If you want to get ahead


… get a hat.


Who wears fedoras any more? No one with a brain, if Google’s anything to go by. I typed in “who+wears+fedoras” and the top 10 hits had titles like “20 reasons you shouldn’t date men who wear fedoras”, “Do women really not like the whole ‘fedora’ persona?” and “Cool or tool?” One site took the “guns don’t kill people” approach with its heading of “The Fedora isn’t the problem – the men wearing them are”. Which I wasn’t tempted to click on, but did raise in my mind the issue about how English, even when grammatically correct, can be horribly inelegant. And there went 13 minutes of my day.

The old bottle gassing building is getting more and more of a spray paint makeover. The boys have gotten tired with jumping the wire or unravelling the chain link. This solution is, like the title of the fedora website, functional and correct but definitely inelegant.


It’s odd to think that it’ll be gone soon, along with the naphtha tower and all the other bits of pieces of infrastructure. It’s a necessary evil, as the contents of this test pit illustrate.


This stuff has sulked in hardened nuggets throughout winter but as summer comes and the soil warms, the viscosity changes and sets it in motion.

This weekend the Herald republished a story that originally appeared in the Griffith Review back in 2003. It’s a story by Andrew Belk, formerly of Boolaroo, and describes lead-smelter Pasminco’s cavalier approach to the residents there. Jemena has a more enlightened approach but it’s still a reminder of how we as a community can deliberately blind ourselves to the way that big business treats our environment, even if it results in threats to our children’s health and future.

Where I’m from in the UK people hate the offshore wind farms but love the nuclear reprocessing plant. This map of UK earnings is a clue: work at the plant and you’re likely to be earning almost as much as someone in the Home Counties. Don’t work there and you’re in the bottom percentile for the nation. And wind farm operators don’t sponsor the kids’ football kits.

The hat was gone next day and I thought someone had souvenired it, maybe thought they’d wear it down the foreshore and impress the ladies. But not. It turned up a day or so later, a bit knocked about, a bit wetter. Seems no one wants to get ahead in a fedora.


Never elegant, and no longer functional. Bit like the gasworks, really.

Quack oink


A total fire ban today, with conditions described as “extreme”. It was horrible in town around midday, with dusty whirlygigs swirling around council chambers and the trees in Civic Park bent double by the hot westerlies.

The people at ELGAS have obviously been looking over the fence at the gasworks and feeling justifiably nervous. Recently they graded about 4 metres along the boundary as a firebreak. Still, I was surprised to see the lantana on the creekbank blackened from an intense grass fire the other day. Were they burning off or was this the work of kids, or broken glass, or a spark from the railway?


There was more inside, patches here and there which made me think it was probably a combination of school holidays, a dense fuel load and idle hands with a box of matches.


On the plus side, it hadn’t got far, and it also allowed me to see what had been hidden by the dense shrubbery and tall grasses. I can understand why some Aboriginal people describe burning off as “cleaning up country”.

The grading revealed other aspects of the gasworks’ former existence. The rows of fuchsias that bloom every year speak of a garden or border long since buried beneath the rubbish and discarded mess of a former-industrial site. But the grader blade also brought up these little guys. Someone must have loved them once upon a time. Maybe they had names, and piggy would get a pat on the head.


A little bit of  folk-art too, a tin fairy or garden elf.


Back in the creek I was reminded of how lacking in imagination and handicraft is the modern-day equivalent of the garden ornament. I mean, he looks chirpy enough, but compared to the tin and the ceramic pig he has a sense of the disposable about him that precludes any kind of emotional attachment.


A full moon last week. It was gorgeous, and in spite of the hot weather I am, for the first time in a few seasons, actually looking forward to summer.


But come back and ask me at the end of November. Guaranteed, I’ll be sick of it!

In the night garden


Work, life and various commitments have resulted in me not getting out with Jambo until after dark recently. Which is fine; I like wandering around the gasworks or up and down the creek at night, but Newcastle at night does have a very different feel.

