Earth Week, 1976


I’ve had the great good fortune to be contacted by Kevin McDonald. Now retired, Kevin has devoted his professional and personal life to environmental education in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

The photo below (first published in the Newcastle Morning Herald in September 1976) shows Kevin and a group of Islington Public School students taking water samples from the reach of the creek behind the school; that is, the part of Styx Creek opposite the TAFE, just before it connects with Throsby Creek at Maitland Road.

The project was part of Earth Week in that year. Kevin, who was senior lecturer in biological and environmental sciences at the then Newcastle College of Education, says:

The project was part of a wider program of urban environmental education, and the then teacher-in-charge of the Awabakal Field Studies Centre, Brian Gilligan, produced a set of notes in booklet form. At the time, I was President of the Association for Environmental Education (NSW) and we had urban E.E. as a theme at our annual conference (in 1976).

The Herald article that accompanies the picture says, “Throsby Creek at low tide is an unpleasant site”. Well! A lot’s happened since then. Heavy industry has pretty well moved out of the city, but the pollution produced by individuals seems to have increased. We might not have to close the windows if the wind’s blowing the wrong way or hide the washing from clouds of soot but what the steelworks no longer provides we seem to have made up for in spades.

This evening there was a warm northerly barrelling downstream. Just by the confluence of the old Styx Creek (the “Chaucer Creek drain”) and the “canal” I came across this mini version of the Pacific Gyre, an aggregation of drink bottles, busted thongs and empty aerosol cans all caught up behind the skeleton of a rusty mattress that the wind had clothed with leaf litter and sticks.

It’s disheartening to come across this amount of trash. Have we learned nothing?

I think we have. There are many things that are worse in 2012 than in 1976 but there are many things that are better. As I sat supping a schooner in the Honeysuckle Hotel after a day spent muralling at the Museum the Trevor Dickinson I was reminded that the hotel was once a post-industrial nowhere land, the site of a disused power station. It took people with vision and energy to make the magnificent foreshore precinct a reality. We can do better. But then, I  guess I’m just a Pollyanna.

On an unrelated note, I was pleased to find this Christmas bauble the other morning. Every time I think “That’s it! Bauble season is over!” I find myself surprised by yet another of these cheerful little reminders of  Yuletide. It is impossible not to smile at the uselessness of a bauble. Even the word …