One of the great things about blogging is the feedback I get and the contact that occurs with people who are interested in the same things that I’m interested in. It’s almost as though the blogosphere is some kind of social medium. It’s … hmm, wait a minute …

Got an email from A who, with J, is a member of that tribe of Novocastrians who love to troll down the drains, poke their noses into derelict building sites, seek out gaps in fences, seek out the interesting amongst the banal and drab. This is J, taken last Easter down the Styx, the same time that I was writing the book.

I’ve also had a series of emails with J-Life, following up on the Ted! The Universe Loves You graffito that I came across in the old lampworks. At the time I imagined Ted as some miserable old git who worked in one of the businesses that operate out of (what is now called) the Hamilton North Business Centre. Not so:

Ted took a fall off a wharf while fishing last year. He suffered severe cranial injuries and was in an induced coma for sometime. At one stage the doctors believed he would suffer from “Locked-In Syndrome” and suggested turning off life support at one stage.
Ted pulled through and is now back at school with his mates.
The graff was done by myself and some friends that live in the area and are close to Ted and his Mum. The secret location of the message (and others like it) was so people such as yourself would come across it while exploring and hopefully wish him the best. The  kind of people that take the time to thoroughly investigate their surroundings are the kind of people you want sending out good messages.

Go Ted!

On Tuesday I set off down the drain with M and Trigger, and of course Jambo. We’d left our run a bit late and got pretty wet when a squall pushed inland, but the dogs still had a grand old time discovering stuff together.

On Friday I’m due to go on a retrieval expedition, the aim being to recover the high chair that I featured a couple of posts ago. N has decided he’d like to take it on as a restoration project, which is so much better than seeing rot in the gasworks.

Contact: it’s good.



God bless ’em. I really did think that they’d be onto the newly painted wall of Opalescent Signs much more quickly than they did, but in spite of their appalling Gen Y work ethic they eventually they got there.

I was walking back up the creek with Old Mate the other evening when I heard a load of yahooing and shouting coming from Chatham Road. Not surprisingly, Old Mate takes a cautious approach to mobs of teenagers running around in the creek. To my relief, my phone started ringing and it turned out that one of the yahoos was my son: “Is that you with Old Mate?”. I got him and his buddy to give us a big wave; not all teenagers are thugs!

This adolescent, however, was pretty full of himself. He was in the casuarina in my front garden, strutting around with his chest all puffed out and singing at the top of his voice. I walked up and took his photo; his parents were calling out to him from the safety of the red gum but he wasn’t fazed. Not one bit. He just stood his ground, gave me the eye and warbled a bit more. I can almost see the speech bubble: “You want some, granddad? Huh?”

The other truth about teenagers – that they’re permanently starving – was proved about two seconds after I took this photo of a dead bream. The four-legged teenager in my life, Jambo, appeared from nowhere and scoffed the lot (head, tail, entrails) in about two gulps before swaggering off all pleased with himself. He’d just had breakfast!

Before they’re teenagers, they’re children. I came across this olden-time baby’s highchair amongst a stand of dead lantana in the gasworks. I know someone who knows someone whose father was the manager of the gasworks in the fifties and who grew up in the house (now part of the ELGAS admin area) that was the manager’s residence. I doubt that this was his, it looks too recent (sixties or early seventies maybe) but I do wonder who it belonged to, and how it ended up here.

The highchair reminded of something else I came across last November, another sign perhaps of the social side of life in the gasworks. This old-style golf caddy still had tees, balls and a score card in the wooden storage box. Was it part of a works thing? Did guys hit a few balls around the site of a lunchtime? Guess I’ll never know.

Finally, me and Jambo took Murray, Django and Trigger the dog out for a tour of the creek and the gasworks. Visitors always like hamming it up by the old pull-shower. Get in that bath, boy!


Happy Jambos!


Hearts of Midlothian, the Jam Tarts, the Jambos, the only Scottish football team to be named after an Australian cairn terrier, are a happy bunch tonight!

The low down


Walking through the gasworks of an evening I’m often exasperated at how many rabbits I see and that Jambo doesn’t. Nose to the ground, he’s so involved in scenting them out that he doesn’t look up to see them scampering past not ten feet away. It put me in mind of the Metamorphoses, Ovid’s 2,000-year-old collection of poems about greedy, brutish humans and the wrathful, vengeful gods who punish their transgressions by turning them into trees or fish or spiders or whatever is deemed suitable.

Last year I read Ted Hughes’s translation (or, really, rewriting) of the poems, Tales from Ovid, which is absolutely brilliant. Acteon, returning from a hunt, stumbles across Diana bathing naked in a pool. She’s so furious that she turns him into a stag; when he leaves the pool his hunting companions see him and hunt him to the death. You get the idea. There was another (but I can’t remember the name) about a person who is turned into a dog and the description of this stupid mortal transmogrifying from two legs to four, being condemned to forever viewing the world from low down, is a perfect account of Jambo and my contrasting world views. I tried getting low down this week to see his world.

