As I write this it’s all a bit grey and murky out the window but the other morning it was splendid, good-to-be-alive weather.

I don’t know whether anyone reads the comments that people submit to my posts, but a recent comment from Roberto directed me to this fantastic, inspiring article – Let’s swim to work – in the online magazine The article’s full of links to cities where communities have not just reversed the decline in their urban waterways but have gone on to create vibrant living rivers that, in some cases, have revitalised regional economies.

God knows the Styx needs some reversal. Perhaps the warm weather’s to blame but there’s been a noticeable rise in goo seepage over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps the solidified gunk in the earth becomes a little less viscous and so can start to ooze through the gaps in the concrete banking.

The beck was rainbow-stained with fuel from the depot and reeked of petrol.

The recent rains have washed the finer particles from behind the concrete bankings, leaving huge hollows behind them in some places. The silt gathers on the creek bed in a slippery mud that’s probably full of stuff I don’t want to know about.

The birds carry on doing their birdy things. I came across this pied cormorant fast asleep on the banking by the TAFE, head safely tucked under his wing. He must have been cream-crackered after a hard day’s fishing because he completely failed to notice me creeping up to him.

It was only when Jambo sniffed him that he woke up, leapt back in complete shock and face-planted his way down the banking and into the creek before paddling away, trying to regain a little dignity.

I was cacking myself. Even Jambo smiled, in that doggie way where they show their bottom teeth and make Mutley “he he he” sounds.

Anyway, I’m inspired, but not quite sure in what way or towards what end. But it involves the creek and the gasworks and … I, oh don’t know. Grand ideas. A free book to the person who comes up with the best idea and an action plan!



We’ve had an amazing light show the last few evenings, courtesy of the lightning storms over the coast, but not much rain. Enough to flush a bit of stuff down the creek, though. Bacon and eggs, anyone?

(What are bacon “style” pieces, by the way? I shudder to think.)

The sun was so sharp and crystal clear this morning that I almost expected something Biblical and post-Tempest to appear: a dove with an olive branch, perhaps, surrounded by a rainbow. Instead I got a toy zebra.


And another handball. I’ve bagged up about thirty of them and I’m going to take them over to Hamilton North Public School. There’s an endless supply of the buggers; wait five minutes and one will bob its way down the beck.

Old Mate was sitting in the long grass, sucking on the world’s skinniest durrie. I always come away from my chats with him with some homework; he’s a hard task master. It’s usually football related (“Who’s playing Saturday?” “Who’s coaching the the Warriors now?” “Who’s playing halfback for Souths?”) but today’s was slightly different. Neither of us could remember the exact terms of  the Wood Royal Commission and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Which one was the Queensland one and which the New South Wales? Who was that Pommie copper they brought over to straighten them out? What did happen to Neddy Smith?

So many questions! Thank God for Google. ‘Scuse me, I’ve got work to do.

What world day is it?


We recently celebrated World Left Handers Day on 13 August and tomorrow we have ITLAP, but today is World Water Monitoring Day. Which doesn’t sound very exciting at all. Regardless, my doughty assistant and I trooped off down the creek to monitor my bit and see what had changed.

Not much. Justin Bieber’s maths book was still there, having survived the recent flow-through via the Uber-Bieb’s mighty powers of awesomeness.

But the flow did bring me these two ping-pong balls. That’s how I found them, right next to each other, and I immediately thought of The Eyeballs in the Sky and the Pooliverse.

When I was a kid we used to get the (UK) Daily Mirror and the cartoons bit (I never heard this referred to as “the comics” till I got to Australia; comics were things like Beano (which I got) or Dandy (which my cousin got)) and … where was I? … yeah, so there was Andy Capp and his missus, Flo, and there was The Perishers, a kind of genteel Bash Street Kids with a kid called Wellington and his old English sheepdog, Boot. Every year Wellington and Boot would go to the seaside and Boot would peer into a rockpool where the crabs would scream at these two big round things frowning down at them and shriek:

Which is a long way to describe one micro-second of thoughtball.

Anyway, water monitoring continued on the reach of creek by the gasworks. Here, normal service was resumed in the form of the ongoing pollution of the Hamilton North water table by a roiling, frothy, oozy gunk.

