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.

They’re back!


First, a huge triple-axle trailer appeared in Richardson Park. Then some big strong lads with mallets.

By afternoon the big top was up. Hooray! Circus time!

Lucky they weren’t trying to put their tent up last week – with that wind they’d have been kite surfing across Nobbys. Both my kids have been off school with hacking coughs and thick colds. But now things have calmed down a little, the sun has just that tiny bit of bite to it and there’s a sense that perhaps we’ve turned a corner. Maybe … just maybe … spring is in the air. Overnight, a carpet of these pretty flowers turned up in the gasworks. Purply-white ones …

And creamy-purple ones.

The birds are so busy. The black ducks got a head start and already have ducklings out in the pool by the TAFE. There’s a pair of chestnut teal not far behind, and lots of sexy-talk from the lapwings, ibis (not blessed with the bird world’s most beautiful call, poor things), herons and egrets.

But next to the willie-wagtails, with the males’ fiercesome eyebrows all angled and elevated for the mating season, the most common waterside birds on this stretch of the creek are the magpie larks. They’ve been courting for a while, and this one was busy nest-building. Hard to see but he’s got a fluffy little white breast feather and he’s daubing it in the mud by the beck.

I suspect that this is where the breast feather came from. When I walked downstream this cockatoo carcass wasn’t there; twenty minutes later, feathers and bones were all that was left. The return of the raptors is a sign that there’s plenty of action happening at the base of the food pyramid. I hope the peregrines come back.

By the way, that’s old mate left-of-frame, packing up camp for the night.

The wind last week blew all the litter upstream so for a few days it was barely possible to walk down to the railway bridge without stumbling over a hundred Gatorade bottles or rattling cans of Mother. I notice this morning though that the creek’s looking spruce and chipper so Dave and his crew must have been around. All that was left was this Disney balloon.

And a beermat. But I don’t think that that constitutes litter, as such, more like biodegradable advertising.

This morning was still and overcast. The air warmed slowly, from a freshness with the slightest chill to a beautiful afternoon. Perfect circus weather.



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.



I was listening to Henning Mankell, the Swedish author of the Wallander novels, on BBC World Service the other day. (What a lovely internetty world we live in!) Mankell’s novels have been translated into about 30 different languages, and he was fulsome in his praise of the translators. But when translators “translate” a novel, are they changing one word in one language for another word in another, or are they creating a new work entirely?

And, similarly, (at least, in my head), when does a restored painting become a new painting?

There are occasions when this has been hotly contested in Australia: the late Eric Michaels gave the pot a good stir when he wrote about the “notorious” repainted caves on Mt Barnett Station, WA. A group of young Aboriginal men from Derby were accused of “effectively desecrating a traditional rock art site, despite the fact that they were officially commissioned to undertake the project and had ‘cultural’ backing from at least some of the site’s traditional owners”. (Read more here if you can’t get hold of a copy of his book Bad Aboriginal Art; email me if you’d like to borrow mine; wandjina pic below from this site.)

And, in Britain, councils can’t make up their minds whether or not to protect Banksy’s stencils, works that were once considered vandalism but are now considered to be part of the national estate. (They worry less in Melbourne, where a Banksy stencil was “cleaned up” by council workers.)

That’s a long introduction to a walk down Styx Creek. But stay with me: there is a link. Because all of this (yes, all of it) was boinging around in my head after seeing that POAS had been hard at work by the railway bridge, freshening up his big roller.

It’s been there for a few years and was starting to look pretty ratty, and the next generation of kids with cans were using it as a blackboard for their own stuff. I wondered: Is that the old roller, freshened up? Or is it a new roller entirely that just happens to be exactly over the old roller? I had other questions too: What, if any, are the protocols for applying paint to flat surfaces in public? Is there a pecking order? Do “vandals” get angry when their “vandalism” is vandalised?

If, indeed, it is actually vandalism.

Because, to my mind, if you really want to see vandalism in Styx Creek then you don’t need to look at the concrete bankings: look at the floor. The creekbed is an absolute disgrace at the moment.

