Over there

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hi there, if you hadn't already got the news I'm hanging around over at the Artist as Family blog for the next year while we conduct research for a new book called Free Food. In this book we aim to put together all of our experiments in foraging, hunting, gifting and swapping, low-carbon travelling, poaching, free-loading and generally living a very small ecological footprint in this very big country.

If you want to follow our adventures, please click on the Artist as Family link (above) and put your email address in the subscribe tab.


Contour ploughing (poetry, permaculture and P A Yeomans)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Packing up the house today. About to leave on a year's adventure. Dipping into old notebooks. Stopping on this page. From fifteen years ago. A hill in Musk, close to here: Contour ploughing.

A black shouldered kite
follows my spine –
scribed by a grader,
filled with coarse rock
pursues the depression
         contours of my
         tired back;
my blades
with sour grasses
of mid-summer
once covered in clover
           like my belly now
dark and wet
protected from the sun's west

The drawing and poem were very simply imagined sometime in my late twenties (the notebook entry is undated). A vineyard is now situated on this hill, but it has never been ploughed on contour to create swales for passive water harvesting.

Well before I was ready to know about P A Yeomans, permaculture, ploughs and poetics or my own political imperative of bringing back the digging stick, I was intuitively writing and drawing up the logic of rehydrating land through swales – spoon drains that follow contours and hold up rain water. All these years later Ian Milliss and Lucas Ihlein are focussing on these very relationships in a show called The Yeomans Project. They have asked Milkwood Permaculture, Taranaki Farm, (f)route, Diego Bonetto and us, Artist as Family, along for the ride. And we will be riding over 1000 kms to witness this project, leaving Friday.


Buckley and me

During my doctoral research I got to know William Buckley pretty well. As I was scouring material on him a friend, Maya Ward, recommended I read Strandloper, which is an excellent novel based on his life. I have called Buckley the first Australian permaculturalist (cheekily, in front of David Holmgren). Last year Southerly published my Portrait of the escaped convict who slowly nativised into a Wathaurong man over 32 years before Batman and co discovered him. The poem features in my thesis alongside this photograph painted by an unknown artist and undated. The painting hangs in the State Library of Victoria.

Today I was rifling through some images and I came across this photograph taken of me reading at the Victorian Writers' Centre (next door to the SLV) in 2011. I'm standing in front of my poem Step by step, which also features in my thesis.

An uncanny resemblance between permaculture poets? Buckley is important to me because he is a rare European who listened to and learnt from Indigenous land spirit and intelligence.


Jaara Jaara Seasons

Sunday, November 3, 2013

There has been a resurgence of thought about Aboriginal seasonality in these parts. My friend Tanya Loos recently launched in Daylesford her book Six Seasons in the Foothill Forests, which includes a dust jacket that folds out into this very special calendar:

In surmising the six seasons of the Daylesford region Tanya's sources were many and varied, including references from Jaara elder Uncle Brien Nelson. Her book will be launched at Readings Carlton this Wednesday 6 November at 6.30pm. Congratulations Tanya!

Then today, some friends and I went to hear Ros Bandt's Jaara Jaara Seasons, a Bush Sound Performance that took place in the Acoustic Sanctuary in nearby Fryerstown. A few hundred people came to listen. 

I first met Ros a little while back at Jude Perry and Uncle Brien's Bunjil Park where we both took a traditional basket weaving workshop. Today Uncle Brien's son Rick Nelson sang Welcome to Country accompanied by Ron Murray on didgeridoo.

Their short but powerful welcome led us into a diverse environment with diverse weather, bordering on six seasons in one afternoon.

Through multiple instruments and from several amplification points, sound, song and spoken work emerged. People moved through Jaara country, the work physically formed in us. Local birds and falling rain intervened knowingly.

As did a myriad of wild flowers, these particular lilies refusing to be captured as they danced in the wind.

The sound in the bush was restorative and nurturing. It enabled reflection and understanding. It didn't shy away from or disappear colonisation,

but more so provided a place for maturity. After the performance one friend commented that she wanted to get out of doors more often and listen more intently. I agreed and replied how I'm looking forward to living outside for at least the next year.

Congratulations Ros and her fellow performers: Rick Nelson, Ron Murray, Sarah James, Mary Doumany, Le Tuan Hung and Wang Zheng Ting.


