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a writer’s day

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Life has become more highly ritualised now that production of my doctoral creative artefact – my permaculture travel memoir – has begun to ramp-up.

In the morning, it goes like this…

5am or 5:30am rise. Empty potty (it’s too far to walk outside to the composting loo during the night). Get dressed. Wash face. Boil kettle. Pick fresh sprigs of mint; dodge bees drinking from flowers; brew pot of mint tea. Simultaneously brew a fresh cafetiere of coffee… carry both into the writing studio, place them on the heat-proof ceramic tile on my desk. Back to the kitchen to fetch a mug.

How can I impress upon you the importance of choosing the right mug? Which one today? So much depends upon it – the success of the written word.

Shall I choose this one or that? The green, or the midnight blue Japanese mug… the mottled, sandy-coloured oldies that came with the house… or my favourite, the cream-coloured Korean mug with the picture of the purple and yellow plums on the side?

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Start work.

Three to four hours of generating ‘fresh’ words. I call this process ‘seeding’. It’s how I flesh out the narrative and get words down on paper.

Break. 

Usually about 1 hour, during which I undertake a combination of the following: wash dishes (whilst listening to Margaret Throsby’s midday interview); make bed; browse the garden; eat lunch; prepare the evening meal.

Afterwards I resume work for another 2-3 hours. Time to edit the ‘old’ work I produced last week during my ‘seeding’ sprees. I call this part ‘weeding’, though sometimes it’s more like turning over the compost, trying to make the various elements disperse and break down more evenly. Integrate. Obtain a fine tilth. A perfect growing medium.

The final hour is of gentler, less intensive work. Sometimes it’s note-taking from secondary texts I’m working with: travel memoirs; natural histories; permaculture handbooks; or ethnographies…  This is the most brain-dead part of the day, reserved for things like notetaking or backing-up. 

Eventually, it’s time to finish. How to break the intensity of the day? 

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I try to leave the studio neat and tidy for tomorrow. Coming into an orderly space helps. I neaten the piles of books, pages, pens, drafts and drafts of drafts. They’re piling up. Soon I’ll have to confront them and file them away. When the doctorate is over I’ll probably mulch the garden with the seeding pages. I’ll be eating my words!

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Permaculture Traveller launched!

Dear friends,

Welcome back to typo traveller! After a twelve-month hiatus I’ve returned. Time to set in motion a new phase of life and along with it, a new phase in the life of this blog.

As you might already have noticed typo traveller has undergone a name-change. From here on in I’ll be conversing through the mouthpiece of Permaculture Traveller.

Why the name-change?

Because life changes. I’ve changed. You’ve changed. We all change. Same same but different.

In terms of the ‘old’ name…

I’m still ‘typing’ – typing harder than I’ve ever typed before.

I’m still prone to ‘typos’ (there’ll be ample evidence of this in this post, as well as future posts)

And (this part is a bit more of a stretch of the imagination)… I’m still travelling.

Okay. I’m not. But I am. Bear with me while I explain…

Typo Traveller was inaugurated as a travel blog. A blog to travel with. It accompanied me on an epic journey overland (no flying!) from England to Morocco, and from Morocco to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia (…okay, I’m gloating…), Russian, Kazakhstan, China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand (…still gloating…), Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and eventually ‘home’, to Australia.

Then… well, the buck stopped there.

For a time.

18 months later I am no longer travelling. I am the co-keeper and cultivator of a home and garden in the Obi Obi, Queensland, Australia.

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And, I’m a scholar!

Remember how I fled Australia for India in 2007 to avoid doing a PhD?

Well, you can only flee destiny for so long. In my case, six years.

After a prolonged period of waywardness I’ve re-joined the academy. I’m an unconfirmed Doctor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) candidate with the Faculty of Arts and Business and the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

So far I’ve completed one year out of a three-year full-time program of doctoral research.

The concept for my doctoral research is to write a permaculture-travel memoir about the flightless journey that my partner and I undertook in 2012-2013. The creative artefact will be called Seed: The Art and Mystery of Permatravel.

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Part of the joy of conducting the research is that it allows me to continue travelling. In my mind.

Every day, my imagination sallies forth from its situated, embodied habitus within my body (which I leave behind, for practical reasons, in my writing studio), and returns to the places that I visited over the course of my journey.