Drink bottles are, as ever in abundance. When will New South Wales adopt container deposit legislation?

And fire extinguisher deposit legislation.

And … erm … glove, tennis ball and syringe legislation.

And don’t get me started on bicycle wheels.

Much to my relief, I think that there is a person who can provide the answers to all these issues – the translations and art restorations and CDL advocations. What’s more, that person may well live in our very own Hamilton North, indeed I believe that he or she lives in Phillips Street, just down from the Bowlo. Because somewhere, in one of these houses, lives a …

What’s the buzz, cock?


I’m a nosy old git. If I’m walking down Styx Creek and I come across someone else down there I want to ask them “What the hell are you doing here?” I don’t mind them asking me what I’m doing: for one it’s self-evident (I’m walking the dog, of course!) and for another I don’t mind people asking blunt questions.

But wanting to ask these questions doesn’t mean that I actually do ask them. This morning, a crisp, breezy Anzac Day, I came across two guys under the Chatham Road bridge. I don’t mean standing on the creek bed, having a bit of a look round; they were hunched up in the scrunchy little gap, where the banking angles into the support beams. They were both in their late twenties, I’d guess, maybe early thirties. Well dressed. Clutching notebooks. Old Mate was under the arch on the opposite bank, asleep (or pretending to be). They were quite cheerful, these two, and we passed the time of day as though we were outside the post office in Beaumont Street. But screaming inside me all the time was the question “What the hell are you doing?”

Being British I carried on, of course, as though what they were doing – right here, right now, squashed into a narrow gap under the Chatham Road bridge on Anzac Day morning – was completely normal. But the further I walked towards Islington the more I resolved, on my return, to demand some answers.

I was talking about the creek with a friend a while back, moaning about the litter, and he asked me if I picked it up. He remembered how, as a boy, his father would always take a plastic bag to the beach and pick up litter as they walked along and how, being a boy, this filled him with an appalling sense of shame and embarrassment but now, as an adult, he found himself stuffing a plastic bag in his pocket whenever he set off for the beach. I must admit that I’m a sporadic picker-upper of litter, usually stung into action when the creek hasn’t flowed for a while and the drink cans are building up. (My best effort to date is 14 bags of the stuff.) This morning there were only big things, such as this bundle of cellophane:

And this busted paddling pool:

But I was doing a bit of an emu bob as a looped back through the gasworks and towards Clyde Street. A brightly coloured wrapper caught my eye and I bent to pick it up. Then stopped.

It’s not every day you find a 5″ glittery lady’s finger on the footpath and, though I’ll cheerfully pick up Jambo’s poo there was something about this that made go … hmm. What sucked me in though (and here’s the “nosy old git” link) was the bit of paper sticking out the side: “instruction manual”. Now that captured my imagination! An instruction manual? Surely you just, well, you know …

Apparently not! As well as the instructions for general use there’s a “warning” section, a “cleaning and care” section and even an unnervingly titled “electrical malfunction” section, from which I quote:

Excessive usage … will cause wear on the motor and cause the motor to overheat. If this happens and the vibrator seems alarmingly hot, switch it off immediately and allow to cool down before using again.

Alarmingly hot? Bloody hell.

A clanging of bells brought me to my senses and I realised that the gates were closed. A queue of traffic was banked up on Clyde Street and the drivers, one and all, were watching me, perhaps waiting to see what I’d do with my 5″ glittery lady’s finger. This time my sense of Britishness served me well and I did the right thing: put the wrapper in my pocket so that, later, I could separate the plastic casing (red-topped, general rubbish bin) from the instruction manual (yellow-topped, recycling bin).

I still had work to do. Those two men, under the Chatham Road bridge: would they still be there?

Annoyingly, they’d gone. Now I’ll never know what the hell it was they were up to. I’ll never be able to ask: what was the buzz, cock?

