A coincidence


Okay, so it’s April Fool’s Day, but I did not deliberately set out post about Jemena’s clean up of the gasworks site on this day. It is a coincidence!

Jemena held a community information session at the Hamilton North Bowling Club on Tuesday. There was food, so how could I not go?


The guys from GHD were there, and people from another organisation with a name made up of letters, something like AJC&P. Why do organisations do that? They’re impossible to remember. Or maybe (dons paranoia hat) that’s the point! I’ll call them Acme Productions for easiness.

Anyway, everyone I spoke to was helpful and informative. Michael and Melissa from GHD and Beatrice from Acme Productions were able to answer all of my rambling questions. (“Hmm. I think you’ve actually asked me three questions there. I’ll try to pick them apart for you.”)


As well as tote bags and spring rolls and meat pies (note to caterers: give up making sandwiches. I know you’ve got to provide a “healthy alternative” but no one’s eating them) there were displays with process flow charts and details on remediation options.

As I’ve said before, I believe that everyone in that room is genuinely doing their best to achieve the best outcome. The cynic in me can’t be quelled though. I know what happens when the men in suits get together. It’s simply a function of bureaucracies, from CSIRO to universities to the RTA.

But there will be an outcome. At some point in the not-too-distant future the gasworks will be much, much less dirty and polluted than it is now. And it’ll be on-sold for some other purpose: storage units, transport hub, Chinese funfair. Should I be happy with this? I know I never will be as I have other ambitions for that whole area, ambitions that will remain unrealised because no one would make a zac from it.

As an aside, the only people I don’t get to meet at Jemena’s open sessions are the people from Jemena. They tend to huddle by themselves while the folk from GHD and Acme Productions do the leg work and the talky stuff. Come on, guys: mingle!


The major outcome from the evening was the fancy-schmantzy cap I got in my tote bag. I can now retire my much-loved but distressingly knackered Oxford University cap to the bin.


I’m not a spokesman for a community or in any way representative of anything other than my own nosiness. And so, as ever, I wait. And watch.

Happy April, everyone.

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!


Deep Throat lives


The idea of a blog is that you write something, chuck it out there and the world either ignores it or responds. The best responses are ones like this one:

Lads can wander the drains, chaps with dogs can wander the drains.
I had to walk home from Georgetown to Tighes Hill, from an appointment, recently and I gave a moment’s thought to walking beside the drains. “I might meet Mark”, I thought, “and say hello”.
But then I realised: an eighty-year-old female, her broken hand in plaster, walking beside the drains, someone would surely ring welfare agencies and interfere.
Not fair.
At least I was able to take a short cut through the TAFE.

And this:

Do you have a location that a 71-year-old, with a bad knee, might be able to access the system? We briefly walk beside it, and have a look into it, every time we walk from our parking spot to the Hunter Stadium for soccer and league games. I’d love to have a walk along it.

I’m seriously going to have to get onto Hunter Water and re-discuss the issue of access to the creek, not just for me but for all my older drain-loving buddies.


At other times the messages are less light-hearted. They are, in fact, intriguing to the point of being unnerving. I’m neither Woodward nor Bernstein, and this blog is hardly the Washington Post, but I did get an email recently after the Goo story post about the state of the gasworks. In it were contained detailed instructions on how to access information from various websites: “enter this URL …. scroll down to X … scroll back up to Y … enter [search term] …” and so on. I felt rather like Kevin Costner meeting Donald Sutherland’s Mr X in JFK.


So much secrecy over a silly gasworks!

By the way, yes, I am still waiting to hear from Jemena’s PR people about clearance of the photos that I took in there on my walking tour.

The best laid plans


Thought of the day: maps show the world the way it is; plans show the world they way it might be.

A couple of pieces of drain-related correspondence dropped into my in-box and triggered this thought. The first email (from the good folk charged by Jemena with the task of rehabilitating the gasworks site) came with photos of a pair of plans from the turn of the twentieth century. These plans set out the gasworks as it was intended to be. The first one shows a detail of the junction of Clyde Street and the rail line; the only recognisable feature today is the Pepper-designed admin building.


The second plan – a more complete scale – is from slightly later, given the presence of holders 4 and 6, and the one for tar and liquor.


I find it interesting that neither of them exactly mirror the gasworks site based on the remains of the built environment. The rail tracks, roads and building footprints are recognisable but don’t match exactly. There’s a fractional discord, like a radio station that isn’t properly tuned in.

In contrast, these maps (sourced by Lachlan) show the area as it was, a snapshot of the time focusing purely on what was of interest to the cartographer. If you look at the middle dark line of those running from the bottom left to the top right, the one with the words “unused railway” along it, you’ll see the point where it crosses the Styx. I’d always understood that this unused railway was simply a planned track, but Lachlan has discovered (through the wonderful resource that is the National Library of Australia’s Trove searchable archive) reports that prove the base for the track was created in the 1870s but was resumed in the 1890s and “repurposed” as a drainage channel.

