Raptor season


Don’t wait to get a better picture; if you’re there, and you have a camera or a phone, just take it. I was going to take a better picture of the circus by night but I didn’t. I did get this not very good one, and now that the circus has gone for another season I’m happy that at least I took it when I had the chance.

The same goes for this one of the moonset over Sunnyside, looking west down Boreas Road (you can just make out the crescent of the moon above the treetops). I was going to get a better shot the next night with a proper camera and a tripod. But didn’t. I went to a party the next night, and anyway it was cloudy, and blah blah blah.

I remember talking to someone about children, specifically the baby-to-toddler period, when entire days can be lost sitting on the kitchen floor banging the lids of pots against the lino. Time seems to grind to a halt, and then you raise your eyes to discover that that time has gone. My friend described it thus: “The moments last for years and the years are gone in moments”.

I was thinking about this when I was walking down the creek the other day. The wet, warm weather has provided perfect conditions for those myriad creatures that make up the wide base of the food pyramid: the gnats and skinks and tiny fish, the lizards and ducklings, the rabbit kits and the mice. It must have been a good season because of the abundance of creatures at the pyramid’s apex. I can’t remember seeing so many large raptors; the black-shouldered kites and kestrels are common all year round but recently I’ve seen a grass owl, a swamp harrier and now a pair of peregrine falcons.

I had a moment with this pair, a moment that lasted a year while it was happening but was over in an instant. The first falcon I saw was perched atop one of the fuel storage tanks in the petrol depot. As I watched, the swooping black crescent of a second peregrine sped past, causing the perching falcon to rise with a furious shriek. The two of them set into an acrobatic display of dives and soars and pile-driving swoops, all the time squawking their rage at one another. The whole show was over in about thirty seconds. The interloper, vanquished, soared around impotently a few more times while the first falcon resumed it’s perch, nonchalantly raised its haunches and crapped down the side of the storage tank. I tried to commit everything I’d seen to the hard drive of my brain. A few moments: if I’d left the house a minute earlier or later I would have missed it entirely.

Meanwhile, the circus is leaving. By the time I post this, Thunder the pony will be being “stolen” in Wagga or Port Kembla or Parkes.

The creek is clean from the recent freshes. Hunter Water drove by and picked up the bags of rubbish that I collected and so I have a warm and virtuous feeling about me. Stuff is starting to accumulate again, inevitably, but I feel that I can control it. A bag and week and I’ll be on top of it. Some things, however, I just leave. It might have a half-life of two million years but I think this dinosaur deserves a chance to see the sea.

As does this slightly creepy dog thing.

No, maybe not the creepy dog thing. That’s going in the bag.



The whole of Newcastle is abuzz with the theft of Thunder, the miniature pony, from Weber’s Circus last night. (Read the whole gripping affair in the Herald here.)

The more cynical among you may suspect that Thunder is “stolen” in every town that Weber’s visits, each time being conveniently recovered, unharmed, a few hundred metres away. Tut tut. There may be no people like show people, but that would be just … well, funny.

Following the (not) Styx


I’d been to the dentist and it was bucketing down and so I thought, as you do, today is the day I’ll follow the Styx as far upstream as I can. I was in town and so headed out along Glebe Road towards Adamstown. The first point where I hit the creek was where it crosses Moonbi Street, just behind Alder Park.

At this point it’s nowhere near as wide as it is in Broadmeadow but, other than in scale, it’s very familiar to me: angled concrete bankings and gun-barrel straight course. A city drain at work.

The water was a churning, silt-laden brown, testament to the force of the downpour. I was only out in the weather for a minute but it was enough for me to get soaked.

I drove past the bowlo and hung a left onto Bridges Road, through the roundabout and onto Northcott Drive. The Styx cuts through the playing fields at the back of St Pious X before angling westward, under Northcott Drive and through the middle of Blah Town – the huge conglomeration of mega-businesses just before Kotara shopping centre. Given what else they’ve done to the landscape around here I’m amazed that they haven’t simply built over the creek. It takes up a fair stack of real estate and cuts Bunnings off from Joyce Mayne, which must be Bad For Business. But there it is, plugging along under Park Ave and on into Kotara proper.

If you’re travelling by car, as I was, you lose sight of the creek for a while here. You can see where it should be – where it is – behind the houses on Grayson Ave, but you have to wait till you get to Vista Parade (a rather grand name for a non-descript street) before you cross it again. But it’s worth it: you see the Styx without concrete bankings, beginning at last to look less like a drain and more like an actual creek.

