Sunday, 6 April 2014

Novel fruits, roadside memorials, tiredness and general life making (from Coffs to Lawrence)

We left Coffs Harbour and headed north along the Pacific Highway, passing banana and blueberry plantations and,

sadly, more visions of life interrupted.

We met a family from Woolgoolga at Steve Hill's skydiving centre and they invited us to stay with them. Woolgoolga, we found out on our arrival, is home to a large Sikh population. According to wikipedia nearly 13% of Woolgoolgians speak Punjabi at home.

The name Woolgoolga comes from the Gumbaynggir word Wiigulga, meaning black apple (Planchonella australis) and not lilly pilly (Syzygium) as wikipedia suggests. Out on the headland we joined the local hunters to try to snaffle some autonomous ocean food,

to bring to the dinner table at the Feeney's.

Meet Mark, Vivienne and Denise. Mark is a teacher and musician who plays a mean tin whistle in a folk band called Headland. Vivienne is studying for her HSC, and Denise's passion is the circus.

She gave us a couple of stellar backyard performances of aerial acrobatics, while Woody worked on the hoops.

It was at the Feeney's, under their paw paw tree and passionfruit vine, that Artist as Family first sampled starfruit (Carambola).

A mildly astringent but nonetheless delicious fruit native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, that is grown locally in Woolgoolga, no doubt as a result of the local Sikh population. After a couple of restful nights with the Feeney's (thank you! thank you!) we bid them farewell and headed for Red Rock passing more signifiers of loss on the Pacific.

We arrived at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the late afternoon,

where we met the delightful Kim, a Gumbaynggirr woman, and bought some dried bush tomatoes (Solanum diversiflorum), which we tossed through the evening's pasta dish a little further on at Red Rock.

The local Garby elders call Red Rock 'Blood Rock' because of the massacre of their people by Europeans that took place in the 1880s. Thankfully today Aboriginal culture remains strong in the area. Bush tomatoes, a food traditionally found in more arid parts of Australia, have a sweet, mildly spicy flavour. After dinner we went in search of a camp site, which we found on dusk and hurriedly set up while being predated by the local mozzie population. As Jake Cassar taught us back on the Central Coast, Aboriginal people burned the leaves of native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) to keep mozzies afar, but lighting a fire would have given our game away in this country of incessant prohibitions. The next morning we woke to a flat tyre and a heavy dew that permeated throughout all our bedding. We are always dry inside our tents under heavy rain, but condensation knows no barriers.

So it was a late start in getting away by the time everything dried. We sensed we couldn't stay where we were camped after a couple of locals expressed their disapproval of our chosen lodgings. So we left Red Rock,

and jumped back on to the Pacific, with no other choice of road to push north to Grafton. It was to become a very long and draining day.

Meg and Woody were sporting a cold, Meg was still fighting off a UTI, our tyres were deteriorating after nearly 2500 kms and kept puncturing, we had numerous patches of dangerous road with little shoulder to ride on, and to top things off we had a stiff headwind for the entire way. It took us a whole day to ride a mere 50 kms. It was one of our hardest days yet.

We cooked dinner at a free BBQ facility and sneaked a camp spot in an arboretum originally planted by the Grafton Girl Guides, near the local tennis courts.

We had only a morning in Grafton, purchasing and fitting new tubes and tyres. It was fairly hot by the time we rode out of town in search of a place of rest.

On the quiet road out of Grafton towards Lawrence we stopped for a watermelon break in the shade.

This delicious melon cost a mere $2 bought directly from the farmer, across the road. Woody devoured his share with gusto.

It was such a relief to be off the Pacific and not having cars and trucks dominate our senses.

But even so, on this quiet road meandering alongside the Clarence River, reminders of the normalised brutality of fast travel prevailed,

in numerous forms.

But there were also forms of life suited to slow travel and slow food,

which was ironic as we began to pass more and more sugar cane monocultures, the most south this crop is grown in Australia. Hot and fairly fatigued we hobbled into the beautiful township of Lawrence, made a late lunch by the Clarence, enjoyed a rumble on the grass,

and were again hurried to set up camp, this time on sighting a formidable storm approaching.

We prepared camp, tarped over the bikes and walked up to the local pub. We had the priviledge of speaking with local cane farmer Rex, who claims his household doesn't use any processed sugar in their diet, and sings the praises of cold extracted honey, as we do. We also shared other environmental concerns, such as the toxic wastes of bottled water. He couldn't work out why greenies don't focus more on disposable wastes, especially plastic pollution, and couldn't work out why bubblers are not more widespread in Australia. We shared with him this link and this link to suggest that 'greenies' are doing this work, but that it takes more than a few activists to instill change. The next morning we woke and after a brief walk were gifted the discovery of ripe pecans (Carya illinoinensis), just fifty metres from our camp.

It was in hindsight that we realised we needed some golden find like this to rejuvenate our motivations for this trip, after some very draining days. Pecans are high in fibre, manganese, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and protein, and there is just so much pleasure climbing a public tree for food that has (more than likely) never been sprayed with pesticides.

We harvested a bagfull of these lovely nuts and eagerly cracked their shells to reveal the largest and most buttery pecans we've ever had.

We will stop now for a few days in Lawrence, whose postcode just happens to be 2460, to forage and fish and generally recharge our tired Daylesford (3460) bodies. There is something special about this place, and we like the way the locals encourage free camping (despite the local council's prohibition signs littering the reserves).

Thanks Feeney and Lawrence folks, thanks for giving us places of rest.

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