Three days back home was all we had to touch base with Meg, Ken and Elke in the office, and Mick, Brenna, Nick and Kirsten managing Melliodora. And to say our goodbyes to Nick and Kirsten who will be heading to Tasmania before we get home in mid-September.
Packing for the long time away was also a challenge given our plan A of renting a Mercedes Sprinter four wheel drive van from a friend fell through. Plan B was borrowing The Blue from Oliver and accepting a generous offer from Paul Ward to borrow his camper trailer. The Blue is a great highway car that is fuel efficient loaded with books and pulling a trailer but has low clearance making it less than ideal for the outback. With events booked between Healesville and Armidale we decided we would need to plan the trip to suit the available transport.
In addition to books we were taking food supplies from home (including potatoes and pumpkins) to avoid the need to buy along the way (and avoid Moles and Bullies at all costs).
Deciding what to take (both books and food) was Su’s domain while David worked out how to pack it to balance load for travelling. We left headed off with plenty of time for a slow trip around the Great Divide to our first gig at Healesville. A combination of first time towing with slightly overloaded vehicle, wet cold day turning to sleet and a decision to avoid Kinglake because of snow risk, we arrived at the venue in pouring rain with less than an hour to set up. About 250 people ignored the weather to come to hear presentations and a panel discussion about farming with climate change organised by Yarra Valley Ranges Shire. This event was a detour from focus on RetroSuburbia but one David accepted because it fitted with our tour schedule and prevented him from getting too rusty on rural issues.
Our host was wildlife ecologist, permaculture teacher and community activist Graeme George, and we spent time swapping stories and options for ageing permies making property and life transitions. The next day we headed further up the Yarra Valley to Warburton for a long overdue visit to Maya Ward and partner James where she turned over her beautiful tiny house to us for the visit. An informal discussion after shared food at Peace Farm attracted over 60 with a real sense that direct action on the home and community front was a clear response to the election aftermath that we had managed to ignore as we focused on the positives of RetroSuburbia. The following day we connected with Warburton and the most incredible Redwood plantation that has become a tourist attraction through social media word of mouth.
The trip to our next event at Morwell in the heart of Latrobe Valley coal country was via Powelltown and mountain ash forests where we caught sight of half a dozen lyrebirds at various points scratching the litter in the roadside table drains.
The venue in Morwell was a bit daunting in scale but the enthusiastic audience of 220 was one of best turnouts for an Aussie St event. West Gippsland Catchment Management hired a pro videographer for the event so we are looking forward to having this presentation online before too long.
With the load of books considerably lightened, the next stop was a slight back track to Hazeldean Forest Farm for an overdue catch up with long time friends and organic farmers Jason Alexandra and Marg McNeil. Jason cooked us a wonderful meal, we solved the world’s problems and looked around the farm with its magnificent tree belts, plantations and orchards that make Hazeldean Forest Farm one of the best permaculture inspired farms in the country (although Jason and Marg don’t choose to use the label permaculture to describe their work).
As we headed east we were caught by an intense cold front that periodically deluged the road all the way to Mallacoota where we took advantage of our relative’s holiday house rather than braving the weather to put up our canvas camper for the first time in driving rain and wind in the dark. Next day we travelled with the rain, dropped in on permaculture pioneer Phil Gall to catch up and cook dinner in his Bermagui flat before another overnight stay in a more spacious vacant home of friend and PDC co-teacher Angela Enbom overlooking Wallaga Lake.
The next gig in Nowra organised by Transition Shoalhaven was held in the local bowling club, one of those sprawling venues funded by pokies that are obliged to support community events as part of their licence. The MC, local councillor Kaye Gartner was excellent and noted how good it was to see a younger than usual crowd at local events. After a few memory triggers of Su’s childhood years in Nowra, and the load considerably lightened by the enthusiastic book buyers, we took the forest road through Tarago to visit relatives and friends in Canberra.
Staying with Su’s brother was good fun and some overdue house maintenance on a roof that some careful readers of RetroSuburbia might recognise.
A visit to permaculture pioneers and superfine merino wool producers and yarn spinners (excuse the pun) David Watson, Judith Turley and extended family at Millpost was a treat. But David Watson’s figures on the 50% decline in sheep carrying capacity despite all their work over decades improving pastures and shelter in a very harsh climate was very sobering.
A little of that decline can be attributed to the progressively drying climate but the most is due to massive increase in kangaroo numbers in the Canberra region that are now causing considerable land degradation and keeping the smash repair businesses of the ACT in work. Culling is only taking the tip of the iceberg. It is such a tragedy that our country grows wood and meat with such ease and yet we treat these natural abundance as either sacred or biological pollution.
For those wedded to husbanding the land at Millpost and across rural Austral, the implications of our collective failure to “use and value renewable resources and services” are harsh. Until the majority of the meat eaters of this country start eating kangaroo and boycotting the obscene feedlot industries raising chooks, pigs and cows there are few practical options, let alone ones that reflect permaculture ethics.
The latest being trialled by the next generation of Millpost farmers is training Maremma dogs to chase kangaroos and, of course continuing to promote Millpost Merino superfine knitting wool that uses a small but valuable part of their annual wool clip. If there was a permaculture certification scheme then Millpost would be one of the first places to qualify. We took samples of their yarn to display on our bookstall, since knitting is a classic retrosuburban activity.