Lying around


Last year, or maybe it was earlier this year, there were huge flocks of magpies and Indian mynahs in the gasworks, all mixed up together. Most of the magpies have dispersed but a bunch of them, perhaps a family group, have taken up residence around the junction of Emerald and Hamilton streets. There’s about half a dozen adults and a couple of juveniles. I came across these three the other day, singing their heads off right in the  middle of the street.

If these three were the melody then the two up in the tree were the harmony. It was all very beautiful.

And, just to one side, was a juvenile magpie lying flat on his back on the pavement! I actually thought he was dead and so I didn’t get my camera onto him until I was almost upon him, at which point he jumped up, looked at me with that defensive-aggressive “What?!” expression universal to adolescents, human and bird, and flew off.

I was gobsmacked, but noodling around a few bird forums it turns out that this is not entirely uncommon. Someone suggested that it might be anting activity but this bird was definitely not anting, he was just lying there for the hell of it, doing what teenagers the world over do: lying down while the grown-ups get on with the work of singing and standing around in the middle of the road.

This poor magpie-lark wasn’t fooling around though.

Dr Jambo gave him a full-body examination.

His diagnosis? A fatal case of death.



Ach! The stupid! It burns!

I’ve just finished beating my head against a filing cabinet after reading an article by Nick Thorpe, on the BBC web site, about a proposal to straighten the Danube.

Apparently that pesky river’s all meandery and windy. It simply will not listen to reason and be nice and compliant and straight. And so the engineers have got a plan to … ach! that stupid again! it’s hurting! Didn’t they read my blog post about the Los Angeles River? Is no-one listening?

It’s not all bad news. Thorpe’s got a longer article in The Hungarian Review (available at all good newsagents). Back in the Danube’s headwaters there’s been work on to reintroduce the oxbows, re-open the anabranches and remove the engineering that almost completely stuffed the river and its surrounding environment in the not-so-long-ago olden days. Up around Vienna way, national park authorities have:

… re-opened the meandering side-arms of the river which were blocked off in the 19th century. Rocks placed along the shores have been removed in many places, to allow gravel and sand banks to reform. Fish can now breed again in the side-arms of the river, and many species of birds, insects and animals have returned.

But now the Croatian Inland Waterway Agency wants to … agh! there it goes again! where’s that filing cabinet?

Summer’s eve


With these brisk mornings, summer feels like a long way away at the moment. I certainly wouldn’t want to be sleeping out under the Chatham Road bridge, that’s for sure. This bottle of “Summer’s Eve feminine wash” was the only summery thing down the creek today, but a nice reminder that one day I will indeed be warm again. A question to all men: is there such a product as “masculine wash”? If so, I’ve never seen it.*

In these days of tweeting and crowd sourcing, I’m amazed at the longevity of the balloon as a promotional device. Balloons are like brightly coloured jelly: you can’t look at them and not feel happy. I didn’t quite get this balloon’s message at first. What was it promoting? Or is it a device to get people to blow so that their ears pop? Who would give these things out? Airline companies to little kids? If so, how did this one end up in the creek? Surely it didn’t float all the way from Williamtown? Answers please!

Another promotional icon that’s still got tons of oomph is the humble stubby holder. I was at a barbecue over in Tighes Hill yesterday to watch the Wallabies creep past Wales by a point, but the highlight was being handed a “Johnny Raper” stubby holder for my sparkling ale. It was a frayed old bit of neoprene that commemorated the league legend’s playing record with the Newtown Bluebags; not much to look at, but as a promotional device it had a much more powerful effect on me than, say, a Facebook page.

And, while sales of e-books have finally overtaken hardback book sales in the US, the birthday card still has more cache than the lame e-card. (BTW: yes, that is Old Mate in the background, off to get warmed up in the long grass by the railway line.)

I have to say that, from the lofty heights of the big five-oh, the big four-oh don’t seem so big. But happy birthday, Millsy, whoever you are. When you staggered home from the Sunnyside the other day, you not only lost your card but your Sunnyside beer voucher too. Shame!