The lorikeets have been stripping a mandarin tree near the creek, tearing open the unripe fruit then discarding them as though disappointed to find them too tart and bitter, then moving on to the next one.

Richardson Park has been home to a large flock of ibis (Australian white and straw necked) this week, stalking around the fig trees and probing the thick mulch.

But find of the week was this long-necked turtle down by the beck. I think he must have journeyed  from way up towards Kotara, where it’s more turtle-friendly. He was struggling here, occasionally plopping back into the water (when he thought I’d gone) and trying to swim, without much success, against the current.

There’s always something pleasurable about seeing an unexpected creature or thing down the creek. There are places in Newcastle where you can see dozens of turtles but one, here, is special, like the occasional dotterels or bitterns that I see further downstream.

I hope he doesn’t end up as cormorant fodder. But, then, that’s nature. Like Ovid’s gods, nature doesn’t muck about.

This morning, a strange new type of ball came bobbing down the beck. It’s bright orange and looks like a golf ball, with a hard plastic skin. Not very bouncy and is about the size of tennis ball. It had the word “UNI” scrawled in Texta on the outside. I’m probably typical of most men in that I’ll watch almost anything on TV that involves other men chasing a ball around, but I’ve never seen a ball like this before. What is it for?

Generation mash-up


Countless times I’ve found myself in the creek staring up as a train rattles past from Newcastle to Telarah or back again. In the morning or late afternoon, which is generally when I walk Jambo, the carriages are full of commuters reading their books or iPads or newspapers, or staring glumly with their chin cupped in their hand. If anyone does see me I wonder if they’re wondering “What the hell is he doing down there?”

On Saturday I had the rare opportunity to be the face on the train staring down into the creek. It was Groovin the Moo day at Maitland and, in time-honoured tradition, I got the train up from Hamilton Station with the Young Folk. I must have looked a bit odd as we neared the creek, taking photos of all my favourite landmarks: the gas tower with POAS and CUBE on it; the points shelter; the rail easement.

And finally – TA DAH! – Styx Creek.

And then Clyde Street. It was nice to be on the side causing the queue rather than in it.

Groovin the Moo was good fun. Highlights were Public Enemy’s mash-up of AC/DC’s Back in Black, and the set by Kaiser Chiefs.

But it’s not just the Young Folk who are creative and inspiring. On Sunday I got to mix it up with a different but equally inspiring generation. I’d had a call from Allan and Pamela Carruthers as Pam wanted a copy of the book for Allan. The Carruthers own a property in Kotara South that backs onto the Styx, very near its headwaters. Allan’s a real goer and has led a bush regeneration project in  his street, drawing in his neighbours and Newcastle City Council’s Bushcare team to help him tackle a patch of what used to be lantana and bramble.

His efforts are remarkable; the lantana’s been beaten back and massive numbers of indigenous natives have been planted. The creek’s once again become home to wrens, water dragons and a red-bellied black snake called Sam, and is visited by some of the larger prey animals, such as powerful owls and peregrine falcons, that base themselves in nearby Blackbutt Reserve.

One of the Bushcare team reckon that this is not natural tearing in the bark of this turpentine, below, but is a scar tree, a tree that’s had bark removed in the recently ancient past by Aboriginal people to make a coolamon or shield. All this and barely a kilometre from Garden City!

Such fun. Thanks, Steve and Rod, for GTM. And thanks, Allan and Pamela, for showing me your corner of the Styx.

Autumn noodling


A glorious autumn day, the kind that makes you feel glad to be alive. The grass-cutting crew was out and about.

Huge clouds of swallows swoop around the tidal pool. There have been large squadrons of black and great cormorants on the litter boom but in the last few days they’ve all gone, to be replaced by one or two little pied cormorants. I’m not sure whether the pieds prefer saltwater to the brackish and fresh water but I rarely see them this far upstream. But I did see this lonely Ug boot.

Here’s the answer to one of the missing cormorants. I didn’t see it; of course it was Jambo who sniffed it out. It’s been dead a while and, from a distance, blended perfectly into the bleached dead stems of a lantana bush laid flat by blades of the tractor slasher.

I also found a lucky rabbit’s foot. I’ll bet the three-legged rabbit it belongs to doesn’t feel very lucky.

On the way back, a tale of contrast. Firstly, this little sprig of broccoli. (Sprig? Node? Nub? Clove? Nodule? Stalk? Stem? Please advise.) I’ve seen just about everything in the creek but this little piece of bright green vegetable just looked plain weird. It was so bright and fresh!

And so, secondly, this inspection cap. Not only did it have the usual spangled, tarry, bituminous gump coming out but today a sick-looking kind of frothy ooze.

The benefits of working for myself are many. I can go to aikido at lunchtime, for a start, though the down side is that it can cut a two-hour hole in my day by the time I’ve cycled there, been flogged around, gotten home, showered and back in front of the glowing monitor. I had to catch up on a job and I was late finishing, and so late walking Jambo.

