Yo ho ho!


Merry Christmas to all you creek connoisseurs, drain devotees and waterway wanderers from me, Jambo and the ever-returning Yuletide bauble!


Oh, and the boys and girls at Gonninan’s put up a tree for you too.


Yo ho ho! See you all in 2013!

Feelin lazy


That’s me. This writing lark’s harder than it’s made out to be. Taking pictures on my iPhone is much easier. Take, for example, this dead bird covered in ants. It took me longer to type that sentence than it did to snap the picture. I need to change medium.


And this train? I’d need an entire post to bang on about it but with one depression of my thumb, one groovy, retro-sounding click of a “shutter”, and bazingah!


This intriguing sign deserves, at the very least, a David Malouf-style short story or novella. Is that “senior” in ranking, or “senior” in age. If it is targeting the wrinklies, then what kind of event might they be going to at Arena X, an event organised by Thor? Good God: it’s not Logan’s Run, is it?!


And as for this tanker … I feel that some punctuation is required. Is it an empty tanker, one void of gas, one that might be described as “gas-free”? Or is it a huge container of complimentary vaporised fuel, “gas: free”? Or an invitation to chatter about inconsequential topics: “gas free!”.


So many possibilities!

Lucky I’m lazy.

Under the bridge


My son is on a bit of a Red Hot Chillie Peppers jag at the moment, endlessly plucking out Flea bass lines on his Yamaha. Personally I find the Peppers a bit samey, but I do like Under the Bridge.

It’s where I was the other day, the bridge over Maitland Road that is, taking advantage of a low tide on the way to the dog park. This bridge has a very different feel to the bridges further upstream on Styx Creek; a bit edgier. Someone’s recently abandoned a camp down there, though they look as though they’ll be back soon.


A nice cuppa tea and a shot in the morning. Blimey. It makes my life look pretty tame.


There’s layer on layer of graffiti, not the kind of big spray job or roller that you get elsewhere, but more the frustrated, desperate scrawl of someone who demands “Take notice of me! Respect me!”, all the while being too marginalised or insecure to make their demands in anything other than furtive snarls.


Yeah, ya fuckin parrott!


Go Eagle. Not ‘Eagles’? Not a team, then?


A friend emailed me the other day; his daughter wanted to go into the old gasworks admin building to take photos and he was wondering if it was safe. I’m no expert. The situation changes on a daily basis.

There are lives out there, lives I don’t even pretend to understand.

Artist’s impression


Of all the things that intrigued me about the Herald‘s coverage of the NSW Government’s decision to cut the city rail link, the most interesting was the slideshow of artist’s impressions of a post-rail CBD. Perhaps it was the amateurish standard of the work, or the lack of imagination (so this is what we’re supposed to get excited about?), but I was left feeling puzzled and bemused rather than inspired. However, one ‘before and after’ that did catch my eye was their vision for Cottage Creek.

Chicks and Chucks, I give you ‘before’. Booo!


And I give you ‘after’. Hooray!


The differences appear to be that ‘after’ has (a) people, (b) a board walk and (c) a narrower channel.

I don’t want to get all snarky, it is after all a bit of pop promo, but I am intrigued as to why they chose to illustrated an enhanced Cottage Creek as part of the benefits of cutting the rail link. There’s nothing in the ‘after’ pic that couldn’t be done right now, if getting people to walk down the drains is part of the city’s ‘transport revolution’.

Ooh! Is that it, Barry? Jeff? Is that what you really want? Oh, tell me it’s so!

Low tides, high tides


Part I: Low tides

It’s amazing how different the walk down the creek is when the tide is low. It doesn’t look very low in this picture but I can assure you it is; it’s just that the creek bed is so clagged up with fallen leaves that the water has trouble draining away and ponds around the beck.


At the lowest tide you can cross the creek as far downstream as the TAFE, if you don’t mind having your feet blackened with mangrove mud.


Several man-made reefs have appeared that I didn’t know existed. They may just be old shopping trollies, but I’m sure they fulfil the same function.

Hey, do those gable ends look faces? Someone should get Trevor Dickinson to draw them, he likes faces on buildings.


