Toy time


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


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


And little men?



Balls and bullets


Catchy heading, but it does describe two of the most common things I find in the drain.


The balls come in all shapes and sizes: soccer balls, hockey balls, cricket balls, tennis balls, those useless plastic balls you see in ball pits at children’s playgrounds (I don’t know where the nearest one is to us but I see them in the goddam thousands), and handballs.

Handballs are the only type of ball that Jambo will chase. Perhaps it’s the unpredictable bounce that reminds him of skittering, shifty rats.


The other common thing I see is bullets for Nerf guns. As the incorrigible Risky Digits might say, Oh my holy Jesus born of the Immaculate Mary! If I see one of these things I must see a gazillion! Is there some kind of Nerf war going on in the headwaters of the Styx?

I came across a few young lads in Izzo school who’d been on a collection of their own and had found themselves on the wrong side of the fence when the tide came in, so I spent a few minutes chucking their collected ball and bullet stash over to them. Thank goodness these young people are out and about, ridding the waterways of foamy nasties.


Balls and bullets: be gone from this place.



Sometimes a post just won’t write itself, no matter how hard I try. This was one such post, which I must have started 10 days ago. It wouldn’t gel and no matter how hard I pushed and poked it refused to develop into any useful form. I’m settled enough in my writing skin to know to stop pushing when it gets like this; at some point, the thing that was blocking it will become apparent and I’ll resolve it, or a new solution will emerge. This time, it was the latter.

The theme of the post when I started was the (then) impending cyclone or two to our north. There was the possibility of storms, and king tides, which hardly seemed real as February has been one continuous Top End-style build up, with dark clouds brewing and brooding without ever being unleashed upon us. One such cloud hung over the naphtha tower without coming to anything. (I love the way the cloud looks like some unholy fume, like Isengard.)


The tides have been incredibly low, allowing me to walk down the creek bed all the way to Maitland Road bridge and into Throsby Creek. This is by no means the lowest of those low tides; at one point the there was almost no water apart from the beck right down here.


Tonight was different, and not just for the fact that there was water. This was fresh water, backed up from the TAFE weir. Why do?


The force of the flood had once again stripped the beds of water hyacinth that build up in the old Styx that feeds from Gregson Park. Huge great islands of the stuff had banked up around litter boom causing the fresh water to pond behind it. The colours were so fresh and vivid that they cheered up an otherwise grim section of the creek.


And in the middle, a Big Red Car.


If you see a Wiggle, let them know where it is!

Trolley season


There’s still plenty of hot weather ahead of us, even though the days are getting shorter and we’re in the last official month of summer. I’m pulling burrs and seed heads and farmer’s friends out of Jambo’s coat every time we take a stroll off the beaten path; poor thing, he’s so low to the ground that he’s a magnet for anything that needs distributing about the countryside.

The other late summer crop that I’m seeing a lot of is the shopping trolley.


I haven’t figured out how it works but I can go for weeks on end without seeing any, but as soon as one appears it’s like word’s gotten out and then there’s two …


… and three …


… and … well, I could go on.


It could be that they’ve come down in the numerous flows we’ve had since late January. That might explain the beaten-up state they’re in.


But, like Christmas baubles, they do like to gather in herds.



Perhaps they sense the onset of autumn and they’re about to begin the Great Northward Trolley Migration.

Watch out: you have been warned!

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?

If you want to get ahead


… get a hat.


Who wears fedoras any more? No one with a brain, if Google’s anything to go by. I typed in “who+wears+fedoras” and the top 10 hits had titles like “20 reasons you shouldn’t date men who wear fedoras”, “Do women really not like the whole ‘fedora’ persona?” and “Cool or tool?” One site took the “guns don’t kill people” approach with its heading of “The Fedora isn’t the problem – the men wearing them are”. Which I wasn’t tempted to click on, but did raise in my mind the issue about how English, even when grammatically correct, can be horribly inelegant. And there went 13 minutes of my day.

