Survival skills

I found this article very intriguing this morning. It’s an interview with Adam Grubb, a ‘weed enthusiast’ who strolls about looking for tasty plants growing wild, overhanging fruit trees and other hidden delights in Melbourne’s suburbs.

I’ve always been very interested in ideas like this. It fits in with my ‘London during the Blitz’ fantasy, of people secreting concrete dust in their bread, stitching together clothes from scraps and tickling the ivories for the entertainment of the kiddies in the bomb shelter.

Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to live on your wits?

Last year, when I was still working from home, I would explore the old laneways in my suburb every morning, taking the Lomo with me for company. Apart from discovering fascinating junk like busted TVs, spreadeagled phone books, broken skateboards, cracked garden furniture, old Disney tin toys from the ‘20s and the odd gaping hole (where the bluestone cobbles just give way to the mysteries beneath), I also did quite well in the overhanging fruit stakes.

The ‘Wick is brilliant for pilferable items, as everyone takes great pride in their gardens – but not in an uptight Toorak way. Smaller gardens mean that the space is used more intensively. Fruit and veg fight for space with overflowing rose bushes and succulents. Rusty poles from the broken washing line become props for grape vines, massive lemon trees lean over fences, pomegranates and passionfruit proliferate and prickly pears erupt in fuscia, electric blue and sunshine yellow colours. And the fig trees! I live for the fig.

While I was pinching things wholesale, I was unconsciously committing the laneways to memory. Lemon tree four streets down and to the left, best figs near the rusty fence and the shopping trolley, that sort of thing. I liked to imagine that if there was some sort of invasion I could just melt into the night and disappear. Racing across rooves, scurrying up disused alleyways and leaping over collapsed fences in the dark.

And what would I eat? How would I survive? Would I eat pigeons and Indian Mynah birds? Probably. Would I eat them raw? Not so sure. How about possums? Oh, I could get into those I reckon. How about dogs and cats? Well I’ve never been that hungry, so I couldn’t say – maybe if I couldn’t see the face. It’s hard to predict how you’d act if you were starved of protein.

I was born during peacetime, in a wealthy country where water comes out of the tap and fresh food is transported every day. It’s possible that I’ll never have to live on my wits. This is why West Africa was so intriguing for me.

The local kids would amuse themselves all day killing snakes, lizards, bizarre insects and bushrats with wee homemade catapults. And these weren’t naughty boys in need of a firm word from Dad and a slap around the chops. The little buggers were hungry.

Some people had made their homes out of nothing, just some beaten-out oil drums, rice sacks and a bit of mud to cover the gaps. The whitey reaction to this of course was your traditional World Vision-esque drama. ‘Oh!’ they’d cry. ‘Look at that awful shack, we must save the children! We must do something!!’ Whereas I’d be thinking: ‘Look at that. How did they make that d’ya reckon. I bet they pulled those nails off that old crate over there. And then unpicked the rice sack and reused the thread to stitch it over the roof and make it waterproof. That shack is fantastic.’

In short, everyone I saw on the street in West Africa was living on their wits. Probably closer to ‘London during the Blitz’ than they’d ever want to be. Despite what hellish ad campaigns from aid agencies and NGOs would have us believe, they’re not to be pitied, but admired! Those little boys don’t sit around intellectualising their lives, or write crappy blogs, they just developed a bloody good aim. With catapults made of sticks and strips of old car tyre. I reckon they’d eat like kings in a Brunswick laneway.

As the Age article discusses, these nifty survival skills are becoming more relevant. In a world where the logistics and environmental impact of food production is becoming an even greater problem, it makes more sense to scavenge, forage and reuse. Heck, I even found a Le Creuset in the hard rubbish the other day! RRP $200! Lifetime guarantee! Mint condition! Hanging your arse out of someone’s rubbish is not so silly after all, eh?

Here is Adam Grubb’s great site, called Eat the Suburbs. Check it out.