There is still some concrete but there’s also been an effort to rehabilitate other stretches, and it makes an instant impact. It was only when I walked around the corner that I realised where I was; my son played cricket on this oval (Nesbitt Park?) a few times, and I do remember that behind the scorers’ bench was a section of (then dry) creek that had had a good amount of work put into it.

I drove around the oval to the clubhouse, and here I finally got my first glimpse of the Styx as it should be.

It was spectacularly beautiful. Though my trousers were wet to the knee I was sheltered from the rain by the huge eucalypts that lined the banks. Dense patches of those vines that I don’t know the name of – the ones with a purpley-mauve trumpet-shaped flower – grew between and up and over the lilies and ferns. A lone whipbird lashed out its call against the steady drum of raindrops on broad leaves.

I must have missed the heaviest flow as, a little further downstream, banks of reeds had been completely flattened.

I carried on a little further but the terrain got steeper, the road started pulling away from the creek proper, and my windscreen was steaming up from wet clothes plastered against human being. I’d gone as far as I could up the Styx today: or had I?

This is not the Styx. Styx Creek, as it appears on maps of the late-nineteenth century, runs through Gregson Park. When the drainage canal that became Styx Creek was dug out around 1910 the old Styx Creek was relegated to “Chaucer Street drain” and the main channel that ran into the big canal came, by extension, Styx Creek. So while I’d followed a Styx Creek, I hadn’t followed the Styx Creek.

That’ll have to wait for another day.

Do the right thing! For the kids!


I’m often startled at how unobservant I am. I hadn’t noticed this addition to the Styx Creek sign on the Griffiths Road bridge, though it doesn’t look new. It might have been there for years but, since I stopped walking my kids to Hamilton North School, I rarely walk that stretch of the road. But the creek was up and I thought I’d take Jambo somewhere different.

It annoyed me, that sign. I know that it’s been put there for a good cause by people who have thought about a particular issue, but it irked me. The problem they wish to address is the amount of pollution in the creek, in this case the high levels of fecal coliform from dog poo. I’ve always been a conscientious picker-upper of Jambo’s poo, even though every time I do this I also have a pang of conflict at putting the poo into a plastic bag and then putting the plastic bag into landfill. These are, I suppose, the minutely tedious ethical dilemmas of modern life.

What annoyed me was the catch phrase “Help the kids keep the creek clean!” It’s annoying at several levels, not least of them being the hearty, thumbs-up exclamation mark at the end. Who are these kids who are keeping the creek clean? The only kids I meet down the creek tend to have a dozen aerosol cans in their backpacks, or they’re in the process of destroying a lawnmower left out during the Council pick-up. Is it the school kids involved in the WaterWatch program? I don’t think that they keep the creek clean; their task – a valuable one – is to take measurements and record species numbers.

I get the feeling that these “kids” are part of the lazy manipulation that’s called upon when trying to force adults who have no self interest to do a “good thing”. How can we appeal to their better instincts? I know! Through “the kids”! No one likes to think that they’re kicking the kids in the eye. However, I’d prefer a sign that said “Pick up your dog’s crap”.

The rain stopped, and I calmed down a bit. Took some meditative pics in the gasworks.

Checked out the rat to see how much it had decayed (quite a bit in five days; Nature doesn’t mess about).

As I walked under the Chinchen Street bridge a piece of newspaper bobbed past in the water. Internationally renowned spiritual teachers are coming to Newcastle! What on earth could they possibly teach us? To pick up our dog poo?

Sparkly bottle versus Pepsi-can raft race


I walk down Styx Creek almost every day, but my first trips into the creek were taken when my kids were little and we’d just moved to Hamilton North, about 13 years ago now. Getting my two-year-old son up and down the concrete banking was always a major task and, like anything with a toddler, could take up an entire afternoon. (As could walking the 150 yards from the end of our drive to the creek itself. So many things to stop and look at!)

We spent many (many) hours racing sticks in the fast-running beck that runs down the centre of the creek bed. When his sister arrived a couple of years later she joined in too, and there developed complex and elaborate rules governing what could and couldn’t be done to aid a stick caught in an eddy or trapped against a clump of reeds.

I was pleased to see that the tradition continues, though these two craft were much sturdier and more seaworthy than anything that we ever made.

For the record, the sparkly milk bottle was about 30 feet further down the creek than the Pepsi raft: a win for wholesome milky goodness over global corporate teeth-rotting fizz.

