ELIZABETH and Frank Fekonia live on a thigh-tremblingly steep block on Black Mountain near Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast.
Frank is an eccentric, longhaired septuagenarian who long ago escaped from the army in communist Yugoslavia and landed in Sydney a refugee. He moved to Cooroy in the early 1990s (Elizabeth arrived soon after) and built a series of concrete structures, culminating in a concrete castle at the top of the block. The home has commanding views over the green hills towards Gympie. “Everything you see here, Michael,” he says to me often, “I built it. Every bloody thing.”
Together, Frank and Elizabeth have established systems that provide nearly all their food. This morning Frank pointed down at two nearby houses with large lawns. “They’re English. Strange people, the English,” he said. “Always mowing the lawn. Mowing, mowing. No food, just mowing.”
After a lifetime of labour, Frank’s lost his kick. He’s still got his raucous, squealing laugh, but he’s too sick to work. Elizabeth keeps their challenging block going, on two parts will, two parts faith and one part strong arms.
Each morning she does her rounds, down and up the hill, calling out to her cows and goats as she goes. They call back, and the singsong echoes around Black Mountain. She waters the veggie patch, milks the goats, checks the chooks, waters the pigs, looks in on the tropical vegetable food forest, and collects a bucket of pollard to keep Lydia the cow happy while she milks her.
Elizabeth is mad for ferment food. Every day she mentions in passing yet another product she makes or ferments herself. Yesterday it was vinegar; the day before, a kind of fermented tea called Kombucha. She makes her own cheese, yoghurt, kefir, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, butter, ghee, soy sauce, miso, tempeh, lemon wine and soap. I’m sure there’s more. She teaches short courses in nearly all the above, as well as her TAFE classes in organic gardening.
Before I left Melbourne I made a mouldy attempt at sauerkraut – much to my housemates’ disgust. Here I did it better, and it turns out to be very simple.
I cut up two cabbages finely, added half a tablespoon or so of salt and crushed the cabbage in my fists until my fists were sore and there was a puddle of cabbage-water in the bowl. Then I packed it into a huge jar, pressed it all down and put a couple of the outer leaves on top to keep the cabbage submerged in its juice. We left it for days to ferment – usually about five days, depending on the season and how tangy you want it – then drained the juice and stored the sauerkraut in the fridge.
Elizabeth, Lydia and the new milking machine.