For me, writing the memoir is an opportunity to imaginatively re-inhabit the places I visited during that journey – and reconnect, (yes… still imaginatively), with the remarkable people whom I met – the many WWOOF, Couch Surfing, WorkX and AirBnB hosts – and the diverse landscapes I inhabited with them: fincas, farms, cottages, islands, mountains, gorges, cities…

I want to learn more about those people and places, supplementing my experiential knowledge with book learning on cultural history, natural history, political history, folk lore, environmental anthropology and ethnoecology.

The narrative I will be writing is not only about the art and mystery of permatravel, it is about how people meet their needs ‘for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way’, and how gradually, over time, people integrate harmoniously with their landscape.

Here’s where permaculture comes in.

The definition of permaculture outlined by Bill Mollison (2012, pp. ix-x) in Permaculture: A Designers’ Handbook is as follows:


 

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way…
                       The philosophy of permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.


The innovation of my research is that I’ll be applying permaculture design to the process of researching and writing a permaculture-travel memoir.

What I am attempting to do is develop a blueprint of an integrated permaculture-writing practice: to develop a form, and a process, that works with, and responds creatively to the twelve principles of permaculture design and which exemplifies the permaculture ethic: ‘earth care, people care, fair share’.

The twelve principles are:

Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Produce no Waste
Design from Pattern to Details
Integrate, Rather than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions
Use and Value Diversity
Use Edges and Value the Marginal
Creatively Use and Respond to Change

You’ve heard of people ‘doing’ permaculture on landscapes? Well, I’m ‘doing’ permaculture on a creative arts product – a memoir.

How is it going to turn out?

I’ve no idea.

But if you’re keen to find out, come along with me for the ride. Deviations welcome. Road-blocks expected. Delays inevitable. Arrival… a far-off but enchanting possibility.

 

NOTE: If you’re working on a similar project, or if you’re somehow engaged in the practices of writing, permaculture or travel, leave a comment and let me know what you’re up to. This blog is all about observing and interacting with what’s going on around me, and learning (graciously) to ‘apply self-regulation and accept feedback’ (the 4th principle of permaculture design). See you on the road…

 

 

 

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my country

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On the outskirts of Charters Towers giant mango trees appear, signalling with their torrid green foliage that we’re back in habitable country. The returning sight of veggie plots and herbaceous borders quiets me. I wave goodbye to the Outback. Not long now ’til the sea.

After the parched, upstart ugliness of Mt Isa, Charters Towers is paradise: well-proportioned civic stone buildings line the streets, vying with one another for shoulder space and the largest share of generous Queensland winter sun. Tidy bakeries, hardware stores and cafes crowd the pavement, offering their assurance that, in Charters Towers, the scaffolding of a well-functioning civic community is still intact: every tile, masonry block and wrought iron bannister attests to the gravitas of the town’s rich cultural history.

The nexus of streets at the heart of town is awash with people: good, simple folk out for a stroll with dogs, or gone to fetch the morning paper for an elderly aunt or neighbour. I have a brief but compelling urge to throw myself on a pink iced finger bun; the kind you only get in really really uncouth Aussie bakeries.

Around the corner, a group of mourners spill out of a church, down the pavement, smoking cigarettes and scuffing their shoes, looking nonchalant; heedless of their grief as they keep one another company under the flimsy canopy of the bus shelter. A contingent of police stand ready, watching for signs of dissonance. In our white-man van we glide, slower than Kennedy’s black limousine, past the mourners, wondering what it is all about, who has died, and why the police feel it necessary to be present.

At this rate, there are two hours remaining until we reach the East Coast; two hours to rescind my old values and re-form my opinions of my country, myself.

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An 18-month journey is coming to an end. In a matter of days I’ll be home. The conscious process of re-configuring, re-inventing… over… for the time being, superseded by a string of expenses, reunions, outings, job-seeking, home-making. With the strictures of arrival firmly in mind I draw my awareness back to the present: to the space I am occupying in Norman’s car; to the sight of the mourners and the giant waving branches of the mango trees of Mt Isa, who have seen it all, and survived.

