Monday, 17 June 2019

Towards post-colonial bushfire mitigation practices (using goats and hand tools)...

The Austrian painter Eugene von Guerard painted this in 1864. An early colonial image of the place our privilege calls home.


There was a rapid appearance of European peasant goat grazing, browsing and shepherding upon Djaara peoples' land at the moment when those who spoke old Dja Dja Wurrung tongue, and had survived the prior massacres, sickness and dispossessing intransigence of settlers (backed by the British nee Roman law terra nullius), were being forcibly relocated to Coranderrk.

Due to gold extraction, over grazing and then industrial-era forms of land management the wet gullies and creeks of Hepburn and Daylesford are now infested with woody perennial weeds such as gorse, broom and blackberry. While these plants provide useful ecological services – habitat, food, soil stabilising, etc – their dominance can diminish biodiversity and produce a fire threat each warming summer.

We've been involved in providing a climate-era response to this predicament that may be just more blind colonialism but ironically we think it is potentially a way back to the sort of land management practices of Djaara people. Using goats over a 4-year period as well as sensitive hand tools to diminish the dominance of weedy perennials, we believe we can begin to convert these steep stream ecologies back into perennial indigenous grasslands and ecology that will radically reduce bushfire risk.

As Goathand cooperative, we have just finished a trial collaborating with the Hepburn Shire Council and Federation University and the results are very positive. What we need now for this climate-safe weed and bushfire mitigation project to both upscale and outscale is broader government and community understanding of the succession process that could lead back to the possibility of Dja Dja Wurrung ecological burning processes, which have not been viable because of great stands of 2-3 m dry gorse, broom and blackberries that can climb fire up into eucalyptus canopies.

Below is Goathand cooperative's first film showing the trialling of goats and hand tools. Imagine this scaled up to 200-300 goats (permanently rotating around the shire so as not to overgraze until the dominance of the weeds are treated) and 10-15 human bodies with loppers and pruning saws for a few day's work here and there. The people labour is generally nominal because the goats are so effective, but the human labour and goat interrelationship makes a beautiful marriage (not just pragmatic but one of love) and moves us towards a significant post-industrial behaviour change. Very quickly the town's bushfire risk (Hepburn is one of the most fire-at-risk towns in Victoria) and weed cycle would be greatly diminished and no more glyphosate in our waterways or soil disturbing mechanical treatment or white-fella burning regimes, which all put the weed cycle back at stage one, dry out moisture in the soil and thus causes more fire-proneness. This is not ideal when temperatures are warming.


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If you're a journo and you'd like to know more about Goathand cooperative, please get in touch.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Teaching neopeasant lifeways (a love antidote to the Internet-of-Things-business-as-usual future)

OK, let's take the oak tree, for example. Air conditioner, alkalising leaf compost, fine timber, Green Man cosmology, edible tree crop, and a now sacred feral tree of our homeplace in southern Djaara country. Is such reculturing neopeasantry? 


Is neopeasantry the walking, harvesting, shelling, cracking, steeping, drying, grinding, baking and celebrating of acorns? For us honouring the fruits of this old deity tree as food and soil maker where both remain outside of an economic lock and key is precisely neopeasantry. Teaching this and the following skills, ethics and lifeways non-monetarily where the exchange is labour for learning, is what our School of Applied Neopeasantry at Tree Elbow University is all about.


The Permaculture Living Courses we've been running over the past year have been a radical experiment in education held in the centre of our family life. This is worts and all learning and sharing. There is no convention centre, no powerpoint presentations, no absence of non-human kin and children, dirt and rich microbial life, as Woody and his friend Fab (juicing gleaned crab apples) can attest.


Life is cooked, dried, stewed, fermented, stored and consumed, and so too are all the apples we can reach that haven't been eaten by our fellow friends of the non-monetary economies – the local fruit-eating birds.


Apples that come from the mothering earth are dried by the fathering sky within a gender fluid logic that is both ancient and present and calls the future to account. Apple cider vinegar and scrap apple cider vinegars brew alongside one another. Before bottling the strong vinegar and the weaker scrap vinegar they are strained and mixed together to get a strength we desire with minimal waste.


Neopeasantry is a physical life (no gym memberships required), and lifting heavy items (such as this basket of vinegar bottles to take down to the cellar) without damaging our backs is crucial in maintaining the capacity to perform such economy and culture, which keeps us fit.


