Surely not!



From America


Two pieces of correspondence from Drainies came my way recently, both of which had a North American bent.

The first, from Graham, alerted me to the goings on in Los Angeles. Olden times readers of this blog will know that there’s been a long and dedicated effort to reclaim the concrete channel, so beloved of Terminators on Harley-Davidsons, and make it into a proper functioning river again.


I love that picture, above (a still from the video). Those men with hats are engineers working out how to “fix” that darned river and its annoying habit of having water in it. It worked so well that we copied the idea in Australia. Several times.

FOLAR has had a big win. (FOLAR stands for Friends of the Los Angeles River, so it should be FOTLAR: if you’re going to have the “o” of “of” then why not the “t” of “the”? But then NORWICH never did work because, as we all know, knickers starts with a “k”.) But the political winds have shifted and real advances have been made in the rehabilitation of the biggest beck in California. Hope!

On a completely different, and more irreverent, tack came this link from Richard. Maybe it was the heading that alerted him: Comic writer gets stuck in a hole and Twitter saves him. Hmm. Still, it’s entertaining. This guy got stuck in a skate bowl in the rain with his dog and an umbrella. How to get out? Thankfully, the Twitterverse responded.

Ryan in hole

Could that ever happen to me and Jambo, wondered Richard. Of course not! We’d simply climb on a log and bob down to the Carrington boardwalk. As the meerkats say, “Simples!”


Goo story


This time last year there was a team of lads down the creek “fixing” the cracks in the concrete. I’d pass them of a morning as I took Jambo down towards the TAFE and we’d nod at one another and occasionally talk. It looked like cold work on that northern side of the beck, with the winter sun never getting onto them till the afternoon by which time they were packing up to go home.

The idea was to stop the pollutants from the gasworks from seeping into the water table and the creek. It seemed, to my unscientific mind, a completely futile act. Surely, like the Karuah bypass, it would just shove the bottleneck somewhere else.

Anyway, they did about 50 yards of concrete then, one day, they were gone.

Since then the goo they squirted under the slabs has bubbled its way to the surface, only now it looks grey and frothy and almost as bad as the toxins it was meant to contain.


There are large patches of emulsified oils, which may be from the old fuel depot. I don’t know.


The bituminous gunk has a beautiful rich purpley-black colour that isn’t done justice in this photo. It’s the colour of a raven’s wing or a magpie’s flight feather, a colour that I’ve never seen in clothing or paints.


It’s really very disheartening and fills me with a sense of gloom about the rehabilitation of the gasworks, which seems to have stalled completely. (I did see a digger in there the other day which has made a few desultory scrapes in the ground. The only thing this seemed to do was to make the air around the creek reek of bitumen.) As for the now abandoned fuel depot, I can only think what would have to happen to land prices before that got tackled with any serious intent.

Sorry to come across so dejected but I don’t think we’re going to see a clean, green Styx Creek any time soon.



Spring is definitely not yet in the air. I was thinking this as I walked Jambo down the creek and noticed this plastic roadworks pole bobbing down the beck, washed hither from whence I know not.


What I do know was that it was cold and wet and slippery and generally a bit miserable.

But there are still folk out and about. I was rather startled to meet two lads emerging from the tributary tunnel next to Chatham Road bridge, the one you see beneath Richardson Park. They were wearing gumboots and had flashlights and had, amazingly, tunnelled their way from Merewether High School.

Yesterday I bumped into another pair of explorers who told me all about the old fuel depot, which has apparently been abandoned. The owners of this site were, right up until the end, carefully maintaining the holders and the buildings and the grounds and so to hear that they were no longer there was a complete surprise to me. I felt like the Turks must have felt when they woke up and realised the Anzacs had slipped away in the night.

But, like Nature, youth culture abhors a vacuum. It there’s empty space it must be filled. They sent me a couple of pictures of the depot, and of the recently re-fenced gasworks. I have absolutely no idea what this dummy’s arm signifies. I mean … huh?


The old naphtha holder was, they told me, getting a fresh lick of paint. Approaching from the south, they smelt the fumes of aerosol cans as a crew of hardy graffitismos plied their decorative trade.


Poor things, they nearly had heart attacks, but they were good enough to let my contacts reel off a few shots for posterity.


Note the cut-off ladder to stop scallywags climbing the holders. Apparently they’ve done the same thing in the fuel depot.


Such a shame. Seriously, I’d pay good money to go up one of those and look out over Hamilton!

Friday foto


Oh what a feeling.


Keeping in touch


One of the glories of social media and the internet is the connections that are possible between like-minded people. Of all the posts that I’ve put out over the years, the two most popular were on the demolition of the Islington Junction Box (hello, rail buffs) and on my attempts to save an injured fruit bat (hello, North American bat buffs). We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of visits, and loads of feedback.

Most of the time, though, the connections take the form of a friendly email from someone who wants to bring something to my attention: I mistake I’ve made in describing a place or a person; a comparison with what’s happening in urban waterways in another state or country; or a g’day from a kindred spirit in another part of the world. I also get wonderful follow-up messages that help me to understand this wee square of inner Newcastle that much better.

Recently, Lachlan pointed me to these two Ralph Snowball photos of repairs to the railway bridge over the Styx at Islington. The caption states they’re of a washaway following floods in 1897. You can see a better version here.


As is so often the case with Snowball’s pictures, they’re wonderful human studies with levels of detail that the smartest smart phone couldn’t hope to match. Again, direct link for a decent view here.


Another photo link was sent to me by Alex, a former Newcastle resident who used to cycle through Ham North to and from the BHP back in the day. Alex also lamented the loss of the Islington Junction Box. In an earlier post I’d made the following grossly sexist comment:

The Wife and I were discussing [the signal box] just the other day, trying to remember when it stopped being manned. (She said “staffed”, though when I challenged her to name a single lady signalperson she knew she was cornered. Ha!)

Well, step forward and take a bow, Margaret Tomlin, “one of the first and most successful women to break into a male industry”. Margaret is pictured here at the Flemington box in September 1982; click here for a better version of the picture.

signal woman

However, in defence of my sexist self, Alex does note the:

Different lever configuration though, pistol grip power assisted (most likely compressed air assisted similar to Newcastle Signal Box). The levers at Islington Junction signal box would definitely have been of the ‘armstrong’ mechanical type.

Yeah, Margaret Tomlin. Lightweight!

Lame sexist comments aside, I’d love to know where you are now, Margaret. I bet you could tell some stories!



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.