Wanted urgently!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Publishers who understand ecological crises, monetary damage, and the imperatives of radical change. Publishers open to new models for human societies, who understand multiform and experimental texts, who get biodiversity and the relationships between food, energy and ecology. Publishers who are giving up on perpetuating anthropocentric pollution ideology and who promote the composting of hierarchical and unjust social orders. Publishers who value the reclaiming of low-carbon, regenerative technologies, thought and deeds and believe they can contribute to a future of aggregating uncertainty and struggle but nonetheless joy, resilience and intelligence.

If you know of any publisher that fits such a description please let me know.


Gariwerd boomerang

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

For a while now I've wanted to make a boomerang. A recent trip to Gariwerd became the perfect time to do it. I took a few basic tools with me and late one afternoon I set out from our camp to find an appropriate wattle limb.

Near to where Zeph, Gabe and I were camping I found a lightwood wattle (Acacia implexa) that had blown over in a storm. It was still quite green and I found a suitable part to cut out.

I then got to work with my small hatchet cutting a basic form,

before beginning work on shaving down the sides. Traditionally, a stone head axe of a similar size would have been used to shape such tools.

I then used the small saw to do some more basic shaping,

returning to more shaving until most of the wood was removed. A boomerang is the precursor to an airplane's wing and precedes this technology by about forty thousand years. It has a flat under side and a curved up side.

I then used my pocket knife to finely finish the boomerang. It flew well, but didn't return. Someone at the camp joked, if it doesn't return it is not a boomerang, it's just a stick. I needed some better advice than this so we headed off to the Brambuk Cultural Centre again.

We admired the traditional boomerangs in the Brambuk collection,

and booked in to the boomerang throwing workshop with Jeremy. He kindly gave some great tips on getting my next boomerang to return. He suggested that the shape of mine was generally used for ceremonies. Next time I will try to find an acacia root with a greater natural curve.

On no other continent did people develop a returning arrow. This ingenious tool really indicates an incredible intelligence. I have often heard it said that Aboriginal people purposely didn't develop their technology beyond their edible and ceremonial needs. This represents a mature sensibility to land and resources that the west (and its anxiety for innovation) could really refer to now.


Gariwerd bush foods

Monday, October 21, 2013

Zeph and I joined the Victorian home educators camp at Halls Gap in the Grampians this week. We came with a community friend Gabe and the two boys joined over 100 kids from all over the state (and further afield). For five days we experienced unpredictable weather, night games, wrestling, abseiling, rock climbing, new friend making, swimming, tiredness, ball games, bike-riding, sunburn, boomerang throwing, cuts and bruises and some autonomous food.

Blow fly grass (Briza maxima) also known as quaking grass
It is true spring, one of the six seasons in Gariwerd, and there is an abundance of edible flowering plants covering the ground. These are the traditional bush plants used by the original people and the newly naturalised plants that have come since 1788. Many are edible and/or medicinal. One favourite newly naturalised plant at this time of year is wild onion, otherwise known as three-cornered garlic or angled onion because of the triangulate stem shape. We found swathes of them along the path that runs into town and on to the Brambuk Cultural Centre. Great food for being on the go.

Three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum)
The garlic was growing near pockets of Milkmaids, a perennial herb native to woodland forests of southern Australia. The tuberous roots are edible cooked as potato and like yam daisies they are crisp and starchy eaten raw.

Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellate)
Everywhere throughout Gariwerd relationships between traditional bush food species and newly naturalised tucker are apparent. Common resources are shared between species who get along without ideological register or monetary warring.

Deer (Cervidae family) and Kangaroo (Macropod, meaning 'large foot')
We visited Brambuk and spoke with the knowledgeable and generous Blake, the chef at the centre's Bushtucker Cafe. Blake and I shared notes. He introducing me to some of his preferred herbs and spices from nearby and other regions of Australia,

Round-leaf Mint (Prostanthera rotundifolia),  Strawberry Gum (Eucalyptus olida), Wattleseed (Acacia sp) Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
and I demonstrated how to find desirable starch at the base of mat-rush (lomandra) leaves just outside the cafe. Lomandra is also known as basket grass and was used for traditional basket making. The seeds can be ground into a flour meal for cakes. The plant is a good source of vitamin C, iron and fibre.

Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia) a common source of starchy food
At Brambuk we also learned about uses for honey-myrtles. The local people called these plants Gutyamul. The scientific name is Melaleuca. The nectar was added to water to make a sweet drink. There are thirteen species of Melaleuca in Victoria and like all the Banksia species the flower spikes can be used to make a sweet cordial or a fermented beverage.

Honey myrtle (Melaleuca sp.)
We also learned about the traditional uses for grass trees and how the seeds were ground as flour and the stem was used as a fire-stick for the ingenious fire-stick farming that was common to all Aboriginal peoples. The resin was used to bond materials together such as stone spearheads to wooden shafts.

Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea sp.)
The walk to Brambuk and back to our camp was around ten kilometres. The sun beat down in the afternoon and we were talking up the need for a swim when we came across what I thought was an enormous bolete mushroom, but my mycologist friend Alison Pouliot (who knows the area well) believes it is Phlebopus marginatus. We placed a dollar coin on the cap of this big pore mushroom to give a sense of the size.

Phlebopus marginatus
While at Brambuk we also undertook a boomerang throwing workshop. A second Gariwerd post will follow on making and throwing a boomerang.


All Rights Relinquished

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

There is a colourful stoush going on at Overland about:

More virulent than MODERNISM
More critical than POST–MODERNISM
Read the full story inside!
Home, Stewart. Plagiarism: Art as Commodity and Strategies for its NegationLondon: Aporia Press, 1988.
Tipping, Richard & Mansell, Chris. Lessons for Plagairists (with a Special Proem by Bill Posters, Complete with Precepts and a Handy Compendium of Instructions)Sydney: Well Sprung Productions, 2013.

And more grist for the mill at Notes from the Sinister Quarter.


Now is the time to be hunting salsify

Friday, September 27, 2013


Artist as Family's new project...

Friday, September 13, 2013


Relations of learning

Monday, August 5, 2013

Taking our eleven year old, Zephyr, out of school has been a long-awaited blessing and I'm slowly developing a teaching method which is increasingly simple, involving only walking and being open. Learning can't be quantified when we happen across a jelly fungus called Yellow Brain (Tremella mesenterica). An old and highly sophisticated organism that attaches itself to its food source, this saprotrophic fungus, like most fungi, help decompose dead matter and turn it into soil. This understanding of life, this directness of contact with earthly processes, makes our walks about relationships.

Today we walked across the town's lake bridge and noticed the degrading pebble-mix concrete barrier and the lichen covered cherry plum and the grey melancholy of deep winter. Our blood and woolen warm engagement with these cold elements and our closeness together as father and son brought a quietness to us both. A simple joy that encouraged openness.

In the forest on the edge of town we noted that the numerous little mounds of rabbit droppings are partnered with an ancient moss (Polytricum sp.) and when we later bumped into a friend on his mountain bike traversing another part of the town's edge we learned that it is the buck rabbit that makes these little mounds as territorial markers, as nitrogenous cairns, that the spores of such moss so obviously gravitate to in order to make an easier life.

As we walked and talked of such connectivity, we discussed the many different type of relationships that exist in life – the mutualistic, the parasitical, predator-prey, the advantagious and the loving. None of which are exclusively human, as Zero, our kin dog Jack Russell likes to remind us in his own particular creaturely way, and who nearly always joins us on our homeschool adventures, using senses we've long lost but surely need to rescue.


Another place of simple feeding

Friday, August 2, 2013

Numerous birds come into our garden and share the bounties there. Some are rare and singular, others in great numbers come daily. Occassionally one or more of these abundant species, namely the seed loving fruitarians, occassionally become ecological food for us. We use non-industrial tools to hunt them, which usually means we shoot them with our home-made bows.

Autonomous fruitarians

As locavores we try to eat outside of the industrial food system because of the blind violence that can be attributed to that food supply. We know that autonomous birds are regularly killed and their lives wasted for the farming of vegan, vegetarian and omnivore fruits, nuts, pulses and grains. And, unlike modern agriculture, we don't believe in 'pest' species. Every organism that comes into the garden is an ecological player – the greater diveristy there is, the healthier we all are. This is permaculture logic, which is the opposite thinking to monological agriculture that attempts to scale up single species production in order to make food a predictable commodity.

We contend that if we can see our food – grow, forage and hunt for it – we have a better chance of knowing what species are doing well and thus are fair game. Industrial food, contiguous with growth capitalism, must waste resources in order to capitalise significantly on just one kind. We see this in industrial fishing where millions of tons of fish are killed in drag nets and routinely wasted because the market doesn't see them as desirable.