[Post script: all males of my age and ethno-cultural background will know that “What’s the buzz, cock?” was the heading in Time Out, ahead of a review of TV show Rock Follies. It’s the heading that famously gave Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford (aka  Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto) the idea for the name for their new band, Buzzcocks. Did you get Rock  Follies in  Australia? It was a show about the seedy side of the music industry and launched the careers of Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and the other woman whose name no-one ever remembers*. My cousin Andrew had the LP and I can still sing most of the theme tune.]

* Charlotte Cornwell. Thank you, Google.

Reasons to be cheerful, parts 1-6


Part 1: A shiny new train (whoops, “loco”) crossing Broadmeadow Road. Always a cheering sight.

Part 2: A fallen blossom in a puddle.

Part 3: A washed-up Christmas bear.

Part 4: Soccer practice in Richardson Park, as sure a sign of the turning of the seasons as the disappearance of the channel-billed cuckoos.

Part 5: An odd assortment of litter from the creek.

Part 6: And, finally, Clean Up Styx Creek Day!

It was the last day of the school holidays but, in spite of my generous offer of a free Warm Inner Glow, neither of my children wanted to come down the creek and pick up other people’s crap with me. Kids these days!

Rain was forecast for tomorrow and I felt that if I didn’t do it now then this mass of rubbish would get washed away. So I took to the creek with a roll of garbage bags, a determined set to my jaw and a steely resolve. Thirteen bags later and I’ve kind of broken the back of it, or perhaps (given the number of fag ends I bent to pick up) it’s broken the back of me. I have to say that the pile of bags in the picture looks disappointingly small. I thought it would add up to a tiny mountain.

The following is a short list of things I learned about litter:

  1. There are more fag ends in the world than there are sheep in New Zealand.
  2. There are nearly as many of those squishy little ear plug things as there are fag ends.
  3. Our city’s junkies are a conscientious bunch: every one of the syringes I found had been carefully capped. Thank you!
  4. It’s easier to pick up the big things than the little things.
  5. But you must pick up the big things because, if left, they break down into little things. This is particularly the case with polystyrene: after three hours my arms were covered in sticky little white balls of the stuff.

Tomorrow I might just take a carrier bag and focus on the eighty-six gazillion fag ends I missed today. And get me one of those picky-uppy things that real litter people use.

The sheer volume of it


Back from a camping holiday at Jervis Bay. Cave Beach camp site sits between an open beach and a brackish lagoon and yet, mysteriously, the birding was curiously lack lustre; it took me and a friend three days to get to fifty birds. While we did see the endangered bristlebird and a plenty  of southern emu wrens, I didn’t see a single white-faced heron, coot, moorhen, magpie-lark or any of the “boring” everyday birds that I see, well, every day down the creek. Weirdly, I missed them.

They were all there when I went down the creek on the weekend. And, as a pleasant surprise, I almost trod on a couple of brown quail in the gasworks – which makes me hopeful that my recent sighting of a feral cat down the creek was a one-off.

What wasn’t a one-off was the litter. At Cave Beach we picked up the usual open-beach detritus: a flipper with a busted ankle strap, the discarded wrapper from an Australia Day stubbie holder, a couple of glow tips – the kind that rock fishermen use for night angling. Back in Styx Creek though it was city rubbish: an endless flood of plastic drink bottles, polystyrene boxes, syringes (and a green Christmas bauble: yay!).

Here’s my dilemma. For some reason, if it’s a busted flipper or a glow tip at Cave Beach I’ll stoop to pick it up, carry it back to the camp site and bin it. If it’s a large, foam vegetable box or a bicycle helmet in Styx Creek I feel less inclined to lug it home, ditto the ten thousand Fanta bottles. I think it’s the sheer volume of the trash that somehow paralyses me. I could easily fill three wheelie bins with recycling rubbish and two with general trash tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Do I contact Council and ask them to park a few bins on Bates Street for my personal use? Or perhaps Hunter Water might do it? I know that HW has a scheme whereby they scoop the litter boom by the TAFE but that’s only once per quarter, or something equally ineffective.

I think I just need to drill down, think small and nibble at the edges. One small bagful per day is, at least, one less bagful in the ocean tomorrow. In the meantime, your suggestions gratefully accepted.