Rot and decay

13/10/2014

It’s still spring and so I should be thinking about new life and Nature’s fecundity and so on, but our recent warmer weather has also reminded me that in the midst of life is … well, you know what. This pile of cuttings in the Council pen in Richardson Park looks like it belongs on a 1980s Smiths LP cover.

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The blooms were perfect. It was as though an evil Super Villain had gone around town, determined to make everyone unhappy by stealing all the best flowers. Mwa ha ha!

The lads in the creek seem to have finished squirting their goo under the concrete. The science behind the process is completely beyond me but I assume that the goo somehow retards the flow of toxins into the water table. Good luck, I say. The warm weather has really got things moving in the gasworks and it’ll take a lot of goo to stop that.

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How big is the gasworks site? I’d say it’s about 10 hectares or so. That’s about 10 hectares of subterranean bituminous gunk with a life of its own, spreading at about 1 centimetre a day.

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Yuk.


Meanwhile, back at the Bowlo

25/06/2014

It was cold and horrible and I thought I’d be the only one to bother, but as it turned out there was a fair crowd at the Hamilton North Bowling Club to meet the mob from Jemena and GHD and hear about the proposed gasworks remediation.

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There were posters and there’s a flyer and next month there’ll be a website but the short version is this: 2014, poke around and find out how bad things are then work out what to do; 2015, do it.

Exactly what the “it” will be has yet to be decided and will depend entirely on the results of the poking around and discussions with the EPA. However, it will most likely involve bringing the site up to a point at which it can be sold off for some kind of commercial or light industrial use. Jemena is into energy retail, and holding onto bits of dead land does not figure in the list of “core business activities” in its annual report.

The work to drill the monitoring wells is finished.

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The lovely Creek Bingo numbers relate to work in sealing up the worst parts of the crumbling concrete banking, thereby reducing the flow of pollutants from within the gasworks footprint and into the Styx.

I’ll be happy-sad to see work start. Happy that no longer will the creek be filled with oozing filth. Sad that no longer will the wrens and silvereyes, fuscous honeyeaters and grey goshawks have anywhere to live.

Apparently the Shell fuel depot is also moving off site and has also entered into a remediation agreement with the EPA. I’ll be less sad to see that one go; it’s far too well maintained to be of any useful habitat for native fauna, and I won’t miss the heavy stench of petrol that settles into the creek on a winter’s evening.

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I’ll post as I learn anything useful, such as links to the EPA agreements.

On another topic, Newcastle City Council’s personal ombudsman Mark Sampson notified me that Council recently passed a motion to name nine tributaries of local creeks, including one of the Styx. Yes, peeps, expect to start seeing signage for Waterdragon Creek popping up around Kotara way any time now. Apparently the “community name “’Waterdragon”’ recognises the strong and healthy waterdragon population in and around the creek”.

Blue-tongue Creek might be a better name for down by the tidal zone. I found this poor wee fella the other night, looking cold and bruised and missing his tail.

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Whether he’d been crow-pecked or cat-bashed I don’t know, but I think he must have slid down the concrete banking and had no idea which way to go or what to do to get out. When I picked him up he arched his neck and gave me the most feeble hiss, so I popped him in amongst the lantana. He might make it but, frankly, I don’t rate his chances.

And, anyway, when the gasworks is covered in storage units he’ll need to find some other corner of derelict Newcastle to hide out. But that’s a story for another day.


It’s all happening

19/06/2014

It doesn’t take much of a rain to fill the sinkholes and disused access areas in the gasworks. Within 24 hours of a downpour the roar and scrape and boom of frogs is almost deafening.

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The gasworks is a disgrace; a polluted and filthy slurry of toxins and poisons that leaches who knows how many kinds of carcinogens into the creek and the water table around Hamilton North. But it’s the only place within a couple of kilometre radius where you’ll hear six species of frog going at it hammer and tongs.

