We look after our own


The last time I was in a union was over 20 years ago. I was in the Missos (Miscellaneous Workers) when I was in Alice Springs, but after I left town I opened a bookshop, and worked freelance, and for one reason or another I’ve been self-employed (and unionless) for two-plus decades. When my son got a job at KFC they joined him up for the union (the “they” being the union, not KFC) and stuff started coming through the letterbox, which I read studiously and my son studiously ignored.

The hard work and sacrifice of unnamed thousands of people in the union movement gave us many of the things that we now take for granted in our working and domestic lives. But, like Feminism, the current generation is not interested in the history lectures, the finger wagging and the general curmudgeonliness that men and women of a certain age are prone to offer on a free and regular basis. But they’re still out there, the unions.


That phrase, “we look after our own”, is at the core of what unions are about – the good bits and the bad. A song of roughly similar name, by Bruce Springsteen, became the anthem for Obama’s medical insurance reforms in the USA. Though I’ve never considered myself much of a Springsteen fan I do appreciate his ability to create driving, anthemic songs with lyrics that really connect with his audience. It’s an audience that’s usually represented as the disenfranchised, blue-collar workers of the American Rust Belt, though it also scoops up a goodly bunch of the denim-wearing right-on middle classes. I think. I may have just made all that up.

We don’t have a terrifically great record of looking after our own in the Hunter Valley, at least not when it comes to our flora and fauna. We’d cut out all the red cedar for a hundred mile radius within twenty minutes of the first timber-getters arriving, and our koalas and emus are just about out of habitat.

I was surprised to see the glossy black cockatoo listed as “vulnerable” in Michael Roderick and Alan Stuart’s list of threatened bird species of the Hunter. I’m sure I’ve heard them squawking past, with that distinctive “wheezing and grating” call of theirs. My wife recently found this yellow-tailed black cockatoo feather, which was at once exciting and a reminder that I haven’t heard a glossy black call for a long time now. Too long.


At least the grass and scrub and lantana in the gasworks is thriving. There are too few places in our cities that are messy and unkempt enough for our birds, particularly insectivores, to thrive. It’s a paradox of modern living; if we are to look after our own – our birds, snakes, frogs, butterflies and bandicoots – we’ve got to stop looking after other parts of our world. Put simply, we need more derelict places where Nature can take its course. We need more of this:


And this.


Rotting sleepers, lantana, cotton weed. Rubbish? Invasive pests? Yes, but in the absence of anything else they’re also lifesavers. And compared to the concrete wasteland inside the creek, a bit of lantana scrub is heaven.


It’s a dilemma for me. I can’t stand to see the decay that’s taking over the old Gas and Coke building (more on this to follow) but at the same time I really feel protective about the general dereliction, lack of care and oversight that’s made the rail lines and the gasworks into a thriving park for urban wildlife. Until we start to genuinely look after our own, or own will have to look after themselves in the gaps we leave when we stop caring.

Where to begin?


Such a varied weekend, so much stuff happening. It is, as young folk might say, “going off” down the creek. (Young people might not actually say that, if they ever did, but I heard a Young Person say it once and so it’s now locked in my head as Young Person speak.)

It’s been interesting on the litter front. Outside the gasworks I discovered what I immediately took to be the belt buckle of Diana of the Island of Thermiscyra (aka Wonder Woman), but when I Googled images of Wonder Woman I didn’t see any evidence of a cardboard belt buckle with a W crayoned onto it.

Further investigation revealed that, during one of Marvel’s many reinventions of Wonder Woman (this time in the 1960s):

Wonder Woman surrendered her powers in order to remain in Man’s World rather than accompany her fellow Amazons to another dimension. Becoming a mod boutique owner, the powerless Diana Prince acquired a Chinese mentor named I Ching. Under I Ching’s guidance, Diana learned martial arts and weapons skills and engaged in adventures that encompassed a variety of genres, from espionage to mythology.

A mod boutique owner would not make belts out of cardboard. No, this cannot be Wonder Woman’s belt buckle. So who’s is it???

Anyway: swans. I saw my first ever cygnet down the creek the other week. According so my Ash Island sources there have been lots of swans breeding this year; indeed, a family of six made it up the creek to Chinchen Street. Jambo, bored with chasing ducklings, went belting after them.

I hate to think what would have happened to him if he’d actually managed to catch up with them. His doggy paddle was no match for their lazy gliding, and when the pen and the cob reared up and hissed he made a quick retreat to the banking, from whence he barked with impotent terrier fury.

The cygnets, not yet fledged, were perfectly camouflaged against the filth and junk by the litter boom.

Unfortunately the swan family had gone by Saturday afternoon. That was the day when, at 4 pm precisely, the Twitchathon kicked off. The Twitchathon groups birders into teams of four, many of whom charge around the countryside confirming sightings and doing birdy things. There’s a great show about the Twitchathon, featuring members of the Hunter Bird Observers Club. The HBOC has a great record in NSW, with last year’s winners being the Hunter’s very own Menacing Monarchs.

I bumped into one team at the TAFE. The City Chicks were dead giveaways: heads flung back and binocular-ed eyes boring into the treetops, water-resistant birding book in one hand and checklist in the other. We had a great chat (no birding pun intended) about birding, and our favourite apps, and the creek. I officially award each of these lovely women a special Hamilton North Blog Wonder Woman Belt of Awesomeness.

I went to talk to another reading group about The Book this week. It’s always interesting to have people tell you what they think of what you’ve written. I’m thick-skinned with broad shoulders (not literally) and don’t mind a serve, but everyone was very generous. And they gave me a bottle of wine! How good is that! Thank you!

I also got a great little postcard from H-FOOT. I don’t know who you are or what you do, but H-FOOT I loved your card and your message. It’s things like that that make me happy.

And, to cap off a happy-making weekend of general goodness, I came across my first Christmas bauble of the season. This is definitely early, and looked as though it may well have been banging around the creek since last Yuletide.

Seeing it reminded me that, a year ago, I was busily trying to finish a book about Styx Creek, wondering whether anyone would ever  read it. And I was also getting ready to turn 50.

Life: it just keeps on going.