Friday foto


Yep, I think our state could do with some right now.


Upstream for a change


A friend was telling that the blog inspired him to take his dog for a walk in the creek. He set off from the football stadium and got as far as the gasworks but turned back as his dog wasn’t enjoying it much. (Yeah, right: it was the dog’s fault.)

I can see what he means, truth be told. I very rarely go upstream because that section of the creek is indeed pretty bleak. But this week I was alerted to the presence of an interesting mural buy Driver Dom, who told me that there was a neat painting on the toilet block on the oval behind McDonald’s.

Hey: s/he’s right!


It’s a very lovely representation, though the huge, mature trees are probably more wish fulfilment than reality.


Whatever, I like it. More please!


PS: A friend just sent me a link to the Wallis Album, held by the State Library of NSW. Beautiful, delicate drawings, including this one of Throsby Creek. The Styx must have looked pretty much the same back in the day. I wonder, if Wallis had been deported now, whether he’d be using aerosol cans instead of pencils and watercolours.


There once was an ugly duckling


The morning crowd was out in force the other day, down by the litter boom: two kinds of egret, two kinds of cormorant, a pelican, a pair of chestnut teal, a darter (first in a long while), various white-faced herons, and the domestic duck that’s taken up residence there (and is horribly cranky).

There are lots of black ducks, and several clutches of ducklings – one of them with ten littlies. That won’t last, not with the number of foxes that have been prowling the gasworks area lately.

Ducklings drive Jambo mad and he’s compelled to chase them. If they don’t think they’re going to make it to the deep water in time they go into survival mode – diving and paddling under water for a couple of metres before bobbing up, then disappearing again. It’s a very effective survival method when there are ten of them at it zipping off in all directions; at least, it’s very effective against a small-brained terrier.

But what a surprise yesterday morning. As I was heading back upstream I saw this huge great grey thing paddling towards me. A cygnet!

When was the last time you got up close and personal with a cygnet? They’re bigger than you think! This one hadn’t fledged and was still covered in down, it’s wings were no more than stumps. Jambo was completely nonplussed. As was I. Where on earth had it come from? There are no large bodies of fresh water upstream that I can think of, and I never see swans around the creek.

Answers please!

Do the right thing! For the kids!


I’m often startled at how unobservant I am. I hadn’t noticed this addition to the Styx Creek sign on the Griffiths Road bridge, though it doesn’t look new. It might have been there for years but, since I stopped walking my kids to Hamilton North School, I rarely walk that stretch of the road. But the creek was up and I thought I’d take Jambo somewhere different.

It annoyed me, that sign. I know that it’s been put there for a good cause by people who have thought about a particular issue, but it irked me. The problem they wish to address is the amount of pollution in the creek, in this case the high levels of fecal coliform from dog poo. I’ve always been a conscientious picker-upper of Jambo’s poo, even though every time I do this I also have a pang of conflict at putting the poo into a plastic bag and then putting the plastic bag into landfill. These are, I suppose, the minutely tedious ethical dilemmas of modern life.

What annoyed me was the catch phrase “Help the kids keep the creek clean!” It’s annoying at several levels, not least of them being the hearty, thumbs-up exclamation mark at the end. Who are these kids who are keeping the creek clean? The only kids I meet down the creek tend to have a dozen aerosol cans in their backpacks, or they’re in the process of destroying a lawnmower left out during the Council pick-up. Is it the school kids involved in the WaterWatch program? I don’t think that they keep the creek clean; their task – a valuable one – is to take measurements and record species numbers.

I get the feeling that these “kids” are part of the lazy manipulation that’s called upon when trying to force adults who have no self interest to do a “good thing”. How can we appeal to their better instincts? I know! Through “the kids”! No one likes to think that they’re kicking the kids in the eye. However, I’d prefer a sign that said “Pick up your dog’s crap”.

The rain stopped, and I calmed down a bit. Took some meditative pics in the gasworks.

Checked out the rat to see how much it had decayed (quite a bit in five days; Nature doesn’t mess about).

As I walked under the Chinchen Street bridge a piece of newspaper bobbed past in the water. Internationally renowned spiritual teachers are coming to Newcastle! What on earth could they possibly teach us? To pick up our dog poo?

Sparkly bottle versus Pepsi-can raft race


I walk down Styx Creek almost every day, but my first trips into the creek were taken when my kids were little and we’d just moved to Hamilton North, about 13 years ago now. Getting my two-year-old son up and down the concrete banking was always a major task and, like anything with a toddler, could take up an entire afternoon. (As could walking the 150 yards from the end of our drive to the creek itself. So many things to stop and look at!)

We spent many (many) hours racing sticks in the fast-running beck that runs down the centre of the creek bed. When his sister arrived a couple of years later she joined in too, and there developed complex and elaborate rules governing what could and couldn’t be done to aid a stick caught in an eddy or trapped against a clump of reeds.

I was pleased to see that the tradition continues, though these two craft were much sturdier and more seaworthy than anything that we ever made.

For the record, the sparkly milk bottle was about 30 feet further down the creek than the Pepsi raft: a win for wholesome milky goodness over global corporate teeth-rotting fizz.

This morning the creek by the Chatham Road bridge was barely visible, hidden by a haze of petroil fumes and dew sprayed into the atmosphere by the whizzing nylon blades of half a dozen whipper snippers. Everything’s growing so quickly at the moment that the slasher crew’s down the creek on a regular basis. There’s a freshness to these mornings that’s most un-February-like; almost autumnal.

The tangled outdoor furniture that appeared after the fresh-before-last has turned up in the pool by the TAFE, as did the mother duck and her four ducklings. I wondered how on earth they managed to survive the thunderous downpour of the weekend but, hey, they’re ducks. They’ve been doing this kind of thing for a few million years now.

