Too slow


The creek’s been too wet and slippery lately, even my patent “zombie-steps” walking style isn’t guaranteed to keep from doing a hilarious Keystone Kops-style, feet-in-the-air face plant. So it’s been the burbs for me and Jambo. Or, at least The Burb. This guy on Gow Street was most unimpressed when Jambo cocked a leg against on his fence. I just love his Victor Meldrew-like sense of indignation. “I don’t believe it!”

These guys looked more dangerous than the heeler. Careful, Jambo. There’s just something about crows …

We finally got down the creek the other day.

Prawn heads are something of a feature by the Chatham Road bridge. It seems to be the deal: you get your prawns, eat them and then drop the bag of heads over the parapet. It’s regular and I wonder why. Is it a ritual someone has? I know of some people who toast the guy who drowned in the 2007 floods at this bridge by chucking a few cans over for him when they pass. Maybe there’s someone who comes here to remember their great-grandad, a prawn-trawler man from way back. Or perhaps it’s just some feckless TAFE student.

I’m inclined towards the latter, though the quality of the rubbish has taken a decidedly queer turn lately. Folk are always lobbing stuff off the bridge, but this, for instance, is different. It had been all neatly bagged up and the top tied, then taken down into the creek and carefully propped up against a stanchion. Like, WTF? Do they think the council will come down there and pick it up for them? If you can be arsed to get down into the creek then why can’t you be arsed to take it to the nearest bin?

As Yoda might have said, “Cranky, was I”. So now your crap’s in my bin.

Luckily, this chap cheered me up. He’s still around! Yay duckie!

Oops, who’s dog is that?

The rabbits in the gasworks have thinned out. Winter’s taken its toll on the young, the lame and ones with a bit of mixy or calicivirus. The grass has deadened off and so it’s very brown, apart from the sudden greenness of Scotch thistles.

Because of work my afternoon walks have been starting later and later in the day, setting off at dusk and often not getting back till well after dark. The gasworks at night is a different place, interesting. Coming back up the creek I could see the amber glow of a small fire, up towards the bridge by the crossing to the EntCent. It was an attempted Molotov cocktail, at least I think it was. If it was then it was pretty lame, what my kids would describe as an “epic fail”. It just lay there, burning. With no masked rioter to be seen. What? Why? Who?

This morning was foggy and the bottle was gone.

We wandered downstream, and while I filled Old Mate in on the weekend’s football results, Jambo found himself a swirly ball.

As we rounded the bend we came across a scene of everyday life in the Styx. The train from Telarah had stopped across the creek, as it sometimes decides to do for no apparent reason. A couple of lads with cans took the opportunity; one lad made a mask from his T-shirt and got his Ironlak ready, mounted the pipe and was about get up and do whatever it is teenagers do when they have a train in front of them and a can of spray paint in their hand. But then, at the crucial moment, the train juddered into life and pulled away.

I arrived on the opposite bank as the train trundled off to Hamilton Station. They watched it wistfully, and turning and seeing me, one of them shrugged and shouted, “Too slow!”

Perhaps it was the stretch of water between us but they didn’t seem at all fazed by my stern, commanding presence. As authority figures go I’m obviously at the “No threat whatsoever” end of the scale. I blame Jambo. No one can look fierce and authoritative when they’re walking a cairn terrier.

No doubt they’ll get it next time.


Born dead


My Sunday morning walk took me under the Chinchen Street bridge and past Islington Public School, a regular leg-stretch that satisfies Jambo’s need to charge around and annoy the birdlife. He stopped halfway through the bridge; as I have to stoop to get under without banging my head I almost didn’t see what it was he’d paused to inspect. Then I saw it: a pigeon’s egg.

Is there anything more perfect in its form and execution than an egg?

Sometimes my backyard chooks get caught short and pop one out under the lamandera, or even on the bare dirt. I can only assume that that’s what happened here to one of the flock that broods on the stanchions under the bridge. Jambo tried to carry it home in his mouth but he’s no retriever. I need not tell you how this story ended.

That afternoon I had a lovely walk with POAS. We’d been communicating back and forth for some time but it took until Sunday for the planets to align and for us to actually get together. I always enjoy creek walking with new people; it opens my eyes afresh to the place. No matter how observant you intend being your senses inevitably deaden to the little things, and a new person’s shock and revulsion at the stench of pollution leaking from the gasworks is a good kick up the bum.

We did a Grand Tour of some of POAS’s works in the area, many of them dating back a decade or more. It was fascinating to have all my questions answered and POAS was very generous with his explanations, satisfying all the typical dumb queries that your average middle-aged gentleman of a certain demographic is likely to ask, such as “Why?”