Making sourdough fruit loaves using biodynamic spelt grain and our dried fruit, dried ground orange peels and some spices (purchased from the not-for-profit food co-op we belong to) means we can eat highly nutritional luxuries for around $2.50 a loaf.


All of our bread making occurs in a bowl and tins. We are too busy to clean the mess that benchwork requires, so we've adapted our method – stretching the gluten in the bowl every hour throughout the day (or when we're home), and doing the final rise in tins that will hold this incredibly wet loaf together. It's a 24-hour ferment that takes 12 minutes of our attention throughout the day and 60 minutes in the oven, which we fuel with bicycled and hand-cut tree waste.


We reckon our high-hydration sourdough (which costs $1.80 a loaf) is the "best thing since the return to unsliced bread," a favourite saying in our home. It is a locally grown staple (thanks Tania and Steve from Burrum Biodynamics for growing it) that even our gluten intolerant friends can happily eat.


The starter is made from Burrum rye and because of the diverse microbiology attracted to rye grain it always makes the starter (leaven) very active. Buying yeast, which must come in single-use packaging, is avoided when keeping a starter. So are the safe industrial strains of yeast that men in white lab coats have prepared for the money chasers since the 1960s. A starter becomes one of the household kin, it needs attention, love and regular feeding. Excess starter makes lovely crumpets, just tip it (like wet pancake mix) into a hot oily pan and cook off both sides.


For about 9 months of the year we make neopeasant cheeses and yoghurt from contraband local raw milk when the cows are not being rested. Neopeasants resist state encroachment into our lives and the ridiculous rules that come with a nanny state. We don't passively accept all laws. Many need challenging and resisting, especially if we are to live again in relationship with the cycles of abundance and limits that constitutes the living of the world.


Going without cheese and yogurt for approximately three months of the year bonds us to the cycles of the year and the need to rest, which enables us to appreciate these gifts of pasture and cow, sunlight and water even more. Yum!


Meg loves to teach from this important hearth of our home,


and also from this hub of the community – the free-to-learn Culture Club where wild microbes enable the possibility of what she calls 'community-immunity' without a single cent going to any pharmaceutical company.


Patrick teaches from other commons in the town – the Daylesford Community Food Gardens for one – de-privatising his food growing knowledges to any participant who sees the value of a community flow of gifts economy.


Banana passionfruit vine creeps slowly across the library garden, while the pumpkins spread out across the front annual bed inviting all to behold community food that is not under economic lock and key. Keeping away the encroachment of private interests has taken some work and even among permaculture peers has created tension. This model draws on traditional Djaara food and energy provisioning and our own peasant and indig ancestors', albeit not in the cultural or technical details, but rather in the spirit of keeping food and energy resources non-polluting and free from narrow self-interest. We call this community-provisioning or community-sufficiency.


Household-provisioning is the foremost economy for us. Neopeasant household provisioning requires broad self-interest. We grow it for ourselves, volunteers, friends and to trade with community but we do it in a way that is ecologically-integrated. Making cookies with seeds, oats and dried fruit we either grow, glean or buy through our local co-op enables us to eat non-packaged healthy snacks that cost very little money. A neopeasant economy is a time-rich/cash-poor economy.


Tending and growing tiger worms is integral to such an economy. These worms are soil makers and provide home-grown bait for more provisioning.


And if we don't catch a feral redfin at Lake Daylesford,


we might go home via the creek and bring a little yabby protein home to join the dinner.


Commoning is a big part of ours and a growing number of neopeasants in the town. This is Bluey, a mama Boer goat who through our participation as shepherds in Goathand Cooperative, we've got to know and love.


Ryan, a former PLC student, interested in alternative forestry practices, gives young Ella a cuddle. Ella will become one of the herd working sensitively and biologically to reduce fuel loads in the climate changing and thus fire prone forests around town.


Tess gives herd alpha Woodison a scratch while he's on the job in the Cornish Hill commons in Daylesford. Where these lovely mammals are standing couldn't be accessed for the 3 metre high blackberry a few weeks earlier. This photo shows you where they've got to.


Hand tool forestry is complimentary to the goat browsing. And planting useful trees, such as this strawberry gum (thanks John + Emmanuelle for the gift), into the commons has been something many of the PLC participants have done,


especially after multiple sessions of blackberry surfing.


Once again, this area was impenetrable before our board crushing (blackberry surfing) work, allowing Zero to do more rabbit hunting in areas that were too dense even for this little tough nut.


With each harvesting of the abundance of perennial crops at home comes learning. Little learnings about when to harvest, where to pick from, what is labour intensive, what is not.


