An explanation at last


I went to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the Newcastle Film Society on Sunday night. The images from the Chauvet Caves in France, thousands and thousands of years old, were spectacular, absolutely breathtaking. I wonder if my eyes were opened to new visions by seeing the film, because the next morning I saw this piece of repaired concrete in the creekbed, which I’ve walked over countless times before, and immediately thought of the paintings of the Chauvet cave lions. Perhaps it was the chance placement of a dead leaf that made an eye; I minute earlier or later and wouldn’t have seen it.

And here’s a photo of a spider, for no other reason than that I nearly walked into it and it scared the bejaysus out of me.

On Anzac Day evening I addressed the Booklovers, a group of people who meet every month at Cooks Hill Books. Derby Street just after dark was full of young men with the unfocused eyes and wobbly gait that’s a direct consequence of overdoing your remembrance. I cool wind blew in off the harbour and I wondered whether anyone would turn up to hear me prattle on about the creek and A Year Down the Drain.

I needn’t have worried; there was a good turn out and extra chairs had to be dug out from the back room. And apart from having a good conversation about books and drains I learned, at last, just what it is that I’m doing wrong by being in the creek.

I’ve been told many times that walking in there is illegal. However, when I’ve fronted up to Hunter Water’s offices and asked exactly what law I’m breaking I haven’t found anyone who’s been able to tell me. Explanations are garbled and convoluted; I know that Newcastle City Council have the rights and responsibilities over some of the creeks, Hunter Water over the others, and that there are various agreements and easements that allow NCC and HW to allow buildings and developments to take place over covered drains. But there isn’t, as far as I know, a map that a member of the public can go to to find out exactly who has rights over what.

This dog, for example, and his skateboard, is a CRIMINAL but does not even know it.

And this ballooon!

Seriously, I finally found out that this stretch of the Styx is held in freehold title by Hunter Water. It has a DP number (is that the correct term?) and a lot number. It’s private land, from the bankings down to the bed, and so to walk in there is equivalent to walking into someone’s back yard. Not all of the Styx is like this, and many of its tributaries are treated differently, but that’s the basic information that applies to the bit that I’ve been toddling along twice a day for several years.

It was like a great weight had been lifted from shoulders. At last I know what I’m doing wrong! Hooray.

Having said that, it won’t stop me, at least it won’t until I get the summons.

Finally, a photo taken on the way home from pub quiz at the Gateway last night, one of the last trains into Hamilton from Telarah. My eyes were as blurry as those young guys staggering up and down Derby Street on Wednesday. We came second and I won an ice bucket in the raffle. Apparently the person who delivers the meat trays didn’t turn up. Does anyone want an ice bucket?

What’s the buzz, cock?


I’m a nosy old git. If I’m walking down Styx Creek and I come across someone else down there I want to ask them “What the hell are you doing here?” I don’t mind them asking me what I’m doing: for one it’s self-evident (I’m walking the dog, of course!) and for another I don’t mind people asking blunt questions.

But wanting to ask these questions doesn’t mean that I actually do ask them. This morning, a crisp, breezy Anzac Day, I came across two guys under the Chatham Road bridge. I don’t mean standing on the creek bed, having a bit of a look round; they were hunched up in the scrunchy little gap, where the banking angles into the support beams. They were both in their late twenties, I’d guess, maybe early thirties. Well dressed. Clutching notebooks. Old Mate was under the arch on the opposite bank, asleep (or pretending to be). They were quite cheerful, these two, and we passed the time of day as though we were outside the post office in Beaumont Street. But screaming inside me all the time was the question “What the hell are you doing?”

Being British I carried on, of course, as though what they were doing – right here, right now, squashed into a narrow gap under the Chatham Road bridge on Anzac Day morning – was completely normal. But the further I walked towards Islington the more I resolved, on my return, to demand some answers.

I was talking about the creek with a friend a while back, moaning about the litter, and he asked me if I picked it up. He remembered how, as a boy, his father would always take a plastic bag to the beach and pick up litter as they walked along and how, being a boy, this filled him with an appalling sense of shame and embarrassment but now, as an adult, he found himself stuffing a plastic bag in his pocket whenever he set off for the beach. I must admit that I’m a sporadic picker-upper of litter, usually stung into action when the creek hasn’t flowed for a while and the drink cans are building up. (My best effort to date is 14 bags of the stuff.) This morning there were only big things, such as this bundle of cellophane:

And this busted paddling pool:

But I was doing a bit of an emu bob as a looped back through the gasworks and towards Clyde Street. A brightly coloured wrapper caught my eye and I bent to pick it up. Then stopped.

