The night has a thousand eyes


No, not that old Bobby Vee song (though now the chorus is going round in my head like serious ear-worm material). Bobby Vee had trouble with his girlfriend going off and canoodling on the beach with Some Other Guy (I hope it wasn’t the chap in the video in the blue budgie-smugglers and gyrating hips; if so, Bobby’s done for). And someone saw her doing it!

Nowadays we all see everything. And then we photograph it. And upload it to Facebook, or Instragram, or Flickr, or Twitter, or …

The sunset on Monday night was indeed spectacular. Confronted with Nature in all its magnificence I did what anyone of my age and demographic in possession of a smart phone would do: I snapped it.


Not very well, because it’s a smart phone, not a camera, and because I’m not a good photographer.

The next day I find that half of Newcastle was pointing some kind of device towards the heavens; the Herald had an entire section of the sunset from a million different angles.

Why do I find this phenomenon of mass recording, of which I am a part, so perturbing? Is it because seeing all these images gathered together reminds me of what a herd animal I am? Of how unoriginal I am? Of what a rotten photographer I am?

And what will happen to all this recorded data in 2056 when the first-wave smart-phone-owning generation start to drop off the perch? Will their children lovingly scroll through their parents’ selfies and snaps of burritos by the beach and … sunsets?

There was a time when it was enough for me to tilt my head back and look at a sunset. I need to go back there.

Friday foto


You can lose a lot of time in the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections if you’re not careful.

This photo is captioned “Travelling crane, Oil works, Newtown, Hamilton North, NSW, 2 September 1911”


There is some further information in the Notes:

Image shows the travelling crane at the oil works in Hamilton North. Image was indexed as Newtown (Hamilton North). The works (under construction in the image) was owned by the British Australian Oil Company (Additional information courtesy of Mr John W. Shoebridge, June 2009).

Was the oil works at the site of the Shell depot? Or the gasworks? I’m tempted to think the latter; the rail lines would need to cross the Styx to get to the fuel depot and there has never, to my knowledge, been such a bridge or crossing.

So was the gasworks an oil works before it was a gasworks?

So many questions!

Where is it?


Ralph Snowball was extraordinary. His photographs of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Newcastle are full of interesting historical details, but more than that they’re often beautiful in and of themselves. His thoughtfulness in capturing the mundane and the quotidian – from street hoardings to “ordinary” workers going about their regular business – brings the Newcastle of our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation instantly to life.

This shot is titled “Waratah Coal Coy’s Raspberry gully line bridge and New Lambton coal Coy’s railway bridge crossing a drain at Broadmeadow” (link to the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections here).


It’s not one of his prettiest, but it does show what I’m sure is the Styx in an earlier incarnation. Here’s where I think it is: by the Westpac rescue helicopter pad, opposite the trotting stadium.


The two features that make me think it’s there are the junction of Lambton Ker-rai Creek, at left, and the ridge line at the back. But against that is the quite obvious dogleg in the top picture, as opposed to the gun-barrel straight creek line in the bottom picture. It could have been realigned but, really, would you dig that entire drainage line out, by hand, then dig it again to make it straight? Most unlikely.

So where is it? Your thoughts, please.

Friday foto


I’m always fascinated by the trains that rumble over the Styx Creek bridge. Sometimes the people look down at me looking up at them and I wonder what they’re thinking about me as I think about them. Who are they? Where are they going? Why? What are their stories?

In winter I tend to get down the creek later in the day and often find myself in the not-quite darkness of the city’s post-dusk period. The trains at this time are lit up like TV screens, each window its own little world.


Who are you? Where are you going? Do you see me?

Friday foto


I took this photo back in February and, while it’s not truly Hamilton North, it felt right for the times we’re living in.




Many years ago, in a universe far, far away … Well, in the last millennium, in a small village in south Cumbria, and English man and an Australian woman lived in a tiny house made of local stone.

The house was on the banks of a ghyll, and in winter a beck poured and churned down the ghyll so that the background noise was that of moving water, like the faraway growl of traffic in a big city. Because the house was in a ghyll the sun didn’t hit the back window till mid morning, and the Australian woman found this very difficult. The English man would make a cup of tea and take it up to the Australian woman, who then sat in bed and drew from the photographs she’d taken of the dark yew trees in the church yard, and tried to keep warm, while he drove around in a big truck delivering fridges and storage heaters. Then, at night, the Australian woman would drive through the snow and the darkness to serve pints of lager and rum and blacks to the men from the shipyard in a nightclub in the big town near by.

Eventually the winter solstice arrived and, even though it was still cold and dark, the Australian woman sensed that the days would once again get longer, and that soon catkins would appear on the hazel branches and dog roses would blossom in the hedgerows.

I was thinking of those times, this morning, when I walked in the grass next to the Styx and heard an oh-so-faint icy crunch beneath my shoes. Hardly a south Cumbrian frost, but not bad for Newcastle.


Frost creates a stillness that doesn’t occur at any other time; apart, perhaps, from the moments before snowfall, when the air changes from the throat-catching chill of low humidity iciness to a milder, softer, wetter atmosphere that makes scars itch and knee joints ache.


There was even ice on the water in the Styx. At least, I thought it was until I looked a bit closer. At which point I realised it was actually the blue-black petrol sheen caused by seepage from the fuel depot.


Silly me.


First piece


I wondered a while back whether the Age of the Great Roll Up was over. Perhaps Twitter and Instagram have become easier ways of bombing the world; I mean, who could be arsed dragging 20-litre tins of paint, rollers, trays and industrial-strength scaffolding around the countryside these days?


GLS appeared in February, over the stretch of the banking that CUBE used to occupy (not sure how CUBE feels about that). Since then a few folk have made half-hearted attempts at new stuff, and a few have touched up their older works. Nice to see MESS back.


Ironlak cans continue to be a staple of the creek litter but I must admit to being rather disappointed with the works of the current generation. I’m no fan of the gormless tag but I can appreciate a bit of thought and effort. It’s just not happening. The huge POAS by the railway tracks is almost completely covered in the squirts and sprays of disrespectful underlings.


So I was kind of pleasantly surprised to see this on the eastern banking of the Styx. Sure it’s clumsy and lacking style, but at least BARON has a bit of chutzpah. And the “First piece” is a nice touch; a nod to the Elders of the Roll Up, an acknowledgement of his/her place in the hierarchy of painters.


I’ll likely be seeing you around, BARON. But do some work on your kerning.

Friday foto


An evening walk, a wintry dusk settling across the suburb, the air in the creek becoming cool and damp. In the near distance the sound of kids whooping and yahooing and the drrrrrrr of small, hard wheels against Macadam.

They reach the edge of the creek bank and now the fun part starts, the bit that this whole dragging the trolley from the bus stop was about, the thrill of watching something stumble down the grass, hit the concrete and somersault with the kind of jangling crash! that makes the good folk watching the news and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? sit up straight in their chairs and wonder “What the hell was that?”


And then they see this figure down in the creek. It’s too dark to make him out: is that a uniform? Is he some kind of security? They lose their nerve and run off, giggling and squawking and oh-my-godding.

Chill, groovers. It’s only me.