New Economy Journal

Permaculture Pedals Part 4: The slower you go, the more you see

The Ecological Economics Issue

Volume 1, Issue 4

July 5, 2019

By - Michael Crear

Piece length: 1,229 words

Cover photo: Working at Melliodora with David Holmgren. Photo credit: Michael Crear
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This is the final chapter in a 4-part series (read part 1, part 2 and part 3) telling the story of Mick Crear’s decision to leave his job, and all the baggage that came with it, to pursue a simpler, richer life as a permaculturist cycling around Australia.

After having made it to Armidale, I continued my journey at a slower pace as my knees adjusted to my new saddle and cadence setup, which worked a treat. I learnt just how big country towns are when I next came through Tamworth. I’ve always felt that by growing up in a capital city I’d had a limited connection to natural systems. But I was extremely fortunate to have grown up on two and a half acres alongside a state forest and away from any form of advertising. This is in complete contrast to the three McDonalds in Tamworth, houses on 600m2 blocks and hardly a tree in sight. If that makes them country then I’m proud to be a city slicker. I had to get out of there and spent the night quite visibly camped on the side of the highway near Duri.

On my way to Werris Creek the next morning I saw a galah on the side of the road that had been hit by a car and had a broken wing. I felt hopeless and it really upset me. We may hear the human death toll on the roads every Christmas, but birds, kangaroos, lizards and every other animal are falling victim to the impatience of humans. Unlike humans, who are aware of the risks, the animals have no idea why we have to move so fast. It was around this time my derailleur slipped off and I had to struggle my way to Werris Creek on one gear. This was my first repair, a chance to build on self-reliance. I spent an hour fiddling, trying to use my logic, and was just about to pull my bike apart into individual components until I caved in and watched a short YouTube clip. It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but it worked a treat and now my gears are better than ever. This was the moment I became a cyclist.

On my way to Grenfell I really noticed how abused the land is. Sheep have eaten the grass down to nothing and what probably used to be permanent creeks are now huge eroded gouges in the ground. There are ways to manage these lands, like Allan Savory’s holistic management system, but the sad fact is that farmers are handcuffed by loans and habits and can’t afford to change their practices. But at the same time, we can’t afford for them not to. I took advantage of the excesses of human existence and used one of the hundreds of rags littering the side of the road to clean my bike chain. As David Holmgen (co-founder of the Permaculture concept) says, “it wouldn’t be as abundant if we all used waste, but there has to be some advantage for the early adopters”.

I spent the night at a free camping spot in Grenfell alongside a number of whopping big caravans. Talking to some of the grey nomads I realised they were only concerned about where you come from and where you are going and how long it takes. No one asked me what type of birds I saw today. It reminds me of that line in the film The Castle, “Dad reckons that the faster you go the more you see”.

150km in a day (my limit) got me to Old Junee where I camped amongst a mob of sheep. I wanted to get close enough so the next day I could go to the Junee Liquorice factory. Liquorice is my favourite food (if you can call it a food) and this liquorice was to die for. Just like we won’t stop burning fossil fuels till the day we run out (assuming we haven’t burned already) I don’t stop eating liquorice till the packet runs out.

I was due for a shower, a bed and a cooked meal so I arranged to stay with Warmshowers hosts in Wagga Wagga, another massive inland city with everything a good consumer needs.  The following day was 150km through the saddest, driest country, where I finally found a tree to camp under between Urana and Berrigan. Imagine putting a naked baby out in the full sun all day every day. That’s what we do to our soil. The land is cooked, and with no trees to block the wind, I was sucking in dust despite being on flat ground. I had to begin rationing my water as I wasn’t expecting to ride this far on a 40 degree day. I ended up with mild heat stroke. I spent the night listening to howling winds and lightning cracking. Completely exposed and vulnerable to the storm, I moved my bike 15 metres from my tent as a sacrifice to the lightning.

On the last night of three weeks of cycle touring I camped by the river in Lockwood just south of Bendigo, and ate baked beans for tea. People had told me before I left that there would be days where I wouldn’t want to get up and ride, but strangely I had never felt that way. Until now. When I woke in the morning I didn’t want to go. I was emotionally finished. My destination was so close, but no one else was going to take me there. By late afternoon I arrived at Chestnut Farm in Invermay and was greeted by Steve Burns who I would stay with over the next three weeks. I thought I would feel more emotional as I arrived, but all I felt was exhaustion.

This is the end of my cycle touring for now, as I settle down for a while in central Victoria and focus my energy on learning what I love. Since I arrived at Steve’s I WWOOFed with him for two weeks, completed a Permaculture Teacher Training course with Rosemary Morrow and Brenna Quinlan, and picked cherries in Taggerty. I stayed with Meg Ulman and Patrick Jones (Artist as Family) in Daylesford, and I’m currently living at Melliodora, which I believe is the centre of Permaculture worldwide. It is the one-hectare Permaculture demonstration site set up by David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett in the 80s, and is currently home to three households, three goats, a flock of chooks and more. I arrived as a WWOOFer and planned to stay for three weeks. That was months ago now. I have found my place here with Su, Dave, Brenna, Kirsten, Nick and Ashar, along with an amazing wider community of friends. The community I live in now is so different from the mainstream monetary economy, full of gifts, bartering, swapping, low or no food miles and everything is done with love, generosity and learning. It may seem unrealistic, but it is literally working right here right now, and I’m sure in many other places around the world. I would like to finish with one thing Dave was telling me that really resonated. We were talking about the effectiveness of activism (trying to stop something negative from within) verses Permaculture (creating something positive while withdrawing from the negative). I believe there is a place and a need for both of these things but it’s the permies who are having the most fun. I find this Permaculture lifestyle utterly rewarding, satisfying and enjoyable. It’s living while being connected to your real needs, and that is why I live the way that I do.

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