This young rat wasn’t so lucky.

Another reminder of time and life passing was the flag at half mast at the Bowlo. Such a sad but common sight at bowling clubs as their membership ages.

I remember Martin Babakhan (who used to do the morning weather report on ABC 1233) standing for local council elections a few years back. One of his proposals (I think I’m remembering this correctly) was that skateboard ramps be placed within the grounds of bowling clubs: the clubs would benefit from increased patronage from young people; there’d be less chance of young people acting up, and they’d be safer places for younger skaters; and there’d be a better generational mix.

I don’t think I thought much of Martin’s other policies (neither did the rest of Newcastle; he only got 9% of the vote in the 2007 State election when he stood as Liberal candidate) but that idiosyncratic idea’s always struck me as plain, good sense.

The circus is coming


Seeing the signs up in Richardson Park took me back ten years to when the kids were small enough to enjoy that kind of caper. One of the benefits of owning the bookshop was that people would ask to put posters up in our window and, in return, give us free tickets to their event, and so we went to the circus quite often.

Compared to the online kill-fest of Call of Duty III a circus seems pretty lame to Modern Kids. That’s tough on circuses as they have a huge “you’ve got to be there to get it” factor. I was always genuinely impressed by the athleticism, skill and daring of the performers, and even my son (now only a few weeks away from an XBox rehab centre) remembers falling of his chair laughing at Captain Frodo’s tennis racquet routine when we went to see Circus Oz. So, people: go to the circus!

I hope the park dries out for them. Smith Park was saturated on Friday and yet the guy who does the little sports thing for school kids was all set up with his goal posts and netball hoops. I didn’t go back to check whether his optimism was rewarded or whether the school just rang up and said “Forget it, buster”. Water polo might have been better.

The flush brought down a couple of interesting sculptures; a cycle wrapped in a grey tarpaulin (haven’t had a bike down the creek in months) and these two cleverly interlocked outdoor seats. If you can unravel them, they’re yours.

Everything dries out pretty quickly though. This morning (Sunday) was glorious. I particularly like the stretch where the canal bends round to join the Chaucer Street drain, from there on to the railway bridge before Chinchen Street. It’s only a couple of hundred metres and yet, on mornings like this, if you squint your eyes you could be anywhere but Newcastle. The tide was right up but the water was as still as a pond. Fish jumped or churned the water in schools. Clouds of wanderer butterflies grouped on the cotton bush weeds, laying a clutch eggs for the caterpillars to feed on the milky sap before the summer disappears. The lantana rustled with rabbit kits and blue-tongue lizards, and thornbills and wrens flitted in the lower branches while egrets and herons stalked the banking. I came across this lazy cormorant snoozing on the litter boom by the TAFE.

It must have had a big Saturday night. When it finally became aware of my presence it clattered off, more out of embarrassment than fear, I think.

Jambo ran off with something in his mouth. I thought it was a bird at first but, when he finally agreed to drop it, I realised that it was, well, part of a bird.


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.

It will always be a drain to some


Since getting an iPhone my mind has been opened to the world of apps. Most apps appear to involve the user being chased around ruined temples by gangs of monkeys, or slashing watermelons, or changing the user’s friends’ faces into fat men, bald men, old men, ginger-haired men etc. However, I’ve finally found a useful app. It’s Michael Morcombe’s e-guide to the birds of Australia, recommended to me by Max Elliott. It’s a revelation!

The other evening, around dusk, a shape flitted past me towards the gasworks. At first I thought it was just a flying fox but then I heard the unmistakable, cricket-like trill of an eastern grass owl, Tyto longimembris. I know that it was “the unmistakable, cricket-like trill of an eastern grass owl” because a couple of taps on the screen of my phone and there it was: picture, description, range and even an audio file.

This made me happy, but what happened next did not.

The creek bank is studded with outlet pipes. Many of these are decades old and usually link back to the industrial sites that formerly crowded around the Styx.

Most of these outlet pipes are defunct, though one (which comes from the ELGAS depot) was recently brought back into use to horrible effect. The ELGAS folk, or one of their subcontractors, had painted a fenced-off area with grey paint. And, once the job was finished, they’d cleaned up their brushes and spray equipment and … washed it all down the nearest drain.

It’s a reminder of the creek’s industrial heritage, of the way in which this beautiful waterway was (and, in some cases, continues to be) abused. And a reminder that to some people it’ll never be a creek, just a drain.

Cycley watery ways


One of the great things to come out of the success of the book has been the people I’ve got to know, all of them with their own take or story or snippet or project that relates to Newcastle’s creeks and drains.

Steven Fleming is a lecturer in architecture at the University of Newcastle. In between pipe smoking, swishing around the cloisters in a flowing robe and whatever else it is that academics do these days, Steven and his research team have developed an amazing concept: a medium density Newcastle water/cycleway loop that takes in Throsby, Cottage and Styx creeks, linking inner city sites with affordable housing on currently unoccupied real estate. He’s off to meet with Hunter Water shortly to discuss the project in detail as they too are excited about the idea.

After a few emails back and forth we decided it was time to get together and trade ideas. The result was a leisurely Sunday afternoon cycle ride down the creek, yarning and generally gasbagging, followed by a cuppa tea and more philosophising.

For those interested in Steven’s other obsession (cycling), check out his Behooving Moving blog and you’ll get some idea of where he’s coming from (personally, if not academically!).

Next project for me after the cycle loop is a short documentary on the Styx, from its headwaters in the bush around Adamstown to its industrial confluence near Maitland Road.

What will come of all these things? Who knows; maybe nothing. But while it’s all happening I’m having a ball.