Friday foto


I think Dorothy has overdone it on the egg nog.


Happy baublemas


You would think that Christmas baubles would only appear in the creek in December, or maybe in January when people are packing up their trees. True, this one is from January.


But this one is from September.


This one is from October.


So is this one.


And this festive montage was taken in November.

IMG_9716The moral of the story: baubles make people happy every day of the year.

Merry Christmas, drain lovers, from me and Jambo.


The hierarchy of harrassment


Some days there isn’t much to see, other days it just doesn’t stop. The other day was one where it didn’t seem to stop, from the moment Jambo and I dropped into the creek to the when we hauled ourselves out 40 minutes later.

We often come across ducklings with mother duck and the pantomime in which Jambo charges up and down the creek while mother duck puts on the “injured wing” routine as her ducklings flee is so common as to go unremarked. Ducklings are brilliant at diving and spreading out so that they all pop up a few metres away from where they started, which is generally enough to confuse a predator. But I’ve never seen an adult duck do this, till today.

I’m guessing this fellow is old enough to have mature plumage but still young enough to use duckling tactics when threatened. We came across him in the beck, high upstream. Most ducks this point fly away; was he injured? He didn’t look to be in any discomfort.


As soon as Jambo went after him, though, he took a deep breath and …


Under he went, for a good 5 or 6 metres. When he did surface he kept a flattened profile, before diving again and making another few metres.


It was all hugely interesting, and no ducks were harmed the process.

And that would have been enough for one walk, but there was to be more fun in the gasworks. The grass has been slashed, possibly just regular ongoing maintenance but perhaps part of the preparation for the forthcoming land clearance. The cut grass has exposed the small critters that creep, squirm and slither, resulting in the arrival of many more birds of prey than has been case in the last few weeks.

A pair of black-shouldered kites consider this to be their territory and haven’t taken kindly to the recent arrivals. I’ve seen a brown falcon down the drain and patrolling the bamboo by the rail line, but today he thought he’d try the pickings in the gasworks. The first I knew of it was an angry screech from one of the kites; his mate arrived and they soon drove the falcon off and into the fig trees over by the Hamilton Business Centre. This rubbish picture shows three tiny specks in the sky. It was very exciting in real life. Honest.


And that, too, would have been enough for one walk. But wait! There’s more!

The falcon, harried into the fig trees, turned from bullied to bully. A huge bird rose out of the crown of the fig with great wafting wing flaps. At first I thought it was an eagle, but I think from the scale (to the falcon) and the tail profile that it’s a black kite.


And see that smudge at bottom right? It’s the brown falcon, heading out of the sun. Tora! Tora! Tora!


The black-shouldered kite hung back. I’m surprised at how often this hierarchy works itself out: a willie wagtail will harass a magpie and a magpie will harass a goshawk but not a willie wagtail; a brown falcon will be harassed by a smaller black-shouldered kite but will itself harass a much larger black kite.

And a cairn terrier will always hassle a duck.

Friday foto


The north arm of Styx Creek. Ha ha.


The Inspector of Nuisances


Because of my work as an editor I subscribe to the online edition of the Macquarie Dictionary. They sent me a user survey to fill in the other day; various questions about my age, previous editions of the dictionary owned, things that could be improved and so on. One question stopped and made me think: did I want to be able to see the entries immediately before and after my search word? I realised that I didn’t. One of the greatest pleasures of dictionary word searches—the serendipitous discovery—was no longer a part of my working day. When searching for a definition, the definition was all that I wanted. It was quite a sobering realisation.


In contrast, the time tunnel that is Trove has provided numerous opportunities to stumble across the delightful and arcane when searching “Styx+Creek”. Here’s the Queensland news round up from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate of almost 127 years ago: Monday, 19 December 1887. It reads like something from Buzzfeed or Facebook (they have not been edited):

A man named Larry Pidgeon committed suicide at Croydon by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. He had been drinking for the last fortnight.

A commercial traveller named Durkin, Brisbane, was being teased by some children. He struck a boy on the arm with his cane, breaking the limb.

A Church of England clergyman named George Horrocks pleaded guilty at the police charged with drunkenness. He was picked up in Harbot-street helplessly drunk on Thursday night, and locked up for protection. He was discharged. He is a venerable man, and a graduate of Oxford.

Which has nothing to do with why I was at this particular page.

The page describes an inspection of Throsby and Styx creeks undertaken by the mayor, a group of councillors and—oh yes! oh yes! oh yes!—”the Inspector of Nuisances”! After a lifetime in various employments I have finally, finally found the job for which I was placed on this Earth!

The newspapers from the early 20th century are filled with reports about how filthy the creek became after the arrival of the fuel depot and the Gas & Coke works, but this report describes the filth from the wool-washing works and the tannery.


Pollution from the wool wash was considered to be fairly low during regular flows, but when the creek became “sluggish” the smell became “very offensive”. The tanneries, however, were a different story:

[T]he waters opposite Tighe’s Hill were of the blackest dye, with an odour emanating therefrom sufficient to sicken one.

The tannery relocated to Maitland and, by the 1920s, there were reports of the return of “shags” (cormorants) and mullet to the creek. But then the gasworks and fuel depot really hit their straps.

A couple of years ago I wrote this post after seeing the guys from the ELGAS depot flushing their paint into the creek. I reported it to the EPA and Council, but didn’t hear anything back. The title of the post, It will always be a drain to some, proves that nothing has changed in the last century and a quarter. There has been no golden age in the relationship between white Australian and our urban waterways. We have always treated them as drains: vehicles to drain swampland for poorly conceived housing development; dumps for our rubbish; places into which we can hurl our shopping trollies or tannery waste or paint wash.

