Friday, 21 March 2014

The roads more dangerously travelled: biking the change we want to see in the world

As our friend and mentor David Holmgren has said many times, permaculture is about creating (through a succession of considered activities) the world we want to see rather than banging on the doors of power in the hope of change.

When people ask us about our trip and after we give a brief explanation about what we are doing, they often tell us we are crazy. Some mean this in a complementary sense, some mockingly, others a mix of the two. A question we have been asking ourselves, and that often stems from such a comment, is why subject our family to the dangers of Australian roads that treat bicycles as second class citizens, or worse?

On the whole Australian motorists and truckies, despite the endless noise pollution, oil wars and streams of residual toxic chemicals they produce, are pretty courteous. The real danger is the state of the roads. While some legs of our journey have been made relatively safe by the state of the road,

others are decidedly not. Shoulders, not those things that branch out from our necks but those little lanes that run alongside the bigger, cleaner, wider lanes where first class citizens are able to travel in comfort, can either disappear in an instant, have never existed in the first place, are covered in sticks, litter, old tyre parts and gravel, blocked by a parked car, or are just too small to be of any value.

Shoulders, depending on their width, are either our best friends or our worst nightmare. They mean the difference between safe transit, terror and rage, or potenial premature death. We hear the concerns of others that we adults are subjecting our kids to potential life-threatening situations, but what are the alternatives? Stay at home, put the kids in front of the tele, drive them between school and park and shopping centre, teach them to be passive, riskless, conformist and more than likely overweight?

Despite the risks, we believe if we don't try to pioneer truly sustainable travel opportunities in an unfolding era of climate change, energy descent, bodily ill-health and environmental crises then those who have the authority to make the changes won't see there is a need. In other words if we don't try to create the bike utopia we wish to see in Australia by at least living a little of its reality, then it will never actually occur. This is our dangerous performance. Some parts of Australia are now more bike friendly and much safer because bicycle lobbyists (those who have repeatedly banged on the doors of power) and cyclists (by their physical and constant presence) have demanded the change. Many cyclists have also died during this transition of culture from industrial damage to material accountability (appropriate technology).

So come, if you're able, be careful and vigilant on our roads and highways, and join a critical mass of two-wheeled friends for change. Bicycling is a joyous thing, and there's nothing quite like bike travel with family and friends.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Coming of age: love and illegitimacy from Newcastle to Diamond Beach

Before leaving Newcastle and riding on the worst road of our adventure so far, there were a few things we needed to do. The first was to sing the praises of Lilly Pilly (Syzygium) fruit that we collected daily from the abundant street trees in Newcastle.

They were a particular favourite of Woody's.

The second was to catch up with an old mate, Chris Brown – a fellow artist, community gardener and super-fermenter. Here Chris is pouring us a glass of his awe inspiring home brew made from ingredients foraged within 500m of his home: dandelion, ginger, nettle, sugarcane and bramhi (Bacopa monnieri).

Thanks Chris! The third was to celebrate Zeph's twelfth birthday, with a cake he made himself,

and tickets to his first big concert – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – who just happened to be in Newcastle on Zeph's actual birthday.

The next morning it was away to the Stockton Ferry for we concert-weary folk, bidding adieu to all the sweet peeps we met and stayed with, high from the gig and the generosity of Novacastrians.

And we rode northeast away from the city, along a loud and crazed Nelson Bay Road stopping for respite after forty odd kms at the beautiful Noamunga Reserve where we brazenly pitched our tents,

much to the chagrin of one local who took exception to Zeph rabbiting for dinner with our fold down bow. He'd obviously been watching far too much tele and mistook a boy's joyous quest to live off the land for something dark and threatening. The two policemen who came to our camp told us rabbits are protected wild animals and we were in a National Park. Really? We thought rabbits were considered an environmental menace and therefore the sort of animal we should be hunting. Silly us. We were also challenged for camping on public land, and in no uncertain terms were told by the policemen they had the interests of the nearby property owners to protect. Oh boy, even what's left of the commons is subject to private property policing. We're obviously so naive regarding the imperatives of the state. We were however allowed to stay the night and woke up to this beautiful morning for our troubles.

A little rattled by the previous day's ride and the previous night's interrupted hunt and camp we headed to Nelson Bay to find a permissible place to spear fish, which was not easy in a marine park.

