Category Archives: Environment

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The Shared – 3rd January 2014

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WWOOFing at the Permaculture Research Institute

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My interest in Permaculture started back in 2010 and I soon completed my Design Certificate. I think it’s safe to say that it changed my life, the direction I was to take and the learning pathway that I have since followed. Nina and I hosted a PDC ourselves in 2011 and were lucky enough to help facilitate a course in Romania on our recent overland trip. We have since visited many permaculture properties and WWOOFed at smallholdings and farms across the world.

Over the last three years I have also watched many of Geoff Lawton’s online videos, got familiar with the design of his property and hoped that one day I would get to visit the Permaculture Research Institute at Zaytuna Farm in New South Wales, Australia.

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When a place became available at short notice there was no hesitation from me and I hopped on a train to Brisbane, transferred to a car with a previously organised Gumtree Lift Share and then hitched the last 19km from Nimbin to arrive, quite soggy, late on a Monday afternoon. I was pointed in the general direction of reception on arrival and given a detailed explanation of what was expected of me during my stay, the rules of the farm and a few things to be wary of in the snake department – Taipans, Browns and Red Belly Blacks (all very deadly snakes). I got my tent up before dark and was soon happy to be sitting eating dinner with the 10 week intern crew, farm manager, guests (including Bill Mollison) and other WWOOFers.

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I stayed at the farm for a month and worked a week in each of four areas – main crop, small animals, kitchen garden and food forests. The large animals team need more training which was too much to fit into my short stay. My first week involved a lot of food processing as there was large amounts of root vegetables coming up from main crop. Much Kim Chi was made!

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I worked a lot with Adon, adding compost, mulching, planting potatoes, cassava, peas and harvesting turnips, kale, pak choi and potatoes. I got to learn about the chicken tractor system which moves every 2 weeks, leaving behind fertilised rows for planting. It moves through 26 different sections. each containing 8 rows. This means each area gets a twice yearly visit from the chickens. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on beneficial companions and the bare earth, tillage techniques was not what I expected to see at a world leading permaculture farm.

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During that first week Paul Taylor, an expert on soil fertility, was present on the farm as he was teaching students the soil section of their internship. I managed to skim off a lot of information from him and the interns and was present during the very interesting compost making sessions. This has really kickstarted my understanding of making microbial dense compost – whoop!

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My activities varied more in the second week although I spent a lot of time on main crop. It was very hot down there and very exposed.  I skinned my first chicken, collected buckets of fresh mulberries and wild raspberries, helped lay irrigation pipe with Geoff, did a spot of fishing with Zac and generally got more of an understanding of the farm.

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By week 3 I was tending to small animals which meant feeding and cleaning the rabbits, chickens, pigeons, goats and ducks as well as raising new born chicks. By week 4 I was combining my animal care with responsibility of the kitchen garden with the aim of keeping guests in fresh produce during their stay.

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I learnt a huge amount at the farm from some very inspirational people which included other WWOOFers, students who passed through, Des the farm manager, Geoff Lawton himself and Bill Mollison (who happened to be around for more than two weeks).

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I also have some gripes about the place. I would like to think that the Permaculture Research Institute would be a best practice environment to set an example for students and visitors alike but there seemed to be a distinct lack of people care. Des, the farm manager was grateful for the work of WWOOFers but the rest of the management gave little gratitude. A “thank you” after a months work would be nice.

Given the amount of money that seems to be received from online courses and internships I would like to see the use of 100% organic food on the farm and more awareness about the products they are feeding people – let’s stop with the GM!

I believe that it’s setting a bad example when the WWOOF supervisor is selling corporate products as refreshments to WWOOFers, taking advantage of their need for a cool drink after a hard days work, and yet students were asked to leave the farm as they drank a beer around the campfire on the last night of a $7000 internship – not cool.

Places of learning, especially in the world of community orientated, co-operatitve, integrative, standard setting, permaculture designer manual teaching institutions should be aware that the world is watching and hierarchical, top down rules are most dangerous. I send out much respect to the fellow WWOOFers and students that I worked alongside during my month at the farm but I was deeply disappointed in the people care and lack of respect for the volunteers. I would like to see a feedback system enter the structure of the WWOOF network which could allow WWOOFers to gage the vibe of a host before committing to a months work.