A year's supply of brewing hops can be harvested by three people in a morning. Audréane shows her haul.


Some things we do still calls for money, such as the 3-hour house and garden tours we hold from time to time. While we're forever transitioning away from the hold and grief money once played in our lives we still require some.


Demonstrating the harvesting of garlic scapes on one of these tours raises awareness about growing your own bulbs and getting an extra feed out of them, instead of leaving the scapes on which will put the energy into the flowers instead of the bulbs.


Demonstrating the simple processes of humanure composting on these tours can encourage a transition from fecaphobe to fecaphile and a way forward in a peak phosphate rock era.


Recognising we are the largest mammals on our quarter-acre plot means our shit is out of the outhouse and back on the table,


via a very safe and slow method,


that is fool-proof once you know how to do it.


And this is our shit on our table. Beautiful produce enabled by a closed-poop-loop.


And this is what Zac, Tess and Audréane turned some of that goodly shit into.



Learning and making on the go is a big part of a PLC course, which came out of the teaching we were already doing with our SWAPs or volunteers. Many had said to us they'd done a Permaculture Design Course but it wasn't until they came here that all that theory was actually performed and they could see how to begin to embody it.


Keeping bees and making mead,


knowing the farmers who grow our staples, the earth processes given freely for us to make pasta,


to learn skills for life so our consumption is conscious and full of story and indebtedness,


and caring for the ecologies that make more living possible,


is the heart of neopeasantry, which is a deliberate refusal to follow the intransigence of global economic rationalism and all its waste, separations and despair. While the land on which we make this alternative economy has never been ceded, and we stand in the trouble of this, we have found that capitalist food, energy and medicine resources can be divorced with a little access to land and a lot of will, attention and care.

If you missed it here is ABC Gardening Australia's take on what we're doing. It's cheesy but generous and they reveal a complex story of economic and cultural change in simple and accessible terms, for which we are grateful. (If you're reading this in your inbox you'll need to click through to our blog to view it.)


There have been so many learnings, diggings, explosions, failures, accidents, fermentations, tears, discoveries, haulings, screamings, inventions, reclaimings, cuttings, upcyclings and salvagings to get to this point in our neopeasant transition. When we began we saw the internet as a friendly commons, that is before the dopamine engineers and greedy manipulators polluted it. So each year we contribute less and less to it, weaning ourselves off a digi-dependancy that further plays into the hands of powerful interests and their non-transparent algorithms and spying ways, the data of which they sell to third parties who forever try to claim our attention. 

With three course participants at a time and six two-week courses now complete this means that 18 students have completed a Permaculture Living Course with us. A big thanks to Marty, Cara, Teeka, Mo, Liam, Christy, Ryan, Claire and Lucille who came in the late spring and early summer months and Felix A, Felix L, Nat, Audréane, Zac*, Tess, Peter, Patrick and Tara who came from late summer to mid autumn. We hope you are all out there in your homeplaces stirring up big pots of microbes and trouble.

* Thank you so much Zac Imhoof for taking all of the beautiful photos above!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

White people dreaming (and performing other forms of culture and economy)

We saw out the year with greenkin friends, once again walking and pedalling the main drag of our home town for the 2018 Daylesford New Year's Eve Parade. 

(photo by David Jablonka)

It was quite a challenge to pull around 100kg of future community food on our e-bike. We community food gardeners were awarded money to dress our annual NYE float. By purchasing fruit trees and perennial veggies we once again steered arts funding into something deep-rooting.


This lil video will give you a feel for the parade and our contribution to it, for which we won the sustainability award. (Please note: videos won't appear in your inbox subscription.)


Yes, it's a strange time of year to plant dozens of trees, herbs and perennial veggies, but with our $100 prize money (Thanks Hepburn Wind!) we bought a new hose and established a watering roster so we can nurture these generous gifts through the coming hot weeks. A big thanks to the permie crew from Deans Marsh who strengthened our numbers and dug right in, joining the local permablitz working bee mob.