Ah, now we're starting to get it. We're illegitimate on public roads, on public land and in public waters. I think the law makers are trying to tell us something: don't move around without causing shit loads of pollution; don't free camp, you'll piss off the legit land owners and caravan park operators and don't try to eat off the land and be accountable for your resources, we don't want to upset Woolworths, Coles, Monsanto et al. Feeling a little depressed and feeling the strain of all this illegitimacy we turned again to the self-governing Warm Showers website and found this lovely couple, Brian and Doris, not far from where we were.

At very late notice Brian and Doris put us up for the night and we all slept soundly in their beautiful treetops home. Recharged and with a bag full of their home-grown produce, we rolled down to the ferry that was to slowly take us across Port Stephens to Tea Gardens.

We asked one of the crew if they knew of anywhere we could free camp. Try Winda Woppa Reserve, there are always free campers there. Great, a community of illegitimates, sounds like home, we just need to get across the drink to Hawks Nest.

So we crossed the Singing Bridge on our day's song cycle and travelled for several kilometers around to Winda Woppa past Hawks Nest where we put Woody down for a sleep among the freeloaders and mosquitos.

We found a camp site just in the bush from this gentle beach, perfect for spear fishing flathead and playing in the sand.

We camped a few days here as predators eating fish and as prey being eaten by sandflies and mosquitos. Inadvertently we became textile makers too. Zero and another dog found a recently killed rabbit and brought it to us.

By the smell of it this little being had been dead for quite a few hours and its death was quite a mystery. It was a good opportunity to give the boys an impromptu rabbit skinning workshop. Zero lucked in on the meat and offal as we skinned and scraped, washed and hung the pelt out to dry. After a couple of hours drying a labrador came onto the beach, found the pelt and gobbled it whole. That put an end to making a little fishing tackle pouch, but it certainly enlivened our thoughts about the value of such skins.

For our last breakfast at Winda Woppa we had porridge on the beach. With cooler autumn days, camp fires will become more and more possible. We packed up camp in a crazed shooing sandfly dance and legged it to Bulahdelah along the Pacific Highway.

It was in Bulahdelah we found a great little public park with BBQ facilities, so we cooked dinner with some locally bought produce and we set up the Artist as Family correspondence office,

before making camp at what we thought was a legit free camping spot on the Myall River.

However,  it turned out that this was a free camping ground for RVs and caravans only. Our legitimacy was a momentary illusion derived by refusing to read the prohibition signs. We can't have tents messing up the town, geez, we might attract unwashed types. Terrible stuff! We camped there anyway.

This anti-tent fascism sent us a clear message to move on. We had only come to this inland town because there was no coast road to follow. We left Bulahdelah, 12m above sea level, and climbed east up and down to this point of The Lakes Way, 165m asl, where we stopped for a fruit break.

Coming down the hills by the heavy weight of our bikes was exhilarating and we rested for the night at Boomerang Point at another sneaky camp spot that we found. The following morning we got chatting to a mum and her kids who were on their way to school. She asked us where we had stayed and we didn't beat about the bush. She then told us she was the local ranger and kindly invited us to camp at her place next time we were in the area. Thanks Katrina, you could have thrown the book at us, but instead you showed compassion and encouraged our travels.

A gentle flattish morning ride from Boomerang Point brought us to Forster. We hung out at the library for the afternoon putting Woody to sleep under a desk before heading down to the beach for a swim.

While at the library we met Glenn, a fellow cyclist and (we found out later) the council's general manager. He kindly invited us back to spend the night with himself, his wife Maryanne and son James. They cooked us a bonza meal, provided us with beds, showers and laundry and an opportunity to discuss the not-so-meritorious history of Monsanto from DDT to Agent Orange to GM foods. There's change in the air and it's no longer infused with Roundup. Thanks for your generous hospitality Glenn and Maryanne!

James, who is a student by correspondence, told us about The Tank, a place his older brother goes to spear fish. Despite an empty catch bag it was a snorkeling treat with a multiplicity of marine life all responding to the dramatic effects of waves and their tidal gods.

We liked being in this town and decided to spend another night in the area, so we crossed the exceedingly long Forster-Tuncurry bridge in search of a place to make camp.

We swam and fished and cooked up dinner before setting up our sneaky camp behind some bushes in a municipal park near to this very convenient public BBQ.

Everything was going swimmingly in our hidden camp spot until 1am when a series of pop-up sprinklers woke us and Meg and Patrick were up 'til all hours holding the rotating jets away from our gear.