But here’s something you don’t see very often: a miner bird fast asleep on the pavement. At least, I think it was asleep.

And here’s something else I haven’t seen for ages – or rather someone I haven’t seen for age – my friend Pip from Kangaroo Island. We did the walky loop and, being the good sport she is, she hammed it up for me by the pull shower.

Don’t forget: tomorrow – talk like a pirate. It’ll probably do more to change the world than any of my water monitoring.

Is this your Maths book?


Found beneath Chatham Road bridge: one maths book. Owner has not put their name, class number or school on the cover but likes Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Mr Potato Head.

Unless – OMG! – it actually is Justin Bieber’s Maths book! OMG!!!!!

Other lost-and-founds include one eel trap …

… and this Zombie-tubbie, which might once have been Tinky Winky but is now just plain Creepy Weepy.

A new [tag / roll-up / piece of street art / crappy vandalism / you name it] appeared on the creek on Saturday. Old Mate tells me that the lads spent about five hours on it. Once again, these things fill me with ambivalent feelings. This one’s bright and colourful and, in the scheme of things, well executed (though I can NEVER work out what the hell the words are supposed to say). And it’s probably better that it happens in this way here rather than some rushed, idiotic scrawl on the door of an otherwise attractive public building.

But, please, peeps, take your rubbish home! Of course this isn’t going to happen – no kid wants to get pulled up by the police with a bagful of empty spray cans and a paint roller – but I’m jack of the trash residue that all this making-your-mark-on-the-world creates.

Anyway, the Taliban, as we were saying. What’s the opium production rate like in the Hindu Kush at the moment? If my stretch of Styx Creek is anything to measure by it must be going gangbusters. Either that or there’s been a massive outbreak of Type 2 diabetes in the Kotara/Broadmeadow region. After I took this pic I found another three more syringes within 50 metres; six in one day is a lot even for the Styx. (They’re in my wheelie bin now; Dave and his crew don’t like picking them up and I don’t blame them.)

Interesting find of the week, even more interesting than Justin Bieber’s Maths book, was this set of very tiny angel’s wings. I think that what happened was that a small, dark angel offended God and was smote by Him, thence to be cast down upon the Earth to live and walk amongst the creatures that doth walk and slither thereon. Wild, huh?

I’m seeing more and more raptors around, which is great, but the most exciting* view of the week was this striated heron. (*It seems that “exciting” is a relative term, as I discovered when I told my children about my “exciting” news.) The yellow arrow handily draws your eye to the epicentre of said excitement.

Go on, admit it: you got a bit excited too, didn’t you?


Here’s something to calm you down. It calmed me down, anyway. Energy Australia spent the Sunday replacing power poles on Emerald Street. This afforded me the opportunity to sit back on the deck with a cup of tea and watch people working.

Massively satisfying.

Christening his togs in “the Freshy”


One of the delights that the book directs my way is the contact I get with people who’ve read it and offer me stories, anecdotes and interesting titbits of Hamilton North or Styx Creek in the olden days.

Got an email from Daryl H, a born-and-bred Hamilton Norther, who’d read the book and passed on some lovely details that add flesh to the bones of my understanding of the suburb’s recent past. Daryl was friendly with the children of the Wilkinson family who, back in the Fifties, lived on the site of the gasworks. The house has now gone but, in its glory days, says Daryl:

It was a magnificent Federation-style solid brick house and they had the benefit of their own full-time gardener. On the drain side of the property was a magnificent flower garden with a curved edge, trees to block out any sight of the Shell Co. and with a bowling green quality lawn. To the rear of the back yard was the best vegetable garden anyone had, maintained by the gardener, and the drive had a row of large camphor laurels to screen the gas works. At this time the gas works was expanding capacity and Mr Wilkinson had a lot to do with the design and construction of the new house.

I’ve been seeing these beautiful yellow, white and lilac flowers a lot lately and I had thought that they were natives.

They have a deep, musky scent that’s gorgeous at dusk. Seeing the row that bloomed neared the old admin building, and bearing in mind what Daryl had said, I wonder if they’re the last vestige of the once-immaculate garden.