Which leaves me in something of a quandary. Its its proximity to the creek and the unused lands around the railway line have made it a haven for flora and fauna. There’s no scrub, shrubs or bushes in our fancified gardens and so there’s nowhere for the wrens and silvereye and honeyeaters. There’s no cover for mice and rabbits, frogs and toads, the ordinary critters that make up the base of the food pyramid for the raptors and mammal predators. So, dirty is how I like it.

But of course I don’t want it to be dirty forever, which is why I felt ambivalent when I heard the news of its impending clean up.

Jemena Pty Ltd, the energy retail company that inherited the site, has entered a voluntary agreement with the EPA to remediate the site to a point where it could be sold and some kind of commercial activity take place upon it. Quite what form this remediation will take is as yet unknown, hence the flurry of activity over there in recent weeks.

If you’d like to find out more, or have any comments, concerns or queries, Jemena is holding a community drop-in session at Hamilton Nroth Bowling Club on Tuesday, 24 June between 4 and 7 pm.

Watch this space for more.

In other news, the annual Vintage Tweed Ride is on again (here are some pictures from last year).

Just get yourself kitted out in your bestest olden-time clothes and cock your leg across your favouritest olden-time velocipede and meet at Islington Park, 10 am this Sunday. If you’re struggling to find an olden time bike then just head down the creek. There’s a variety of parts there on a daily basis.

IMG_6695Toot toot!

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Recalibration

08/08/2013

In a recent post, not long after having got back from a holiday in England, I wrote something along the lines of “not much has changed down the creek while I was away”. That seemed true until I looked at this photo* that I’d taken of an egret probing amongst the incoming tide.

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God, it looks filthy. Have I become so inured to the creek’s dirtiness that I couldn’t even see how bad it’s become? Did I think that that looked “all right”?

It was obviously time to recalibrate and get my settings readjusted, so a couple of weekends ago I headed up to Ash Island and the Kooragang Wetlands.

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What a beautiful place this. What a testament to the vision, commitment and hard work of a bunch of great people, people who saved this tract of land, restored it and created a corner of paradise from “a bit of swamp”. Just look at all these baby mangroves poking up. Or maybe they’re not baby mangroves, they’re the uppity root things, they’re the … oh, stop now.

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Then, from the glorious islands of the Hunter River, I went upstream to Dungog the following weekend for a couple of days at the beautiful Wangat Lodge. We’ve been going here on the first weekend in August with a group of families for some years, and it’s the perfect place to recharge the batteries and remind yourself what “pristine” actually means.

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This is Jerusalem Creek, a tributary of the Chichester River. The photos barely do it justice as it was utterly gorgeous.

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So now I can get down the drain again and see it as it really is: filthy, disgusting, polluted, stinky, trashed and … and … the place I love to go every day. Go figure!

* I nearly wrote “developed this photo”. Like, when was the last time I went to the chemist to pick up a roll of snaps?!


Yumolicious

22/03/2013

Blissful, good-to-be-alive autumn mornings.

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The creek’s quiet at the moment. We’re in the seasonal change-over when ducklings have either fledged, grown and gone their way or become fox fodder. (Cue Simba, Mustafa and The Circle of Life.) The rain may have dispersed the aquatic birds too; there have been fewer cormorants, darters or herons down by the TAFE litter boom or stalking the beck’s edge.

Speaking of the rains, here are a couple of before-and-after pictures I received from Stephen Rigby, of Port Waratah Coal Service, that show the clean-up that PWCS staff carried out in the Carrington mangroves. Can you tell which is “before”?

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The guys did a great job, but don’t worry, Stephen. The people of Newcastle are always up for a challenge and are already working hard to refill this proud city’s waterways with crap, detritus and toxic filth.

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Never let it be said that Novocastrians cannot or will not rise to the occasion. This is our town and these are our drains, and we’ll fuck em up awesomely more betterer than what anyone else could fuck their drains up. Yeah!

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Look, some brave soul’s even taken managed to dump yards and yards of asbestos packaging. This is the kind of effort that requires major commitment. Respect. (Not sure where the actual asbestos is; check the road outside your nearest childcare centre.)