The weekend before last I walked the whole way down to Throsby Creek with Jambo, right down to the dog park at Tighes Hill.


There’s some work going on by the car scrapper. I don’t know what they’re doing but I do know one thing: that is the most rubbish silt fence I’ve ever seen. Banging in a few star pickets and stretching a bit of shade cloth does not a silt fence make.


The bridge pillars beneath the Maitland Road crossing are covered in oyster shells, something I’d never noticed before.


I know almost every ancient footprint in the concrete of the creek bed, footprints that belong to people who are now in their dotage, if they’re alive at all. But something else that I hadn’t noticed before was this sad face, a bit like a Harry Potter dementor.


They’re still jack-hammering up the concrete banking at Throsby and replacing it with rock revetments; this section is quite close to Maitland Road. How far round are they going with this? I’ll bet they stop at the Styx.


Part II: High tides

And so, after the lowest tides we’ve seen in a while, it seems logical that we should have some of the highest. Is it logical though? I really don’t know much about tides, other than some half-understood “knowledge” about the moon and gravity.

I was talking to someone recently who told me that when there are high tides on one side of the earth there are not, as you might expect, low tides on the antipodes. Rather, high tides and low tides appear in equal and opposite measure. It was all to do with forces, of which gravity is but one. That really made my head hurt.


This week has seen high tides pushing all the way upstream, almost beyond Chatham Road bridge. The high tides, the recent rains that have flushed away the litter, the crystal clear skies and the work by Dave and the maintenance guys has combined to make the creek a spectacular place to be. Early mornings are utterly gorgeous: the edges are teeming with waterbirds, the shrubs alive with insectivores and honeyeaters, the water boiling with leaping fish.


The gasworks is jumping with rabbits at the moment. I came across my first dead one in the creek, which was a surprise. What happened? Dog? Disease? Avian predator? It was too big for the resident black-shouldered kites, kestrels, grey goshawks or even brown falcons. The swamp harrier’s been back, lolloping along at treetop height with its huge wingbeats, occasionally dropping, swooping and banking. It reminds of a German bomber, endlessly mobbed by Indian myna Spitfires.


Jambo was, of course, morbidly interested.


Do yourself a favour: get up early tomorrow and go for a walk down your local creek. You just don’t know what you might find.

Into another world


A bazillion years ago I worked for an Aboriginal publishing company in Alice Springs. We published dictionaries and language learning materials, oral histories, biographies and cross-cultural guides. The name of this post, Into Another World, was the title of one of our books, written many years earlier by Amee Glass, a missionary posted to Warburton in the heart of Western Australia’s Ngaanyatjarra country.

Last weekend I had my own cross-cultural experience, visiting a place as completely alien to me as 1970s Warburton had been to Amee Glass. I went to Canberra.

I’d anticipated something a bit squeaky clean, a bit sanitised, but not this sanitised! Where is the graffiti? The needles? The bag of prawn heads? The oozing coal tar?


Fortunately I had taken the precaution of employing cultural advisers, people who could show me the seedy side of our capital. (Note, Vicki, that in Canberra cowboy hats pass for helmets.) They even brought a surrogate Jambo for me. Peeps: meet Roddy.


We managed to find two trollies under a bridge. One of them still bore traces of organic goat’s cheese roulade and free-trade Nicaraguan coffee.


I could fill volumes with snide remarks about the differences between Newcastle and Canberra but I’ll stick to one theme: the contrasting way these two cities treat their urban waterways. Just to remind you, this is a waterway in Newcastle, my beloved Styx Creek:


How and why do they treat their urban waterways differently in the ACT? I shan’t take the easy route and moan about wealth distribution or the gulf between centralised government and regional cities. The key difference is this: our water drains into the Hunter River, thence to the harbour and the ocean, where we don’t see it any more and so don’t have to think about it; their water drains into Lake Burley Griffin where, if conditions are right, the warm, silty, nutrient-rich water is a perfect medium for unsightly and toxic algal blooms. Which they do have to look at and deal with.