In late December we had a number of friends come and stay for the Melliodora solstice party, which eventuated in another form of spontaneous permablitz, this time a music video. Charlie (from Formidable Vegetable) came for dinner and he spoke of the possibility of a new video clip. We hooked him up with our mate Jordan (from Happen Films), added in a whole bunch of Artist as Family creative direction, garden and community peeps, and voilà, this was hatched:


It was another moment of spontaneous creation at Tree Elbow. Thanks to all the neopeasant solstice revellers who showed up and ensouled the morning; all we singulars numbering a collective effort with not a single dollar mentioned, spent or sought. An example of permaculture media-making at its best – and an antidote to typical white-people careerism, profit motives and meaningless content.

photo by Vasko Drogriski

In other news, the violet and rhubarb leaves at Tree Elbow are being frequented by these lovely Southern brown tree frogs (Litoria ewingi),


as well as common garden snails (Helix aspersa). While allcomer frogs, toads and froglets are more than encouraged to make their life in, through and around the garden, snails are gathered up in large numbers and fed to the chooks and ducklings, or we prepare them this way for dinner. Yum!


The ducklings certainly think so. Snails and comfrey leaves are their faves.

Photo by Amy Wagner

For Blackwood (much like the froglets, baby snails and ducklins), home schooling and home economics have become the same thing. Like us, most things he requires are non-monetised, but each of us have occasion to save up for things. A new guitar has been the motivator for this little market store.


But generally we try to make what we need, such as this fishing spear. Every occasion, every visitation, project and ecology


is another school for Woody. It is in these places where play, exploration and experimentation are given true homes. His education isn't evaluated or assessed. He is free to learn without anxiety or comparison. He is free to collate all his learnings and build upon them in his own time and way,


and with others, such as the children he is bonded to at the Make & Play bush school we hold. Here's Charlie again at the M&P end of year celebration. (Jumpers in late December? Yikes!)


And because of the expansive time given to him to learn, time to be, time to thoroughly explore what NAPLAN could never allow for a child, the rewards come, which only aid more learning,


where play making and knowledge building are all part of the same flow.


While his learning is mostly self-directed, he also absorbs his parents' knowledges, and they share with him what to glean and hunt and make bounties from,


while far away from the high country lakes


and productive gardens of home.


He observes the gifts that can be made from the abundant raw materials of our local terra. This wrist band was made by Patrick for Meg on her birthday. The lake is a special place for Meg, where giant-leaved newcomer NZ flax grow (great for cord making) and moulted breast feathers from oldtimer cockatoos are shed around the foreshores (thanks for the tip Kimshar!).


Woody observes the gifts and skills of other adults too, from musicians like Charlie, filmmakers like Jordan and Antoinette, and all the community gardeners to name just a few. Out of all the adults that generously pass on their trades, it is Jeremy that Woody calls mentor. Jeremy made this insulated oven window cover for us, especially for summertime cooking. It reduces the heat radiating into the house on the coolest day of the week when we bake bread, roast veggies and heat up our hot water.


We traded him a wild ferment brewing lesson, exchanging microbe knowledges for technical know-how. What we've found is that gifts flow, if generosity flows. A few years back Edward from nearby Adsum Farm gifted us some garden bed hoops. In spring they support a hothousing re-usuable plastic hood to get the potatoes going early, in summer they support a fine netting to keep the cabbage moths from destroying the brassicas.

Photo by Amy Wagner

Knowing what to protect and what to leave open to the multifarious relations of diverse garden ecology requires kinship with both domestication and wild entities – a subject Patrick will be speaking on with Claire Dunn and Maya Ward at the National Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne on February 9. And this subject is at the heart of why we hold the annual Terra Nullius Breakfast,


which acknowledges, accepts and seeks compassion for the history of this continent - a nation that has crippled symbiotic life by over-playing domestication's hand.

Terra Nullius stands at the heart of property relations in Australia and aggregating wealth division. When property is turned from a basic need into a predatorial industry, more and more people will suffer. We wrote this song for our friend Eka, a fellow Bentley Blockader, when we visited her on our travels last winter she spoke of the constant insecurity and powerlessness of her housing situation. Eka stood with thousands to stop the Northern Rivers from being fracked by greed's intransigence to common sense, giving her time and skills over weeks and months as a volunteer. While we dedicate this song to Eka, it is also for all people kept from having secure tenure over a little plot of land that can be loved, held sacred and given back to for the momentary time we dwell with and upon it.


If you feel passionate about this issue, please copy the link of this Youtube video and share it widely. Songs can be fertile seeds for change, even rough-cut home-brewed ones such as this.

Well, thank you Dear Reader, we hope we served up some nourishment and inspiration for you in our more or less monthly instalment. If you'd like come on a house + garden tour we've released more forthcoming dates. If you're interested in applying for one of our Permaculture Living Courses please watch this space, we'll be opening the applications for the spring 2019 courses shortly.