1893 Parrott-extract

This map shows another later detail.


I’ve added the links Lachlan sourced as they’re well worth reading for a sense of the track / drain’s development, particularly the insight provided by the progress of the “commonage drain”, A Day with the Unemployed, when “butty gangs” of 10 unemployed men assembled and worked on a rotational basis to spread out the income.

As the future of the drain, and the lands to either side (the soon-to-be remediated gasworks and the fuel depot), is in a period of flux, it’ll be interesting to see what plans the powers that be are drawning up for the area. And, of more interest to us mere mortals who simply happen to live right next to it, the reality of what will actually happen.

A murder of crows


I’m not big on collective nouns; I’ve never heard anyone, in normal conversation, refer to a fluther of jellyfish, a puddling of mallards or a bloat of hippopotamuses. They always feel a bit forced and “aren’t I clever?”, basic trivia night fodder. But one that always seems entirely appropriate and completely unforced is “a murder of crows”.

The Wife took Jambo up the night-soil lane on his walk the other morning. At the end, near Bates Street, there’s  a mandarin tree and every year at this time it attracts flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos. They tear off the unripened fruit (perfect size for a talon) and reel around the fence, squawking and giggling like Year 9 boys who’ve broken into the school tuckshop.

But, reported The Wife, a little further along was another group of birds. The crows.


This guy, all on his own, does not look very menacing. But recently Jambo and I have had a 20-strong mob of them circling and cawing and swooping around above our heads. It’s deeply unnerving. Murder feels possible, almost inevitable.

There was murder, this morning. One less sulphur-crested to mangle the mandarins. (And there goes Old Mate, off down the creek for his morning constitutional.)


Which allows me to link, rather unconvincingly, to my own constitutionals. I was pleased to see that H-Foot is still getting out and about. This sign belongs to a water tank that appeared in the gasworks weeks ago. It hasn’t moved but is gradually being plucked at, bent, tweaked and generally knocked about by the Night Walkers. Maybe H-Foot is transforming his/her-self into a pedestrianised Judge Dredd. That’d be something to see.


We were going to go out for a constitutional, me and old H-Foot, but it never came off. I don’t really mind; if it’s meant to happen then, one day, it will.

You out there, H-Foot?

Language differences


The other day I was at the Newcastle/Hunter Studies Symposium at the Newcastle Art Gallery. One of the many excellent presentations was by Keri Glastonbury on the Newcastle blogging and Tumblr scene, and look who should pop up!


Yes, of course, he’s a star. I’m just the human on the other end of the lead.

It was a great day, the presentations supported by the absolutely amazing exhibition focused around the Macquarie Chest.


You MUST get to see this exhibition while it’s still up; it’ll never be together in one place again.

But that’s not what made me think of this post, it was Helen England’s presentation on brass bands in Newcastle. Helen described one of the many demonstration marches that Newcastle’s pit bands made, back in the late-nineteenth century. On this day about a dozen bands marched to the (ahem) Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles on Watt Street. Yo, Victorians: tell it how it is!

This blunter, old-school use of language was at the forefront of my mind as I’ve recently been proofreading a dictionary of Gurindji, a language from the Northern Territory. (The Gurindji are famous for the Walk-Off.) Modern Gurindji has lots of Kriol words in use, words that have an English origin but have gained a different meaning. And often these are words that have been gently massaged out of modern English usage as they’re considered too abrupt, offensive or (ugh) inappropriate.

I do love the Gurindji words themselves though. Consider this:

nguntiyip, verb, to yelp, like a dog, also used for the sound made by the engine of a bogged car.

I can see that! Or:

murr, verb, to settle down such as after a fight, pain going away as a sore heals, or an engine after it has been turned off.

Priceless. I was thinking of all this in the gasworks the other day when I saw the pair of black-shouldered kites soaring and hovering. They’ve won their territorial battle with the brown goshawk. In Kriol the brown goshawk is known as “chickenhawk”, and here’s the entry from the Gurindji dictionary:

karrkany n. chickenhawk. Milvus migrans. ◆ Manku nyangunyangu-pijik karrkany-ju. “Chickenhawk will make him a witchdoctor.”  This bird can make you into a traditional healer or witchdoctor in a process called tirriny. It does this by calling out karrk . . . karrk and throws a small stick at you. This stick can then be used to heal a person by placing it on the part of the body causing problems. Both men and women can be traditional healers.

Blimey! I’m glad the kites won!

What would this kookaburra think about it all?


Was it Oscar Wilde who said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language? Well, perhaps Australia is a nation divided by a multiplicity of languages.

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.