A coalition of governments, councils and agencies is addressing the problem. They have focus, a shared vision, political will and dollars – lots of dollars: $60 million at last count. What could you do with $60 million? You could do this, for a start:


This artificial wetland is in O’Connor. About a dozen years ago it was just a flat, grassed parkland. The coalition of good forces created the wetland, and others like it, to help filter the water that enters the drains that feed the lake. Reed beds capture the nutrients and pollution, the sediment drops in the pond, the shrubs and trees not only help to stop erosion but also provide a beautiful shady retreat. (Those ripples are from Roddy having a cooling dip.)

This other wetland we visited was more recent, maybe only a couple of years old. It’s the Banksia Street Wetland that feeds Sullivan’s Creek. I know this because I took a picture of the elegant, informative and unvandalised sign along the bicycle path.


But the biggest and most ambitious of these wetlands is at (I think) Lyneham. It is bloody enormous.


It’s not finished but the main landscaping is in place; once the reeds and shrubs grow up it’ll look fantastic. The wetland is a kind of gigantic pool fed by smaller creeks; in large flood events the water ponds, dropping its sediment and nutrients, before spilling over a vegetated weir.


They still have a bit of the “keep out” mentality shared by all litigation-averse organisations.


But that’s a fair call as the catchment system is different down there, it really is like going into another world. Even the graffiti has a social conscience.


In a postscript to this blog, as I was about to click “Publish” I got a link from one the cultural ambassadors. It’s a recent press release from Tony Burke, the federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. How about this:

We want to start working to make sure our urban rivers look like rivers not drains. You can’t look after the oceans without caring for the rivers that flow into them.

Ooh. Ooh. I’m getting a warm feeling inside. A warm, federally funded feeling. I’m going to write me a letter …

This creek is alarmed


Or perhaps it’s just alert. I’m not sure.


There’s always Stuff turning up in the creek. Sometimes you don’t see a certain kind of Stuff for ages and then it appears in batches: five nerf bullets, eleven syringes, two hockey balls, four footwears.


One Coke can. As if: one Coke can times ten thousand would be nearer. They’re clever buggers, those Coke people. I’ve been seeing these cans with people’s names on, and now they’ve got dates. I suppose it’s tied into some fiendishly brilliant marketing program that gets us all singing the songs of our youth and then thinking, “Mmm, hey, I feel like a Coke. Because Coke adds life!”


When I think of 1970 I think of football. It was the year of the great FA Cup final between Dave Sexton’s Chelsea and Don Revie’s Leeds United, a game that Chelsea won in a replay.

And then, of course, there was the Mexico World Cup. The World Cup was the launching pad for colour TV in the North of England as Redifusion, the company that rented them at the time, had an almost Coke-like advertising campaign that convinced everyone to get a colour telly so that we could really appreciate those lurid yellow Brazilian and ghastly orange Dutch football shirts. Unlike most people in our area, who sent their tellies back after England lost to West Germany in the semis [no YouTube link there; it’s still to painful], we hung on to ours.

Hey, West Germany. Now that dates me.

I came across this football the other day. It’s so bright it could almost have been part of the 1970 World Cup.



Upstream for a change


A friend was telling that the blog inspired him to take his dog for a walk in the creek. He set off from the football stadium and got as far as the gasworks but turned back as his dog wasn’t enjoying it much. (Yeah, right: it was the dog’s fault.)

I can see what he means, truth be told. I very rarely go upstream because that section of the creek is indeed pretty bleak. But this week I was alerted to the presence of an interesting mural buy Driver Dom, who told me that there was a neat painting on the toilet block on the oval behind McDonald’s.

Hey: s/he’s right!


It’s a very lovely representation, though the huge, mature trees are probably more wish fulfilment than reality.


Whatever, I like it. More please!


PS: A friend just sent me a link to the Wallis Album, held by the State Library of NSW. Beautiful, delicate drawings, including this one of Throsby Creek. The Styx must have looked pretty much the same back in the day. I wonder, if Wallis had been deported now, whether he’d be using aerosol cans instead of pencils and watercolours.