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ratatouille on the balcony – Couch Surfing in Townsville

The following night, on the balcony of Steve’s apartment in Townsville, Richie and I are privy to an impromptu recitation of Dorothy Mackellar’s ‘My Country’. Headmaster Kevin has put away all reserve and is up on the table amid bottle tops and discarded empties, reciting lines of Australia’s most iconic poem. After a confident first verse, Kevin loses nerve, bolstering his bravado by forcing us up out of our chairs, onto our feet, goading us to repeat after him:

I love a sunburnt country

A land of sweeping plains

Of rugged mountain ranges

Of drought and flooding rains

I love her far horizons

I love her jewelled sea

Her beauty and her terror

The wide brown land for me.

Caught midway between the novelty and splendour of this rash, drunken moment, I look about at the faces around the table, feeling faintly uneasy to be participating in such a flagrant show of patriotism. Glancing across at Richie’s animated schoolboy face I wonder, what meaning, if any, the words have to him: a visitor of 10-days to this country.

Hearing the words shouted wilfully, late, on the balcony of a suburban home feels wonderfully affirming, wonderfully Australian! I am bemused to hear the Maltese, French and English persons in our midst affirming their love of and allegiance to this ‘wide brown land’. I feel involuntarily moved by the image of my country that the poem conjures; brown foliage, dry creek beds, expansive vistas – the aspects that make it unique, different to the ‘green and shaded lanes’ and ‘ordered woods and gardens’ of the world from which my ancestors (at least some of them), came, and in some cases, fled.

Since our arrival in Darwin 10 days ago, and our journey through the Outback, Richie and I have heard a lot about what it means to be Australian. We’ve heard plenty of points of view and a fair bit of nonsense. I’m anxious about the impression my country is making on Richie and keen to make amends.

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roo balls – Richie embraces ‘Australian culture’

That night, on the balcony in Townsville, Kevin’s performance is followed by a lengthy discussion of what it means to be Australian. I’m among friends and as an absentee of six years, want to know what the hell is going on in my country; why my fellow Australians are hell bent on erecting a razor wire fence along our borders to keep the ‘good’, ‘worthy’, ‘legitimate’ citizens in, and the ‘greedy’, ‘opportunistic’ migrants out.

I hold my breath and listen to what my peers tell me.

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DARWIN: kiss the earth

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

– JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings –

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The adventures of Froddo Baggins in Middle Earth; the march of the Ents; the last stand of the people of Gondor; the casting of the Ring of Power into the heart of Mount Doom… I hug the thousand-page book to my chest and thank the muses (and Tolkein) for the gift of The Lord of the Rings. The only thing gripping me as tight as the narrative is the embrace of the Timor Sea. Never had a less-gentle hand rocked my boat.

A four metre wall of water looms above the pages of the book, pitching us up and then down into a steely grey chasm. The bow-sprit is planted two metres deep into the steely grey surface. As the boat rights itself a freshet of water, quick and lively, swoops along deck, dropping with a gurgle over the back of the boat. Keith is queasy. Lea is immured in her cabin, and Richie is summoning the power of music to dispel the black clouds of fear. The passage from Dili to Darwin was never going to be the most comfortable leg of the journey. I wanna go home…

72 hours after our showdown with Jayco Island and the tempestuous Timor Sea we limp into Darwin Harbour. There’s little savour in the cry of Land Ahoy, though Richie means it – thoroughly. At 12 nautical miles the coastline of the Northern Territory comes into view: a thin layer cake of red sand and uniform green icing. After another couple of nautical miles a city of fledgling skyrises appears. It’s no White City of Gondor but it’s as welcome a sight as Bag End is to Frodo at the end of his long labours. One year, his journey lasted him, and ours, 17 months to the day. We’ve made it!

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A call to shore: Quarantine and Immigration confirm that they don’t want us until the morning. We’re under strict instructions not to leave the boat or to speak to anyone who might approach. Flagrantly we wave to a windsurfer and summon the seagulls to come and land. We anchor off Fannie Bay. The sound of the motor is replaced by the sound of fighter jets from the air base somewhere off east. Silence is golden, Lea sighs as the flyover passes out of range of hearing. I agree. We’ll sleep easy tonight.

The following day, early, we motor into Cullen Bay. By 10am Customs and Immigration are through with is: our presence in the country has been noted and a few customary jokes made at the expense of the Brit (though both Keith and Lea were born in the UK too). Richie grins, impervious to needling by the two burly stubble-faced Border Security guys. No one can touch us. We’re here. We’re really here!