It’s not every day you find a 5″ glittery lady’s finger on the footpath and, though I’ll cheerfully pick up Jambo’s poo there was something about this that made go … hmm. What sucked me in though (and here’s the “nosy old git” link) was the bit of paper sticking out the side: “instruction manual”. Now that captured my imagination! An instruction manual? Surely you just, well, you know …

Apparently not! As well as the instructions for general use there’s a “warning” section, a “cleaning and care” section and even an unnervingly titled “electrical malfunction” section, from which I quote:

Excessive usage … will cause wear on the motor and cause the motor to overheat. If this happens and the vibrator seems alarmingly hot, switch it off immediately and allow to cool down before using again.

Alarmingly hot? Bloody hell.

A clanging of bells brought me to my senses and I realised that the gates were closed. A queue of traffic was banked up on Clyde Street and the drivers, one and all, were watching me, perhaps waiting to see what I’d do with my 5″ glittery lady’s finger. This time my sense of Britishness served me well and I did the right thing: put the wrapper in my pocket so that, later, I could separate the plastic casing (red-topped, general rubbish bin) from the instruction manual (yellow-topped, recycling bin).

I still had work to do. Those two men, under the Chatham Road bridge: would they still be there?

Annoyingly, they’d gone. Now I’ll never know what the hell it was they were up to. I’ll never be able to ask: what was the buzz, cock?

[Post script: all males of my age and ethno-cultural background will know that “What’s the buzz, cock?” was the heading in Time Out, ahead of a review of TV show Rock Follies. It’s the heading that famously gave Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford (aka  Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto) the idea for the name for their new band, Buzzcocks. Did you get Rock  Follies in  Australia? It was a show about the seedy side of the music industry and launched the careers of Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and the other woman whose name no-one ever remembers*. My cousin Andrew had the LP and I can still sing most of the theme tune.]

* Charlotte Cornwell. Thank you, Google.

A foggy morning


Sunday morning. A thick fog, which is just starting to lift as I hit the creek.

Sounds are muffled. The cars crossing the Griffiths Road bridge sound as though they’re much further away, but the bubbly ragtime of Eric Gibbons’ trombone over at the farmers’ markets sounds as though it’s coming from inside the drooping branches of the fig trees in Richardson Park.

It’s been raining and the water’s dark. Since the start of La Nina last year a little “beach” has appeared at the confluence of the Styx and the Chaucer Street drain. It’s only a few feet long, maybe twenty feet by three feet, but it has the dappled corrugations of a real beach. I thought it was topsoil being washed down from the playing fields upstream but now I realise that it’s made from the sandy silt that leaches out from behind the concrete bankings.

There are gaps appearing in the soil behind the concrete in some stretches of the creek, holes that you could stick your arm into (if you were foolhardy enough to want to do so).

Wherever you have a hard material up against a soft material you’ll have some kind of erosion. Down at Throsby Creek they’re tackling the issue by removing some of the concrete bankings and replacing them with battered-back rock revetments.

I’m not sure that this would work for the Styx, if only because the banking is so much steeper and deeper, but at some point in the future Hunter Water is going to have to engage with this problem. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, given that the Styx (unlike Throsby) isn’t surrounded by well-visited, highly used parkland.

In the meantime, Jemena Pty Ltd, the owners of the derelict gasworks, have installed a couple of new inspection caps.

That’s interesting.

A load of old balls


Boom boom!

This feeble visual pun does actually have some relevance to today’s story. These balls, the ones above, are the ones that kids use to play handball. They’re particularly bouncy and they’re the only ones that Jambo really likes. Tennis balls get heavy when they’re wet and roll with dull predictability. Soccer balls are too big. Ping pong balls and golfballs are too small. Cricket balls are too hard. But handball balls are just right: when I throw them down the creekbed they bounce and skitter off the irregularities in the concrete and make a game of what would otherwise be a fairly boring catch-and-return routine. Until I started thinking about them I didn’t realise how many I’d brought home. This is just the tip of the iceberg, a quick emu-bob around the back yard.

Balls and drink bottles are easily the most represented litter items in the water (if we don’t count cigarette butts and bits of broken styrofoam). Though I was staggered to see a telly bobbing around in the water other day. A telly?