This morning the creek by the Chatham Road bridge was barely visible, hidden by a haze of petroil fumes and dew sprayed into the atmosphere by the whizzing nylon blades of half a dozen whipper snippers. Everything’s growing so quickly at the moment that the slasher crew’s down the creek on a regular basis. There’s a freshness to these mornings that’s most un-February-like; almost autumnal.

The tangled outdoor furniture that appeared after the fresh-before-last has turned up in the pool by the TAFE, as did the mother duck and her four ducklings. I wondered how on earth they managed to survive the thunderous downpour of the weekend but, hey, they’re ducks. They’ve been doing this kind of thing for a few million years now.

This young rat wasn’t so lucky.

Another reminder of time and life passing was the flag at half mast at the Bowlo. Such a sad but common sight at bowling clubs as their membership ages.

I remember Martin Babakhan (who used to do the morning weather report on ABC 1233) standing for local council elections a few years back. One of his proposals (I think I’m remembering this correctly) was that skateboard ramps be placed within the grounds of bowling clubs: the clubs would benefit from increased patronage from young people; there’d be less chance of young people acting up, and they’d be safer places for younger skaters; and there’d be a better generational mix.

I don’t think I thought much of Martin’s other policies (neither did the rest of Newcastle; he only got 9% of the vote in the 2007 State election when he stood as Liberal candidate) but that idiosyncratic idea’s always struck me as plain, good sense.



It’s all that people have talked about this summer, or at least during the months when this summer would normally have taken place.

It brings things down the creek.

Then washes them away.

Some kids dragged this bike out of the beck, intent on salvaging it. It’ll be gone now, before they even got home from school and down there to haul it out.

This morning there was a mother duck and four ducklings in the beck. I don’t think I’m being to speculative too believe that they’re the same ones that I saw in Lambton Ker-rai Creek on Tuesday.

It made me think though about the ducky life cycle. I regularly see clutches in the canal but they’re always aged from a few weeks to a couple of months: from fluffy to fledged. I’m going to make an assumption here: that they nest in the upper reaches, towards Blackbutt, then move downstream towards the estuary via the smaller channels as they get older.

The Styx at Hamilton North isn’t a particularly good place to raise young as the concrete sides are too high and steep for ducklings to escape into the undergrowth. As I found this morning when we came across these ducklings and Jambo showed off his duckling fettling skills, until I got him back in the lead. Well pleased with himself, he was.

This made me smile


There are so many clever people out there! Nice one, showbag.

The circus is coming


Seeing the signs up in Richardson Park took me back ten years to when the kids were small enough to enjoy that kind of caper. One of the benefits of owning the bookshop was that people would ask to put posters up in our window and, in return, give us free tickets to their event, and so we went to the circus quite often.

Compared to the online kill-fest of Call of Duty III a circus seems pretty lame to Modern Kids. That’s tough on circuses as they have a huge “you’ve got to be there to get it” factor. I was always genuinely impressed by the athleticism, skill and daring of the performers, and even my son (now only a few weeks away from an XBox rehab centre) remembers falling of his chair laughing at Captain Frodo’s tennis racquet routine when we went to see Circus Oz. So, people: go to the circus!

I hope the park dries out for them. Smith Park was saturated on Friday and yet the guy who does the little sports thing for school kids was all set up with his goal posts and netball hoops. I didn’t go back to check whether his optimism was rewarded or whether the school just rang up and said “Forget it, buster”. Water polo might have been better.

The flush brought down a couple of interesting sculptures; a cycle wrapped in a grey tarpaulin (haven’t had a bike down the creek in months) and these two cleverly interlocked outdoor seats. If you can unravel them, they’re yours.

Everything dries out pretty quickly though. This morning (Sunday) was glorious. I particularly like the stretch where the canal bends round to join the Chaucer Street drain, from there on to the railway bridge before Chinchen Street. It’s only a couple of hundred metres and yet, on mornings like this, if you squint your eyes you could be anywhere but Newcastle. The tide was right up but the water was as still as a pond. Fish jumped or churned the water in schools. Clouds of wanderer butterflies grouped on the cotton bush weeds, laying a clutch eggs for the caterpillars to feed on the milky sap before the summer disappears. The lantana rustled with rabbit kits and blue-tongue lizards, and thornbills and wrens flitted in the lower branches while egrets and herons stalked the banking. I came across this lazy cormorant snoozing on the litter boom by the TAFE.

It must have had a big Saturday night. When it finally became aware of my presence it clattered off, more out of embarrassment than fear, I think.

Jambo ran off with something in his mouth. I thought it was a bird at first but, when he finally agreed to drop it, I realised that it was, well, part of a bird.