Artist as Family

Sometime last year I received an email from a Meg, who, along with her partner Patrick, toddler Woody, eleven-year-old Zephyr and Zero their Jack Russell, were travelling 6000 kilometres of the east coast by bike, from Daylesford to Cape York and back, camping free, and hunting and gathering as much tucker as they could along the way.

The project collaborators called themselves ‘Artist as Family’, and blogged their adventure as they travelled. I checked them out online. Four brown and broad smiles beamed out at me from aboard their tandems.

Meg emailed in the hope that we could meet during their Newcastle visit. I replied genuinely disappointed to be away. In the months afterwards I found my mind drifting to the Artist as Family, wondering where and how they were faring as the weather warmed.   

A few weeks ago I was delighted to hear again from Meg, this time inviting me to the launch of their book – The Art of Free Travel: A Frugal Family Adventure.

Heading home with my signed copy (an abstract line drawing of a dog by three-year-old Woody), I was excited to have the opportunity to have my wonderings answered, and vicariously live a bit of their adventure.

Early on it became clear that their trip was part of a much bigger picture.

Having turned their quarter acre Victorian block into a permaculture farm and seeded edible community gardens in town, Meg and Patrick took their low carbon principles to another level when they made the decision to ditch their car, and rely on patchy public transport and bikes in a rainy country area.

Rather than just an adventure, the northern sojourn was a radical statement in sustainability, an example of how to feed and transport a family with very little cost.

It was also a guidebook, an appendix listing what they took with them, and 256 species of free food and medicine they sampled along the way from ‘naturalised, indigenous, newcomer, weedy, autonomous and feral’ sources.

Still, sustainability is only sustainable if enjoyable. Could pedaling a baby uphill, packing and unpacking every night really be a lifestyle of choice? I’m sure for many it sounds like their worst nightmare.

After a rest week at a friend’s house in Brunswick heads, Meg’s desire to be back on the road convinced me otherwise.

“I missed the breeze on my face at night in the tent, I missed the clarity of the birdsong in the morning, I missed cooking on the coals, I missed living unself-consciously without a mirror, and I missed watching Woody explore his surrounds, digging holes, collecting leaves of various shapes and textures, identifying animal scats. I wanted to keep travelling on our bikes forever.”

Already plotting the next adventure, I have a feeling they won’t be travelling alone.