On those rare occasions when the litter is collected from the boom it gets dumped into a skip in the TAFE. I came across a couple of young lads liberating balls from this skip, doing the kind of thing I can imagine myself having done forty years ago during school holidays. They had stacks of them!

The recent rain brought a trolley down the creek, a leaf-encrusted model from Coles stuck firm in the beck. Here, Jambo demonstrates the stealth method of approaching a trolley. You just don’t know what might be in there.

I carried on up and towards the gasworks. There’s been a bit of work in the easement between the rail lines and the gasworks boundary, a lot of ballast has been dumped, and these rotten sleepers. They were saturated from the overnight rain and in the morning sunshine they were steaming, making an ethereal scene.

Jambo went chasing rabbits, which is his current obsession. I came across this tag: given that it’s been removed, does it mean that a person’s life may be at risk?

It’s quite rare to see the modal verb “may” being used in signage. When I consulted Pam Peters’ Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage I was surprised to see her say that “[may] is now far commoner than [might]”. Really?

Older usage preferred might … because, as the historical past form of may, it made the sense of possibility more remote. However tense distinctions among modal verbs have fallen away. Curiously, might is now found more often than may in speech, and less often in writing.

Well blow me down.

Came across more bunnies on the way home. Well, a bunny. Perhaps a more successful Easter Bunny than the one I saw the other day, this one has his own getaway car.

Unlike Bert, who I discovered in the Hamilton North Business Centre, just behind Lifeline.

I took a photo of this sign. I don’t know why, I think it was more the Telstra junction box that caught my eye. Those junction boxes always look so frail and vulnerable, I’m surprised they aren’t vandalised more than they are. Our whole shiny new Internet world depends on little boxes like this not being smashed up or exposed to the elements. It somehow makes me a little less confident in the ability of technology to control our future.

Vale Easter Bunny


The Easter Bunny was exhausted from a long weekend delivering eggs to the good children of Hamilton North. Fatigue leads to poor decision making, and taking a short cut through the gasworks was the last poor decision EB ever made. What’s that rapidly descending shadow in his peripheral vision? Is there time to make it to the lantana? No.

The moon is on the wane and so the tides have been a little lower. The creek fills fairly slowly on an incoming tide but when it turns the water fairly flies out. There are always things floating on the water but there’s also a whole load of stuff just below the surface, stuff that reminds me of the horrible bog that Frodo, Sam and Gollum had to cross the Dead Marshes with the faces of dead warriors staring up from the pools. Take this discarded teddy, for instance. Terrifying.

And this panda show bag.

And … what if?

What if what?

This last one really belongs in the “Where are they now?” category. I reckon the kid who paddled through this Depression-era slab of concrete would have 22 great-grandchildren by now. Hope you’re still around to enjoy them, whoever you are.

Not again!


Under no circumstances be tempted to stand next to this street sign: it’s the most knocked-over in Newcastle.

Sublime mornings and a waxing moon have brought high tides and millpond conditions to the creek.

The litter’s building up again, but the recently repaired boom by the TAFE is doing its job.

All it needs now is for the men in waders and armed with nets to actually pull the stuff out.

I’ve started noticing more and more Asian food containers appearing. What’s going on? Is there a new Asian supermarket upstream, or is this stuff that’s come off the boats and has bobbed all the way up to here from the coast?

I arrived at the Chaucer Street Drain junction just as the tide was coming in this morning, a powerful, steady surge.

Half a dozen cormorants were dipping and diving in the deeper water, with a heron and a couple of egrets stalking behind them. A new duck and her single duckling has recently arrived in the tidal pool. Jambo went to wish them a formal welcome to country.

The other duck still hangs around the Chatham Road bridge. I’m bewildered by this fellow. He either (a) is some kind of ninja duck who is so powerful he can afford to let me get so close I can almost touch him, (b) has been hit very hard with the stupid stick or (c) has some kind of death wish. Whatever, he’s also the happiest duck I’ve ever seen. I think he actually smiles.

There’s new graffiti in the gasworks. I don’t know much about art, but I do know that I’d rather look at this stuff than 90% of the mind-numbingly juvenile tagging that graces most of the area.

Oh, and this. Perhaps the most redundant labelling I’ve seen since “Caution: contains hot liquid” on the lids of McDonalds coffee cups.

Is that in case the kids think it’s some kind of lolly and try to eat it?