How full is full?


I was contacted this week by a gentleman who wanted to talk about drains.

It was never my ambition to become Newcastle’s Drain Man, but so be it. The man was a hydrologist and was preparing a brief in response to the Australian Institute of Engineers’ proposed revision to its guidelines on drains and waterways. Having investigated the Wollongong floods he was now looking at Newcastle, started his research in the City library, and was directed to “that man who walks around in the drains a lot”.

We had wide-ranging chat about things drainy, and one of the topics we covered was how high it got during the Pasha Bulker flood. He’d heard reports that the water was close to the underside of the Chatham Road bridge, which I pooh-poohed. No way did it get that high.

After he’d hung up I started wondering: had I been to quick to dismiss this claim? Fortunately, by coincidence a Drain Correspondent got in touch with pictures of the creek during the super storm. The following pics are all courtesy Isaac: cheers, mate.


This one shows just how close to the top of the concrete banking the water came. But, hats off to those olden times engineers, they got the capacity pretty well right. I’ve never seen it spill over here, or anywhere apart from the section near Hamilton North Public School and the showgrounds.

What of further upstream?

This photo, taken nail-bitingly close to the edge of the bank, shows that at Chatham Road bridge the water is nowhere near the underside, which is exactly as I remember it from the Pasha flood.


I really do have to hand it to those Victorians, and the Edwardians who followed them. They sure knew how to build their urban infrastructure, whether it was sewers, drains or dams.

The only time they got it “wrong” was the capacity of roads and bridges. They could never have predicted how much we would take to the motorised carriage; in fact, they’re still getting it wrong in Sydney now. Like drains, roads tend to spill out once they’ve reached capacity. But while we’re prepared to neglect our waterways we’re quite happy to lease our ports or electricity infrastructure in order to spend money on our roads. What a selfish species we are.

An island not made out of island


Last week, Hamilton North Public School held its first environment day, organised by teacher Trudy Ramsay. It was a big day, with Jamie Burns and his volunteers from DPI Fisheries, Alicia from Newcastle City Council doing her “recycling relay” (that’s the Australian Alicia Martin, not the Spanish one) and Amanda Gregory from HCRCMA doing WaterWatch. As well as this, the parents did a stirling job making soup from produce grown in the school’s very own garden.

And there was me.

My brief was to talk about Styx Creek and what happens to the rubbish that goes in there. Styx Creek runs parallel to Jackson Street and so right next to the school; they were all surprisingly clued up about it. As part of my talk I thought I’d promote Tim Silverwood’s Take 3.

“How many people live in Australia?” I asked.

A pause, then a hand goes up from the littlest kindergartener: “A thousand?”

“It’s more than that, a lot more.”

Another hand: “Infinity?”

Ah, kindy kids.

The children had been doing work on the Pacific Gyre, with a poster competition on display in the playground. Discussing the gyre, one little girl said, in that tentative way of the littlest of the littlies:

“I saw a picture of a man walking on an island. But it wasn’t made out of island.”

Dramatic pause. Finally, I said, “What was it made out of?”

Even longer pause. “I don’t know.”

I think she did know, but stage fright can be a terrible thing, especially at age six. What she was talking about was this stuff by the TAFE. I could have walked around on it quite easily, I think.

Dave! Where’s your clean up crew? We need you AGAIN!

But it was a very successful day and a reminder of the boundless optimism, goodwill and faith of human spirit that’s inside all little kids. The Earth’s in good hands.



In the gasworks the other day I noticed that the singing ringing tree has sprung back to life and once again is all a-blossom.

It gave me the idea of writing something about spring springing because, that same day, I saw my first clutch of ducklings of the season, eight of them paddling frantically behind mother black duck near the railway bridge, and then a pair of red-rumped parrots canoodling on a fence in Emerald Street. There was a sense of the sap rising, and not just in the plant and animal kingdom. The last three or four Saturday mornings a latex bloom of used condoms has appeared on the tarmac in the nightsoil lane from the night before. Someone in Hamilton North is having an affair!

But I didn’t get a photo of the ducklings, and the one I did get of the parrots I can’t find, and … well, who wants to see photos of used condoms? So here’s something else made of latex.

All this got me to thinking about the influence that the photos I take have on the writing I write. Sometimes I’ll see something and it’ll trigger a writing idea and so I photograph the thing to remind me of the writing idea. But quite often I take random snaps that take my fancy and, when I look at them later, they coalesce into a writing idea. The pictures drive the story.

The story that’s been going around my head lately (other than the spring has sprung story) is about litter. Familiar trope, I know, but I’ve been asked to do a presentation at Hamilton North Public School, along with the WaterWatch people and some others. A teacher and some concerned parents are promoting the concept of a “binless school” and I’m doing a bit on “where your stuff goes”.

Stuff like this, a little raggedy doll bullfighter, complete with little red cloth thing.

Or these lovely balls. (Whatever happened to Bratz?)

And these lovely, lovely bottles. So many of them! Soooo pretty!

And this … erm … boogie board.

Which eventually made it down to the litter boom by the TAFE.

It was here, on Friday morning, that I got talking to Dave. I’ve seen Dave around a lot as he’s one of the team of subcontractors who maintain the edges of the creek. They’re out with their brushcutters every few weeks pinning back the lantana, and when they’re not doing that they’re scooping up the bottles, balls, boogie boards, little raggedy doll bullfighters. And syringes, lots of syringes. That’s Dave on the right, with Old Mate 2 on the left.

Old Mate 2 got to wear the waders and risk life and limb in the deep pool. I got the sense that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his role.

That morning, Dave and his team had already pulled a skip-load of rubbish from the creek on the other (Mayfield) side of the TAFE and the Cottage Creek litter boom down by Civic Station. Our crap keeps them exceedingly busy.

Which reminded me of a quote that Kevin M emailed to me once, Barry Commoner’s 4 Laws of Ecology:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Mother Nature knows best.

I think I’ll be using that at Hamilton North Public  School.

Jambo bailed up this ringtail possum in our garden the other day and, bearing Commoner’s second law in mind, I bagged him up (the possum, not Jambo) and introduced him to the delights of the gasworks. After a slightly bewildered start he took off like a rocket.

One could say, if one were looking for a line to tie up a blog post, that he did in fact “spring” into life. But that’d just be lazy, wouldn’t it.