We argue that small-scale, simple tools, non-transported resources and accountable killing all combine to constitute a future model of food and culture sustainability, and we believe this theory, which we actively practice, will help us adapt to changes in climate, economics and fossil resources while also mitigate the adverse effects industrial resources cause to these things. This is essentially observing indigenous peoples intelligence worldwide and composting the myth that super-scaled, highly chemicalised transported agriculture will feed the world. This is a colossal myth of our time.

A counter argument to ours that always comes up goes something like this: If we all hunt and forage then there will be a quick depletion of these species. My response to that is: by forest gardening for most of our food and sourcing some from small nearby organic polyfarms, then supplementary foods can be gleaned, hunted and foraged for without significant depletion. We need to eat around 90% less meat and start getting localised animal proteins from many nearby places including insects. Additionally, if we stopped driving trucks and cars we would see a great decline in wasted mammal life on roadsides, and once we lessen the burden on the environment that superfarms have, then we will see greater abundance of autonomous species more broadly still. Industrialism takes so much to make so little.

We are arguing for greater accountability in resource consumption and this will help produce a leaner and cleaner culture.


Today's walk

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fifteen of us walked out from the Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre today for one of my four hour foraging workshops, bracing winter's cold ground joy.

Foraging workshop. Photo: Dave Cauldwell

We came across about thirty to forty autonomous foods including mallow (Malva) and wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum).

Mallow (left), wild radish (right). Photo: Dave Cauldwell.

The young leaves of acanthus (Acantha) can be eaten. The flowers and fruits (cheeses) can be cooked as a vegetable.

Acanthus. Photo: Dave Cauldwell.

Buckshorn plantain (Plantago coronopus) can be eaten raw in salads or cooked.

Buckshorn plantain. Photo: Dave Cauldwell.

Spear thistle root (Cirsium vulgare) is my favourite vegetable at the moment. Washing the clay from one in Lake Daylesford made a perfect end to the walk.

Washing spear thistle root in Lake Daylesford. Photo: Dave Cauldwell.

Especially after chopping up the root, giving it a splash with local (Captain's Creek) red wine vinegar and serving it out to the lovely crew who came on the walk today.

Patrick Jones' foraging workshop, Lake Daylesford. Photo: Dave Cauldwell.


More homeschooling adventures: more on appropriate technology

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Almost two years ago Zeph and I went out with a bow-making friend, Peter Yencken, in search of suitable bow timber. Peter had previously taught me how to make a bow at one of his workshops.

Not far out of town we discovered a small copse of Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). This small North American tree is excellent for making bows, as practiced by indigenous peoples of that country.

The fruit is edible but not that desirable, although improved by frost, as so many hard fruits are. The timber is extremely durable and as hunting, locavorism and accountable killing are high on our list of activities we wanted to make something well and long lasting.

It took us well over an hour to carefully cut out a log, which was extremely heavy. Peter took the small log back to his workshop and with a bandsaw cut two staves out of it. One for Zeph and one for himself. We then air-dried Zeph's at room temperature until yesterday.

Then, twenty two months later, we spent the day with a rasp slowly filing down the timber until it began to flex. We knew that you could easily go too far too quickly and end up with a weak or broken bow, so we slowly filed and tested, filed and tested, stringing the bow at times to test again the flex.

And then, just before dark it was ready. An arrow was placed in the bow string, aimed and flew lethally into the straw bale target. 

As we intentionally don't hunt with industrially made weapons we require old technologies and skill to supplement our mainly vegetarian diet with animal proteins. Our next project will be a boomerang, that ingenious 'arrow' designed to return.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

Appropriate technology is an ideological movement that encompasses technological choice and application that is 'small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled'. I'm not so sure about the desirability of labour intensity in this otherwise sensible list, that's why I forage, you harvest food that you haven't sown. My new root tool that I bought from a foraging, hunting, gardening, cooking shop in nearby Trentham, will enable us to more easily forage for autonomous root vegetables and therefore for non-monetised complex starches.

Tonight I cooked this little spear thistle root with dandelion roots in animal fat and salt. We'll be eating more of these delicious roots (related to artichokes), abundant in winter, now we have a hand tool that we can easily carry around with us. 


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