Summery autumn


These Indian summer days just keep on rolling on. A huge buttery moon came up over the gasworks the other night as I was doing a blockie with Jambo.


Inside the gasworks the birds and the bees are taking full advantage of the extended warm period.


Perhaps the increased wildlife activity is linked, in part at least, to the repairs that Jemena have carried out to the perimeter fence. I was really pleased that they’d done this work – it’s a sign that they care and that the site’s on their radar – although I also know that (i) feral cats don’t even see chain-link fences, and (ii) as POAS illustrated to me one afternoon, young guys can unzip a section of fence in about ten seconds.


As I discovered when I came across these two scallies working their way up the tower. Well, one of them had bounded up like a mountain goat while the other had lost his nerve at the section where the steps are almost totally rusted through. I really don’t blame him, and told him so.


As I was toddling back up the drain ten minutes later he was still there, frozen against the setting sun, his mate chiding and encouraging and goading him. I wonder if he’s still there?


He’d better get on with it; this weather won’t last.

How long would it take to all fall apart?


Newcastle is very good at contrasts. I was thinking how crisp and glorious and beautiful the creek was this morning, after the foaming brown slurry that it was yesterday. Cloudless blue skies after banks of dull grey; warm sun after none. But even as I thought all this I was reminded that I’ve thought it many times before. In fact, almost every time we get a downpour  the days that follow are   the most perfect imaginable.

When it did finally give up raining yesterday evening I took Jambo upstream and round about because he was totally stir crazy. The underneath of a bridge after rain is a strange, dank and other-worldly place.


There’d been a bit a litter build-up at the TAFE, but in general terms it wasn’t too bad.


But by this morning it had all gone. The brown goshawk was being mobbed by a pair of black-shouldered kites. Not as spectacular as the peregrines when they’re in full acrobatic show-off mode but it still made great viewing. Who’d be a goshawk? As soon as he rolled his eyes, gave up the territory and sloped off across the gasworks the family of magpies that have taken up residence on the naphtha tower decided that they’d have a go too. And then a flock of noisy minahs! What a life.


The gasworks is looking pretty wild at the moment. There’s a tall kind of grass that takes over the place if it’s left uncut. At the moment it’s two metres high in places; the last time it got this long was a couple of seasons ago. The owners sent in a tractor slasher and worked the place over, probably after pressure from the people at ELGAS, who must look across the fence and think “FIRE!” The result was short grass, an influx of rabbits, and a huge number of dead blue-tongue lizards.


This big water tank  seems to have no use any more other than to act as a gigantic reedbed and frog nursery. Which is fine by me!


But it made me wonder what the area would look like if we all stopped maintaining everything. If Dave and the boys stopped coming down with their whipper-snippers, the grass didn’t get slashed, the weeds poisoned, the concrete repaired.

This fig tree near Chinchen Street bridge typifies Nature’s spirit. It’s been pained over, someone’s tried to tear its roots away from the wall, it’s in a poorly watered, over-shaded position, and yet if it were left to its own devices it would probably break that wall to pieces in a couple of decades.


Virtually every outlet you look down has some kind of flora bursting from it. Each plant on its own doesn’t look particularly threatening, but it’s the endless, attritional way that Nature just throws one small fern after another, one raindrop after another, one sunbeam after another, that give it such remarkable power. All things must, in time, succumb.


The bankings were concreted in the 1920s or thereabouts, slightly later in some places, but to look at them you’d be forgiven for thinking they were built in the time of the Pharaohs. All that smooth concrete surface has gone; the beach pebbles hauled up for the mix are exposed, many of them breaking away and washing downstream.


I reckon that within two generations, three at most, the place would be barely recognisable.

Oh, how much I would love to see that.

Trains, planes, automobiles, foot-walking


Everyone, like John Candy and Steve Martin, has found themselves stuck next to someone on a train, a plane, a whatever. Sometimes it’s ok to bury your face in a book (can one bury one’s face in a Kindle?) and wait for it to be over, but sometimes there are great conversations to be had with random strangers.

I had one the other day. I headed down the drain around 8.30, which is a bit later than normal. I could see that Dave and the lads with their whipper-snippers had been down early to beat the tide. The grass bankings, slashed and all neat, steamed in the morning sun.


I was thinking about the folk that I don’t meet. Lots of people use the creek and they’re often only visible by their absence, or the things they leave behind: spray cans, still-smoking fag ends, a slewed footprint in the mud where someone’s skidded and almost fallen into the beck. This little scene sat like a Dutch still life: Breakfast, Hamilton North style.


And then, as I was thinking about the people I don’t meet, I met someone.

I don’t know this guy’s name but we had a conversation of such brevity and intensity that I was left thinking about it, and him, all day. He was out collecting balls because he needed to keep walking because … well, he just did. That’s a bit of tease, I know: you what me to tell you what we talked about. But that’s between me, him and Jambo.


But sir, you have my respect. Go well!

Export quality


There have been black-shouldered kites aplenty for ages – in fact more than I’ve ever seen – but no peregrines or other falcons. This brown goshawk has made the corridor around the drain and into the gasworks his favourite supermarket aisle.


Pigeons are the main kill. There are plenty of them down there, mostly ferals and mostly hanging around the fuel depot. But every day there seems to be one less.


Which leads me, seamlessly, to 1985.

The Australia that I arrived in, in 1985, was a pretty confident, assertive place; not yet as powerfully assertive as it was to become but it was certainly a place where the “cultural cringe” had been vanquished and being an Aussie was badge of bloody pride, mate. Well, most of the time it was. The cringe was wounded but not entirely dead, but the thing that caught my attention in Australian labelling was what must have been the very, very tail end of an old-school attitude to Australian produce; that is, overseas = good, made here = crap.

It seemed to be a given that anything imported (particularly from Europe) was of an outstanding quality unachievable in the southern hemisphere. And, conversely, any made here must be total pants. (The facts, of course, contradicted this entirely, as anyone who’s ever owned a British motorcycle or Italian car can attest.)

The exception to this “there=good/here=rubbish” attitude was Australian raw materials which were, paradoxically, considered the best the world could offer. These raw materials were unfortunately too good to be wasted on mere Australians and so were sent away to be processed into genuinely good things by other more sophisticated cultures, allowing Australians to then buy them back at inflated prices.

But some wily advertisers would claim to gain access to batches of this outstanding raw material. In such cases, the product would be labelled “export quality”.

I thought that had all gone by the by until I saw this can of spray paint.


I was a bit nonplussed. I mean, the people who buy cans of cheap spray paint to take down the creek surely aren’t looking for premium quality.

Why put “export” on there?

Or does “export” still have some cache with Australian consumers? Is it like the gold medals thing on a bottle of wine (i.e. going to friends’ place for dinner, get a bottle with a nice label and a few shiny gongs on it)?