As The Wife and I were driving past Ellalong Lagoon the other day we played a car game: what single consumer good or item would you have if you could have anything, regardless of price? There were of course conditions (there always are). It must be a “thing” that is entirely discrete in and of itself and can have no on-costs or recurring commitments. This rules out real estate (buildings or land); vehicles (camper vans [her] or beautifully restored British motorcycles [me]); or weapons (yes, I know, I would like a lovely big rifle – but then does it come with an endless supply of bullets? Apparently not.).

It was surprisingly difficult to think of anything that I actually wanted.

Being of an age, I do find – as have so many before me – that I get increasing pleasure from the non-things. My current favourite is bird tracks in mud.


And it’s free!


I was Facebook talking (if that’s what it’s called) with a friend who still lives on the estuary where I grew up. He’d posted photos of egrets which, in recent years, have begun visiting – and even breeding – in that part of north-west England. The conversation moved onto shorebirds in general, and specifically their declining numbers in the Duddon Estuary. The two key factors in this decline have been habitat destruction and the clean up of the local sewage treatment plant.


Less poo in the water = less microbial action = less single-cell reproduction = less bottom-feeders = less … Yep. You get the picture. So that lovely poo-laden water that I spent my summers splashing around in, before coming out and picking off the sea lice, was also brilliant for counting shorebirds, and for my immune system.

I was looking at the stretch of concrete banking and creek bed where the repair work took place to stop the leaching of toxins into the Styx. Given that the old gasworks site covers several hectares, and the repair work covers about 60 metres, there’s been an inevitable “Bulahdelah bypass” effect, with the bottleneck simply moving a little further along.


It stands to reason. If this stuff is pouring, leaching or squeezing out of a place, and that place gets plugged, then the stuff won’t stop trying to pour, leach and squeeze – at least not unless the entire site is bounded and capped.


It’s a shame. I’m not implying that the clean up of the gasworks is the same as the clean up of the sewage treatment plant on the Duddon Estuary. Poo is nasty stuff, but it’s not as nasty as hydrocarbon by-products from coal-tar distillation. What saddens me is the way that humans are in an endless process of despoiling and remediating the world around us.

If I could have the one thing, then it would be a kind of non-thing. It would be a total remediation of the gasworks site and the whole stretch of the Styx from Chinchen Street bridge to the Griffiths Road bridge, with connectivity to the unused RailTrack section on the eastern banking. The Styx would be reconfigured, allowing it to meander through the site, creating acres of habitat for waders, shorebirds, insectivores, amphibians and predators. There would be boardwalks and bicycle tracks and hides for birdwatching. There would be … hold on. I think I’ve already had this thought.

In the meantime, it’s back to the non-things for me. This rufous night heron on the litter boom the other evening is a good example. (Must learn how to take low-light photos with an iPhone.)


What is your “thing”? What one thing would you have?

Hard, isn’t it?

Around the gasworks


I can’t imagine Styx Creek without the gasworks, or the gasworks without Styx Creek.

I got an email from wrenasmir who had taken it upon himself to noodle around there and take a few snaps. The results are up on his Tumblr site, with quotes from the book. Great stuff, I have to say (the photos, not the words!). I never cease to be surprised at how the tower – such a one-dimensional object against the horizon – can manage to look different every time someone captures it on film.

I called this post “Around the gasworks” because I have lots of photos of round things, and so it seemed like an hilarious pun that would have the blogosphere rocking with appreciative chuckles. (Round = around. Geddit? Yeah! Me too!)

ELGAS have put quite a bit of work into refurbishing their wee excision thing and have got lots of new bottles. I was going round at dusk the other day and in the moody half-light these things looked to me like half-build cybermen.


A loooong time ago I came across an ancient golf caddy hidden in some overgrown lantana. There were no clubs but in the cross bar was an old wooden box filled with tees and pencilled score cards. I wondered at the time whether the gasworks people played golf during their lunchtimes; probably not great OH&S to have people slugging balls around but maybe they had a bit of a pitch-and-putt deal going with a seven iron and a putter. Anyway, this golf ball sprouted from the earth the other day, like some dimpled fungus.


People often make (potentially fatal) mistakes when gathering mushrooms and fungi to eat. For the purposes of comparison, this is a mushroom. It is edible, unlike the golfball.

I saw these coloured things sticking up, near Chatham Road. As I got closer I realised that they belonged to a child’s table, with a Pooh Bear motif. If I wished to dispose of such a piece of furniture would I really go to the effort of taking it to the gasworks and slinging over the fence?


Back on plants, the cotton balls are back. They attract clouds of wanderer butterflies as the larva (or caterpillars, or both, I can’t remember the fine details) eat the gooey white secretion that comes out of them. Bet you didn’t know that.


I came across this old photo of the Newcastle Gas and Coke gasometers, on the National Library of Australia website. I think they’re probably from the gasworks down by the foreshore or the one where the new Marketown plaza thing is now, near King Street Maccas. But it does provide a concept of the scale of the things. They really must have towered over Hamilton North.

The only tower that’s left now has “Naphtha” painted on the side; this was a byproduct of coal gas production and was used for everything from shoe polish to lighter fuel to feedstock in petrochemical steam crackers. I didn’t know that last bit either, I just found it on Wikipedia.


That concludes our gasworks tour. See you … ahem … around.