The old bottle gassing building is getting more and more of a spray paint makeover. The boys have gotten tired with jumping the wire or unravelling the chain link. This solution is, like the title of the fedora website, functional and correct but definitely inelegant.


It’s odd to think that it’ll be gone soon, along with the naphtha tower and all the other bits of pieces of infrastructure. It’s a necessary evil, as the contents of this test pit illustrate.


This stuff has sulked in hardened nuggets throughout winter but as summer comes and the soil warms, the viscosity changes and sets it in motion.

This weekend the Herald republished a story that originally appeared in the Griffith Review back in 2003. It’s a story by Andrew Belk, formerly of Boolaroo, and describes lead-smelter Pasminco’s cavalier approach to the residents there. Jemena has a more enlightened approach but it’s still a reminder of how we as a community can deliberately blind ourselves to the way that big business treats our environment, even if it results in threats to our children’s health and future.

Where I’m from in the UK people hate the offshore wind farms but love the nuclear reprocessing plant. This map of UK earnings is a clue: work at the plant and you’re likely to be earning almost as much as someone in the Home Counties. Don’t work there and you’re in the bottom percentile for the nation. And wind farm operators don’t sponsor the kids’ football kits.

The hat was gone next day and I thought someone had souvenired it, maybe thought they’d wear it down the foreshore and impress the ladies. But not. It turned up a day or so later, a bit knocked about, a bit wetter. Seems no one wants to get ahead in a fedora.


Never elegant, and no longer functional. Bit like the gasworks, really.

Dirty Doris


Haven’t had much creek money for a while. As you well know, I love creek money. It bobs into my life in such a jaunty way that it would be shameful to spend it on anything other than the purely frivolous. Beer bought with creek money tastes better than ordinary beer, as do Chocitos and works burgers (BBQ sauce but no pineapple, thanks). So imagine my pleasure at seeing this little Placido float past the other day.


Nice as it is, a tenor (boom boom) isn’t enough to score a good time. But I was patient: I knew that the creek gods would smile upon me. And sure enough they did. Someone even put this lobster into a special ziplok bag. Poor things; I’ll bet they spent ages hunting around for it in a handbag or under the passenger seat of the car.

My precious!


Now I have Dirty Doris!

Let the fun begin!



[Ah for the good old days, when jokes that would in these “inclusive” times be condemned as racist were the stock in trade of midweek telly comedians. Anyone of a certain age will remember Benny Hill’s Japanese businessman: “Not ten dollars! Not twenty dollars! Dirty Doris!”]

They’re back


The Japan Ministry of the Environment estimates that 70% of the 5 million tonnes of debris that was washed away by the Fukushima tsunami sank close to the coastline. The other 1.5 million tonnes is bobbing around in the Pacific, with expected landfall on the US West Coast any time soon. Which puts the bagful of rubbish that I sometimes bring back from the drain into proper perspective.

I’ll generally go for polystyrene foam, a pet hate of mine as it breaks down and down and down into pellet-sized orbs that are perfect for fish and birds to swallow. I don’t do the big things, such as the fridge that washed up the other week. Or this fire extinguisher.


The tides have been high recently and so it bobbed around and landed all over the place.


You could point out that if I can stop and take the trouble to photograph it then I could also take the trouble to pick it up and take it to the tip.


Fair comment. I don’t claim to be any kind of environmental hero, but I do my bit. I just have my limits.

Of course, a fire extinguisher in the drain means only one thing, and it has nothing to do with the heroic dowsing of blazes. I soon found out where they’d worked when I headed down towards Chinchen Street. This is the first spray job I’ve seen in ages. I was beginning to think it was a phenomenon that had had its day. Not so. They’re back.


I’ve never been fond of the spray job, it’s too loose and sprawly for my taste. It’s just BIG and there and that’s it. No artistry. All you need is guts, determination and a big wall. But this effort looked particularly poor.

