LDI crew


The coal train lumbered through Clyde Street lights and then, as they often do, juddered to a halt while points were fettled and the late afternoon commuter trains ran through Hamilton Station. I was on the eastern bank of the creek and so I didn’t seem them at first; in fact, it was the hiss of the aerosols that I heard. The two white dots by the wagon are T-shirts. They were in – LDI a couple of times – and then they were gone.

Coal train being tagged

But they hadn’t gone far. The section of creek bank under the railway bridge is a favourite painting site. It’s easily accessible via the Chin Chen Street bridge and the concrete’s drier than that by the TAFE. There’s also a much better chance of doing a runner if  [street talk warning] “The Man” should be after “yo ass”.

LDI crew

Time for change


Hmm. The slashers have been through the gasworks site and now the window panes have been repaired on the old admin building. This is a good thing – I’ve been worried out the way the beautiful old Newcastle Coke and Cole Company office, in its centenary year, has been falling to rack and ruin. So why don’t I like it?

Alarm clock

Pure self-interest, I’m sad to say. It’s private property but I do like to let Jambo run through the gaps in the fence to chase the rabbits. It’s such a privilege to have a wide open space in the middle of the city, a space that isn’t regulated, manicured and subject to dozens of stifling minor by-laws. So I suppose that Jambo will lose his play area soon, and it’ll be back to the creek for the both of us.

Speaking of which. The creek normally looks pretty chipper after a good flow but this morning it looked horrible. On Sunday morning I saw this large, weird-looking object bobbing around, just out of reach.

Bag of foam chips

I was hoping that it might be full of used $100 notes but disappointingly it was foam chips, the whole big bag blown away or escaped from some packing factory. I couldn’t get to it; truth is, I didn’t try very hard. The thought of humping a bag of foam chips all the way home and to the bin didn’t seem like it was worth the Good Citizen points I’d earn. Though I felt terrible this morning when I saw that it had either burst open or been kicked open by kids. The whole creek was littered with foamy snow and the water glowered at me accusingly, muttering “You could have prevented this!”

So to cheer myself up I’ve posted a few unrelated Hamilton North pics. These are all ones that have been floating around on my camera for a few days waiting vainly for a relevant topic to come into my head.

Thong and longneck

repairing telegraph poles

Chain in a drum

Chemical containers on train

My “go to” man for all things natural, Max Elliott, suggested that this poor critter is a Limnodynastes peronii (Striped Marsh Frog to you and me). To hear his call, go to the gasworks on any wet night or follow this link to the Frogs Australia website.

Dead frog

Train crossing Broadmeadow Road



Saturday morning and, after three days of steady rain, it felt like the world would never by dry and sunny ever again. Because the rain had been so steady the creek had filled slowly and wasn’t in one of its churning, angry moods; but it was still brooding and sullen, channelling down pretty hard. The muddy brown wash whipped along at a brisk pace and foamed at the weir.

November flow

By lunchtime – Hallelujah! – the rain had stopped. By one o’clock the sun was out. By two o’clock it was sticky and humid and the water level in the creek had dropped to a low flow. Jambo was stir crazy and so I took hm down for a stickybeak. By now the sky was blue over Blackbutt and so I slid down the banking for a walk. I’m not a risk-taker and yet this afternoon, after three days of rain, I walked down the creek. Was I fool?

Even when it’s dry I get comments about the dangers of walking in the creek. Australia has an ambivalent relationship with water, easy to understand in the land where “the creeks run dry or ten feet high”. When I first moved to Newcastle I had lots of weekend trips around the Hunter to get to know the place. I remember one Sunday when I drove out to Paterson where I was struck by the number of deaths by drowning recorded on headstones in the cemetery there. (You didn’t expect me to take my kids to the park did you?) Creeks in flood were – are –dangerous, and this danger is strongly embedded our collective memory. A friend who grew up in Georgetown told me that she was told never to go near the creek for fear of being swept away: being “in the creek” and being “swept away” were synonyms. This is a fear with real substance: on the day I stood at the parapet on Chatham Road taking this photo a toddler drowned in a stormwater drain in Bingara. It happens. People die.