While packing up the next morning we met a bunch of friendly volunteers from Tuncurry Dune Care who were weeding out Asparagus fern. This is Carl, who, with fifty or so others, has been aiding the restoration of the dune ecology in the area for more than a decade. We asked Carl if Asparagus fern is edible. He wasn't sure although told us it was related to the edible Asparagus officinalis.

As we have a passion for being the biological controls of domineering species, we were keen to find out the benefits of this invasive plant. Our initial online research was inconclusive, some saying the plant's berries are toxic to humans as well as to cats and dogs, and some saying the little starchy tubers are no more toxic than the tips of raw Asparagus officinalis. Certainly you could collect enough of the small starchy tubers in a short time to make a meal. We'll do some more investigation and get back to you on this one.

Another thing we have a passion for is passing on knowledges. Zeph has become a keen fisherman on the trip and here he shows Woody how to attach bait to a hook,

and here how to collect wood for fire or cubby making.

After another morning's fish we rode with our catch to Redhead (near Black Head) and found a perfect camp spot – flat ground, shade, privacy and drinking water nearby.

We cooked the fish on the beach,

before Zero gave Patrick a sound critique of his first draft Bulahdelah–Boomerang Point Holiday Family Cycle, the title ripped from Les Murray's magical redneck poem of a similar name. We have our friend Michael Farrell to blame for this grumpy greenneck poem in its infancy.

Patrick was made even more grumpy at Redhead when the fully loaded and very long tandem fell over while the front wheel was stuck in an inadequate sized bike rack, radically buckling it. ****! Then, just as we were deciding what to do, as if sent from the cycle gods themselves, local resident David Coyle wandered up to us. He was fascinated to see another tandem bike just like the one he rides; a bike he went halves in with his 80 year old neighbour who is now blind. What a joy it was to come back to David's home, meet his two girls Isabel and Lucy, their Isa Brown chooks,

listen to the story of his and neighbour Walter's tandem escapades, and stay in a little garden bungalow that David built from reclaimed materials.

The next day David took the buckled wheel with him to work in Taree and got the rim straightened at his local bike shop, enough so as we could get to Taree for further repairs. Thanks David, Lucy and Isabel, your home is certainly a sanctuary.

Despite all the by-laws and prohibition signs that constantly negate the possibility for sustainable travel, we are only able to do it with the help and love of people who share our common values and embrace our spirit for adventure.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Newcastle moment

Newcastle would have to be one of the most likeable Australian cities. 'Keep Newcastle Weird' was a slogan we admired on the streets. It is a great place to find your own sub-culture and it has a climate that sings to be lightly dressed and loosely behaved. The scale of Newcastle is probably the key to its liveability, and the coastline, which is highly accessible, is transformative.

We had made a few local friends from our previous adventure in 2009, but never fathomed making so many others this time around. Some of whom invited us to stay with them, like Fiona and Phil that featured at the end of the last post, and Michelle and Tom and their boys Sonny and Max, who put on a bonza BBQ on our first night with them.

This artist as family clan playfully call themselves Boghemians. Of an evening and in dream states, Zeph and Zero became part of the art of this vibrant home.

Riding through the streets we met stay-at-home dad Billy and his kids Charlie and Isabelle. They were riding around on a cargo bike Billy had brilliantly fashioned from mostly reclaimed parts.

Billy invited us back to his home where we were able to put Woody down for a long sleep. Billy and his partner Amy, briefly home from work, hosted us for lunch, while Charlie also had a snooze.

We stayed and shared meals with Suzie, Dom and Bowie,

a gorgeous family Fiona and Phil had introduced us to and who live near the Sandhills community garden. Suzie, Dom, Bowie and Fiona all help out in the garden, which has been growing steadily for eight years under the direction of this remarkable person, Christine.

After a week of couch surfing and rich social life we decided to hang out for several days in Awabakal country. We headed south, climbed some hills and set up camp in Glenrock Reserve,

a two kilometre beach walk to the Glenrock Lagoon, where there was fish to catch,

and coastal greens to gather and cook.

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens), we have found, is not always palatable. Sometimes the leaves are very astringent and leave an unpleasant film on your teeth. The best we've tasted them is when we've gathered young leaves and cooked them well on a fast heat with fish. We are realising we could live well on just fish, coastal leafies (Warrigal greens, Bower spinach and Pigface) and one or two other things. But there is still so much to learn.