A couple of days later, as I cycled over the Donald Street bridge, I thought I saw the real target. After all, how else could they get there without ladders? That’s a pretty tall gable end.


Who knows. But tonight the fire extinguisher was still there, now with a pair of laceless joggers, like a 21st century urban re-interpretation of a Rembrandt still life.


By the way, if you’re wondering how on earth they do the big spray jobs then this short video might help.

Have you lost your grommet?


When my kids were little we had a children’s book about a teddy that falls out of a stroller*, gets picked up, loved, lost, found, lost again and so on until, eventually, it finds its way back to the doorstep of the house of the child who lost it in the first place, with the parents just thinking it had fallen out as they were leaving the house and never knowing the many adventures wee ted had undertaken.

I think of this story whenever a toy washes up in the creek, an event that occurs with surprising regularity. I don’t normally comment on them, this army of lost toys, but this little fellow (is he Grommet from the Wallace and … series?) looked so clean and new that I had to rescue him.


Was he dropped off Griffiths Road bridge by someone on the way to the Jets vs Adelaide game? Even Jambo wanted to pull him out.


So we sat him up, comfy and slowly draining, against the banking.


There are other things that I’ve found in the creek, things that I know are driving someone somewhere mad looking for it. Where the hell is the gate key?


The end bit off my outlet pipe: where is it? I know I put it down here a minute ago and now it’s gone!


For goodness sake, Jeremy, we’re late enough as it is. Where did you put your other shoe! Not that one: your other shoe!


No, this is ridiculous. I am not going to the uniform shop and buying another hat. Did you look in the lost and found box? Yes, I know that they have a “no hat, no play” policy; you’ll just have to have no play until you find that hat.


“Just leave it. Use another one.”

“No! This is bloody ridiculous. I could see it on the fairway. It can’t have rolled far.”


Can’t have rolled far. Ha!

It rolled into the Styx, my friend, and once it’s in the Styx, well …


* I know, there are hundreds of books on this theme, including Jez Alborough’s Where’s My Teddy?, which I can still recite in full 15 years on.

Follow-up rain


When you’re in the city it’s easy to forget the travails of life inland, and by “inland” I only mean somewhere as close by as Cessnock or Kurri. The start of this year has been dry around town, but a few kilometres west it’s been very dry. Our friends in the Watagans were >this< far away from having to cart water for only the second time in a couple of decades. When the rain did come to the coast it was a slow, soaking rain with little run-off.


The litter and mulch and goo floated gently and responsibly down to the litter boom and sat there like a lid on the water, ready to be scooped out. I saw herons walking along it, it was so densely packed.

On the radio, farmers talked about the need for a decent follow-up rain. This is the farmers’ mantra, but I don’t think anyone expected quite such a deluge when it did come. The Styx filled and my wife described it as “a banker”, though for some reason I only consider it to be a genuine banker if the water’s up to the top of the concrete. The stuff by the boom hadn’t yet boon scooped out but, after the rain had stopped, the creek was clean as a whistle. All the bad stuff had gone away, or at least gone away as far as the Carrington mangroves.


I’ve so come to expect the creek to be wreathed in its garland of litter that the scoured concrete beds felt barren and lifeless. How topsy-turvy is that?


The grasses and reeds and sedges that occupy the cracks in the concrete beds were utterly flattened by the flood but, within hours, they began unfurling themselves and casting off the decorative petals that had become lodged amongst their tips.


In the days that followed, and this may be coincidence, I saw a couple of Works guys in the creek looking at the some of the big holes that have appeared in the creekbed, exposing the ancient reo mesh. Every time I see things like this have to revise my understanding of how quickly Nature could reclaim the creek, or even the city. It wouldn’t be a couple of hundred years; more like one person’s lifetime, or less.


One item that hadn’t been washed away was this … thing. I thought at first it was a mouldy old orange. Luckily I didn’t kick it as it’s solid steel! Is it a cannonball? A shot putt? What?