Happy pictures to follow…

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March Against Monsanto – Byron Bay

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Wwoofing with Elisabeth

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Nina and I recently completed a two week wwoof in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast with fermentation goddess Elisabeth Fekonia. Elisabeth has a wealth of experience in wild cultures, ferments, cheese-making, sourdough bread, animal care and tropical vegetable cultivation, all encompassed in a permaculture wonderland!

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The terraced property has evolved from over 20 years of experimentation – Elisabeth admits she had no idea about permaculture when her and her late husband began the project. Since then she’s gained a regional reputation, teaches cheese-making workshops and has written a handy guide on some of the more exotic vegetables that we can grow here in the sub tropicals.

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Whilst on the farm our duties were extremely varied, the exception being the morning pig and chicken feed. Most of what we ate came from Elisabeth’s preservations or the animals including the pork, chickens, eggs and plenty of home made cheese from Lydia’s milk.

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The property’s waste is recycled back into the system. Whey from cheese making feeds the pigs, grey water from the house irrigates the tropical yams, yacon and sweet potato, humanure from the composting toilet adds fertility to the fruit trees and goats keep the Lantana in check.

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Elisabeth also took me out to a Permaculture Noosa open house event. It’s a great way of seeing what systems other people in the area have. We got a crash course in trimming bananas, red claw farming and left with a bunch of macadamia nuts to plant.

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If you would like to wwoof with Elisabeth (and I highly recommend it) you can find her details at her Permaculture Realfood website

The Big Hitch (Part 1)

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“You can’t hitchhike across the outback” the scaremongers said. “Do you know how many backpackers go missing out there?” questioned the naysayers. “Why don’t you just fly”? we were asked my the conformists!

Well i’m sorry folks but we obviously didn’t take any notice of the warnings and just happened to have had one of the most memorable and enriching stints of our whole journey from Caston, Norfolk, England to Dulong, Queensland, Australia.

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We rocked up at the BP petrol station in Darwin (A) about 11am last Monday. Nina had a quick pee while I guarded the bags. I noticed a chap walking towards the door and as I nipped in for the loo I said to Nina “just ask that guy if he’s heading south babe”.

As I emerged a few minutes later I saw Nina through the window gesturing me to hurry – isn’t it great when a stranger offers to give you a ride without having to stick out your thumb at the road!

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Joe lived in an Aboriginal community. We spent five hours or so with him hearing about his early life at a prisoner of war camp in Yugoslavia, his views on the current political situation in the Northern Territory and the “holes” in Australia. The holes he’s referring to are the mines. “Dotted everywhere” he said. He even pulled in to Pine Creek, famous from the gold rush to give us a glimpse of an old mining town. We stood up at the lookout and peered down into a lake 135m deep where a mountain of the same height used to sit.

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Joe dropped us in Mataranka (B), 422km south of Darwin. With only an hour or so of daylight left we decided to stay the night and walked into a camp ground. We’d sent our tent and sleeping bags home from Cambodia thinking we wouldn’t need them and so asked the staff if they had any spares but in the end laid out our ponchos for some kind of damp-proofing and squeezed ourselves into the one replacement bag we’d bought in Darwin. It was a cold cold night. We got a little sleep and were up with the sun to try for the hitch south.

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As we walked from the caravan park to the centre of the village we spotted a road train parked up for the night. Nina joked that it would be cool to ride in one as they look so invincible. This one was facing Darwin though and so we stuck out a thumb as the sun came up.

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A couple of minutes later a guy appeared from the truck eating a bowl of multicoloured cereal. I wandered over for a chat.

“Morning mate. Heading up to Darwin are ya?”

“Nah mate. Turnin’ round, heading down to Adelaide”

“Ah yeah. Don’t spose you can take a couple hitch hikers can ya?”

“Yeah no worries. I can drop you off at Alice anyways. Just gotta wait for fuel and check me tyres. Chill out for a bit.”

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Aaron’s road train was 52 meters long and had a weight limit of 122 tonnes. The road trains travel a fairly constant 100 kmph and usually don’t break for kangaroo’s. Aaron had a fridge, freezer, microwave, fishing rod and a DVD player amongst other things but there was only one spare seat which meant Nina got to ride on the bed.

Aaron was an Adelaide boy. A picture of his wife and daughter faced him from the sun visor. He sees them once a week if he is not away for longer. He was a nice guy working hard for his family.