We had a look at some of the Next Gen’s work too, in the old admin building.

Street art and graffiti has become a recognised (almost sanctioned) rite of passage for young men and it’s remarkable to think that POAS started in a pre-Banksian world in which it was a reviled criminal activity.  We talked about “olden days” graffiti, which to me (and, as it turns out, POAS’s mum) was always either sporting or political in nature. Probably the first graffito that I remember is this one:

It followed Barrow AFC’s Friday night victory over Fulham in the (old) Division 3 and for one night Barrow was top of the division. This was 1967 (I think, or thereabouts); within five years we were kicked out of the league. Should you ever find yourself in Barrow I believe that the words are still just and so visible on the Holker Street end.

The other kind of graffiti, the political kind, stretched from the local (anti-Trident submarine stuff in Barrow, or pro-miners’ strike, or anti-Thatcher) to the huge Ulster murals. Though I’m not sure if they count as graffiti at all. Do they? The first one I remember seeing in Australia, when I first arrived, was up near Balmain Leagues Club. It read something like “John Pat dead five cops go free” or similar. I didn’t understand it for quite a while, and even now 16-year-old John Pat’s death is but one forgotten footnote in the long history of deaths in custody.

Walking back up towards New Lambton we came across this little doodle, a spray-painting dinosaur. Cute, and made us both smile.

Then back home. POAS and I traded – a book for a print – and now I’ve added this beautiful artwork, titled “Born dead”, to the rogue’s gallery in my office, along with the other traded and gifted Styx Creek-related ephemera that’s filled my life since the book hit the bookshops.



I was listening to Henning Mankell, the Swedish author of the Wallander novels, on BBC World Service the other day. (What a lovely internetty world we live in!) Mankell’s novels have been translated into about 30 different languages, and he was fulsome in his praise of the translators. But when translators “translate” a novel, are they changing one word in one language for another word in another, or are they creating a new work entirely?

And, similarly, (at least, in my head), when does a restored painting become a new painting?

There are occasions when this has been hotly contested in Australia: the late Eric Michaels gave the pot a good stir when he wrote about the “notorious” repainted caves on Mt Barnett Station, WA. A group of young Aboriginal men from Derby were accused of “effectively desecrating a traditional rock art site, despite the fact that they were officially commissioned to undertake the project and had ‘cultural’ backing from at least some of the site’s traditional owners”. (Read more here if you can’t get hold of a copy of his book Bad Aboriginal Art; email me if you’d like to borrow mine; wandjina pic below from this site.)

And, in Britain, councils can’t make up their minds whether or not to protect Banksy’s stencils, works that were once considered vandalism but are now considered to be part of the national estate. (They worry less in Melbourne, where a Banksy stencil was “cleaned up” by council workers.)

That’s a long introduction to a walk down Styx Creek. But stay with me: there is a link. Because all of this (yes, all of it) was boinging around in my head after seeing that POAS had been hard at work by the railway bridge, freshening up his big roller.

It’s been there for a few years and was starting to look pretty ratty, and the next generation of kids with cans were using it as a blackboard for their own stuff. I wondered: Is that the old roller, freshened up? Or is it a new roller entirely that just happens to be exactly over the old roller? I had other questions too: What, if any, are the protocols for applying paint to flat surfaces in public? Is there a pecking order? Do “vandals” get angry when their “vandalism” is vandalised?

If, indeed, it is actually vandalism.

Because, to my mind, if you really want to see vandalism in Styx Creek then you don’t need to look at the concrete bankings: look at the floor. The creekbed is an absolute disgrace at the moment.

Drink bottles are, as ever in abundance. When will New South Wales adopt container deposit legislation?

And fire extinguisher deposit legislation.

And … erm … glove, tennis ball and syringe legislation.

And don’t get me started on bicycle wheels.

Much to my relief, I think that there is a person who can provide the answers to all these issues – the translations and art restorations and CDL advocations. What’s more, that person may well live in our very own Hamilton North, indeed I believe that he or she lives in Phillips Street, just down from the Bowlo. Because somewhere, in one of these houses, lives a …

Market Dav


My Sunday mornings usually start off with a walk downstream in the creek; sometimes I head back upstream or sometimes I circle round past the gasworks and come out on Clyde Street.

This Sunday was clear and fresh after a series of wet ones and it brought everyone out to the Farmers Markets at the Entertainment Centre. The wafting breeze brought me the ba-boo-ba-booing of Eric Gibbons’ jazz trio thumping away under the shady tree by the poultry sheds. Even though it’s less than five minutes walk away I don’t get over to the Farmers Markets as much as I mean to. The market is A Very Good Thing and I endorse it in all its foodie magnificence, but I’m always struck by the crowd that goes there: very middle-class, very three-wheeler jogging strollers, very cashed-up professionals prepared to pay over the odds for that elusive organic goats cheese frittata. Very people like me.