Apart from having grown up on Boreas Road, Daryl was also a student of the (in)famous Charlie Goffet, teacher of French at Newcastle Boys’ High School and orator of renown. In one story, related in the Newcastle Herald in December 1971, Charlie recalled the christening of his “togs” in the creek:

Old-timers like myself will remember that long before Major Corlette’s storm-water channels were built during the Depression, there was a crystal-clear freshwater creek that flowed through what is now called District Park [Smith Park] and widened to form a delightful swimming-pool at the spot where Chatham Road meets the bridge near Newcastle Gas Company’s land at Georgetown.

There were no houses in the vicinity, and the thick ti tree scrub with lots of birds’ nests made it an ideally secluded place for schoolboys to spend the day. Further along, the creek emptied over a weir into the filthy, evil-smelling Styx Creek, which in turn emptied into the tidal Throsby Creek at lslington.

So I could think of no better spot than ‘Freshy’ to christen my new togs. Boys from the Georgetown ‘mob’ were already swimming naked, and it was with much pride that I dived in from my side of the creek.

But no sooner had I surfaced than there was a loud cry of ‘Police!’ and everyone rushed from the water. I noted with despair that I was the only one who had left his clothes on the side of the creek where the policeman was standing.

So that was it! My coat and pants were not only my Sunday best, they were the only ones I owned. And in those days, the police did not hand out the gentle, almost apologetic reprimands that they seem to offer now, with the result that I was led all the way home to make sure that I had given the correct name and address, and my dear mother was informed that the official summons would be delivered in person at the house. As it duly was.

There’s more, of course, but that’s the “local interest”.

I think the phrase that struck me most was Charlie’s use of the term “the Freshy” to describe the stretch of creek/drain/canal that now looks anything but. We’ve done awful things to the waterway; even back then Charlie describes it as the “evil-smelling” Styx. My sense is that we’ve continued to abuse it, but to abuse it differently. We don’t actively poison it as we did when we treated like a sump for effluent and the waste of industry. The nature of our ill-treatment has changed, it’s more casual and personal. It’s now the discarded drink bottle rather than the gasworks slag.

I wonder how much Charlie would recognise of the creek now. Were there pelicans, cormorants, teal and dotterel in the water? Would the gasworks, when there was a “bowling green quality lawn” have had the peregrines, kestrels, kites, harriers, blue-tongue lizards and possums that it has now?

Seems like we change, the creek doesn’t.

Spring cleaning


The last days of August gave us a blue moon.

And then it was September: officially spring. It’s as though a switch has been flicked and everyone’s got the same idea at the same time. The council subbies came out to pressure clean the creek banks.

It’s so thoughtful of them to make new blank canvases for the taggers and graffiti boys and girls. One interesting side-effect is that these old markings in the wet concrete became visible again. I wonder if Jenni W still Ls FK.

The grass in the gasworks is looking pretty brown and dead and if it weren’t for the fact that it’s right next door to the ELGAS depot I’d suggest a burn-off. Obviously this has gone through their minds too as they’ve put a firebreak around the perimeter fence.

Then the other day I noticed a truck-mounted drilling rig in the gasworks. I’m not sure that this counts as spring cleaning as such but it made me think that perhaps Jemena is reassessing the site. Have land values gone up enough for them to consider remediation?

I doubt it. But it does look like they’re paying more attention to the place, even if it is only to sink a few test holes and confirm just how much polluted the water table has become.

Got talking to some of the guys (hydrologists?) and pointed out the leaching of the black, viscous goo into the creek next door. It was gratifying to see that the next day they got down there and took a few samples.

What will come of all this activity I don’t know. Life, and the creek, tends to roll on regardless. Every now and then the train to or from Newcastle pauses for no perceptible reason on the Styx Creek bridge, and the people look down at me and I look up at them.

Or I get stuck at the Clyde Street lights while a coal train lumbers past a mind-numbingly slow speed.

And I find stuff.

And it’s September, and soon I shall hear the mournful keen of the season’s first koel, and after that the squawk of the channel-billed cuckoos. Happy springtime, everybody!