Friday foto/s


It’s not often that you come across a rat fast asleep in the creek. Man, this little guy was out to it.


At least, I think he was asleep. Noooo, Jambo!


Kidney disease


Apparently the collective noun for cormorants is a flight, but what happens when they’re just standing still?


The ownership of waterways within Newcastle’s Throsby Creek and Cottage Creek catchments is about as mixed and varied as you can get. Hunter Water owns most of it, but Newcastle City Council owns chunks and other parts are in private hands, or pass through buried channels with easements over privately owned properties.

The result is that our waterways’ maintenance is divided between many different parties. Hunter Water relies on rates and catchment contributions for work on major stretches of the Hunter River and its tributaries, with larger works (such as the work on Throsby Creek’s banks in recent years) coming from federal government. Smaller grants are available for community groups, and I was pleased to see this one from Islington Public School:

Islington Public School is located in the Newcastle City Council area and its student population take an active role in serving their local community. Hunter Water’s grant will go towards raising awareness about the conservation of Styx and Throsby creeks with a project that will use recycled materials to filter runoff from the school playground and surrounding area before entering Styx Creek. This project will help keep Styx Creek and ultimately Throsby Creek clean.

I also got a newsletter from Council with my latest rates notice. In it was information on two rehabilitation projects Council has funded and carried out: one at Coal Mine Creek (Richley Reserve) and another at Gunambi Reserve, Wallsend.

This is heartening stuff. My stretch of the Styx works non-stop on its own rehabilitation. I sometimes wonder how long it would take for Nature to reclaim the drain. Imagine that the zombie apocalypse has come and gone and there are no more clean-up crews to cut back the grass and poison the reeds and shrubs and grasses that occupy the skinny cracks in the concrete bankings.


Some trees were cut down on Bates Street a year or so ago. Their response? Get the root ball to send a few suckers down into the creek.


It really does make the place look a bit prettier. Not much, but a bit. The interesting aspect about this is that Hunter Water and the Hunter – Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority has over recent years produced several publications that encourage landowners to protect reed beds and filtering plants on their properties as these plots are “nature’s kidneys” and reduce the inflow of pollutants and agricultural fertilisers into the water system. I suppose the sad fact is that, by the time we get to this stretch of the Styx, we’ve all given up on any chance of pollutants being filtered out. Nature’s kidneys are, by Hamilton North, effectively knackered.


I hope the kids at Islington Public School have some success in turning attitudes around. I look forward to seeing what they get up to.

And here’s a rat who was so perfectly camouflaged that I nearly stood on him. I don’t think he’d mind though; I have a feeling he might be a bit under the weather.


Pack away the ark


It was a hell of a rain, and while parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales are still struggling with rising river levels we here in Newcastle didn’t cop it too badly. Styx Creek filled very steadily then drained very steadily. By Tuesday afternoon the downstream flow went from bank to bank, but only to a few inches.

I went for a sticky beak with Jambo this morning. He’d been confined to barracks for two days and went berko, charging up and down, swimming across the creek then back again, burning up all that latent energy. We hit the junction with the Chaucer Street drain about 9.30 am, just as the tide was peaking. What a sight!


An iPhone hardly does it justice, but the tide at this point normally comes up in exhausted pulses. True, it’s still quite a sight as the saltwater merges with the fresh, but it’s usually just beck wide. This was bank to bank, really pushing in hard. The pulses were close together too, barely two minutes apart.


It really is hard to believe that just a few days ago we were all lolling around under the ceiling fan or staggering about in a heat-induced torpor. When I was having my evening walk just before the weekend I bumped into this family who were, like me, benefitting from the cool breeze that always blows down the creek even on the hottest days. And, of course, they didn’t have to cross all those busy main roads on their way back to New Lambton. Vicki would approve!


The same night, about a hundred yards downstream, I came across this recently departed eel. What a whopper! It can’t have been dead all that long and bore no signs of having been attacked by a bird of prey. Its skin was beautiful.


I’ve only ever eaten eel once, at the Japanese restaurant by the harbour, and it was delicious. I wasn’t tempted to take this fella home though.

It turned out to be a night of dead stuff. We came across a rat up near Chatham Road bridge, a very unlucky rat as Jambo’s DNA kicked in and he immediately did what ratting dogs are supposed to do. It was short, sharp and severe. If I said “No rats suffered in the making of this photo” I would be telling very large fibs. There was a fair degree of squealing for a few seconds then … silence. And one very pleased terrier, who wanted to carry it all the way home. I don’t think so.


Not the happiest ending for Ratty. But I suppose that that’s two less animals for the ark, next time we’re faced with a deluge.

Do the right thing! For the kids!


I’m often startled at how unobservant I am. I hadn’t noticed this addition to the Styx Creek sign on the Griffiths Road bridge, though it doesn’t look new. It might have been there for years but, since I stopped walking my kids to Hamilton North School, I rarely walk that stretch of the road. But the creek was up and I thought I’d take Jambo somewhere different.

