Commingling with the Corvidae


Eight little duckies went swimming one day … Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack!”, but only five little ducks came back.

I promise that my dog has had nothing to do with any of it.

The tides are high at the moment, pulled in by a waxing moon. (I wrote that but I have absolutely no knowledge of how these things work. It certainly sounds authoritative and as I wrote it I felt a puff self-congratulation. But is it actually true?) Stuff gets washed down to the litter boom by the TAFE, bobs around there for a few days then gets brought back up on the tide. Erin Laffey’s foam plane was christened the “Epic Fail”. Bit harsh.

I don’t know what or who this is but my gut feeling is she’s a character from a Disney film, miniaturised and flogged off with Happy Meals.

And washed down with a can of Santa cola. Santa? Is this part of the stupidly early ramping up of Christmas spirit?

I’m not a fan of Corvidae; their steely gaze and fierce beaks give me the willies. I reckon they know that if they were just a wee bit bigger they’d be pulling babies out of strollers and generally making the lives of humans miserable. But I did feel for this juvenile crow. He’d stuck his head into a Subway carrier bag that someone had thrown over the bridge and into the creek and had managed to poke his neck through the handle; when he stood up the bag hung around his neck like a bib full of rubbish.

He stumbled into a tree, where he was mobbed by noisy miners. He looked absolutely miserable, but in his efforts to escape the miners the bag got caught on a branch and, after a bit flapping and shaking, he pulled his head free and got away.

Next stop was the TAFE, on the way to the dog park. This bin stopped me in my tracks. What are “commingled recyclables”? I haven’t heard of “commingled” before. Is it a verb? Can it be conjugated (I commingle, you commingle, he/she/it is commingling)?

Apparently it is a word, though I’d like to find out its etymology. My feeling (puffs up chest here, waxing moon style) is that it’s a stupid new word that’s evolved from a mis-hearing of “co-mingle”. (I once saw a sign in a newsagent saying “Photocopy: A4 20¢ per sheet, full scap 25¢.) But if anyone’s got a better theory …



Got an email from Hunter Water regarding its customer panel. Like all good organisations, Hunter Water seeks customer feedback, and they set up this voluntary initiative a while back. Quite a long while back, in fact. I remember at the time filling in an online form, but then I didn’t hear nuthin. But its nice to know that they “value” me:

I am making contact with you because sometime in the last couple of years you indicated an interest in being part of Hunter Water customer panel. Thank you for your interest – Hunter Water places a lot of value on this panel.

Perhaps I’m just being a snarky old git, but I can’t help but feel that the words “sometime in the last couple of years” take a lot of the oomph out of the “value”. Did someone just find all these old emails that had gone straight to the “Trash” folder? As Spook from Top Cat would say, “Like, sheesh!”

Another undervalued thing is Richardson Park. It’s kind of stuck out on the end of Hamilton North and doesn’t seem like a park at all in lots of ways. The council uses it to park trucks, dump fill or pile mulch, and the football pitch is hard, uneven and unkempt. Most people know it as the place where the circuses set up, or as a temporary park on show day. But some enterprising photographer has used his imagination and has recently started using the park’s fig trees as a backdrop for wedding photos.

The first time I saw a wedding party in Hamilton North I just about fell over. Nobbys Beach: Check. Merewether Baths: Check. Next to the drain in Hamilton North: Wha …? But it really is a perfect, uncrowded venue, with the afternoon sun filtering through the figs.

Maybe brides and grooms on the lookout for unique venues could try the gasworks. Or the creek. Got yarning to Dave the other day, he was busy cleaning up the 66 gazillion empty drink bottles that had appeared since the previous clean up and were now rattling around the concrete. And the toy frogs, of course. Always, toy frogs.

But it’s looking very chipper down there at the mo, with the sun glistening on the incoming tide. Brides and grooms of Newcastle: think outside the square! Styx Creek awaits you! I promise that I will devote an entire blog post to the first wedding party to climb the gas tower or spend the afternoon tagging under the railway bridge.*

* This is not a genuine offer. Both the gasworks and the creek are private property etc. etc. you know the drill.

An island not made out of island


Last week, Hamilton North Public School held its first environment day, organised by teacher Trudy Ramsay. It was a big day, with Jamie Burns and his volunteers from DPI Fisheries, Alicia from Newcastle City Council doing her “recycling relay” (that’s the Australian Alicia Martin, not the Spanish one) and Amanda Gregory from HCRCMA doing WaterWatch. As well as this, the parents did a stirling job making soup from produce grown in the school’s very own garden.

And there was me.

My brief was to talk about Styx Creek and what happens to the rubbish that goes in there. Styx Creek runs parallel to Jackson Street and so right next to the school; they were all surprisingly clued up about it. As part of my talk I thought I’d promote Tim Silverwood’s Take 3.

“How many people live in Australia?” I asked.

A pause, then a hand goes up from the littlest kindergartener: “A thousand?”

“It’s more than that, a lot more.”

Another hand: “Infinity?”

Ah, kindy kids.