In the cockpit we’re joined for breakfast by Geoff, representative of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Geoff sees no reason why a dozen Indonesian eggs should not be permitted to enter the country so long as they are safely squirrelled inside our bellies. With eggs cracked, scrambled and ‘stowed’, Richie and I swoop off the boat and with no further ado, get down on hands and knees to kiss the grainy surface of the pontoon – in lieu of red earth. Ahhhhhh. Never was solid ground so ardently relished beneath lips and feet.

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‘official business’ – declaring goods

Keith’s reputation as Lockmaster of Tipperary Waters Marina has preceded him. After a cliff-hanging phonecall to DAF headquarters, it is decided that our precious seeds and assorted food stuffs from Indonesia are permitted to enter the country. Geoff bats an eyelid at the suspiciously named ‘local Bali tomatoes’ but after checking the genus and species adds them to our pile of goodies. Rich and I look like the cats who got the cream. Without the seeds, coffee and spices we would be returning empty-handed to our families – a poor showing after 17 months of overseas-overland travel!

After Geoff has done his work there’s naught to do but wait for the divers who are coming to inspect the hull. Mine and Richie’s presence is not required for this part of the proceedings. We’re dismissed, and duly we take our leave. To Darwin!

 After 23 days at sea I felt inexplicably well-disposed toward everyone I meet. We pause to banter idly with two ladies from Melbourne who are more well acquainted with the layout of the city than we are, and agree that we’ll most likely see them later at the Museum. We do. Richie takes a turn outside the Casino and needs to sit down. We’re not used to this ‘land’ gaff and our legs have forgotten how to walk. We take a breather in the shade of a bus shelter where I read aloud to my befuddled companion about the founding of the city’s first market garden on the site of a paperbark swamp.

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Kupang to Dili: this sailing life

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head down, bottoms up – Keith inspects the anchor locker

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Dili street scene

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provisioning the boat with real food grown by real people, Kupang market

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main sail

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sailing Timor-Leste waters

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dragging the tinny down to the water, Kupang

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Letter from Phnom Penh

morning coffee and newspaper, Phnom Penh

morning coffee and newspaper, Phnom Penh

My dear friend,

The heat in Phnom Penh hasn’t eased up, shows no sign of easing up. It’s only going to get hotter from here on in. Surprisingly I’m managing pretty well. The white hanky that you left behind with me is an absolute godsend. It has mopped up litres of sweat in the last few days. Invaluable. I’m going to give it a good rinse tonight. It’s already stained and dusty…

Also finding that coconut juice is the way forward for rehydration. Green coconuts are available everywhere, and some street vendors refrigerate them too, for a lovely sweet mineral-rich burst of goodness.

Everything we’ve eaten here is good. You can get a proper feed for $1.50 and a good coffee for about 60 cents. I’m keen to try one of the bizarre bean/jelly/sticky rice/sweetened condensed milk/shaved ice beverages that you see around the place from time to time. Icy cold drinks are everywhere: iced coffee, iced tea, iced sugarcane juice, iced coconut, iced beer…

fruits, jellies and crushed beans at an iced dessert stall

fruits, jellies and crushed beans at an iced dessert stall

Every tuk tuk driver and man with a motorbike wants to solicit your custom, but they’re pretty good natured and tend to accept refusals well when accompanied by a smile and a firm ‘no’. Definitely shades of India here in Phnom Penh – the smiles, the stench, the meeting of east and west, the aspiration and the liveliness. The traffic too! Mumbai mixed with Pondicherry might be the best way to describe the vibe.

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3 Days in Chengdu

People's Park dancers, Chengdu

People’s Park dancers, Chengdu

After spending 83 hours on a bus to get there, I was prepared to love Chengdu. Gratefully, it wasn’t a hard task. The city was eminently likeable, not least the Tibetan enclave where we found lodgings at the auspiciously named Holly Hostel.

Growing up on a diet of leanly-timed rain-water showers I felt appropriately guilty as I treated myself to an inordinately long judicious scrub in the hostel shower room.

Sleeping was another matter. After an average of three to four broken half-hour sleeps per day, for four consecutive nights, seated above the rear-axle of a dilapidated Xinjiang bus,  I was stymied! My body clearly did not recall how to respond to tender treatment: a bed and clean linen. Horizontality was anathema. My head swam and my legs twitched. There were only two things for it: a walk and a Sichuan hotpot.

Sichuan hotpot, the ultimate food experience

Sichuan hotpot (huŏguō), the ultimate food experience

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