7 thoughts on “Survival skills

  1. Great site. I have noted in my own neighbourhood several citrus trees, a rosemary hedge that has been most useful for assorted lamb roasts and chops, and several fig trees and stone fruit trees that are not yet ripe but I plan to revisit in summer. I can’t see why we’d ever need to eat a RAW pigeon – there’s plenty of forigable fuel lying around. I reckon I could do a great spit-roast pigeon should the need arise.I also recall from reading (no doubt highly accurate) Enid Blyton books about gypsies, the gypsy technique of coating things in clay and then roasting them in a hole in the ground.And also I used to make my brother play London during the Blitz games, which I had gathered from books such as those by Noel Streatfield was a highly exciting time of darning clothes, using tea leaves six times over and eating strange English foods such as “paste sandwiches” and “bully beef” in an air-raid shelter or possibly in the Underground while listening to the Hun drop bombs all round and then exploring the rubble for exciting things afterwards.

  2. Fascinating, Boo! Aren’t the lanes and backyards sometimes more fascinating than the face we show the street?Two things your post reminded me of:an Age article in which a group of women set off to trace the source of the Merri Ck;and an SBS doco about a group of young aboriginal men travelling the outback in a dilapidated car. Like the shacks in W Africa, the genius was in how they kept it going.

  3. anodyne here, and digression is my middle name so I will pounce on the lovely Litter Lad’s remark about that SBS Outback mechanics series – I loved those guys. They should be stars.The people who cannot ‘live on their wits’ in even the slightest way, are the ones who have created the pollution we all suffer under.Each example I encounter seems to be worse than the previous. Just lately, aquaintances ‘re-did’ their kitchen (silly in itself, since they lived in a luxury high rise) and they had the entire ‘old’ kitchen ripped out and dumped at the tip.Didn’t give it away, or sell it, or recycle the handles and hinges. They totally dumped the lot.There is a huge and heavily fruiting fig tree on the railway line near Ballarat station, and easily accessible via a lane behind some shops – they taste best when picked ripe and eaten immediately. Craps allover anything the so-called fresh Food people could offer.

  4. Bek – Noel Streatfield! That must be where I got it from. And such thrilling books as Z is for Zachariah and My Side of the Mountain. Clan of the Cave Bear etc.And one must push the game to the limit! What if you had to hide out from invading armies and couldn’t make a fire, or produce cooking smells? What if you found a bag of lentils but had nothing to cook them in? Would you eat them raw? Or make a cooking pot from bits & pieces?LL – I wrote a wondrous piece about that very topic (hidden laneways) and the local papers weren’t interested, hmpf. Perhaps I should print it here.And those shows sound terrific – I’ll keep a weather eye out. Much more interesitng than reality shows (of the upper class Beeb variety) of making bogan families live like Londoners in the Blitz, or grand Victorian mansions and so on.A Digression O’D – your kitchen acquaintances make me boil with fury! There’s so many more avenues to get rid of stuff these days! ebay! Freecycle! Hard rubbish! Or just give it away! Anything!I too have a heavily fruiting fig tree in my backyard (and it isn’t even mine – it’s the neighbours!!). Will keep all posted about Figgtacular 07/08!

  5. As a kid one of my favourite activities was playing survivalists, albeit in the backyward.We’d cover the top of the trampoline with the bbq mat to keep the sun off and make ‘beds’ of leaves. We’d knock thered cherries that hung off a neighbour’s tree with grapes (what they actually were, I still don’t know) and eat them rather than go inside for lunch.All rather fun, really.

  6. BBBJ,I once lived all alone in the woods (on purpose, it’s not like I got lost on a hike or something) with only a canteen of water and a hunting knife (a Bowie knife, not my kirpan) – well, I mean, I had my clothes and shoes. Does that qualify as living by my wits or as simple insanity?I came across this HL Mencken quote and for some reason *winks knowingly* I thought of you, although I doubt you ever slit anyone’s throat.Every normal [person] must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats

  7. Excellent post Boo. I could just imagine you scaling fences and foraging fruit trees!Of course, in my imagination I don’t know what you look like, so for some reason you turn out a particularly plucky six year old girl in scrappy shoes with the laces untied, hair in pigtails and short overalls. You’re very cool, and you never let the boys push you around.

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