It annoyed me, that sign. I know that it’s been put there for a good cause by people who have thought about a particular issue, but it irked me. The problem they wish to address is the amount of pollution in the creek, in this case the high levels of fecal coliform from dog poo. I’ve always been a conscientious picker-upper of Jambo’s poo, even though every time I do this I also have a pang of conflict at putting the poo into a plastic bag and then putting the plastic bag into landfill. These are, I suppose, the minutely tedious ethical dilemmas of modern life.

What annoyed me was the catch phrase “Help the kids keep the creek clean!” It’s annoying at several levels, not least of them being the hearty, thumbs-up exclamation mark at the end. Who are these kids who are keeping the creek clean? The only kids I meet down the creek tend to have a dozen aerosol cans in their backpacks, or they’re in the process of destroying a lawnmower left out during the Council pick-up. Is it the school kids involved in the WaterWatch program? I don’t think that they keep the creek clean; their task – a valuable one – is to take measurements and record species numbers.

I get the feeling that these “kids” are part of the lazy manipulation that’s called upon when trying to force adults who have no self interest to do a “good thing”. How can we appeal to their better instincts? I know! Through “the kids”! No one likes to think that they’re kicking the kids in the eye. However, I’d prefer a sign that said “Pick up your dog’s crap”.

The rain stopped, and I calmed down a bit. Took some meditative pics in the gasworks.

Checked out the rat to see how much it had decayed (quite a bit in five days; Nature doesn’t mess about).

As I walked under the Chinchen Street bridge a piece of newspaper bobbed past in the water. Internationally renowned spiritual teachers are coming to Newcastle! What on earth could they possibly teach us? To pick up our dog poo?

Sparkly bottle versus Pepsi-can raft race


I walk down Styx Creek almost every day, but my first trips into the creek were taken when my kids were little and we’d just moved to Hamilton North, about 13 years ago now. Getting my two-year-old son up and down the concrete banking was always a major task and, like anything with a toddler, could take up an entire afternoon. (As could walking the 150 yards from the end of our drive to the creek itself. So many things to stop and look at!)

We spent many (many) hours racing sticks in the fast-running beck that runs down the centre of the creek bed. When his sister arrived a couple of years later she joined in too, and there developed complex and elaborate rules governing what could and couldn’t be done to aid a stick caught in an eddy or trapped against a clump of reeds.

I was pleased to see that the tradition continues, though these two craft were much sturdier and more seaworthy than anything that we ever made.

For the record, the sparkly milk bottle was about 30 feet further down the creek than the Pepsi raft: a win for wholesome milky goodness over global corporate teeth-rotting fizz.

This morning the creek by the Chatham Road bridge was barely visible, hidden by a haze of petroil fumes and dew sprayed into the atmosphere by the whizzing nylon blades of half a dozen whipper snippers. Everything’s growing so quickly at the moment that the slasher crew’s down the creek on a regular basis. There’s a freshness to these mornings that’s most un-February-like; almost autumnal.

The tangled outdoor furniture that appeared after the fresh-before-last has turned up in the pool by the TAFE, as did the mother duck and her four ducklings. I wondered how on earth they managed to survive the thunderous downpour of the weekend but, hey, they’re ducks. They’ve been doing this kind of thing for a few million years now.

This young rat wasn’t so lucky.

Another reminder of time and life passing was the flag at half mast at the Bowlo. Such a sad but common sight at bowling clubs as their membership ages.

I remember Martin Babakhan (who used to do the morning weather report on ABC 1233) standing for local council elections a few years back. One of his proposals (I think I’m remembering this correctly) was that skateboard ramps be placed within the grounds of bowling clubs: the clubs would benefit from increased patronage from young people; there’d be less chance of young people acting up, and they’d be safer places for younger skaters; and there’d be a better generational mix.

I don’t think I thought much of Martin’s other policies (neither did the rest of Newcastle; he only got 9% of the vote in the 2007 State election when he stood as Liberal candidate) but that idiosyncratic idea’s always struck me as plain, good sense.

Three dead eels and a drowned rat


Well, it’s not exactly gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the creek did offer some gifts for Christmas.

Went for a walk on Boxing Day. It was sticky humid. The wind that had brought the trash up the creek on Christmas Day had died down but the concrete was littered with manmade grunge. Among the trash were other more interesting natural spectacles; certainly more dead eels than I’ve seen at the same time for ages.

This rat was decorated with the most beautifully bejewelled flies: rich emeralds and sapphire blues.

Another bauble turned up to remind me that the festive season isn’t over yet. It sat nestled next to an empty Tooheys New bottle, the plastic goose from a few days ago, a used syringe and a boogie board. If I was that way talented and inclined I’d make a carol about that. On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me …

The thunderheads rolled in at about seven o’clock in the evening and sent the whole lot washing down and away. I’m kind of relieved as the creek was looking really (I mean really) sad, but my relief’s tempered with the knowledge that all that hideous crap is now bobbing around in someone else’s stretch of the river.