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And let’s pause to acknowledge the anonymous legion of trolley dumpers. In the glamour world of fly-tipping and mess-making this hardy crew are often overlooked. Yet they go about their work, quietly, diligently, neither looking for nor seeking praise. Go, you good things.

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Oh, and cupcakes! How could I forget cupcakes? Give it up, peeps, for for their sweet, spongy, goodness! (OK, so they not really toxic or polluting but, well, still.)

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It’s all so wonderful and glorious and makes me feel, inside, all … what’s that word? I know! It’s  …

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Froggy!!!

20/02/2013

Reed beds and mangroves are often described by natural resource management people as the “kidneys” of our estuaries, filtering out the rubbish in the freshwater system before it hits the ocean. If that’s the case, then the mangroves around the Carrington board walk must be ready to go on dialysis. I was down there the other day, taking a stroll with the Jambo and The Wife. The state of the place is enough to make you weep.

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The vast majority of the litter that ends up in our waterways, and hence our reeds and mangroves, consists of discarded plastic drink bottles. Which makes the challenge by Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes and Lion Nathan to the NT’s container deposit legislation hugely galling. As though these guys aren’t making massive enough profits from fizzy water with sugar in it? (You can sign the GetUp! e-petition supporting the NT Government here if you’re up for it.)

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The Styx is the collection point for several smaller creeks and waterways. Hunter Water subbies out the job of picking up the bottles, syringes, polystyrene cartons and other junk to a private company. I see the guys often, out with their whipper snippers on the banking, doing emu bobs with garbage bags or in thigh waders down by the TAFE. They do a sterling job but, in the face of the tsunami of litter that thoughtless people send their way, they’re always going to be fighting a losing battle. I mean, look at this from a couple of months ago:

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But amidst the gloom, a small moment of … well, not exactly happiness, but certainly surprise It was Froggy! The last time I saw this little guy was in August 2012, by the railway bridge.

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Somehow he’d managed to hitch a ride on a flood down past the TAFE, under the Maitland Road bridge, down the Throsby and into the Carrington mangroves. He’s a survivor!

Though of course he’s a survivor because he’s made of non-biodegradable unobtanium or something. So, hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so pleased to see him after.

(But I was pleased really!)


Inspiration

25/09/2012

As I write this it’s all a bit grey and murky out the window but the other morning it was splendid, good-to-be-alive weather.

I don’t know whether anyone reads the comments that people submit to my posts, but a recent comment from Roberto directed me to this fantastic, inspiring article – Let’s swim to work – in the online magazine Salon.com. The article’s full of links to cities where communities have not just reversed the decline in their urban waterways but have gone on to create vibrant living rivers that, in some cases, have revitalised regional economies.

God knows the Styx needs some reversal. Perhaps the warm weather’s to blame but there’s been a noticeable rise in goo seepage over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps the solidified gunk in the earth becomes a little less viscous and so can start to ooze through the gaps in the concrete banking.

The beck was rainbow-stained with fuel from the depot and reeked of petrol.

The recent rains have washed the finer particles from behind the concrete bankings, leaving huge hollows behind them in some places. The silt gathers on the creek bed in a slippery mud that’s probably full of stuff I don’t want to know about.

The birds carry on doing their birdy things. I came across this pied cormorant fast asleep on the banking by the TAFE, head safely tucked under his wing. He must have been cream-crackered after a hard day’s fishing because he completely failed to notice me creeping up to him.

It was only when Jambo sniffed him that he woke up, leapt back in complete shock and face-planted his way down the banking and into the creek before paddling away, trying to regain a little dignity.

I was cacking myself. Even Jambo smiled, in that doggie way where they show their bottom teeth and make Mutley “he he he” sounds.

Anyway, I’m inspired, but not quite sure in what way or towards what end. But it involves the creek and the gasworks and … I, oh don’t know. Grand ideas. A free book to the person who comes up with the best idea and an action plan!


The sheer volume of it

29/01/2012

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.