I’m not a surfer or much good in the ocean; I struggle to spot a rip and don’t feel comfortable outside the flags. But I do know that if I’m paddling around at Bar Beach I have the support of one of the world’s greatest volunteer safety and information institutions behind me in the form of Surf Life Saving Australia. Yet we don’t really have anything similar for our freshwater creeks and urban rivers. All we have is the endlessly repeated mantra “stay away from the drain”.

Danger floodway sign

Would you let your kids play in the surf unattended? No. If you wanted them to be surf savvy you’d send them to Nippers, you’d go with them to the beach and you’d teach them the ways of the water. You’d educate them. And yet today I saw kids playing by the creek banks. It’s steep there and, when the moss gets wet, it gets very slippery. Once you’re in the creek it’s hard to get out, even if you’re a six-foot tall man. These were kids ten, eleven, twelve years old.

I’ve learnt as much as I can about the creek. Any decision to go for a walk there is made on my observations of the environment, on previous experiences, of the weather report (through the Bureau of Meteorology web site), and on information that I know about the creek’s catchment. (You can view a Council-prepared document on the catchment which has some useful information.)

Importantly, I’m scared of the creek. I watch it and I know that it watches me, waiting for me to do something stupid so that it can suck me up and spit me out. I love it down there and yet I know that the water wouldn’t hesitate to curl around my ankles, laugh at my terrified, scrabbling attempts to claw up the concrete creek bank, whip me off and under and away.

I have a dream of Newcastle’s “drains” being transformed into urban waterways with boardwalks and bird hides and stepping stones and water features but, on days like today when I see the kids goggle-eyed on the banking, that dream feels a very long way off. Until we have Freshwater Nippers we’ll never have a generation of adults confident and knowledgeable enough to know when to love the creek and when to avoid it.

Until then I’ll stay respectfully scared of the Styx. I don’t want it to be my passage to the Underworld.

You are not alone …


One of the very pleasant results of the article in The Herald is the number of comments and emails and photos that people have sent me. There really are lots of us out there in Newcastle’s creeks and drains: walking our dogs, riding our bikes, taking photographs, or just using the waterways as shortcuts between suburbs.

Newcastle’s got a growing blog scene and connecting with other creek-lovers is an example of how, when the technology works for the people, it can be fantastic. The blogs that I check out tend to be photographic, which is probably a result of the way social media’s developed. With tumblr and flickr and an iPhone it’s never been easier to get your work noticed, and some of the stuff out there is truly amazing. Check out showbag or Stewart – it’s all very professional. Others, like Neil (and Ruby the spaniel, below), simply have a smart phone and an eye for a good shot. Amazingly, we’ve never bumped into one another down the creek. Yet.

Neil montage

My photos just seem to be getting worse. I’ve never been one to blame my camera for my failings as a photographer but my cheapo phone really is on the way out. Look what it did to this pipe and the coal train!

Wobbly train

On an unrelated topic, this is the third condom I’ve found down the night-soil lane in the last few months. I know I’m nearly fifty and about to turn into a full-blown curmudgeon but I mean: come on! The night soil lane? On a Wednesday? When it’s raining? Get a room!

[Editor’s note: I had a picture of the condom but, Jesus, it looked seedy and horrible, all scrunched up on the wet bitumen, so I hit “delete”. Phew.]

L’addition, s’il vous plait


I’ve written before about the strange convergence of Stuff. You might go down the creek ten dozen times and not see a single baseball mitten and then find three of them (all left-handed, of course). Today’s mystery theme was: Footwear! First it was a sandal.

Black sandal

And then a shoe. (Bless you.)

Black shoe

I know that two isn’t exactly a Major Convergence but I hadn’t seen any footwear of any kind for at least a month. And here’s a thought: though there were two of them I wouldn’t call them “a pair” of odd shoes, because they didn’t match and so weren’t a pair. But if I’d found two odd socks I wouldn’t have any hesitation in calling them “a pair” of odd socks. Hmm.

Went into the patch of ground near the rail tracks. There’s lots of dead railway stuff here: stacks of rotting wooden sleepers, lengths of rail, pyramids of galvanised bolts.

