Tag Archives: Australia

Brisbane Climate March

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During the last weekend in November 785,000 people in 175 countries took to the streets to march in support of Climate Justice. Did you hear about it? Did the politicians convening at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris hear about it?

I live – rather happily most of the time – without a TV. This means I saw relatively little of the news coverage.

However… I did one-up on watching. I made sure I was there – walking tall among the 5,000 or so individuals who marched in Brisbane, Australia on the 28th of November, calling for ‘Climate Justice’ and an end to our government’s dirty but lucrative addiction to coal.

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I’m glad I attended the march. It was heartening to be there. I realised there are plenty of us involved in the movement to realise a clean-energy revolution – people who desire a massive re-think of how we interact personally, locally, nationally and globally with Land. Environment. Earth. The future. Continue reading

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Filed under Climate Change, Culture, Earth Care, Permaculture, Social Justice

Let There Be Flowers

Richie inspects the overgrown kitchen garden upon our return from England

Richie inspects the overgrown kitchen garden upon our return from England

It has come to my attention this spring how important it is to let annual vegetable plants flower and go to seed. It’s a common habit among kitchen gardeners to remove plants after produce has been harvested, that is, before the plants flower and set seed. The reason being that most of us have limited space in our kitchen gardens and would rather see the precious space devoted to new planting (which represents new yields), as opposed to ‘unproductive plants’ that are past their best.

I write this post with one of mine and Richie’s own kitchen garden beds in mind – the one closest the back door. Because Richie and I weren’t here to harvest the plants during peak productivity this particular bed of mixed lettuce, broccoli, bok choi, kale and rocket has gone to flower.

A  few mature cabbages are the only things that haven't gone to flower in this particular garden bed

A few mature cabbages are the only things that haven’t gone to flower in this particular garden bed

It has been three weeks now since we returned from England. Every day I wake thinking that today will be the day I remove the flowering plants, add them to the compost heap and sew some new vegetable seeds in their place: radish, lettuce, carrot, fennel and basil all do well at this time of year.

But when I step outside and lay eyes on the blossoming tumble-down brassica plants I invariably can’t bring myself to do it. Why? Because the plants are literally humming with bees. Hundreds of them! European honeybees (Apis mellifera) as well as Australian native bees (Tetragonula – previously called Trigona). It’s such a joy to see and hear them at work that so far I have stayed my hand, allowing the plants (and bees) to keep on doing what they’re doing. At various time throughout the day I pause in my work to watch the native bees queuing at the entrance to the yellow broccoli flowers, one waiting for another to exit before making its own way inside.

What harm will it do, I ask, to leave the bed another couple of weeks until the flowers have faded and the seed heads – which have already formed – go crisp, brown and mature? Normally I’d make some attempt to save the seeds, but Richie tells me brassicas cross-pollinate promiscuously, so I’m reluctant to save seeds that might not grow true to type. What bastard children might these inter-species brassica unions beget?

Rocket-broccoli: brocket?

Bok-choi-kale: kak-choi?

Which brings me back to the ethics of the matter. Is it best to replant the flowering brassica-bed ASAP? This would ensure a steady supply of garden produce and would mean we don’t have to succumb to buying produce off the supermarket shelf. Or, should I leave the bed in question alone until all the plants in it have flowered and are dead? Perhaps I could go part-way, removing, say, half of the flowering plants, thereby freeing-up half the space in the bed for new plantings?

Keeping a steady supply of fresh produce coming from the garden into the kitchen is one of the priorities of kitchen gardeners

Keeping a steady supply of fresh garden produce coming into the kitchen is one of the priorities of kitchen gardeners – here’s one of Richie’s famous multi-leaf and herb salads

When I find myself in one of my more compassionate moods I wonder if removing plants before they’ve reached the natural conclusion of their lives is ‘right’ under any circumstances? Is killing a plant mid-cycle in any way similar to slaughtering an underage animal – a yearling cow or a calf raised for veal? And just as importantly, don’t we have an obligation, as gardeners, as human-animals, to share our garden produce with other non-human animals once we’ve received our ‘fair share’ of the produce – with bees for instance?

I suppose what I am saying is that I don’t rightly know the answer to any of these pesky questions. But more than ever, I feel there should be a place in Richie’s and my garden for vegetables that are flowering and setting seed – for them to stay in the ground until they effectively ‘die’.

