This is the second in a 4-part series 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.
I left on the morning of the 14th January, 2018, a nice 42 degree Queensland day. I’d only ridden a few kilometres from home when the tears began. They were partly from the joy and pride I felt for the life change I’d made, and partly because I thought of how I might never see my dog Rufus again. By 9:00am I arrived at my first night’s destination: a park near peaks crossing. This should have been my first clue that the by-product of freedom is that things don’t necessarily go to plan. I continued on till it got too hot and stayed the night at a mate’s place in Boonah. Mark let me stay at his house and even took me to the pub for dinner despite my strict plan to not pay for anything other than flour on my frugal adventure. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable, and it still does to this day, that people can give so much while expecting nothing in return other than your company. I mean I love giving to people too, but I guess after three years in the ‘real economy’ I had unlearnt the gift economy. The gift economy is based on people giving while not expecting to take, at least not immediately. It creates a social bond and community that provides safety for the future. It’s a social insurance if you like, no financial transactions and no contracts. Mark will always be welcome at my place.
The next two days came straight from hell as I foolishly rode up the Great Dividing Range. The hours of granny gear were made bearable by the frequent stops for roadside blackberries. I found a spot to camp on the third night by Queen Mary Falls in a park that said ‘No camping’. One of the benefits of cycle touring is that it’s pretty easy to hide when you want to. While exploring the falls a young boy, who was with his father, saw my bike and asked me where I had come from. He was astonished that I had come all the way from Brisbane. I hadn’t told him of my plan to go all the way around the country. As if I needed any more of a reminder of the epic feat I was attempting.
I proudly took the title of first WWOOFer to arrive by bicycle at Sugarloaf Permaculture in Stanthorpe. WWOOF stands for ‘Willing Workers On Organic Farms’. This place cemented itself a special place in my heart, partly because of Evita’s incredible cooking, and also because of the lessons and discussions I had with Dylan Graves, a true permie. He taught me what Permaculture was really like. Not the Garden of Eden as it is often advertised, but a seriously hard and fulfilling life of low-energy consumption, self-reliance and ecological responsibility. After two amazing weeks of learning I went on my way with my panniers full of food.
My time on this trip has been spent in learning, both from the wisdom of WWOOF hosts, and from the surprises of the journey. I became conscious of every little hill, the clouds, the wind, the temperature, the birds, and the raspberries lining the side of the road. During the first (of many) times that I was led astray by Google Maps, I found myself facing an impassable paddock. The old me would have been frustrated, but I took the detour in my stride and happily backtracked 30km to continue my journey East. I found a nice camping spot amongst some cattle, and with some wild nectarines for dinner I settled in for the night.
With my tent wet from the previous night I was determined to arrive at my destination in a town just east of Kyogle and managed to ride 220km over the two days. I won’t name the property, and that’s not because the experience was all that bad, but I do feel it’s important to use it as an example of what a poor experience of WWOOFing is.
The international WWOOF organisation connects volunteers (usually young backpackers) with organic farms where there is an exchange of labour for food and accommodation. It is probably the most common source of additional labour amongst the Permaculture world. Objectively, this sounds like a bad deal for the volunteer, however this economy cannot be measured in conventional terms. In the mainstream economy items of equal value are normally exchanged; I give you $10 cash and you give me what is considered $10 of bananas. If you consider other factors like transportation costs, shop rent and taxes, both parties will normally end up with an item of lesser value than what they traded. 1+1=1.5. Sounds stupid right? During a work exchange what each party receives is often valued higher than what they exchange. The hosts will often give accommodation, meals and education at little cost but of huge value to the volunteer. The volunteer will provide labour but often being short term, the work seems novel and exciting as well as a cultural exchange. This economy produces net wealth 1+1=3.
Unfortunately at this particular property, I had little opportunity to learn. I always worked alone, I lived in a separate building and had to buy and cook my own food. I might as well have camped on the side of the road and pulled out weeds. It wasn’t all that bad and I valued the brief time I spent with the owner. The main reason I stayed for 10 days was that I had the companionship and stories from Uncle Didge, an Indigenous elder living nearby.
Once again I had the sadness of moving on but excitement of the next place. After a short trip I arrived at 3 Wishes Farm in Kunghur. Sally and Scott taught me so much about wild foraging and I even learnt to make fire using just two pieces of Lantana. One of the downsides to constantly going to new places (particularly for an introvert like me) is that no matter how welcoming the host family is there’s an element of loneliness as you always feel like an outsider in new places.