Pack away the ark


It was a hell of a rain, and while parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales are still struggling with rising river levels we here in Newcastle didn’t cop it too badly. Styx Creek filled very steadily then drained very steadily. By Tuesday afternoon the downstream flow went from bank to bank, but only to a few inches.

I went for a sticky beak with Jambo this morning. He’d been confined to barracks for two days and went berko, charging up and down, swimming across the creek then back again, burning up all that latent energy. We hit the junction with the Chaucer Street drain about 9.30 am, just as the tide was peaking. What a sight!


An iPhone hardly does it justice, but the tide at this point normally comes up in exhausted pulses. True, it’s still quite a sight as the saltwater merges with the fresh, but it’s usually just beck wide. This was bank to bank, really pushing in hard. The pulses were close together too, barely two minutes apart.


It really is hard to believe that just a few days ago we were all lolling around under the ceiling fan or staggering about in a heat-induced torpor. When I was having my evening walk just before the weekend I bumped into this family who were, like me, benefitting from the cool breeze that always blows down the creek even on the hottest days. And, of course, they didn’t have to cross all those busy main roads on their way back to New Lambton. Vicki would approve!


The same night, about a hundred yards downstream, I came across this recently departed eel. What a whopper! It can’t have been dead all that long and bore no signs of having been attacked by a bird of prey. Its skin was beautiful.


I’ve only ever eaten eel once, at the Japanese restaurant by the harbour, and it was delicious. I wasn’t tempted to take this fella home though.

It turned out to be a night of dead stuff. We came across a rat up near Chatham Road bridge, a very unlucky rat as Jambo’s DNA kicked in and he immediately did what ratting dogs are supposed to do. It was short, sharp and severe. If I said “No rats suffered in the making of this photo” I would be telling very large fibs. There was a fair degree of squealing for a few seconds then … silence. And one very pleased terrier, who wanted to carry it all the way home. I don’t think so.


Not the happiest ending for Ratty. But I suppose that that’s two less animals for the ark, next time we’re faced with a deluge.

Happy Straya Day cobbers!


My fellow drain dwellers, Australian or otherwise. Respect that flag! Hang it high!


Around the gasworks


I can’t imagine Styx Creek without the gasworks, or the gasworks without Styx Creek.

I got an email from wrenasmir who had taken it upon himself to noodle around there and take a few snaps. The results are up on his Tumblr site, with quotes from the book. Great stuff, I have to say (the photos, not the words!). I never cease to be surprised at how the tower – such a one-dimensional object against the horizon – can manage to look different every time someone captures it on film.

I called this post “Around the gasworks” because I have lots of photos of round things, and so it seemed like an hilarious pun that would have the blogosphere rocking with appreciative chuckles. (Round = around. Geddit? Yeah! Me too!)

ELGAS have put quite a bit of work into refurbishing their wee excision thing and have got lots of new bottles. I was going round at dusk the other day and in the moody half-light these things looked to me like half-build cybermen.


A loooong time ago I came across an ancient golf caddy hidden in some overgrown lantana. There were no clubs but in the cross bar was an old wooden box filled with tees and pencilled score cards. I wondered at the time whether the gasworks people played golf during their lunchtimes; probably not great OH&S to have people slugging balls around but maybe they had a bit of a pitch-and-putt deal going with a seven iron and a putter. Anyway, this golf ball sprouted from the earth the other day, like some dimpled fungus.


People often make (potentially fatal) mistakes when gathering mushrooms and fungi to eat. For the purposes of comparison, this is a mushroom. It is edible, unlike the golfball.

I saw these coloured things sticking up, near Chatham Road. As I got closer I realised that they belonged to a child’s table, with a Pooh Bear motif. If I wished to dispose of such a piece of furniture would I really go to the effort of taking it to the gasworks and slinging over the fence?


Back on plants, the cotton balls are back. They attract clouds of wanderer butterflies as the larva (or caterpillars, or both, I can’t remember the fine details) eat the gooey white secretion that comes out of them. Bet you didn’t know that.


I came across this old photo of the Newcastle Gas and Coke gasometers, on the National Library of Australia website. I think they’re probably from the gasworks down by the foreshore or the one where the new Marketown plaza thing is now, near King Street Maccas. But it does provide a concept of the scale of the things. They really must have towered over Hamilton North.

The only tower that’s left now has “Naphtha” painted on the side; this was a byproduct of coal gas production and was used for everything from shoe polish to lighter fuel to feedstock in petrochemical steam crackers. I didn’t know that last bit either, I just found it on Wikipedia.


That concludes our gasworks tour. See you … ahem … around.



Marketing 101. I won’t see many more cigarette packets like this, not now that they all have to be packed in plain brown cardboard. Such a shame, I’ll miss those pictures of people’s cancerous throats, teeth and eyeballs.


Perhaps I should have kept this one, it was full!

Also on marketing, I was struck by how this Jets “Goal!” banner was wrong, wrong, wrong. I reckon the marketing whizzes from the Knights and the Jaegers and the Boomers thought they could just bang out the same product for the soccer. But that’s not how soccer works. Someone hits a four in cricket? Yeah, go wave your “Four!” banner. Someone scores a try or shoots a hoop? Yay!

But how often does anyone score in soccer? It at all?


No wonder it got chucked. Did the syringe come down in the wash with it at the same time? Surely the soccer isn’t that bad!

Strong language warning


I don’t mean the “b” word. Whatever that is. Bottom? Buttocks? Bosom?


I mean the rude word, rudest of them all. If you don’t like rude words then stop now. I’ve placed a picture of a kitten below just in case you’ve got a big screen and you accidentally open up something offensive.