The children had been doing work on the Pacific Gyre, with a poster competition on display in the playground. Discussing the gyre, one little girl said, in that tentative way of the littlest of the littlies:

“I saw a picture of a man walking on an island. But it wasn’t made out of island.”

Dramatic pause. Finally, I said, “What was it made out of?”

Even longer pause. “I don’t know.”

I think she did know, but stage fright can be a terrible thing, especially at age six. What she was talking about was this stuff by the TAFE. I could have walked around on it quite easily, I think.

Dave! Where’s your clean up crew? We need you AGAIN!

But it was a very successful day and a reminder of the boundless optimism, goodwill and faith of human spirit that’s inside all little kids. The Earth’s in good hands.

They’re back!


First, a huge triple-axle trailer appeared in Richardson Park. Then some big strong lads with mallets.

By afternoon the big top was up. Hooray! Circus time!

Lucky they weren’t trying to put their tent up last week – with that wind they’d have been kite surfing across Nobbys. Both my kids have been off school with hacking coughs and thick colds. But now things have calmed down a little, the sun has just that tiny bit of bite to it and there’s a sense that perhaps we’ve turned a corner. Maybe … just maybe … spring is in the air. Overnight, a carpet of these pretty flowers turned up in the gasworks. Purply-white ones …

And creamy-purple ones.

The birds are so busy. The black ducks got a head start and already have ducklings out in the pool by the TAFE. There’s a pair of chestnut teal not far behind, and lots of sexy-talk from the lapwings, ibis (not blessed with the bird world’s most beautiful call, poor things), herons and egrets.

But next to the willie-wagtails, with the males’ fiercesome eyebrows all angled and elevated for the mating season, the most common waterside birds on this stretch of the creek are the magpie larks. They’ve been courting for a while, and this one was busy nest-building. Hard to see but he’s got a fluffy little white breast feather and he’s daubing it in the mud by the beck.

I suspect that this is where the breast feather came from. When I walked downstream this cockatoo carcass wasn’t there; twenty minutes later, feathers and bones were all that was left. The return of the raptors is a sign that there’s plenty of action happening at the base of the food pyramid. I hope the peregrines come back.

By the way, that’s old mate left-of-frame, packing up camp for the night.

The wind last week blew all the litter upstream so for a few days it was barely possible to walk down to the railway bridge without stumbling over a hundred Gatorade bottles or rattling cans of Mother. I notice this morning though that the creek’s looking spruce and chipper so Dave and his crew must have been around. All that was left was this Disney balloon.

And a beermat. But I don’t think that that constitutes litter, as such, more like biodegradable advertising.

This morning was still and overcast. The air warmed slowly, from a freshness with the slightest chill to a beautiful afternoon. Perfect circus weather.

Caged monster


Bumped into a couple coming out of the old admin building in the gasworks the other day. They looked like Arty Types and I said, “Have you been drawing in there?” or something similarly vacuous. They shook their heads and scuttled off. Maybe they thought I was The Man or something, which really does show a terrible ability to read people.*

The gasworks is private property, owned by Jemena, a Melbourne-based gas retailer. However, this doesn’t seem to stop people using the gasworks as an impromptu dog-walking park, graffiti venue, place to exercise your desire to trash some old-style industrial equipment, or birdwatching paradise.

Some of these people send me pictures. I’ve posted a few.

The metal stairway up the side of the gas tower is becoming increasingly rusted and dangerous, apparently.

It is not worth the climb to the top as the view isn’t that great.

The inside of the admin building (the newer one, not the nice old one on Clyde Street) is getting totally trashed. If you climb up the ladder and go into the roof space there’s a good chance you’ll fall through the gyprock, land on something sharp and die. So don’t do it.

The brick building nearer to Chatham Road is getting a good trashing too. It must have housed all the electrical control equipment once upon a time.

I haven’t boarded the Instagram bandwagon yet, but this is the view from the window using it, or some related fancy app. Nice, eh?

Caution should be exercised in the gasworks. At ELGAS, next door, they keep a steam-punk monster in a cage. Don’t be taken in by its cheery smile. It will eat you.

* Perhaps if we took Annabel Crabbe’s advice and wore civilian uniforms they’d have worked me out better.

Let rip


My idea of heaven, at 16, was to tear around the sandhills near home on my mate’s Suzuki 125 trail bike. No helmets, no responsibilities, no brains. It’s the kind of behaviour that, if it were carried out by Modern Youth, would irk the hell out of my curmudgeonly middle-aged self. Especially when I remind myself that those sandhills we bombed around were later listed by the European Union as Sites of Special Scientific Interest as they’re home to one of the UK”s last colonies of natterjack toads.

But young men do have the urge to place themselves in danger of some sort, particularly on high-powered machines. If I were growing up in Newcastle, where would I vent this urge? The answer, apparently, is Styx Creek.