The cold weather is a close friend of the Grim Reaper, and the creek’s been littered with early winter casualties: the young, the weak, the infirm. This juvenile flying fox fell from a fig tree in Richardson Park. He won’t be the last before the month’s out.

* I’m obviously going down the wrong supermarket aisles. A quick Google Images search came up with Intima Men and Peni Fresh, the latter a “Male hygienic HERBAL soap that keeps your private part clean and free from unpleasant odor due to bacteria”. Not yet available at the Franklins on Broadmeadow Road.

Dining Chez Styx


In spite of the big freshes over the last few days the area under the bridge was strewn, not just with wrappers and bottles but with your actual food. I could have had an entire meal within the space of fifty metres. To start with, a simple green salad.

With Vegemite. Well, why not?

Onto the main course. The mullet is particularly good at the moment, sir. This fellow was about three feet long. I can’t really blame StarStruck on him; his eyes had gone and I think he’d been bobbing around for at least a day.

Time for dessert. There were various bits of watermelon lying around, and entire carton of assorted creams.

Instead, I climbed out of the creek and toddled off down the night-soil lane. Here, a kindly flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos were stripping a mandarin tree. There were plenty on the bitumen, nice and ripe with just the one naughty bite.

Then round to the park for toadstools. Would they go with the mullet?

Finally, a rest at the 235 bus stop on Boreas Road.

When I’m back in England I use the word “lad” much more freely than I do here. Up North, “lad” can mean any other male, but usually someone in the same age bracket as the speaker. I might find myself saying, “See that lad over there? I went to school with him.” And The Wife, seeing only a bunch of balding middle-aged men, would respond “Which lad?” And I’d say, “That lad – the one in the donkey jacket.” And she, following my gaze and seeing a stoop-shouldered man in his early fifties, would sigh and shake her head at yet another cultural curve-ball.

But now this! The “lads” of the 235 bus stop! This is exciting! It’s so exciting that it feels churlish to unleash my inner editor and point out that their tag should actually be LFB. Or perhaps the reversal of the F and B is all part of the “back” backyness? Insane!


After the deluge


Cycling back from quiz night at the Gateway on Thursday I stopped to look over the Chinchen Street bridge. It was a high June tide and, at that time of night, the creek was huge and dark and forbidding. Then came the rain and for a few days there were no walks in the creek, and one day where there were no walks at all. Jambo = most unimpressed.

But we did manage to scout around the streets one day. If anyone needs some Art, I found some near Bowser Street. I think it’s still there today, but but quick!

We also came across a dead bird, picked clean by a cat or a hawk.

This morning we made it to Richardson Park. The council’s dropped a big pile of mulch, the purpose of which is to attract every BMX bandit within 10 kilometres.

The fig trees are making their own mulch. The pink figs have all but gone and now their leaves are falling.

Walking back home past the Bowlo I saw this lost hanky. I’m a bit of a cotton hanky man myself, part of a dying breed. A cotton hanky is not just useful for the obvious; it lends itself to the cleaning of oil from a dipstick, the removing of clag from the face of a child (especially good when licked first [the hanky, not the child’s face]), or the wrapping of lollies into small, hobo-like parcels when one’s child accidentally tears the packet apart in his/her enthusiasm to get at them.

Seeing the hanky reminded me of a moment at Groovin the Moo recently. The afternoon was fading, the sun was down, the air was cool and a couple of friends and I got burgers. After scoffing them down I pulled out my nice clean cotton hanky and did a bit of finger-and-face degreasing and, mid job, I noticed one of my friends giving me A Look. I immediately understood the look: it was A Look that said “Oh my God: I’ll bet you are the only person in the entire Groovin the Moo complex with a cotton hanky”. We laughed knowingly and then headed off to watch Public Enemy. And then, halfway through their act, what should Chuck D pull out of his pocket but this huge, white cloth hanky, which he waved around in time to the music! My friend looked at me again and we burst out laughing. Rock and roll! Fight the Power! And always carry a clean cotton hanky!