Because I’m talking about the Mother of All Rude Words (pun intended), the rudest of the rude.


When I was growing up in Britain, just after the invention of Jethro Tull’s seed drill and Mr Crapper’s porcelain water chair, we had a thing called “the watershed”. The watershed was a time, 9 pm, prior to which no TV channel would broadcast a show that might be deemed to contain (assume the voice of the SBS announcer) strong language or sexual themes. (A quick Google tells me that it’s still there, though now fighting a rearguard action against the Internet and Christina Aquilera.)

I was quite surprised when I first came to Australia at how many words that I considered “rude”, or post-watershed material, were readily bandied about on Australian radio at all times of the day. But whilst all kinds of formerly rude words have entered regular radio usage, there is still one word that maintains its taboo status.


Why so? Well, better minds than mine have attempted to tackle this thorny question. Funnier minds too, if Canadian writer Bill Casselman‘s anything to go by. (I do like the idea of a plant called “twatwort”.) But there is something really jarring about seeing that word writ large.


Often angrily so too. I mean, what on earth does this actually mean?


What is the antidote to all these public cunts? It could be this:


Or this:


Interesting: no one writes “cock” or “knob”, they draw it. No one draws “cunt”, they write it. Theories, on a postcard, to the usual address.

The herd is on the move


Seasonal changes. There were king tides at the end of last year. The threat of a king tide at night contains the possibility of scary excitement, of floods and carnage, but mid morning, just after a leisurely home-brewed coffee, it rather loses its menace. Me and dog wandered down for a sticky beak. It was indeed impressive, coming right up past Chatham Road bridge. But not menacing.


Strangely, the high tide was matched by very low tides. Is this what happens?

I was late getting out at night, in fact it was almost dark by the time we got to the gasworks. The sun was setting over the Entertainment Centre. You really would think I’d have gotten the hang of lining up my shots by now. I mean, there’s this perfectly straight line going right up and down the middle and still I stuff it up. One of the trillion reasons why I’m not a photographer.


Speaking of the gasworks, there are hardly any rabbits around at the moment. Just before Christmas I found this dead one on the creek bed, which was a bit unusual. An adult, it bore no signs of it being attacked, no pussy, diseased eyes or bleeding nose. Then this one.


There are always dead things, of course, especially in spring and summer.


Spring and early summer is the time of year when all kinds of babies are being born and, as is Nature’s wont, the vast majority don’t make it to adulthood.


These baby trollies hatched recently. Sadly, none of them will every roll freely around the supermarket aisles, gather with the rest of the herd by the checkouts, find a mate and bring new trolley life into the world. It’s tough, the life of a trolley.


This one got caught attempting to cross the creek at high tide. Poor thing.


But the herd moves on. The herd will repopulate in the vast savannahs of Waratah Village, Officeworks and Franklins car park. Many more will come, and many more will fail to cross the …

What AM I going on about? I think my brain’s still on holiday.

A fresh start


“It’s nice to be away, but it’s just as nice to be back.” A mind-numbing platitude, the type that parents come out with and cause their children to tear their eyes out. If I didn’t actually say it on Wednesday, when we got back from a two-week jaunt, then I certainly thought it. Of course, those banal platitudes become statements of fact after a certain number of years. Now that I’ve officially achieved my dotage, sayings like “As long as you’ve got your health” are self-evident truths against which no argument can be brooked.

This time last week I was knee-deep in the Little Snowy River at Mitta Mitta, Victoria.


The water was crystal clear, and thankfully it wasn’t knee-deep everywhere as the colts from North Melbourne and Fitzroy VFL teams were camped on the banking. Take two competing footie teams, add youth, testosterone, alcohol, a beating sun and a rope swing above a swimming hole with submerged rocks and, hey presto!, you’ve got summer in Australia.


The other waterway I happened upon was the Yarra.


Concrete banks or not, they really know how to incorporate a river into a community down there. Is there anything comparable in NSW? Perhaps the Parramatta River at Parramatta, which has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years.

After we collected Jambo from the boarding kennelg the two of us went down the creek to see what we’d missed.

Not much, as it turned out.


And yet it was still quite lovely to be down there. The rubbish was different and yet the same: a stroller thrown off the Chatham Road bridge, a busted brolly.


The Mother of All Baubles. This one was so big that I put a Coke can next to it so that you’d have some idea of the scale. It was huge, industrial in scale. It can only have come from somewhere like Waratah Village.


Actually, looking at it in picture form doesn’t quite fill me with the same sense of awe. Maybe you had to be there.

I came across this blue bag, “For a better environment”. It must be somehow greener than a green bag. I wonder how. I won’t make any comment about this particular blue bag not being at all good for the environment as once I commented similarly on a discarded coffee cup, an “eco cup”. I pretty quickly got an email from the manufacturers pointing out that the cup itself was über-eco in its environmental credentials, but they could not be held responsible for the donkey that discarded it. Same same.

I don’t think there’s anything eco about Nokia phones. In fact, aren’t our phones and iPads and laptops filled to the brim with Rare Earth and precious metals and other things mined at great cost and danger in faraway countries? (For the record, the back, battery and SIM card were gone.)


So it really was the usual old stuff, just a bit different and moved around a bit, yet it was still lovely. Jambo chased the cormorants off the litter boom by the TAFE, had a swim in the beck and finished off by chasing a few rabbits around the gasworks.


In a couple of days’ time these walks will be part of the routine, but this first one of the new year had a freshness to it that was an absolute pleasure. It was nice to have been away, but it really is nice to be back.