Dusk fell on the gasworks just as we arrived. This picture doesn’t do it justice but the gloaming through the seed heads of the grasses created a mauve carpet that hovered three feet above the earth, foregrounding a spectacular sunset pierced by a single vapour trail.

It’s soon dark in May; a quick circuit and we were in darkness, without even the waning Super Moon to guide us. Just the floodlights in the ELGAS depot.

A cold change is forecast. I’ll soon be pining for days like these.

Gdoof gdoof gdoof


Opalescent Signs on Chinchen Street in Islington backs onto Styx Creek. They have a fence made out of concrete reinforcing mesh; it’s overgrown with a kind of purple-flowering vine but I can still see in, and the guys can see out. If I’m taking the eastern banking down under  Chinchen Street bridge, past Islington Public School and as far as the TAFE then I go past Opalescent Signs, and this compressor. It’s endless g’doof g’doof g’doof sound is the backdrop to my mornings.

I like it though because it reminds me of some wild Harley-inspired steam-punk time machine or something.

Opposite Opalescent Signs, on the western bank, is a place with huge, tall sheds. There are great tall stacks of pallets and guys beaver around in forklift trucks, moving them back and forth. Jambo is fascinated by them, these forklifts – fascinated, I suspect, in a “capture and kill” kind of way. I reckon it’s a scale or perspective thing; he think they’re actually quite small, like rats or baby rabbits. Capture. Kill.

The steam-punk compressor kicked off a minor vehicle theme in my head. Behind Phillips Street is this renovator’s delight. There used to be a show on ABC when my kids were little in which the characters were all toys; there was inevitably a truck called (from memory) Diesel and it looked just like this.

Or this.

I looped round the creek, the gasworks and back up Clyde Street on Friday morning. I think it’s a crying shame that the centenary of the beautiful old Gas and Coke building slipped by unnoticed, and I feel annoyed with myself for not having pushed to make something happen.

On Chatham Road we came across an entire falafel, not the usual half-eaten job thrown from a car window at a passing cyclist (he said, speaking from bitter experience). What happened? Late night high jinks, on the way home from the Kent? Or did it fall out of someone’s backpack? That would have been annoying! So many streets, so many stories!

Steam on the creek


Late Friday afternoon and I watched in bewilderment as a long line of olden-time railway carriages trundled up the line and through the Clyde Street lights. Then the light bulb went on: they were getting ready for Steamfest!

I don’t know how I could have forgotten. My later father-in-law, born in the railway town of Werris Creek to a railway clerk father, was steam mad. (Don’t call them trains – they’re steam locomotives!) He built scaled-down versions, which he ran on the track at Edgeworth, and each year he’d be up at Maitland with all his steam-mad mates. So I felt duty bound to make the effort to watch at least one of them on the commute between Maitland and Newcastle. This is the 3526, crossing Styx Creek and pulling carriages backwards. I’ll bet there’s a proper railway term for that; Kev would have known.

The train (whoops, locomotive: don’t call them trains!) looks like it’s standing still here but I can assure you it wasn’t.

The toot of a steam loco is so much softer and more melancholic than the harsh parp! of a modern diesel (or “diseasel”, as Kev dismissively called them). On my later afternoon walk I caught this coal train, the 9010, thundering through Clyde Street. Maybe in forty years’ time I’ll feel nostalgic for that harsh parp!, but not yet.

The weather cooled on Monday. The creek was too slippery and so I took Jambo round the streets of Hamilton North, always a Plan B walk as far as he’s concerned as it means being on the lead. We came across several dead birds on Newcastle Street, as though they’d just dropped out of the trees. Perhaps they had, perhaps they’re the frailer and aged ones who couldn’t handle a sudden chill.

As winter looms it seems that birds are seeking safety in large groups. A flock of perhaps a hundred sulphur-crested cockatoos flew over my house today, and I counted eighteen cormorants by the TAFE litter boom. Though, after Jambo had tried to round them up, there were eighteen less.

Even the herons and egrets, normally solitary birds, appear to be grouping together.

There are still lots of wanderer butterflies in the gasworks, though fewer dragonflies. Certainly one fewer than before after this orb spider caught him. What must it be like to be trapped on a sticky web while you have the juice sucked out of you? Ugh!

This morning was one of those lovely fresh days. A day when you get out on your ladder and do some sprucing up. When this nice man’s finished, hhis black will make a beautiful background for some aerosol-based artwork. I’ll give it two days, max.

Also bumped into this very dapper gent on his way to TAFE. Very chic! I said, “Can I take your picture?” and he said, “Sure!” If I’d asked some older person (and I probably wouldn’t have even asked) I have the feeling that I’d have been met with suspicion and a refusal, but young people don’t mind. It might be the ubiquity of smart phones, blogs and Facebook but I think that this will be the most photographed generation ever. Till the next one.

Finally, if Kotara Under 16s would like to know where there ball is, simply go to the litter boom by the TAFE.