How long would it take to all fall apart?


Newcastle is very good at contrasts. I was thinking how crisp and glorious and beautiful the creek was this morning, after the foaming brown slurry that it was yesterday. Cloudless blue skies after banks of dull grey; warm sun after none. But even as I thought all this I was reminded that I’ve thought it many times before. In fact, almost every time we get a downpour  the days that follow are   the most perfect imaginable.

When it did finally give up raining yesterday evening I took Jambo upstream and round about because he was totally stir crazy. The underneath of a bridge after rain is a strange, dank and other-worldly place.


There’d been a bit a litter build-up at the TAFE, but in general terms it wasn’t too bad.


But by this morning it had all gone. The brown goshawk was being mobbed by a pair of black-shouldered kites. Not as spectacular as the peregrines when they’re in full acrobatic show-off mode but it still made great viewing. Who’d be a goshawk? As soon as he rolled his eyes, gave up the territory and sloped off across the gasworks the family of magpies that have taken up residence on the naphtha tower decided that they’d have a go too. And then a flock of noisy minahs! What a life.


The gasworks is looking pretty wild at the moment. There’s a tall kind of grass that takes over the place if it’s left uncut. At the moment it’s two metres high in places; the last time it got this long was a couple of seasons ago. The owners sent in a tractor slasher and worked the place over, probably after pressure from the people at ELGAS, who must look across the fence and think “FIRE!” The result was short grass, an influx of rabbits, and a huge number of dead blue-tongue lizards.


This big water tank  seems to have no use any more other than to act as a gigantic reedbed and frog nursery. Which is fine by me!


But it made me wonder what the area would look like if we all stopped maintaining everything. If Dave and the boys stopped coming down with their whipper-snippers, the grass didn’t get slashed, the weeds poisoned, the concrete repaired.

This fig tree near Chinchen Street bridge typifies Nature’s spirit. It’s been pained over, someone’s tried to tear its roots away from the wall, it’s in a poorly watered, over-shaded position, and yet if it were left to its own devices it would probably break that wall to pieces in a couple of decades.


Virtually every outlet you look down has some kind of flora bursting from it. Each plant on its own doesn’t look particularly threatening, but it’s the endless, attritional way that Nature just throws one small fern after another, one raindrop after another, one sunbeam after another, that give it such remarkable power. All things must, in time, succumb.


The bankings were concreted in the 1920s or thereabouts, slightly later in some places, but to look at them you’d be forgiven for thinking they were built in the time of the Pharaohs. All that smooth concrete surface has gone; the beach pebbles hauled up for the mix are exposed, many of them breaking away and washing downstream.


I reckon that within two generations, three at most, the place would be barely recognisable.

Oh, how much I would love to see that.

Export quality


There have been black-shouldered kites aplenty for ages – in fact more than I’ve ever seen – but no peregrines or other falcons. This brown goshawk has made the corridor around the drain and into the gasworks his favourite supermarket aisle.


Pigeons are the main kill. There are plenty of them down there, mostly ferals and mostly hanging around the fuel depot. But every day there seems to be one less.


Which leads me, seamlessly, to 1985.

The Australia that I arrived in, in 1985, was a pretty confident, assertive place; not yet as powerfully assertive as it was to become but it was certainly a place where the “cultural cringe” had been vanquished and being an Aussie was badge of bloody pride, mate. Well, most of the time it was. The cringe was wounded but not entirely dead, but the thing that caught my attention in Australian labelling was what must have been the very, very tail end of an old-school attitude to Australian produce; that is, overseas = good, made here = crap.

It seemed to be a given that anything imported (particularly from Europe) was of an outstanding quality unachievable in the southern hemisphere. And, conversely, any made here must be total pants. (The facts, of course, contradicted this entirely, as anyone who’s ever owned a British motorcycle or Italian car can attest.)

The exception to this “there=good/here=rubbish” attitude was Australian raw materials which were, paradoxically, considered the best the world could offer. These raw materials were unfortunately too good to be wasted on mere Australians and so were sent away to be processed into genuinely good things by other more sophisticated cultures, allowing Australians to then buy them back at inflated prices.

But some wily advertisers would claim to gain access to batches of this outstanding raw material. In such cases, the product would be labelled “export quality”.

I thought that had all gone by the by until I saw this can of spray paint.


I was a bit nonplussed. I mean, the people who buy cans of cheap spray paint to take down the creek surely aren’t looking for premium quality.

Why put “export” on there?

Or does “export” still have some cache with Australian consumers? Is it like the gold medals thing on a bottle of wine (i.e. going to friends’ place for dinner, get a bottle with a nice label and a few shiny gongs on it)?

What colour is July?


I was listening to the author of a book this morning, talking on ABC Radio’s Life Matters, about how time slows down and speeds up depending on our state of mind and physical wellbeing. She debunked that oft-repeated theory about how time seems to speed up as you get older, the one that says that a year of your life when you’re eight is one-eighth of your life, but only one eightieth when you’re eighty. Follow the link for the brainiac explanation. She also described how time and memory can be “seen” or visualised by our various senses, a condition known as synesthesia. She used examples of people “seeing” days with different colours: to her, Monday was pillar-box red and Wednesday was orange.

So I wondered: what colour is July? So far, it’s been a bright, cheerful purple.

A Wimbledon purple, perhaps, with all our veggies eaten up.

There’s a website called Synesthesia Down Under. Apparently, people who suffer from this condition/have this ability are known as synesthetes.

This broom appeared the other day, in June, so I think that June might be kind of crusty yellow.

Or maybe the kind of whitey-green of the emulsified oil leaching into the creek from the fuel depot.

The waxing moon has brought higher tides. When it gets too high and the bankings get slippery I don’t go too far downstream, usually as far as the litter boom by Islington School.

Here, a group of cormorants sit in rows on the fence, drying their wings. They look like sulky teenagers outside the headmaster’s door. The white dots in the background are hard hats, a group of students getting their crane safety card.

With a low tide I sometimes walk down as far as Maitland Road, past the wrecker’s yard. Is that any way to treat a Kingswood?

On Saturday I saw what I thought was an egret, until I got closer. It turned out to be a domestic duck, the kind you get waddling around farmyards. She looked very uncomfortable and deeply unhappy. I haven’t seen her since, which is not a good sign round these parts.

Falcons and hawks patrol the area, not as many as in summer but enough to spell trouble for a lost duck. Coming out of the gasworks on Saturday I was set back on my heels by an explosion of feathers from the long grass and lantana: a brown goshawk had been so engrossed in reducing this pigeon to feathers and bones that it had failed to notice me.

Noticing things is not Jambo’s strong point. The world throws things up that puzzle him all the time. Take these two balls, for example. Which one to chase? Which one to guard from the other dogs who aren’t actually here but may well be at any minute? It’s all deeply perplexing, no matter what colour the month.