(As an aside, as I was squatting in the road taking this photo of a wet, flattened, cotton hanky three guys came out of the Bowlo. They paused in their conversation to stare at me. Unruffled, I stood, pocketed my iPhone and walked off at a semi-brisk pace. It was not one of my most dignified moments, but the Blogosphere is a demanding mistress.)

The water had subsided enough by  dusk on Tuesday, enough for us to have a late walk and so Jambo and I followed the water, still lively but ebbing, down and around and into the gasworks. It’s only been a couple of days away from the creek but it felt like an eternity. The grass in the gasworks, yellowing and deadened from the recent cool snap, was rain-flattened and drenched my jeans from the knees down. Frogs called madly in the pools and the lights from the ELGAS depot shone eerily against the white wall of the naphtha tank. It was good to be back.

Last Friday evening, Graham Wilson opened the 2020 Vision for Newcastle exhibition. Here’s a photo of a room full of people studiously not looking at my vision.

And here’s a group of intellectuals gasping at its content. (Okay, so they’re the same people and I had to ask them to do it, but what the hell.)

2020 Visions


Twenty Twenty Visions is an exhibition running at Art Systems Wickham from 8 to 24 June 2020. Curated by Graham Wilson, the exhibition asks 20 Novocastrians – visual artists, architects, typographers, sculptors … and one writer – for their vision of Newcastle in the year 2020.

My entry took the form of an extended rant imaginary chapter of my book, published in 2021, called Ten Years Down the Drain: Walking in Styx Creek, 2010 to 2020. If you can’t make it to the exhibition then I’ve reproduced the text on this 2020 page. The words were typeset and illustrated by Christine Bruderlin, who also designed, typeset and illustrated the original book.

Lost and found


Most of the stuff that finds its way into the creek is straightforward trash, but there are lots of things that, when I see them, I know someone somewhere is searching for. Right now some little tyke is looking everywhere for his drink bottle. Or, given the number of hats and drink bottles that my children have left behind at sporting ovals across Newcastle, some little tyke’s parents are looking for his drink bottle. “Have you looked in your bag? Did you bring it home? Ryan! For goodness sake, how many times have I told you to …”

I’m not sure whether someone’s actually looking for this parking fine or not. My guess is it’s been chucked. Fight the power!

This syringe is just trash, rather than lost and found, but like most of the syringes I find in the creek it’s been capped. Either the junkies under the bridge are a thoughtful bunch or it belonged to a diabetic and simply … I dunno … fell out of her handbag.

This sign turned up unannounced. I’ll bet someone somewhere has just leaned on a fence and wishes it was still in place. Ouch!

I’ve added it to the sign tree in our veggie patch. (The Wife’s gone wild this year with beans, by the way; about three kilos and counting. I think this is outstanding, though the kids are starting to roll their eyes when bean curry gets served up. Again.)

This packet of violet seeds is not only unopened but was up on the banking, not down in the creek. So did it fall out of someone’s bag or pocket? Is it part of some guerilla planting scheme? If so, should I be alert or is it time to get alarmed?

And here’s a quiz. I found this wrapper just on dusk and didn’t at first see the product it once held. I was completely baffled: what kind of product is necessary to keep our nation’s topiarists strong and active?

This little carcass wasn’t lost or found but I included it because it was so pretty. My ability with an iPhone doesn’t do it justice but the blues and yellows were iridescent and even the pink of the spine, where the head’s been ripped off, shone against the wet concrete. Whatever ate it really knew how to take a bird apart.

Not lost and found either, but again slightly baffling. I’ve used the system of spreading newspapers on the ground as a basis for a no-dig garden; however, the owners here have missed the key step of removing the newspaper from its cling film wrapping.

And not so much “lost and found” as “lost cause”. It looks like the back of a farmhouse from beyond the Black Stump but, as anyone who lives in Hamilton North will immediately recognise, this is Newcastle Street.

And the product recommended by Australia’s topiarists? Sustagen. Of course.