The more wrinkles I get and the more grey hairs appear on my head the more I think it’s artificial (dare I say ‘unnatural’) to see a garden full of plants in their prime – no ‘unsightly’ or ‘old’ plants in view. To me, it’s the garden-equivalent of going to a party or a club where  over-thirties aren’t permitted entry. What fun is that?

In the name of diversity, I reckon it’s nice to nurture garden beds where babies, adolescents and geriatrics are crammed in together: creating pleasing variations in texture, colour, size. Inclusive multi-generational gardens serve a spiritual as well as an ecological function – seeing plants growing old and dying reminds me in a gentle way that I too will gradually stiffen, grow old and die. My body, like the bodies of the elderly plants in my garden, will return eventually to the soil, replenishing the earth, providing fertility for something else to grow.

The beautiful and decorate casings of dried poppy seed heads peak through the fence in a Norfolk churchyard, England

The beautiful and decorate casings of dried poppy seed heads peeking through the fence in a Norfolk churchyard, England – isn’t it time to live in the presence of death and dying, both in our gardens and in our own minds?

Personally, I think it’s time to live in the presence of visual evidence of death and dying, and to celebrate the entire life-cycle of plants, human-animals and non-human animals from birth to death, start to finish, AND that we should grow food not only for ourselves but for other beings who have lives and minds and bodies of their own to sustain, for instance, bees. Which is why the flowering lettuce, rocket, broccoli and kale plants persist in our garden and are flowering right now as I write, and why the bees continue to be their favourite customers.

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Filed under Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Permaculture, Philosophy, Travel

The birds

A Rufus fantail pip-pip-pips in the garden. I watch it skitter along the central rib of a palm frond, which in an act of biomimicry, is also fantail shaped. The bird doesn’t stay long in one place. It swoops between frond and treetrunk, pausing  to unfurl its flashy tail, dancing from side to side. The bird is as fleet of foot as it is of wing. Two bounces and he’s off, taking his provocative self-advertisement elsewhere.

I’ve seen the Lewin’s honeyeater already this morning. I assume it’s the same bird I saw yesterday but it might not be. There are loads of them about. The Lewin’s has a liking, I’ve noticed, for the creamy two-inch trumpet-shaped flowers hanging in clusters from the drooping green stems of the male papaya tree. The birds have a knack for reaching their beaks right up inside the flowers, probing for nectar. The plundered flowers fall to the ground where they lie concentrated in piles beneath the Lewin’s favourite perches. The pattern they make on the soil a reflection of the Lewin’s desire.

I watch out the window of my studio as another creamy trumpet flower floats to the ground. The soil it lands upon is dark, rich and wet. It’s not like Richie and I to leave soil exposed: big permaculture no-no! But it’s something we’re trialling. What we’re doing is waiting for the rows of miniature broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kailarn and kale that we sewed directly late last month to get a wriggle on: once their heads are a few inches above the soil we’ll lay on thick mulch, tucking them in to enjoy a slow season of growth and productivity. We’d never try it in summer. Too hot.

Looking again at the soil I imagine it smells sweetly of hummus, microbes and mycelium.

Like Richie and the papaya tree, the soil isn’t native to this place. It’s a ring-in. It landed here on the end of mine and Richie’s spades, gathered in wheelbarrows from the mountain of shit towering in the back of the ute: rotted cow manure from a dairy ten clicks down the road. Good Obi Obi cow shit. Continue reading

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Filed under Books, Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Life Writing, Permaculture, Travel, Writing

circus, streets, stars of Woodford

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the flying machine

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mandala dissolution ceremony, Monks of Tibet

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Bamboo installation, Wang Wen-Chih & volunteers

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Imagine the Land, Artisania

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Sideshow Wonderland

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TaikOz

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volunteer butterfly

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girl

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Filed under Culture, Earth Care, Food, Social Justice, Travel

SEED… new beginnings

Richie

There comes a time when even the most devoted travel partners go their separate ways. After 20 months of conjoined aspirations, Richie and I are separating (temporarily!) to pursue individual learning pathways; acquiring skills, gleaning knowledge and shaping up for a abundant and diverse future together here on the Sunshine Coast.

Richie’s bitter complaints that the final leg of our overland journey from England to Australia lacked a permaculture-focus are finally being laid to rest. As the photo attests – Richie’s not only turning Australian but he’s turning Australian in a very perma-way. Today he’s off to experience what may be the most memorable perma-experience of his life: one month WWOOFing with Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australian in the Channon, Northern NSW.

