Surely not!



A splash of colour


They came bobbing down the beck, a splash of sunflower yellow that caught my eye.


Where from? Why? What story?

I’ll never know.

A loud “woomp!” at midnight


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.


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.

The creatures of Austrasia


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


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.


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”?


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


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?



Something to chew on


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”:


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.


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

Thinking outside the oval


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.


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!


Only 329 shopping days to Christmas!


I saw this when I got back from my overseas jaunt. If I had any self control I’d save it up and post it in December, but, well, I haven’t. Thanks SEPS!


Great expectations


I’ve been away for a few weeks on an important study tour, comparing the drainage systems of Newcastle with those of Cumbria. Unfortunately, my companion Jambo couldn’t make it to the UK. As I walked over the fells and sandy headlands of my old home I kept thinking how much he’d be enjoying himself. Instead, we hooked up with some visiting Kiwis, John and Val. We presented the opportunity as a house-sitting arrangement with the added extra of caring for a dog, when in truth it was caring for a dog with the added extra of having a house.

I got back on Saturday, and that afternoon the two of us returned to the drain.


The big rains of December had scoured the bed, and the follow-up rains meant that there was barely a polystyrene cup or fag end to be seen.


I was thinking, as I rounded the bend towards the railway bridge, how little had changed. There was a new roll-up next to the WORLD PEACE one. WORLD PEACE next to GODLESS seemed somehow … something. Not ironic; in fact, quite the opposite. The state things are in at the moment we’re more likely to see world peace in a Godless world.


A black-shouldered kite swooped and heckled a grey goshawk, something I’d never seen before. I’d always considered these little kites to be quite delicate creatures but it really gave it to the goshawk.


Here was something different though. As we arrived at the weir by the TAFE we saw a group of people with a dog and an electric remote-controlled boat. Jambo was fascinated and in he went. There was a time when he’d have swum over to find out was going on. If it weren’t for his incessant curiosity I’d never have got to know Old Mate and might never have written A Year Down the Drain. But this time he was content to stand and watch. Is he getting old? He did turn six on Boxing Day but that’s hardly old for a terrier.

Maybe things are changing around me more than I’d realised. What will 2016 bring? What will I think about the year when I re-read this post, in January 2017?

Which is perhaps a rather maudlin way of wishing you all a happy new year. I think!

Water, water everywhere


My son has long loved those riddles, the ones that go “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” or “Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” or “Would you rather know the date on which you’ll die, or what you’ll die of?” (Answer: neither.)

This week it’s been: would you rather be defending your home from a raging bushfire or a surging flood?

I’m in Cumbria, UK, at the moment, a part of England that has suffered its worst flooding in decades: roads and bridges washed away, tens of thousands of houses inundated, and me forced to watch hours of crap English telly.


So imagine my surprise when Lachlan popped through a link to these photos of the Styx in full churn. What is going on? When I left it was stinking hot and people were predicting the worst bushfire season since … well, the last one.

But the question that’s vexing the UK’s media, now that the water is going down a little bit, is that of flood defences: why didn’t they work? Successive governments have spent millions of pounds on engineering solutions, using thinking similar to that which created the Styx (i.e. get the water away ASAP).

A story that’s slowly emerging is the success that involved engineering of a different kind: revegetating hillsides, and creating organic dams and bunds to retard flow. The Yorkshire town of Pickering – refused flood defence funds some years ago – turned to alternative solutions and, unlike much of the region, localised flooding was negligible.

I know that the Hunter Valley isn’t Cumbria, or even Yorkshire, but there are many lessons we can learn from the people of Pickering.