"maybe this sunken ship is the treasure"


   Jan. & Feb. 2003 — text by Austin Pick

Leaving New Zealand's remarkable wild places behind me, I took to the wing again shortly after Christmas, and it felt a little like homecoming, returning to an embrace of now familiar palettes and patterned textures, Australia my lovely sunburst pagoda... I skated a few graceful glides thru Sydney on graffittoed trains, rolling down the coast to Wollongong, then inland up into the Blue Mountains and further even, stopping in again for New Year's Eve to watch the Opera House handing the Harbor Bridge a bouquet of flaming glorious fireworks and a hopeful prophecy of PEACE in luminous heartfelt harold of the newest new year, riding a beautiful festive pulse with new friends and fellow travelers, wine-winding through the celebrating streets and glowing parks, live music around every corner dancing mannequins midnite kiss-kissing and Hari Hari Krishna on, oh skyscraping and decadent West...

Eventually I settled in Sydney for an extended week with a friend's family, who live in the Olympic Village-turned-neighborhood, nice to have a home to call home again for a few days, home-cooked meals with desert even, afternoons going to the movies or cycling around town, enjoying the consistent and entirely reliable weather of Australia again... a rest, a relaxation, and a reunion with a pair of shoes shipped to me from New Zealand, and then my journey continued in a new flight of gracious phases...

INDIAN — PACIFIC

For three days I phantomed along on the Great Southern Railway, from Sydney to Perth, Pacific to Indian Ocean across the entire vast empty expanse of Australia's southern interior, thru Broken Hill, Adelaide, the outback ghost town of Cook (population 2 - no joke), the brothel-studded goldrush boom town of Kalgoorlie, the entire vast treeless expanse of the Nullarbor Plain, along the world's longest stretch of straight railway track... It was unbelievable. Sitting all day in a meditative hypnosis, absolutely mesmerized by thousands of miles of wide open big sky expanses... I drifted, dreamed, emptied my mind onto the earth's blank canvas. Also I read a book. Sleeping on the train not so easy in my little economy seat, by the third day everything is rather surreal and synchronized to the steady clackity clack of the train-skate shuffle, up early every morning for exploded sunrises blossoming over the razor's edge horizon, at night my love affair with her radiance moon continued, the only other one awake, it seems... the void of the outback cleansed my senses and bathed me in purifying dust and red earth, making new... And then the land began to roll again glowing golden and green, and soon a city, a clear blue ocean...

SOUTH-WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Several interesting things had happened by the time I arrived in WA — first, I had grown weary of the standard travel circuit, the routine of endless hostel-hopping and what begins to feel like a rather self-indulgent attention to one's own whims, despite the best intentions. Second, I had run out of money. Not completely, mind you, because I graciously received some for my birthday a little later on and anyways had a credit card for inevitable expenditures, but for all intensive purposes I was pretty-well flat broke, standing on the West Coast of Australia with a plane-ticket back to Brisbane in six weeks. Game of Life. Make your way in the world. Go.

So rather than make money or spend money, I stepped a little further off the treadmill, which I'd only had one foot on anyways while living abroad, and went Wwoofing instead... WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, a loose international network of small farms, collectives, and intentional communities who accept travelers in an equal exchange of food and accommodation for half-a-day's work. For six weeks I traveled from farm to farm, hitching or bussing my way down the coast, exchanging my labor for food and bed, often not spending any month for a week at a stretch. The network is simple: when you join (for about $50AU) you get some basic work insurance and a directory that lists all the Wwoof hosts —about 1500 in Australia— with a description and information about each place that accepts workers. All you do is contact places that interest you and ask if they need any work, then make arrangements. It's entirely decentralized and refreshingly personal from top to bottom.  

I don't really know how to express the fullness of this experience. Each and every one of the people I met openly invited me into their homes and their lives: I worked with them, ate with them, played with and babysat the kids, had morning tea and afternoon beers, met friends and family, went to art openings, soup kitchens, sharing circles, peace rallys, barbeques, picnics and trips to swimming holes and beaches and on... I essentially became part of the family at each and every place I stayed, absorbed into their lives and their communities for however long I alighted. In all my time living and traveling in Australia, nothing enabled me to experience the living culture of the country with such immediacy and authenticity... 

Most of the farms I encountered are small startups, fledgling organic businesses founded on strong ideals by intelligent people dedicated to improving the quality of life for themselves and others. Many rely on the work of Wwoofers and host several at a time; others host mainly because they like the open cultural exchange, and enjoy sharing their (very interesting) lives with others. All warmly appreciate the hard-working assistance of Wwoofers, and it is amazing to have the opportunity to roll up, become part of someone's life, and immediately help them with their most personal projects, their dreams and visions. I cooked, canned preservatives, picked and sorted fruit and veggies, built fences, herded sheep, bailed hay, fed animals, painted, cleaned & washed, planted, felled trees, cut firewood, cleared land — I was burned and bitten, stung by wasps and abused by children, and even -of course- shocked by an electric fence! It was an honest mistake, really...