While I’m beefsteak-tomato-red with envy, I have my own work cut out for me. It’s application time. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Yep, that writerly PhD that I fled to England (via India) to avoid in 2007 has returned to haunt me and this time, I aint’ gonna turn and flee.

This time, I have a story worth writing: mine and Richie’s story. A travel story. A permaculture story. An earth story. A story about seeds, ideas, social change, friendship and the beauty of the natural world. The encouragement and feedback I’ve received from you, the readers of Typo Traveller, have helped me to believe that the world is ready for SEED: a permaculturee travel memoir, and I’m ready to write it.

I’m currently in the process of writing a proposal and approaching supervisors to oversee the work. While Richie’s digging swales and tweaking irrigation systems, I’ll be writing literature reviews and pawing through old university transcripts for evidence that I’m a hardy, worthy, creative, credible PhD candidate.

In the meantime, if the writing becomes too much, and I find I need a break, there’s my parents’ potato patch to water; an ageing shed to pull down; Augustino corn to hand-pollinate; dill to plant; sourdough starter to feed; kefir to culture; my sisters’ herb garden to cultivate… and the beautiful Sunshine Coast hinterland to re-explore.

Did I mention books to read – Waterlog, Bird Cloud, The Wild Places, The Old Ways, Permaculture Design by Aranya: A step-by-step guide, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell…?

Bon Voyage lover-brother, Richie, go well! ‘I’ll see you soon…’

p.s Sorry about the photo, I couldn’t help myself! 😉

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Filed under Books, Culture, Earth Care, Food, Permaculture, Travel, Writing

Get it in the ground!

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Being without a home doesn’t mean you have to be without a garden. How many people do you know who have garden beds that are under-utilised? Use ’em!

It’s been 9 weeks since Richie and I returned from abroad, and while we don’t yet have a home of our own (or a garden for that matter), we’re by no means home-or-garden-less. Thanks to the generosity of friends, family and friends-of-friends-and-family, since arriving back in south-east Queensland we’ve had the courtesy of seven different beds and a range of experiences getting our hands in the soil.

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In the middle of August we took the plunge and planted over 100 modules of assorted vegetable and herb seeds gleaned from 18 months of travel in 21  countries. Each morning it’s a race to see who’s first out of bed, down on hands and knees, calibrating the success of one full night’s growth.

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First it was the giant mustard greens, then the lettuce, closely followed by the tomatoes, coriander, and now the pickling cucumbers. It’s anyone’s bet when the eggplant and okra will raise their heads…

When all the seedlings are through, there will be more baby plants than we’ll know what to do with, at which point, we’ll do the rounds of friends’  and families’ gardens, planting them out and hoping, in time, to reap the rewards in the way of more seeds to grow on – locally adapted, and kept viable through precious grow-time in the earth.

So far we’ve trialled a range of watering methods for our seedlings. During germination seeds benefit from a fairly constant rate of temperature and humidity, but given our rather ad-hoc living situation we’ve been forced to experiment with all manner of irrigation (and household) devises for watering: hoses with no nozzles, plastic milk bottles with pin-pricks in the base, spray guns, and bonsai watering cans. We even considered using an eye-dropper for minimal splash-back and earth displacement… What do you use to water your fragile seedlings?

For my birthday this year Richie presented me with a timber box bursting with assorted flower, veg and herb seeds from Eden and Green Harvest; amongst them, heirlooms such as ‘Turkish Orange’ eggplant, and ‘Greek mini’ basil. There are flowers too! Borage. My favourite bee-plant.

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While we don’t want to count our tomatoes until they’re ripe, 9 out of the precious 12 tomato seeds given to us by our friends in Athens have germinated! These tomatoes, along with the pickling cucumbers from the Balkan Ecology Project in Bulgaria are among the rarest in our collection.

True to the spirit of abundance we’re eager to share our pool of biodiversity with people who, like us, take pleasure in propagating and harvesting unusual varieties of open-pollinated heirloom organic fruit and veg. On a visit to Stanthorpe in two weeks  my parents will be delivering miniature pear and nashi pear seeds (from Greece and China respectively) to friends who have a diverse and abundant backyard garden. Planting seed across a variety if  climatic and micro-climatic zones ensures a chance that at least some will survive, flourish, provide a yield, and begin the cycle all over again.

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transporting seeds from home-to-home… mobile gardening!

Happy planting !

GROW!

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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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