Stack of sleeprs

Rail track 43

It started to rain just as the tide peaked and so I was stranded for a little while on the western banking. Jambo and I mosied around looking for rabbits but there wasn’t much doing. The rain got heavier, the grass was long and dense and by the time I got back into the creek I was wet.

My wet feet

We tramped back up the creek and then home, via the night-soil lane. Someone’s converted one of their garages into a lounge or TV room and I often hear the telly going when I walk past at this time in the evening. I think that they must be planning une vacance a la France because the closer I got the more I heard a voice repeating the phrase “L’addition s’il vous plait”, “L’addition, s’il vous plait”, and a low, barely audible muttered response. It was, as they say, un peu bizarre.

Go green!


One of the great things about the green revolution is the improved and socially responsible quality of the rubbish that we now throw away. So much better than the olden days!

It was hot today and so I didn’t go down the creek till later on. The cool front of the cool front was just beginning to push through, a breeze that raced down the creek making the leaves and chip packets and other rubbish scratch and skitter along the concrete. Among the trash getting caught up against the sill was this “bio-cup”.

Bio cup

The idea of taking a “paper” cup, putting a green leaf on its side and rebranding it as a “bio” cup makes my brain numb and gives me a splitting I-hate-the-modern-world-and-all-it-stands-for headache. However, I mightn’t have thought too hard about the whole paper/bio-cup issue until, barely fifteen feet later, I came across two pieces of air-filled plastic that claimed somehow to be packaging of an environmentally friendly nature, perhaps because they too had the word “bio” printed on them.

Environmental rubbish

“Reduce Reuse Recycle” is the optimistic message on the blue one.

I’m not sure how the following fits in with the theme but this deflated Macca’s balloon caught my eye, and my ire, as well.

Macca's frappe balloon

What is a frappé? And what are Maccas doing selling it/them? Maybe I’m just annoyed because I’m not very good at culinary terminology. One of the questions at trivia night at the Gateway last Thursday was “What does fricassee mean?” We had multiple choice (fried, stewed or boiled) and we still got it wrong. Bah!

And here’s a ball, simply because I haven’t posted “Round things” for a while. The yellow thing behind it’s a choko.

Plastic softball

And here’s a rat with its guts eaten out, because I haven’t posted anything under “Drowned things” for a while either. And because I wouldn’t mind the answer to the question “What kind of satanic monster eats the guts of a rat?!”

Gutless rat

Powers of observation


I don’t believe that I’ve never  noticed this sign before, tucked away on the top (eastern end) corner of the rail bridge over the Styx. How many times have I walked under it?

Another question: Islington is 164.475 km from where? Can’t be Central, that’d be less. And why so precise? Answers please!

Sign on rail bridge

Midweek mayhem


Woah there! A schnitzel for ten bucks? On a Wednesday? That is not just mayhem, that is complete #@*!ing BEDLAM!

Midweek mayhem

Ralph Snowball


Photographer Ralph Snowball took thousands of photographs of Newcastle at the turn of the twentieth century. The story of how the glass negatives were discovered, saved and archived was told by Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist at the University of Newcastle, in an interview with ABC Newcastle’s Carol Duncan in 2009.

This photo is on the University archive’s flickr page (view a better version here). It shows what must by Styx Creek; the date fits and there are no other drainage channels of that scale in New Lambton. The most striking feature is the completely knackered landscape around the diggers. When we screw the environment we really screw it.

Ralph Snowball pic of drain in New Lambton

Pretty flowers


Everywhere there are flowers at the moment, though I don’t think that any of these are actually natives. Not even the yellow one, which isn’t strictly a flower. In fact I’ve no idea what it is. A choko?

Four flowers

The prettiest flower is this one. I think it’s a lily, though when I picked it up it was made out of plastic.

Plastic lily

The creek’s full of bright green ribbon weed. It’s not so thick around the brackish tidal water near the gasworks but, up near Hamilton North School towards Broadmeadow where the water’s less salty, it gets really thick. The ducks like to feed on it but they have to weigh up the benefits of getting the nice, fresh upstream weed against the danger of being so far away from open water. It looks like it should have some languid, red-haired Pre-Raphaelite sheila bobbing around in it.

ribbon weed

Instead, the only thing bobbing around was this number three. Anyone lost a number three?

Number Three