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.

9 comments:

  1. So beautiful reading how well you are all are and seeing your fabulous pics. Pig-face!!!!! Really?! I will have to try that one day. Love the bit on love and compromise and love seeing all your happy glowing faces. Continue to go well beautiful Artists as Family x

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    1. Thanks Annshar! The back of the pigface flower is the best edible part of the plant. Tastes like salty fig. Delicious. Sometimes the flower turns into a small red fruit, but we rarely see it in this state and we've not as yet tasted it.

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  2. Determined to master the Pig Face!! You lot are inspirational and super fun. A memorable visit! Always welcome...

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    1. We too Gerry! It grows splendidly. And likewise, we'd love to host you all down south after we return. Thank you for everything! Much love. XX

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  3. How beautiful, I am eating up your journey. I'm travelling myself and the kindness of strangers really transforms how you view a city. Looking forward to your next update!

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    1. Thanks so much for saying TDE! Yes, the kindness of strangers is transformative and seemingly endless.

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