I should have been working – fascinating as they are, those annual reports won’t edit themselves. But I just couldn’t. It was gorgeous outside and I couldn’t focus on anything.
I’ve been trying to catch up with Peter Murray, the author of a history of Hamilton called From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee, 1848–1925. I finally got his number today, from Max at MacLean’s, and gave him a ring to see if he could shed any light on the process that caused the River Styx to become Styx Creek, to then become the Chaucer Street drain. Peter couldn’t help me but he did put me onto this book:
John Armstrong was a journalist commissioned to write the history of the Hunter District Water Board, as it was then. It’s full of the kind of mind-numbingly dull stuff of all corporate histories, and that no one who wasn’t directly involved is ever going to find interesting. Reminds me of the annual reports I’ve been editing lately. The back pages are filled with mug shots of the kind of gravel-faced curmudgeons they don’t make any more, guys like the Chuckle Brothers, below:
But if you do want to know about the history of drains, which sadly I do, it has enough to keep you going. Did you know that Sydney had an outbreak of bubonic plague as recently as 1900? That water was so scarce in early Newcastle that “A common sight in Mayfield and Waratah was Sam Fordham selling water obtained from the well [where Club Phoenix now stands on Industrial Drive] for one shilling a cask of about 40 gallons”.
Armstrong must have spent many long, long hours in the Water Board archives. In his preface he thanks his wife “for her co-operation”. Do I get the sense she wasn’t totally enthusiastic about the whole project? Perhaps her lack of enthusiasm had something to do with the amount of time JA spent down there; librarian Miss Elizabeth Cribb is singled out for extra thanks for providing him with “special assistance”. As Leslie Phillips would say, Well hello!