Moonlight on the beck

Walking under bridges at night should be scarier than it actually is – there are all those thick concrete pillars for Bad Men to hide behind, and dark shadows and weird noises – but I don’t ever feel particularly uncomfortable. The exception is the Griffiths Road bridge – the one by the pedestrian lights where people cross to get into the Entertainment Centre. Being four lanes across, the road at this point is much wider than, say, the bridge crossings at Chatham Road or Broadmeadow Road. The result is a much deeper, longer tunnel effect and there’s a point where you’re really under the Griffiths Road bridge. It’s darker and, when you’re at the mid-point and it’s as far to go back as it is to keep going, I do feel a sense of unease.

And yet when I do actually meet people I don’t feel threatened by them. Coming upstream from Islington I met four young guys, just dark, hooded silhouettes until we were almost on one another. I think they were more surprised to meet me than I was to meet them; we muttered a few greetings and kept going our separate ways. The tide was coming in and so they might have gotten stuck at the railway bridge. If they did, I think they stopped and made this:


The gasworks is a much more friendly place, any time of day or night. When there were squatters in the old wash-up building I used to avoid that area. There were needles and junk and it had a generally bad vibe, but no one’s been resident in there for ages now.


The scariest thing that might happen is to nearly stand on a brown quail; when they burst out from beneath your feet you really know about it. But night-time always offers something different. On hot nights I’ve watched endless lines of bats swooping to drink from the creek. Owls often sweep the lantana thickets in the gasworks. After rain I’ll hear three different types of frog singing and croaking in the newly formed ponds (an expert, or someone with the Namoi CMA’s Croaker app (thanks, Neil), would hear more).

It’s March and soon the evenings will be much cooler. I’m looking forward to autumn’s windy, moonless nights, the kind of nights when, as a kid, I’d see my dad getting his lamp and shotgun out of the cupboard. Love the night garden.

Autumn noodling


A glorious autumn day, the kind that makes you feel glad to be alive. The grass-cutting crew was out and about.

Huge clouds of swallows swoop around the tidal pool. There have been large squadrons of black and great cormorants on the litter boom but in the last few days they’ve all gone, to be replaced by one or two little pied cormorants. I’m not sure whether the pieds prefer saltwater to the brackish and fresh water but I rarely see them this far upstream. But I did see this lonely Ug boot.

Here’s the answer to one of the missing cormorants. I didn’t see it; of course it was Jambo who sniffed it out. It’s been dead a while and, from a distance, blended perfectly into the bleached dead stems of a lantana bush laid flat by blades of the tractor slasher.

I also found a lucky rabbit’s foot. I’ll bet the three-legged rabbit it belongs to doesn’t feel very lucky.

On the way back, a tale of contrast. Firstly, this little sprig of broccoli. (Sprig? Node? Nub? Clove? Nodule? Stalk? Stem? Please advise.) I’ve seen just about everything in the creek but this little piece of bright green vegetable just looked plain weird. It was so bright and fresh!

And so, secondly, this inspection cap. Not only did it have the usual spangled, tarry, bituminous gump coming out but today a sick-looking kind of frothy ooze.

The benefits of working for myself are many. I can go to aikido at lunchtime, for a start, though the down side is that it can cut a two-hour hole in my day by the time I’ve cycled there, been flogged around, gotten home, showered and back in front of the glowing monitor. I had to catch up on a job and I was late finishing, and so late walking Jambo.

Dusk fell on the gasworks just as we arrived. This picture doesn’t do it justice but the gloaming through the seed heads of the grasses created a mauve carpet that hovered three feet above the earth, foregrounding a spectacular sunset pierced by a single vapour trail.

It’s soon dark in May; a quick circuit and we were in darkness, without even the waning Super Moon to guide us. Just the floodlights in the ELGAS depot.

A cold change is forecast. I’ll soon be pining for days like these.