On the weekend I went to a 120th birthday party (two friends turning 60) on a lovely bush block at Black Bulga, outside Dungog. I remember the first 30th birthday party that I went to and the amazement I felt that I knew people who were so old. It’s been all downhill since then so even though there was a teensy WTF? moment of being at a 60th birthday (a sixtieth birthday?!) party I was, in truth, very comfortable with the whole scene.
The book came up in conversation and a few folk, as often happens, told me their stories of running around Newcastle’s drains in the olden days. I never tire of hearing these stories: Di’s mum would make her a packed lunch and send her off, at about seven years of age, down Mayfield’s drains to play for the day with her friends; Max recalled the huge paddock (near where the showground is now) known as the Cane Field, a place where kids could got lost for a week, build cubbies, have wars and still be home in time for tea.
The only remnant of this once-vast adventure land that I can find is this one, near Old Mate’s fine-weather camp; you can just see the concrete banking of the creek through the path.
On the other side of this little patch is an open, grassed area between the creek and the rail line. On old maps there were rail tracks here but at some point the bends were reconfigured to make the curves less sharp. Maybe trains got bigger and couldn’t hang a leftie like they could in the olden days.
Although it looks quite natural at first glance, this neglected area’s been a dumping ground for the railways for years. The ground’s not so much soil as ballast.
Sections of the older fixed tracks are still stumble across-able.
But mostly they’ve been pulled up holus-bolus and stacked out of the way, left to rust and rot beneath the lantana.
I’m from the Lake District in England – an area that’s micro-managed by the National Trust. This management is generally a good thing but I do occasionally get cranky when I hear opposition to a wind turbine on the grounds of the area’s outstanding natural beauty, its pristine state. Which is nonsense; the Lake District is a prime example of what happens when people get hold of a resource-rich bit of land and flog it for all it’s worth, strip the hills of trees for a nation’s growing navy or to make charcoal to feed the furnaces and bloomeries and then, when there’s nothing left, enclose it with drystone walls and bang a few million sheep on it.
Same here. Everything that seems natural isn’t. Styx Creek is not a creek. There are native grasses at my feet but this is not a native grassland. Every corner reveals some part of Newcastle’s industrial past, what some might call its rail heritage. Stacks of rotting wooden sleepers …
… piles of bolts and the curious curly ties that once held the tracks to the sleepers …
… the inevitable oil drum …
… and the occasional Big Thing that looks like it’s accidentally found itself in the wrong post-industrial wasteland.
But no kids. Where are they? Where are their cubbies? It’s school holidays but where are the seven-year-olds sent out with packed lunches by their mothers and told not to come home till the street lights come on?
We don’t do that any more. I should probably add the word “thankfully” at the end, as I’m ambivalent about the risk–security tightrope that all parents walk.
But it’s reassuring to know that it’s out there, waiting – that post-industrial landscape. The adventure playground, part flogged-out wasteland, part wild remnant. One of the few places in inner Newcastle where you’ll see a red-bellied black snake, a blue-tongue lizard, a swamp harrier, a fox, water dragon.
I looked up to see this black-shouldered kite fluttering and hovering, occasionally dropping like a stone onto some unsuspecting prey.
Long live the wild, post-industrial landscape.