Most of the Wwoof hosts in Western Oz seem to know each other through the broad Green Party and activism networks of the region, so once I was on the circuit people recommended other hosts and helped make arrangements, even hooking me up with friends and means of transportation. Not all hosts are farms, either; a few are also intentional communities of varying intensities. I stayed at several of these communities, and visited several more, including one in a suburban and one in an urban setting.  

All of the hosts I stayed with have designed their homesteads as living Permaculture experiments. Permaculture is an agriculturally-based sustainable lifestyle philosophy. The basic premise is to design your farm/home/community in accordance with sustainable principles, to make use of all your assets, including waste, to create a harmoniously productive and mutually beneficial system on your land. Examples are using un-sellable vegetables and kitchen scraps to feed animals; using fences as lattices for vine plants; collecting rainwater from roofs for irrigation and drinking (which most properties in Australia do out of necessity); designing solar-passive homes (homes naturally heated by the sun), and endless other innovations to minimize cost and waste. It also involves using natural pesticides and other innovative and localized solutions to farming problems, in accordance with organic principles. This is a radical departure from modernity's mainstream practice of destructive and often idiotic mono-cropping. It is in some ways a return to traditional diversified agriculture, but makes use of all the knowledge and technology now available to us. And it works.

One example is Cello's of Churchlane, a country restaurant north of Albany run by a loving older couple who seem to serve as surrogate parents for many of the wwoofers who pass thru. When I arrived renovations were just being completed in the restaurant itself, and the property was being converted for more intensive gardening. The couple's vision is to establish a full permaculture restaurant, where all food is organically grown on site and the menu changes seasonally, in accord with what's available. They had recently created a series of connected ponds making use of an underground spring, where they plan to raise fish. I stayed with the couple and a few other wwoofer's for a week, a big crazy family working overtime to help convert the gardens and finish the renovations, just in time for the re-opening, followed by a celebration and a much-needed day of rest... 

Another example is Carter's Road, officially the Sustainable Research Institute of WA, a rural intentional community just outside of Margaret River, and "a bit of a hippy place" as they say. The Carter's Road community grow and raise fully 80% of their own food; they have a series of integrated fruit and veg gardens, milk cows, solar power systems, tree farm, horses and a riding school, etc. They are currently developing facilities to make their own bio-diesel. There are several communities like Carter's Rd throughout Australia and around the world, and the grand experiment of their lifestyle seems in alignment with an understanding like that expressed by Gary Snyder: "When I was once asked to discuss at length how individuals could best help resolve the environmental crises, I responded— 'Stay Put.' Only by rediscovering a sense of place, a connection to a particular piece of ground, will we be able to redefine our relationship with the Planet." Whenever it was my turn to cook dinner I would simply go out to the garden and see what was available. THAT kind of lifestyle. Beautiful. I celebrated my 22nd birthday at Carter's Rd.

It's difficult to encapsulate, even in the longest of chapters, the diversity of people and experiences and insight I encountered during this brief journey through Southwest Oz — my eyes have been opened anew to a vast and hope-filled understanding of the incredible innovative possibilities that await those of us willing to explore new ways of living. Stubborn tiny lights forever, my friends... And giving thanks indeed for all the opportunities and blessings that enable me to wander the world and make some sense of myself while I'm still so young... not even the half of it really, blowing my mind wide as big sky, ever condensing and evaporating, skinny fists like antennas to heaven...

This will be the last chapter for a while. I'm late in sending this dispatch, and the semester, now nearly half over already, is shaping up to be a quiet, meditative, reflective time, just as I intended all along. I'm working and making some money in a kitchen. Also doing the university gig, although I now longer have such a gasping thirst for intellectual knowledge. I've begun to give up the direct directorship of this movie... There will be some time for travel up north when the semester ends, and then I more-or-less fly away home — which will be the last great adventure of this particular trip, spinning full circle... Those of you who are graduating, blessings for your continued journies: please let me know your whereabouts so we can meet again soon...

And so it goes, so We go.   Script scrolls...

With Love, A

04.16.2003

If there is one truth about modern man it is that he lives in an environment that is continually changing. The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to learn ... how to adapt and change ... who has learned that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security. —Carl Rogers

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9


New Years Eve in Sydney (from net)

The burnt forest atop Mt. Keira, Wollongong, NSW

The Outback — Nullarbor Plain (from net)

Standing in the Middle of Nowhere — Nullarbor Plain

Giant Karri Forest, South-Western Oz (from net)

22nd Birthday at Carter's Rd, Margaret River, WA

Sunset over Albany, WA

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

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