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.