The sunset behind the gasworks was gorgeous the other night.


And then, within a day or so, it was grim as buggery. Drenching rain, slippery banking, general air of miserableness.


But just when I’m feeling flat as a tack and I’m staring blankly at The Longest Goods Train in the History of Christendom lumber across Clyde Street, I see that some kind soul has secreted this lovely flower decal against a fence post for a person such as me to spy and feel good about.



Lost words


I got several responses to my post about trying to find a word for the permanent watercourse that runs down the centre of the drain, the thing that I call the “beck”. Robert tells me that it’s a “fresh”, though I think I prefer Lachlan’s “stynx”, especially for that part of the drain that goes past the gasworks.


Megan pointed me to an article by Robert Macfarlane on his new book Landmarks, which is about the regional and place-specific words that describe certain characteristics or features of a place: landscape, animal behaviour, weather and climate patterns, and so on. The most shocking part of the article was this:

The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood.
The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.
As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.

It made me wonder about more new words for the urban environment. Words are obviously needed for the following phenomena. I’ve provided the definitions; now you provide the word.

1. The gap between two concrete slabs in a creek bed wide enough to stop an aerosol can from rolling into the stynx.


2. A group of interwoven twigs that were once a next but, having been abandoned, have now fallen from their place in a fig tree.

3. An air movement that is barely a breeze yet is strong enough to stop a pair of balloons from being washed downstream, causing them to bob on the surface of rapidly moving water without themselves going anywhere.


4. The temporary aggregation of leaves, sticks and litter that causes a body of water to pool around it. At some point the collection of sticks will collapse under its own weight.


5. The curiously curled-lip effect when a heavy flush is powerful enough to tear the roots of a mat of reeds and water hyacinth away from a concrete bed but without the force necessary to sweep the entire mat away.


6. The two-tone colour that occurs when a polluted, sediment-heavy drain empties into a fast-flowing fresh.


Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

The best laid plans


Thought of the day: maps show the world the way it is; plans show the world they way it might be.

A couple of pieces of drain-related correspondence dropped into my in-box and triggered this thought. The first email (from the good folk charged by Jemena with the task of rehabilitating the gasworks site) came with photos of a pair of plans from the turn of the twentieth century. These plans set out the gasworks as it was intended to be. The first one shows a detail of the junction of Clyde Street and the rail line; the only recognisable feature today is the Pepper-designed admin building.


The second plan – a more complete scale – is from slightly later, given the presence of holders 4 and 6, and the one for tar and liquor.


I find it interesting that neither of them exactly mirror the gasworks site based on the remains of the built environment. The rail tracks, roads and building footprints are recognisable but don’t match exactly. There’s a fractional discord, like a radio station that isn’t properly tuned in.

In contrast, these maps (sourced by Lachlan) show the area as it was, a snapshot of the time focusing purely on what was of interest to the cartographer. If you look at the middle dark line of those running from the bottom left to the top right, the one with the words “unused railway” along it, you’ll see the point where it crosses the Styx. I’d always understood that this unused railway was simply a planned track, but Lachlan has discovered (through the wonderful resource that is the National Library of Australia’s Trove searchable archive) reports that prove the base for the track was created in the 1870s but was resumed in the 1890s and “repurposed” as a drainage channel.

1893 Parrott-extract

This map shows another later detail.


I’ve added the links Lachlan sourced as they’re well worth reading for a sense of the track / drain’s development, particularly the insight provided by the progress of the “commonage drain”, A Day with the Unemployed, when “butty gangs” of 10 unemployed men assembled and worked on a rotational basis to spread out the income.

As the future of the drain, and the lands to either side (the soon-to-be remediated gasworks and the fuel depot), is in a period of flux, it’ll be interesting to see what plans the powers that be are drawning up for the area. And, of more interest to us mere mortals who simply happen to live right next to it, the reality of what will actually happen.