I’d been seeing motorcycle tracks in the mud for a few days but hadn’t seen the creator. Then, coming back from the gasworks, I heard a distant drone and immediately thought of John Connor being chased down the LA River by the T800. And then, as if by magic, these two scallies came bombing past me, one on two wheels, one on four, one with ski goggles, one with a mud-spattered face and a grin from ear to ear. Kids letting rip.

I caught up with them by the railway bridge, chucking donuts and generally getting filthy, burning fossil fuels, making noise and annoying the neighbours. It looked like great fun.

And there were no neighbours. So, in a sense, they were being incredibly considerate. Would it be better to do this around the streets of Georgetown or New Lambton?

The creek does attract people who want to push the boundaries. When I come across kids trying to spray tags on coal trucks, breaking into the gasworks or bogging their quad in the beck, the middle-aged curmudgeon in me surfaces. I also feel a duty of care. They’re not going to go home cowed by a lecture from me but I can’t not say, at the very least, “Guys! Please be careful”.

But another part of me remembers that idiot former self letting rip in the European Union’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest sandhills near my home.

If not here, then where?



I like finding money down the creek. It always feels special and I know that I must spend it on something frivolous and wanton, like beer or chocolate or a tray of vanilla slices from Georgetown Cake Shop.

Shoes don’t have the same effect. It’s been (gasp) forty years since it was on the telly, but whenever I see a pair of shoes and a crumpled pile of clothes on the beach I immediately think of the opening sequence to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Thoughts start pinballing around my head: these are “thought-balls”. Thought-balls take you on strange journeys. From Leonard Rossiter and his “Oh! Miss Jones!” I went to  John Stonehouse MP, and from John Stonehouse MP it was a small leap to Lord Lucan and then, naturally, to Shergar, the race horse. And, as with all memory triggers of mine that default effortlessly back to the 1970s, they end up with an image of the telly in our front room and the (as it seemed at the time, nightly) vision of a heat-shimmered jumbo jet on a runway. Hijacks were as much a part of the Seventies as miners’ strikes, three-day weeks and petrol rationing.

From a pair of discarded loafers to a PLO gunman in a nanosecond. But ask me what I had for breakfast this morning and I’m stumped.

(Two bottles of Coopers and a vanilla slice.)



In the gasworks the other day I noticed that the singing ringing tree has sprung back to life and once again is all a-blossom.

It gave me the idea of writing something about spring springing because, that same day, I saw my first clutch of ducklings of the season, eight of them paddling frantically behind mother black duck near the railway bridge, and then a pair of red-rumped parrots canoodling on a fence in Emerald Street. There was a sense of the sap rising, and not just in the plant and animal kingdom. The last three or four Saturday mornings a latex bloom of used condoms has appeared on the tarmac in the nightsoil lane from the night before. Someone in Hamilton North is having an affair!

But I didn’t get a photo of the ducklings, and the one I did get of the parrots I can’t find, and … well, who wants to see photos of used condoms? So here’s something else made of latex.

All this got me to thinking about the influence that the photos I take have on the writing I write. Sometimes I’ll see something and it’ll trigger a writing idea and so I photograph the thing to remind me of the writing idea. But quite often I take random snaps that take my fancy and, when I look at them later, they coalesce into a writing idea. The pictures drive the story.

The story that’s been going around my head lately (other than the spring has sprung story) is about litter. Familiar trope, I know, but I’ve been asked to do a presentation at Hamilton North Public School, along with the WaterWatch people and some others. A teacher and some concerned parents are promoting the concept of a “binless school” and I’m doing a bit on “where your stuff goes”.

Stuff like this, a little raggedy doll bullfighter, complete with little red cloth thing.

Or these lovely balls. (Whatever happened to Bratz?)

And these lovely, lovely bottles. So many of them! Soooo pretty!

And this … erm … boogie board.

Which eventually made it down to the litter boom by the TAFE.

It was here, on Friday morning, that I got talking to Dave. I’ve seen Dave around a lot as he’s one of the team of subcontractors who maintain the edges of the creek. They’re out with their brushcutters every few weeks pinning back the lantana, and when they’re not doing that they’re scooping up the bottles, balls, boogie boards, little raggedy doll bullfighters. And syringes, lots of syringes. That’s Dave on the right, with Old Mate 2 on the left.

Old Mate 2 got to wear the waders and risk life and limb in the deep pool. I got the sense that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his role.

That morning, Dave and his team had already pulled a skip-load of rubbish from the creek on the other (Mayfield) side of the TAFE and the Cottage Creek litter boom down by Civic Station. Our crap keeps them exceedingly busy.

Which reminded me of a quote that Kevin M emailed to me once, Barry Commoner’s 4 Laws of Ecology:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Mother Nature knows best.

I think I’ll be using that at Hamilton North Public  School.

Jambo bailed up this ringtail possum in our garden the other day and, bearing Commoner’s second law in mind, I bagged him up (the possum, not Jambo) and introduced him to the delights of the gasworks. After a slightly bewildered start he took off like a rocket.

One could say, if one were looking for a line to tie up a blog post, that he did in fact “spring” into life. But that’d just be lazy, wouldn’t it.