A loud “woomp!” at midnight

28/02/2016

I got up and looked out the window but couldn’t see anything. We found it in the morning though; that “woomp!” must have been the petrol tank going up and blowing out the windows.

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As The Wife pointed out, it looked theatrical, as though a team of set designers had been given the task of creating a “burnt-out car” scene for a low-budget telly drama.

Strangely, there was no smell whatsoever of burnt rubber or plastic or metal. However, the ever-responsible Jambo spotted an ember that the fire brigade had missed, and so he did the right thing.

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The creatures of Austrasia

27/02/2016

There are some people who really hate Indian mynahs, people who think the only good Indian mynah’s a dead Indian mynah.

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I think I might be one of them. I think I got this way when living in Alice Springs. I had lots of friends who worked as scientists trying to preserve remnant small native marsupial communities. The two arms of the pincers wiping out these critters at world-record rate were habitat loss and feral animals. In this community, “feral” became a byword for all that was bad. This is understandable; I’ve mentioned before the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s 2012/13 Wildlife Matters report which found that feral cats kill 75 million (yes, 75 million) native animals in every 24-hour period (yes, every 24-hour period). And that doesn’t account for the animals killed by cute Tiddles as she stalks the gardens and parks of our towns and cities.

But Indian mynahs?

I’m editing a thesis at the moment, a study of an Arnhem Land language by a non-Indigenous linguist. In it she talks about the blurring of lines and the changing roles and expectations as the researcher gradually learns the language under study and is slowly absorbed into the study community. There are even words for those who, through the act of “opening their ears” to the language become more than just speakers but become “indigenous” themselves. This is a very forgiving approach to newcomers, one that I – as a newcomer to Australia – could learn from. I mean, that dead Indian mynah was probably a 50th generation mynah, more “Australian” than someone whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet. So why the beef?

Which takes me to this pair of carp that occupied the pond behind the TAFE weir for a couple of weeks.

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They were big buggers all right, getting fat on the huge quantities of water weed and crustaceans that boiled around the warm shallow water after the recent rains and hot days. I was talking about these carp to a few Aboriginal fellas who were out eel trapping with their young sons off the Chinchen Street bridge, a scene that could have happened any time in the last X thousand years. I wonder whether they think that these carp are “introduced” or “feral”?

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Anyway, as another scientist pointed out to me, none of this will matter in a few million years, when Australia crashes into South-East Asia. The creation of Austrasia and the removal of the Wallace geophysical region will see all manner of critters teeming back and forth. Then what?

I don’t think I need to lose too much sleep about it.


Toy time

16/02/2016

I don’t see little kids down the drain, but I do see their toys.

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I can understand how balls find their way down here, but trollies?

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And little men?

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Strange.


Something to chew on

16/02/2016

Last year, while in England, I read a book that had been a surprise bestseller in that verdant land. The Shepherd’s Life, by Lake District Herdwick sheep farmer James Redbank, was more manifesto than autobiography. It was prickly and cranky, with Redbank snarling equally at Westminster bureaucrats and non-farming Lakes residents who just didn’t get it, the “it” being the place-specific connection of the Cumbrian sheep farmer. In sheep-farming terms, the word that describes this connection is “heft”:

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Part of Redbank’s manifesto (and I use the word a second time, deliberately) is that England’s uplands need the stewardship of sheep farmers; not only are they the people who have created the landscape, they are the ones best adapted to manage it. Having been in the Lake District during a period of relentless flooding I was interested to see how the debate on floods, flooding and flood defences evolved. There were the usual calls for more and higher concrete walls, but there were other voices too.

Consider George Monbiot’s Guardian article “Drowning in money: the untold story of the crazy public spending that makes flooding inevitable”. When Redbank writes, it’s effete non-farming Southern jessies like Monbiot that he has in his sights. But, as strapping Northerner myself, I have to say that Monbiot has it dead right: we strip our uplands of vegetation, we farm intensively and to the point of ecological exhaustion, and then when the rain comes down and sheets off the fields and into our poorly planned towns we throw millions of pounds of engineering solutions to “solve” the “problem”. Couldn’t happen in Australia, could it?

Many European rivers are now being “rewilded”, the straight concrete channels being dug up, meanders reintroduced and snags encouraged rather than ripped out:

In many countries, chastened engineers are now putting snags back into the rivers, reconnecting them to uninhabited land that they can safely flood [read “former gasworks”] and allowing them to braid and twist and form oxbow lakes. These features catch the sediment and the tree trunks and rocks which otherwise pile up on urban bridges, and take much of the energy and speed out of the river. Rivers, as I was told by the people who had just rewilded one in the Lake District – greatly reducing the likelihood that it would cause floods downstream – “need something to chew on”.

The Styx is ravenous, desperate for something to sink its teeth into. Every time there’s a freshwater flow I see the results of its poor, starved attempts at feeding, though often all it has to eat is itself.

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It’s time for Hunter Water to do the right thing, ecologically speaking. A hungry Styx is nobody’s friend.


Thinking outside the oval

01/02/2016

Got a letter from Jemena regarding the next stages of the gasworks’ clean up. It seems that we’re in the stage of organisations talking to one another and agreeing on exactly what should be done, when and at what cost. There are however still things going on, with trucks and utes going in and out on a fairly regular basis.

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The wheels (and caterpillar tracks) are well and truly in motion but I do often ponder the possible alternative futures for this huge open-space area. A wetland linked to a revitalised Styx. (It can be done. Here’s an example from Stamford, New England, USA.) A parkland and dog-walking area. A native bush regeneration scheme.

But that’s too obvious. What we need is a teenager’s perspective. Enter Lachlan:

My 14 year old son is obsessed with sport, and particularly with cricket at the moment and he reckons “they” (the mythical “they” who ought to do stuff) should build a cricket ground in Newcastle capable of hosting Test, ODI and T20 matches. I set him a little task of speculative urban planning, on thinking where “they” could build such a stadium, and I suggested the old gasworks site. As a little experiment, we grabbed an image of the Sydney Cricket Ground and laid it over the gasworks site in Google Earth at the same scale to see if it would fit.

Not only did it fit, it looks like it belongs there!

He’s right, you know!

HNCG