As The Wife and I were driving past Ellalong Lagoon the other day we played a car game: what single consumer good or item would you have if you could have anything, regardless of price? There were of course conditions (there always are). It must be a “thing” that is entirely discrete in and of itself and can have no on-costs or recurring commitments. This rules out real estate (buildings or land); vehicles (camper vans [her] or beautifully restored British motorcycles [me]); or weapons (yes, I know, I would like a lovely big rifle – but then does it come with an endless supply of bullets? Apparently not.).

It was surprisingly difficult to think of anything that I actually wanted.

Being of an age, I do find – as have so many before me – that I get increasing pleasure from the non-things. My current favourite is bird tracks in mud.


And it’s free!


I was Facebook talking (if that’s what it’s called) with a friend who still lives on the estuary where I grew up. He’d posted photos of egrets which, in recent years, have begun visiting – and even breeding – in that part of north-west England. The conversation moved onto shorebirds in general, and specifically their declining numbers in the Duddon Estuary. The two key factors in this decline have been habitat destruction and the clean up of the local sewage treatment plant.


Less poo in the water = less microbial action = less single-cell reproduction = less bottom-feeders = less … Yep. You get the picture. So that lovely poo-laden water that I spent my summers splashing around in, before coming out and picking off the sea lice, was also brilliant for counting shorebirds, and for my immune system.

I was looking at the stretch of concrete banking and creek bed where the repair work took place to stop the leaching of toxins into the Styx. Given that the old gasworks site covers several hectares, and the repair work covers about 60 metres, there’s been an inevitable “Bulahdelah bypass” effect, with the bottleneck simply moving a little further along.


It stands to reason. If this stuff is pouring, leaching or squeezing out of a place, and that place gets plugged, then the stuff won’t stop trying to pour, leach and squeeze – at least not unless the entire site is bounded and capped.


It’s a shame. I’m not implying that the clean up of the gasworks is the same as the clean up of the sewage treatment plant on the Duddon Estuary. Poo is nasty stuff, but it’s not as nasty as hydrocarbon by-products from coal-tar distillation. What saddens me is the way that humans are in an endless process of despoiling and remediating the world around us.

If I could have the one thing, then it would be a kind of non-thing. It would be a total remediation of the gasworks site and the whole stretch of the Styx from Chinchen Street bridge to the Griffiths Road bridge, with connectivity to the unused RailTrack section on the eastern banking. The Styx would be reconfigured, allowing it to meander through the site, creating acres of habitat for waders, shorebirds, insectivores, amphibians and predators. There would be boardwalks and bicycle tracks and hides for birdwatching. There would be … hold on. I think I’ve already had this thought.

In the meantime, it’s back to the non-things for me. This rufous night heron on the litter boom the other evening is a good example. (Must learn how to take low-light photos with an iPhone.)


What is your “thing”? What one thing would you have?

Hard, isn’t it?

Something’s afoot


Last year, Jemena Pty Ltd (the Melbourne-based gas retailer and owner of the Clyde Street gasworks) threw a bit of money at the site. Bores were sunk so that monitoring could take place of the pollution levels in the water table, the old admin building had fresh panes of glass installed (which were promptly knocked out) and there was an effort to keep the lantana and grass down to a point where they weren’t a terrifying fire hazard to the folk next door at ELGAS.


Then it all went quiet.

Well, they’re at it again.


First, a big black rainwater tank appeared, and now this lot. Viro soil? Huh? Google isn’t much help. Does anyone out there know what on earth viro soil is? Is is like enviro soil, but even more concentrated and awesome? Or could is it that the nice lad with the texta forgot to scrawl “en” in front of “viro”?

I’m very interested to see what a couple of tanks of viro soil will do to the place.  There’s so much coal tar soaked through the soil that it would cost a mint to rehabilitate the whole site. If any reminder were needed of just how industrial it was, then check this out:

gas holders clyde street

Russell put me onto this pic in a previous post. It really is quite amazing to see the gigantic gas holders dwarfing the admin building. And what’s that two-storey building in the background, on Chatham Road or Emerald Street?

As an aside, I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. He covers gas production and coal tar (p. 179, if you’re keen) and I was interested to see how coal tar was converted into kerosene, and how it was, in Bryson’s words, “the basis of the modern chemical industry”.

Leaving us with a postmodern mess to clean up. Go viro soil!

Call that a drain?


That’s a drain!

It’s not just any drain, it’s the Moonee Ponds creek in Melbourne, with the City Link running over the top. I’m not sure what the big red things are: art installation or plastic bag catchers. This great pic was sent in by expat Novocastrian and former drain rambler Ken, who was back in his old stomping ground recently and took his lad down the drains near Waratah Park. It’s excellent that our drainy heritage is being passed on to the next generation.

The creek’s been quietly lately: no students taking short cuts to the TAFE, no quad bikers, no dog walkers (apart from me and Jambo). The clean-up squad’s been and gone; I missed Dave and the boys but the mountain of plastic that had built up has been taken away.

Which is very timely, as the Australian Marine Conservation Society is running an anti-plastics campaign at the moment. Called “Like diamonds: plastics are forever”, it reminds us that “every piece of plastic we have ever used is still on the planet today”. You can donate to their campaign here.

I don’t think this eel died from ingesting plastic, unless he ate a ruler. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an eel so straight.

This blue-tongue was laid out pretty straight too. Not sure if he lost his tail in a fight with a dog or if it was snapped off after he drowned.


I mentioned recently that the coal tar in the old gasworks had been on the move since the warm weather kicked in. Here’s a nice example. This liquid ooze popped forth from the ground when I was walking round there the other day.

I felt like Jed Clampett, though I wasn’t as pleased to see this “Texas tea” as he was!