But on the other side of Hamilton North it’s a different story. I came out of the creek and up to Clyde Street, past the old Tender Center. The first thing that strikes you (well, me, well … “one”) is the face-punch signage: flapping pennants, grubby signs, tatty flags, cheap spinners. Oi, you! Yeah, you! Cop this! Smack!

It’s a market, Jim, but not as we know it. Certainly not as the wagyu beef crowd at the Entertainment Centre know it. This, folks, is Market Dav, Clyde Street style.

Except that, when you go in, it isn’t a market. It’s a car boot sales. Or is it a market after all? It’s hard to tell when no one is selling anything that I’d be even remotely interested in buying.

But it does trigger a conversation in my head about “Australia: the classless society”. Hmm.

Carried on up and round Clyde Street, out onto Georgetown Road and down the little creek that cuts behind the Tender Center and the Hamilton North Business Centre. There’s a disused rail line that links up to the main line and then to the old gasworks. I wonder if this is where they brought the coal from to burn to make the gas.

The fence line at the back the business centre is lined with fig trees and palms. It’s like a little jungle in there and I’d have loved it as a kid.

In the olden days, when I was a spritely youth, we’d always divide into sides: cowboys and indians, British versus Germans, but our favourite was Japs and Commandos. Being a commando was good, but being a Jap offered the opportunity to scream “Banzai!” as you charged the commando stronghold. I think that everything we learned about Japanese culture came from Audie Murphy war films and Commando comics.

Where was I, children? Ah, yes, this little jungle.

Can you imagine the ambushes you could arrange from there? The cubbies you could build? The tree houses? And, even better, all that industry next door. I wondered: will there be a child-sized hole in the fence?

Like, der.

I followed the creek around the back, past the busted old points on the disused rail line …

… and on to the back of Georgetown, via the creek that runs next to the railway there. I posted those pics on the Down the Drain Facebook page.

Didn’t meet anyone until I was on my way back when I bumped into this little tacker with a couple of collies. He looked like he was having fun, but I really really really wanted to introduce him to Japs and Commandos. I know he’d love it!

What colour is July?


I was listening to the author of a book this morning, talking on ABC Radio’s Life Matters, about how time slows down and speeds up depending on our state of mind and physical wellbeing. She debunked that oft-repeated theory about how time seems to speed up as you get older, the one that says that a year of your life when you’re eight is one-eighth of your life, but only one eightieth when you’re eighty. Follow the link for the brainiac explanation. She also described how time and memory can be “seen” or visualised by our various senses, a condition known as synesthesia. She used examples of people “seeing” days with different colours: to her, Monday was pillar-box red and Wednesday was orange.

So I wondered: what colour is July? So far, it’s been a bright, cheerful purple.

A Wimbledon purple, perhaps, with all our veggies eaten up.

There’s a website called Synesthesia Down Under. Apparently, people who suffer from this condition/have this ability are known as synesthetes.

This broom appeared the other day, in June, so I think that June might be kind of crusty yellow.

Or maybe the kind of whitey-green of the emulsified oil leaching into the creek from the fuel depot.

The waxing moon has brought higher tides. When it gets too high and the bankings get slippery I don’t go too far downstream, usually as far as the litter boom by Islington School.

Here, a group of cormorants sit in rows on the fence, drying their wings. They look like sulky teenagers outside the headmaster’s door. The white dots in the background are hard hats, a group of students getting their crane safety card.

With a low tide I sometimes walk down as far as Maitland Road, past the wrecker’s yard. Is that any way to treat a Kingswood?

On Saturday I saw what I thought was an egret, until I got closer. It turned out to be a domestic duck, the kind you get waddling around farmyards. She looked very uncomfortable and deeply unhappy. I haven’t seen her since, which is not a good sign round these parts.

Falcons and hawks patrol the area, not as many as in summer but enough to spell trouble for a lost duck. Coming out of the gasworks on Saturday I was set back on my heels by an explosion of feathers from the long grass and lantana: a brown goshawk had been so engrossed in reducing this pigeon to feathers and bones that it had failed to notice me.

Noticing things is not Jambo’s strong point. The world throws things up that puzzle him all the time. Take these two balls, for example. Which one to chase? Which one to guard from the other dogs who aren’t actually here but may well be at any minute? It’s all deeply perplexing, no matter what colour the month.