The key is camping close to these food sources, something not always possible when the population is large. After three nights at Glenrock we again, by chance, met another lovely family who invited us to stay with them. Meet Gavin and Beck and their kids Barney and Lottie.

Gav and Beck had cycle-toured throughout Europe pre-kids and were intrigued we were doing it in Australia with children. We traded notes around saftey and the improvements local governments need to make for cycling to become a more dominant mode of transport. When car lanes become exclusively bike lanes we will start to see more and more people on the roads commuting, touring or just pollutionless having fun. Afterall, we may as well adapt now, the end of oil is on its way as our friend Charlie McGee will happily tell you.

While exploring Newcastle we came across this sand filter just off Nobby's Beach. It is designed to process the pollution from cars and stop it from entering the water catchment and the beach.

The sand filter's storyboard lists the lethal 'cocktail' of chemicals that cars produce (including lead, nickel, chromium, copper, P.C.Bs, Manganese, Zinc, Cadmium, P.A.Bs, Oil and Grease, Dioxine, Sulphates and Detergents) that end up in our streets and in our environments. With this list alone how are cars legal?

Is it possible to work towards industrialism's end, not just through scholarly texts but actually lived? We say Yes!

But love miles (or love kilometres) are sometimes difficult to reconcile, as we too are finding. Because of the power of fossil fuels people have spread out around the globe. Meet Zeph's lovely mum, Mel, who is Woody's guide-mother and who lives in our home community over 1000 km from Newcastle as the ravin flies (there are no crows in Australia).

Throughout our year of supposedly low-carbon travel, Zeph will return home to see and stay with his mum on a number of occasions, and this will generally mean a number of highly polluting transits. AaF gave up air travel the year before we became carless in 2010, and even though the overall trend for us is a slow movement away from fossil fuel dependancy we can't help but compromise at times, especially for love. Marrying values of care for the earth with care for each other does at times create contradictions. This is typical of transition, but it doesn't undermine our household's challenge of moving to a low-carbon existence, and teaching our children the skills and ethics to do so. Imagine if the norm in our society was to walk, ride and catch public transport, and cars were the exception?

The last time we were in Newcastle we flew here to take up an artist-in-residence project at the Lock-up Cultural Centre. We loaned bikes from the Newcastle Bike Ecology Library and became friends with Gerry Bobsien, the then director, now chair of the Lock-up. It was Gerry and her family that we had originally come to visit in Newcastle this time, but it took us a few weeks to hook up as we were inundated with chance invitations to stay with generous others.

Gerry (far head of the table) and her youngest child Polly (close head of the table) introduced us to their friends Rhiannon and Steele (either side of Polly). Rhiannon is one of the art teachers at Polly's school, the Newcastle Waldorf School, a school that actually allows children to climb trees, hug calfs, get muddy, learn about growing food and making great things, like canoes. Zeph and Polly really hit it off,

and Zeph was keen to go to her school the next day. Rhiannon and Gerry arranged it, and after a day of immercing himself in probably the happiest school he'd experienced, the rest of the AaF were then invited to spend the following day talking to students about our trip and our practice. We spoke with Rhiannon's awesome art class about making performative ecological and activist art.

We spoke to the year 10 students about renewable energies, the history of oil, and why we're travelling around the country on our bikes. And, for Polly and Zeph's class, we took a foraging walk, identifying dandelion, chickweed, flatweed, wild strawberry and spear thistle.

Polly's dad Jeremy (above) is also a teacher at the school and responsible for teaching children to make all manners of things from wooden spoons to functional canoes. The AaF don't usually endorse schools as places of learning fit for the future, but this school is definitely an exception. The students are happy, relaxed, fulfilled and are allowed to be children. The staff are also treated well and that seems to reflect how they then teach. We were invited to one of the staff's delicious and life-affirming lunches,

which was concluded with some delicious, in-season baked fruit. This is when gift economies are at their best; when both parties are generous and both recieve beneficial gifts.

Because Zeph's twelfth birthday is almost upon us and we're away from his mates from home, he and Polly got to work to throw an impromtu (no gifts) beach party,

inviting all the kids in Polly's class. The weather, however, had other plans and not everyone braved the cold.

Some of us hung back from the water and got into the serious business of eating.

We'll be very sad to leave Newcastle and all our old and new friends, but our time in this lovely centre is coming to a close. We have once again what we call itchy pedals, and feel the call to part company with settled life and get on our freedom machines and sail north.

What ever you are doing and however you are travelling we hope you have gentle winds in your sail.