Something’s afoot

Last year, Jemena Pty Ltd (the Melbourne-based gas retailer and owner of the Clyde Street gasworks) threw a bit of money at the site. Bores were sunk so that monitoring could take place of the pollution levels in the water table, the old admin building had fresh panes of glass installed (which were promptly knocked out) and there was an effort to keep the lantana and grass down to a point where they weren’t a terrifying fire hazard to the folk next door at ELGAS.


Then it all went quiet.

Well, they’re at it again.


First, a big black rainwater tank appeared, and now this lot. Viro soil? Huh? Google isn’t much help. Does anyone out there know what on earth viro soil is? Is is like enviro soil, but even more concentrated and awesome? Or could is it that the nice lad with the texta forgot to scrawl “en” in front of “viro”?

I’m very interested to see what a couple of tanks of viro soil will do to the place.  There’s so much coal tar soaked through the soil that it would cost a mint to rehabilitate the whole site. If any reminder were needed of just how industrial it was, then check this out:

gas holders clyde street

Russell put me onto this pic in a previous post. It really is quite amazing to see the gigantic gas holders dwarfing the admin building. And what’s that two-storey building in the background, on Chatham Road or Emerald Street?

As an aside, I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. He covers gas production and coal tar (p. 179, if you’re keen) and I was interested to see how coal tar was converted into kerosene, and how it was, in Bryson’s words, “the basis of the modern chemical industry”.

Leaving us with a postmodern mess to clean up. Go viro soil!

13 Responses to Something’s afoot

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Ach! Note to self: do not employ me as a researcher. In fact, do not employ anyone who’s too feckless to go past the first Google page. (And won’t ahem even scroll down!)

  1. clarelhdm says:

    Being new to town I wasn’t aware of the Gas works until I read about them in your blog. But I hadn’t actually seen them. Until a couple of weeks ago….driving down Clyde St I realised I was looking at the very same…what a spectacular building! And it will be a crying shame if it can’t be saved.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Yes, Clare, it’s one of the city’s finest pieces of early-twentieth century architecture, and designed by Thomas Pepper, a native Novocastrian who also designed the Tyrrell Street synagogue. The way it’s been allowed to decay is a crime.

      • Clare says:

        You’ve written to them about it haven’t you Mark? Might be a completely lost cause but I’b be inclined to try

      • Mark MacLean says:

        Yes, Clare, though I think that all my communications disappear into round filing cabinet under the desk. I think it’s time to try again though, and CC a few local pollies. (Is there an election this year?!)

      • Clare says:

        so they tell me Mark…but are any of them interested in heritage in this city? Seems they are more interested in tearing or chopping things down, ripping things up and creating big holes in the ground. sadly

  2. Steve McGrath says:

    Love the old photo. Takes me way back. Why couldn’t those tanks have been heritage listed or converted into housing ? “Viro Apartments” perhaps.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Now THAT is the kind of thinking I like! Viro Apartments: I’d be buying off the plan!

      • Steve McGrath says:

        You may recall the Zaara Street power station. That had potential as an apartment complex. Beachside living, harbour views, listen to the cathedral bells on a Sunday morning. Ok, years later someone did erect some dwellings near there. We used to refer to them as ‘Beirut Flats’. The architectural style was as imaginative as lego blocks. (apologies to Lego Corp.)
        I’m rambling and getting off-topic here. Thanks Mark, you are causing me to reminisce.

        Cheers 🙂

      • Mark MacLean says:

        My wife’s first flat when she left home was by the Zaara Street power station. Every time we used to go past there with the kids she’d point this out, which always resulted in much eye-rolling and here-we-go-againing.

        If anything, though, the whole harbour-front is a reminder of what we CAN do when there’s enough political will. It’s true that much was lost, and Newcastle’s very good at wiping out its industrial built heritage.

        Thanks for rambling and going off topic. My life is rambling and being off topic!

  3. Matthew Squair says:

    See the CSIRO’s web page for more on remediation techniques, most of which are either expensive or of dubious efficacy unfortunately. And let’s not even think about what lies beneath the Goninan’s site (shudder)…

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Yes, Matthew, I think that the horse (a black stallion called Coal Tar) has well and truly bolted the stable here. And why did you have to remind me of Goninan’s? Aargh! Did you ever see the state of the Sunnyside Tavern after the 2007 flood? “Toxic mess” barely comes near to describing it.

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