thanks Tim and Elaine, our week with you has been a highlight of our trip.


And many thanks Hope Vale for having us on your country, teaching us your language and sharing your knowledge.