I think there’s only one thing to do. Bring back the Inspector of Nuisances. I am prepared to take on that responsibility. Vote 1 Mark MacLean: The People’s Nuisance.


Friday foto


Yep, I think our state could do with some right now.


Pigmies and gyants


I find that my walks get into loops that are repeated without variation for days or weeks on end: clockwise around Richardson Park in the morning then up the Chaucer Street drain at night; anticlockwise round the gasworks or the Hamilton Business Centre; upstream to the Westpac Helicopter. Any change feels almost unpleasant the first time I do it (say, changing my rotation within the gasworks) but then the new route settles almost immediately into the established routine. For a few days or weeks, then as above and repeat.

At the moment I’m going down to the Maitland Road bridge while the tides are low. The pillars are crusted with hundreds of wild oysters, though I’m not sure how edible they’d be. I’m not game to risk it.


The creek bed is covered in a thick coat of silt in some parts, deposited by the recent floods and by the fine soil that gets scoured from behind the concrete banking.


I’m often surprised at the quality of the bikes (or parts of bikes) that find their way into the creek. This frame from is from a GIANT, which is probably twice as expensive as the bike that I plod around the suburbs on.


Which leads me neatly into a story sent in by good friend Isaac, who was scouring the National Library of Australia’s Trove archive. Looking for “Styx Creek” he came across this bizarre story, from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, concerning the death of “Tommy the Pigmy Chief”, who drowned in the Styx back in 1943.


The rest of the page made gripping reading too: the Allies taking back Tobruk; Ava Gardner filing for divorce from Mickey Roonie; headlines such as ‘On alert for major clash in Solomons’. If only they knew what was coming, poor buggers.

Trove is a world where time moves differently. I found myself scrolling through pages and pages of newspaper reports on Styx Creek going back to the end of the nineteenth century. There were two recurring themes: ongoing problems in creating a bridge substantial enough not to be washed away every few weeks (and preferably not with a schoolchild or two on board); and breath-taking pollution that followed the arrival of the Gas & Coke works and the British Oil storage facility. At one point, the surface of the Styx was actually on fire from Maitland Road to the depot due to leaked fuel!

How will people in 2073 look back on our efforts to clean up the creek and gasworks in 2014?

Will they think of us as giants or pygmies?

Friday foto


You know that feeling, when you think you know something then find out that—after all—you don’t?

Wabi-sabi had been explained to me as a Japanese aesthetic that valued the natural decay of things, and I’d always applied to John’s shed, which is quietly sinking back into the Earth, from whence it came. It gave me a warm feeling.


Then, foolishly, I looked up wabi-sabi on Wikipedia:

It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), the other two being suffering ( ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature ( ).

Impermanence? Yeah! Suffering? Um … Emptiness and absence of self-nature?

Why do you spoil everything, Internet?



As The Wife and I were driving past Ellalong Lagoon the other day we played a car game: what single consumer good or item would you have if you could have anything, regardless of price? There were of course conditions (there always are). It must be a “thing” that is entirely discrete in and of itself and can have no on-costs or recurring commitments. This rules out real estate (buildings or land); vehicles (camper vans [her] or beautifully restored British motorcycles [me]); or weapons (yes, I know, I would like a lovely big rifle – but then does it come with an endless supply of bullets? Apparently not.).

It was surprisingly difficult to think of anything that I actually wanted.

Being of an age, I do find – as have so many before me – that I get increasing pleasure from the non-things. My current favourite is bird tracks in mud.


And it’s free!


I was Facebook talking (if that’s what it’s called) with a friend who still lives on the estuary where I grew up. He’d posted photos of egrets which, in recent years, have begun visiting – and even breeding – in that part of north-west England. The conversation moved onto shorebirds in general, and specifically their declining numbers in the Duddon Estuary. The two key factors in this decline have been habitat destruction and the clean up of the local sewage treatment plant.


Less poo in the water = less microbial action = less single-cell reproduction = less bottom-feeders = less … Yep. You get the picture. So that lovely poo-laden water that I spent my summers splashing around in, before coming out and picking off the sea lice, was also brilliant for counting shorebirds, and for my immune system.

I was looking at the stretch of concrete banking and creek bed where the repair work took place to stop the leaching of toxins into the Styx. Given that the old gasworks site covers several hectares, and the repair work covers about 60 metres, there’s been an inevitable “Bulahdelah bypass” effect, with the bottleneck simply moving a little further along.


It stands to reason. If this stuff is pouring, leaching or squeezing out of a place, and that place gets plugged, then the stuff won’t stop trying to pour, leach and squeeze – at least not unless the entire site is bounded and capped.


It’s a shame. I’m not implying that the clean up of the gasworks is the same as the clean up of the sewage treatment plant on the Duddon Estuary. Poo is nasty stuff, but it’s not as nasty as hydrocarbon by-products from coal-tar distillation. What saddens me is the way that humans are in an endless process of despoiling and remediating the world around us.

If I could have the one thing, then it would be a kind of non-thing. It would be a total remediation of the gasworks site and the whole stretch of the Styx from Chinchen Street bridge to the Griffiths Road bridge, with connectivity to the unused RailTrack section on the eastern banking. The Styx would be reconfigured, allowing it to meander through the site, creating acres of habitat for waders, shorebirds, insectivores, amphibians and predators. There would be boardwalks and bicycle tracks and hides for birdwatching. There would be … hold on. I think I’ve already had this thought.

In the meantime, it’s back to the non-things for me. This rufous night heron on the litter boom the other evening is a good example. (Must learn how to take low-light photos with an iPhone.)


What is your “thing”? What one thing would you have?

Hard, isn’t it?