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We travelled for 6 or 7 hours with Aaron, 542km south to the Three Ways Roadhouse (C), the turning point east for Queensland. I was amazed by the beauty of the scenery, the red soil, the termite cathedrals, the subtle changing flora. It was so alien to me and so interesting. The odd ute, truck or caravan passed us by but otherwise it was a very peaceful place.

We arrived at Three Ways Roadhouse at about 15.30, keen to keep moving. We met Charles there on his way to Brisbane but he was jammed full. We walked around the corner onto the Barkley highway and out went the thumb in hope of a few more km before the day was out.

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Norman

Meeting Norman was a funny encounter. We were standing out at the Queensland junction having been picked up there once already only to tell the Singapore family who collected us that they were going the wrong way. They turned around and dropped us back where we came from. The next vehicle that came along was Norman. He was doing a u-turn right in front of us when I somehow managed to engage in a conversation through his window.

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“Which way to Queensland guys” he asked, looking fairly bemused.

“This way, the way we’re going” I answered. “Do you have a bit of space?”

“Errrr, yeah hop it. You’ll have to move that junk and sit on the esky mate.”

Norman had been driving since 4am straight off the back of a flight from Vietnam. He’s a bus driver and was relocating from Darwin to Cairns. He told us how shattered he was and he’d be pulling in for the night at the next place. That happened to be Barkley homestead, the place we’d heard of and were hoping to get to…

20 minutes along the track he realised that he was doing a u-turn for a reason and   whilst chatting with us along with his tiredness he had forgot to get fuel. So back we went to Three Ways for our third visit and a refuel, before turning east to Barkley Homestead as dusk drifted in.

It was dark by the time we arrived at Barkley. Easy to sneak in, lay down some cardboard and pull over the sleeping bag, helped greatly by the friendly irish trio who leant us a tarp for damp-proofing.

We were up again before the sun and waiting out front for the early hitch, hoping to catch those people trying for the longest daily distance with the brightest start to the day. We chatting with another road train guy who was not keen on taking us. There was also the cycle crew doing a 15000km tour of Oz. Obviously no room there.

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Just as the sun appeared on the horizon, Norman appeared from the camp grounds. He drove straight over to where Nina and I were standing and said “just gotta get some fuel guys and I’ll pick you up.” He did his famous u-turn and returned a few minutes later looking somewhat perkier than the previous evening.

As we set off towards Queensland we felt like old friends, safe in the knowledge that we would push a long way east with Norm that day.

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After another night under the stars, this time in Hughenden (E), a flat tyre and a couple of stops in old outback towns, Norman dropped us in Townsville before he headed up to Cairns. We had spent three great days together, chatted our way across 1540km of Australia, exchanged books and emails and finally arrived on the east coast of Queensland!

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Australia!

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A few days ago and exactly 17 months after leaving Norfolk we landed on the Australian shore of Darwin in the Northern Territory. What a relief! We are so happy that we made it – our flightless journey from England to Australia.

Since leaving Kupang in Indonesia we past through our 20th country, Timor-Leste.

It was the roughest part of the trip. Swollen seas. Wind on the nose all the way. Compromised equipment and a few unforeseen events including colliding with an unknown object in the night, a 48 hour round trip back to the Timor-Leste capital. Repairs. Despair. Expense. When we finally entered the Timor Sea things were bouncy to say the least.

On entering Australian waters we had customs fly over to warn us and to greet us. Dolphins at the hull and a stunning Aussie sunset followed before glimpsing the lighthouse at Point Fourcroy.

Thank you so so so much to Keith and Lea for having us on board Tientos for the last month. Thank you also to all the amazing people that have helped us along the way, you know who you are. And by far the biggest thank you of all – thank you Nina for being the most perfect person in the world to travel and adventure with. You are amazing!

Hello Australia we are here. Please give us the best!

Lombok to Kupang

I write from Kupang where we have landed after 9 days at sea with our hosts onboard Tientos, Keith and Lea. We’ve had a mixed bag of calm and lumpy seas, wind on the nose and not too many chances to open the sails out fully.

630 nautical miles. 3 nightwatches. 3 anchorages. Volcanoes, Komodo dragons, new knots, amazing food, occasional sleep, lots of reading, kayaks to shore, boules on the beach, a birthday, deserted islands and coral reef. But no fish for dinner yet!

We will be here in Kupang for a few days whilst we complete paperwork to clear out of Indonesia. Our next stop will be Dili in East Timor before the crossing to Darwin.

Check out Nina’s blog for all the shenanigans onboard…