Our evolving plan was to visit old friend Lyall Dudley just north of Melrose on the footslopes of the Mt Remarkable Range and National Park. We had stayed with Lyall on our 1999 trip up through central Australia and had been a regular customer and consumer of his roasted Acacia victorii seed. Over the years since we first tasted its rich coffee like flavours, the price had gone up to $60/kg, a reflection of both the rising demand from the high end bush restaurant chefs and food processors and the labour intensive methods of harvest from the spiny shrubs that farmers in the region regard as a weed. Back in 1999 Lyall was a permie bachelor owner builder and all round tree crop enthusiast. Originally from Port Augusta he must have found the forested hills, pastoral woodlands and cropping paddocks of Melrose like paradise compared to his home town in the arid zone at the head of Spencer Gulf.
Over the years we heard snippets about Lyall and his wife Lili and the kids Eve & Bernie. Oliver had dropped in on them on a couple of his adventure-touring motorbike trips but we had never met the family. With only a week of forward planning we arranged to camp at Lyall and Lili’s while they and the kids were on a school holiday trip to stay with mutual friends Cath & Stuart at Fryers Forest Ecovillage, visit Melbourne and return after we planned to travel north into the northern Flinders. Part of our forward planning was to get The Blue checked over mechanically at nearby Wilmington and get a custom made bash plate mounted that Oliver had ordered months before. As it turned out the bash plate didn’t arrive before we planned to leave the area but we took advantage of a three night stop over to catch up on some writing, exercise our legs rather than being fossil fuel powered and reconnect with the sugar gums of the southern Flinders range.
We thought our 20 year old memories of the local landscapes and aerial views from Lord Google would suffice to locate the place but we got a little bamboozled and drove up a drive past natural rock and barbed wire sculptures that seemed too arty to be part of Lyall’s hard line permaculture functionalism. And so it was that we met Nigel and Ros, neighbours and friends of Lyall and Lili who already knew about us coming. After a cup of tea around an outside fire we had an invite inside what appeared to be a large industrial shed. Inside was an awe inspiring open plan house of macro salvaged and sawmilled wood. The place, in its conception, scale and execution was extraordinary by any measure. After the house we visited their “permaculture” where creative reuse blended with lush winter greens and hanging on summer fruits. We tasted apples and citrus and promised ourselves we should come back to get more produce and photos.
Lyall had warned us that his place was not in great shape and that they were considering a move to Adelaide. The neighbours had confirmed that between running out of irrigation water, summer head scorch and unprecedented kangaroo attack on fruit and even bush tucker trees such as Quandong, Lyall was having a tough time even though the ups and downs of the bush foods industry were mostly up at the moment.
We set up True Blue in front of Lyall’s 30 yr old passive solar stone house, noting the new fence to keep out the roos, the swimming pool to keep the kids happy in the blasting heat of summer and the neat paving and ornamental garden that we assumed might be part of the balancing act of a relationship that had survived the rigors of climate and culture transitions.
We foraged in the gardening and caged orchards, taking care not to overharvest what we thought might be valued, while pigging out on what looked like it might be going to waste, like shrivelled grapefruit lying under a tree recovering new leaves after the scorching summer. Su especially thought they were the sweetest grapefruit ever. The avocados were similarly in recovery mode but without a single fruit surviving the season. Outside the garden fence a great variety of cages, barricades and sticks protected trees to varying degrees of success from the ravages of kangaroos that, as elsewhere in the country, have changed from exclusively grazing to standing to browse like goats but with forearm dexterity to pull down and break branches.
A proliferation of sheds and shelters housed an array of antique, custom made and adapted equipment associated with the seed harvesting and other parts of the BushFoods Australia business. From inside a locked Atco building site office, the delicious smell of roasted acacia emanated.
Next day we spent time in Wilmington, mostly on the computer in the new low key café while the local mechanic changing the oil and checked over The Blue (without the bash plate to fit), followed by a visit to the more hip Melrose to place a special order for 100% Spelt sour dough and 100% rye sour dough artisanal bread for pick up on Saturday from the Over The Edge bike shop and café. In the process Su got the contact details for O’Reillys Orchard, as a source of local organic winter vegies.
With the weather forecast suggesting a turn to rain the following evening we planned a walk up onto the range, along the Heysen trail to the summit of Mt Remarkable and a steep decent to Melrose in time to hitch a ride. On his map, this appeared to David to be a 6km walk past the magnificent pastoral woodlands of Melrose which rival any that can be seen from a public road in Australia.
Next morning we set off about 9 with a packed lunch. The steep climb up the stony spur ridges from the farm about 450m above sea level to the range about 800m asl was broken up with breaks for Su to do business on the phone and David taking photos. The Heysen trail along the ridge followed a fire trail, although in places we took to the bush, finding old sections of the foot trail, now abandoned, and saw an emu on a nest of incredible green eggs. We followed a series of peaks and deep saddles towards an ever receding final summit at 961m with vegetation that included the most twisted and contorted examples we had seen of one of the more irregular forest eucalypts E. goniocalyx that is common around Hepburn. It replaces the more majestic Sugar Gums E. cladocalyx on the highest parts of the Mt Remarkable Range.
By the time we reached the summit (5pm), it was quite chilly with the wind of the coming change getting strong, we had not eaten lunch, and a walking trail sign said 7.5km to Melrose! By this stage Su was suffering from a blister but was in grim but slow push-on mode, while David stopped to eat. The switch back track to town across the scree slopes had incredible views out over the agricultural plains to the east. When we finally made it down and began to hitch it was getting dark and starting to rain and blow a gale. None of the limited traffic stopped to give us and the walk back turned out to be over 10 kms. The round trip was about 28km. We fell into bed for a restless night as the camper was buffeted by strong winds and rain squalls all night. The next day we had intended to explore Alligator Gorge. Instead we stayed around camp, slowly recovering but without adverse consequences other than damaged reputation for navigation and trip planning by David.
The next day was a different sort of adventure. We found our way to O’Reillys farm surrounded by the Wirrabara forest where the Radiata pine was first planted in 1870s and that burnt for a month in 2014. We had come to buy vegies but Jacky and David had notice from Tim Marshall that we would be in the area. We found so much to share about, solar drying of fruit, self-reliant living, making a living from the land, bushfires and even goats. After a tour we purchased a box of their beautiful vegetables, some dried figs and tomatoes and drove off through rainbow after rainbow to Port Pirie via the Germein Gorge Rd.
While Su caught a late afternoon appointment with our chiropractor and friend Jonathan, David did some shopping and photography at the port where a ship was being loaded with scrap steel from a never-ending stream of semi trailers. Jonathan’s chiropractic work is split somewhat bizarrely between Whyalla and Daylesford but when in Whyalla he also nips around to Port Pirie on the east side of Spencer Gulf to help more citizens in pain (a 168km commute). We ate take away fish and chips without really knowing how sustainable the Butterfish was (or even that it was what we both knew as Jewfish) and drove back to Lyall and Lili’s with a plan to view the seasonal gathering of Australian Giant Cuttlefish right next to the Port Bonyothan LPG plant with Jonathon in his other role as marine eco tourist guide.