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Neopeasantary and deep roots
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Pass it on
I'm reading
Neopeasantary and deep roots
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Neopeasantary and deep roots
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
8 July 2020

Neopeasantary and deep roots

Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman have severed ties from the Growth Machine to create a radical, deeply inclusive home economy.

This story originally ran in issue # of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

One of us grabs the towels and fills the kettle with rainwater while the other lights the stove before we rug up tight and leave the house. It is icy this morning as we fly down the hill on our bikes to Lake Daylesford to the jetty covered in splodgy duck poo and the year’s first frost. Five hundred corellas have already started their screeching, swooping dance above Grandmother Lake as the sun lifts his welcomed head above the trees on the east bank. We strip off, greet the birds, override our egos telling us not to, and plunge in.

A serration. Sharp, familiar. A memory. Stripping down, stripping back. Glorious fluidity. Every morning something new, something old and forgotten. A reclamation. Mist rises off the water, wood ducks cut through it in flight. A green pollen skin from the willows, washed in by yesterday’s rain, stretches over the lake. The beautiful, biting cold. Thought dissolving. Consciousness?

This ritual is our only form of bathing: a daily reminder that life, including its challenges, is not to be avoided, but wholeheartedly dived into. We have arrived at this place because of teachers like Grandmother Lake. She’s a significant sharer of underworld wisdom, helping us to recenter, to breathe through, to come back into connection with the dark, with the unknowable, with our fears. Immersed naked and vulnerable, we feel we belong and are part of something much more than human. Something that reaches far beyond the increasing restrictions of domestication, beyond safety-obsessed modern life. Something life-filled, terrifying and wild.

We check the rabbit traps, move the goats, feed the chickens and ducks. We live in suburbia but on the margins of it, and it is in these margins that life is most alive for us. Our youngest son is still asleep when we come back into the house. We rub our hands together by the fire and drink tea. Years ago, after several weeks participating at an anti-coal seam gas blockade, we came home and turned off the gas to the house. We replaced a gas cooking, heating and hot water system with this stove, which we use for nine separate appliances. Heater, oven, toaster, clothes dryer, hot water service, kettle, dehydrator, stove top and our TV. With wood gleaned from the nearby forest or our local tip in wheelbarrows or bike trailers, we are now responsible for gathering a large chunk of our energy resources, supplemented by our small 1 kW solar powered system. As a result we have become more in relationship with our local biomes as our means of transport are slow and small, and we can better observe environmental changes, needs and opportunities. Wood gathering is just one part of our green gym, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that what we use to warm ourselves and cook our food requires no intensive fossil fuel grid infrastructure, transportation or maintenance. Our foot-wheeled energy is a renewable resource we help regenerate through guerrilla community forestry work with neighbours and friends.

At our School of Applied Neopeasantry, where we teach non-monetised permaculture living courses, ecological energy retrieval, processing and storing is just one of many skills we pass on, and through the lifeways of Artist as Family (the name of our household’s performance collective), we demonstrate how neopeasant culture making is directly related to neopeasant economy making, which in turn are things directly connected to the land’s spirit, its capacities and the many communities of life it enables to make more and more life.

Neopeasantry, in our telling of it, is a reclamation of ancestral life skills, economy, art, technology and land relationships, but not in a harking back to an age we have powder-coated. We’re choosing subsistence land relationships as a rejection of the broader cultural context of mass consumption. We’re aware of the contradictions and inadequacies of neopeasantry, especially that our subsistence culture-economy sits upon unceded First Peoples’ land. But it doesn’t result in the same level of imposition, intransigence and damage as the dominant culture-economy. It’s transitional. A turning away from man-made mass death. Reperforming another way. Living it and storying it.

This way of thinking—of calling back to our own ancestors while finding ways to acknowledge and honour the Djaara ancestors of the land that supports us so fundamentally—began in a prosaic, political place. It had nothing to do with the animism we now sing into and the land we now love, but an angry, albeit clear knowing how we didn’t want to live.

As we read more reports, watched countless documentaries, cross-referenced articles and attended talks, the picture of our culture’s dysfunction grew more clear. Governments and their institutions would never act to shut down a systematic extraction of the world’s biosphere. Change must come from the margins, and we recognised that this change must begin in our homes, normalise there, and if what we did had any merit maybe it would spread. We were fortunate we had elders in our community who had begun this process long before. We could witness it in David Holmgren and Su Dennett’s permaculture demonstration home, Melliodora. We had no idea where our transition would lead us but just down the hill we knew people were living a completely different economic and cultural reality.

The gardens we started to grow became the centres for an embodied thinking. Even though these relationships were initially seeded with books like Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil, actually handling soil on a daily basis gave us insights that were not apparent in the books, stats or on the screens we leered into looking for clarity. As this insight grew, we were able to live more in direct relationship with more-than-human life, growing skills and knowledges that enabled soil communities (and thus gardens and medicine-food) to thrive.

To finance this exploration we gave up many things. Big things like cars, credit cars, supermarkets, packaged goods, cane sugar and air travel. Little things like haircuts, café meals, subscriptions and a plethora of unnecessary home items like bin liners. Step by step we replaced household items and experiences that belonged to growth economics with entities specific to what we call our belonging economy of place. All those items that were so central to our way of being in a linear culture were slowly replaced with relationships: bees, tiger worms, food forests, chickens, ducks, goats, a dog called Zero (our chief rabbit hunter), water harvesting swales, water tanks, community gardens, community tended forests, op-shopped and hand-made clothes, and of course our community. 

We are still infants in this story, but each morning we plunge into Grandmother Lake as part of our learning. As part of processing our settler fears, anxiety and cultural displacement from all those traumatic centuries after the imperialism genie was let out of the bottle. We do not fear pathogens and viruses—they are significant to our immunity and our coevolution as a species. We embrace the teachings of the lake’s maternal wisdoms all through the winter. It is part of a daily de-domestication ritual. To be overtaken by more than human power. To feel cold and hardy in our mammal bodies. To accept and embrace uncertainty and challenge.

We are made up of more nonhuman cells than human, we embrace the microbes of the sacred terrain in which we live. We are neopeasants, new people of the land, storying forth a new-old dreaming, listening to country, honouring country, honouring its capacity to sing more life into life. 

This story originally ran in issue # of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue # of Dumbo Feather

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