Dead birds


I see lots of them, and as much as I love birds I rarely react in the way that I do if I see, say, a dead puppy or drowned kitten.


Dead magpies are a dime a dozen, though disembodied ducks are a little more rare.


However, I groaned aloud when I saw this tawny frogmouth. Nooo! I don’t like the idea of these guys dying; I imagine them living a very long and much-loved life then going off the to Great Branch in the Sky to take up that funny posture of theirs and make that curious grunting noise with all their frog-mouthed friends. Not die of some parasite infestation and fall from a fig tree during the night.


Nature’s a tough old bird.



Spring is definitely not yet in the air. I was thinking this as I walked Jambo down the creek and noticed this plastic roadworks pole bobbing down the beck, washed hither from whence I know not.


What I do know was that it was cold and wet and slippery and generally a bit miserable.

But there are still folk out and about. I was rather startled to meet two lads emerging from the tributary tunnel next to Chatham Road bridge, the one you see beneath Richardson Park. They were wearing gumboots and had flashlights and had, amazingly, tunnelled their way from Merewether High School.

Yesterday I bumped into another pair of explorers who told me all about the old fuel depot, which has apparently been abandoned. The owners of this site were, right up until the end, carefully maintaining the holders and the buildings and the grounds and so to hear that they were no longer there was a complete surprise to me. I felt like the Turks must have felt when they woke up and realised the Anzacs had slipped away in the night.

But, like Nature, youth culture abhors a vacuum. It there’s empty space it must be filled. They sent me a couple of pictures of the depot, and of the recently re-fenced gasworks. I have absolutely no idea what this dummy’s arm signifies. I mean … huh?


The old naphtha holder was, they told me, getting a fresh lick of paint. Approaching from the south, they smelt the fumes of aerosol cans as a crew of hardy graffitismos plied their decorative trade.


Poor things, they nearly had heart attacks, but they were good enough to let my contacts reel off a few shots for posterity.


Note the cut-off ladder to stop scallywags climbing the holders. Apparently they’ve done the same thing in the fuel depot.


Such a shame. Seriously, I’d pay good money to go up one of those and look out over Hamilton!

Global peace


So you had a “weather event” while I was away. It was big enough to make it onto the BBC news, which is massive for something about Australia that doesn’t involve a person being eaten by native fauna, or a person (such as a cricket captain or prime minister) having a cry in public.

Over there it was reported as having happened in Sydney, because to British ears Sydney is Australia. It was also reported as being “like a cyclone” or “the equivalent to a category 2 cyclone”. Poms have no idea what the categories of cyclone are, and so “2” could be quite mild or could be apocalyptic; we took it from the vision of trees torn down and cars bobbing along the street that “2” was pretty bad. We could only imagine what “1”or “3” must be like.

However, by the time I got back to Oz the event was being called a “super storm”. Is that a thing? If so, does it have a category? Or is it a name invented by the insurance industry to stymie claims, in the same way that after the Pasher Bulka storm people discovered that they were insured for inundation but not flooding?

Newcastle has become dotted by stumps: in people’s yards, by the roadside, in the parks. One of the big figs in Richardson Park took a dive.


It was late evening on Monday before I got into the creek. I walked down as far as the litter boom by the TAFE and was startled to see a tree across the banking, from Islington Public School. It was too dark to take a picture, unfortunately, but on the way back I captured a Maitland train as it paused and chuffed and chuntered on the Styx bridge.


This morning I went back down there. It is a very big tree indeed and must have made a hell of a bang when it came down, though given the reports of the howling wind and of things being thrown around the place I doubt whether anyone heard. Which puts paid to one philosophical riddle.


The wrack in the branches shows how high the creek got to after the tree fell. It must have been impressive and I almost wish I’d been there to see it.


Actually, on second thoughts I’m glad I didn’t.

Unlike yesterday evening it was lovely and light this morning, and so as I emerged from beneath the rail bridge I saw a new roll-up that must have happened in recent weeks.


After all the carnage of the event, or cyclone, or super storm, or whatever it was, this was a rather comforting message. Everything will be all right.

Rise up!


When my son was about four years old I took him to the big show at the foreshore (I forget its name; it happens every year. You know the one). He was mad for a showbag, but not any old showbag. The one he wanted was called the Secret Service Showbag. He would not be dissuaded or tempted by other, more fey and age-appropriate showbags, but his mum was not best pleased when I brought him home wearing fake shades, a badge, and toting a side arm and pump-action shotgun with a bandolier of ammo draped across his shoulder. How we laughed!

At the time it was the most militaristic showbag I’d seen, though I found the remains of this one in the creek after the show. Who would put an AK47 into a kids’ showbag? What was the theme: Militant Rebellion? Soviet Weaponry?


The AK47 is famed for its robust durability, which has made it the automatic rifle of choice for revolutionaries the world over. Obviously the young revolutionary who got his mitts on this one was tougher than your average dissident as he’d busted it completely before he’d even got home.

I have to say that the show snuck up on me this year. Even when Richardson Park was fenced off I was left pondering. I thought to myself, if the carnies are going to camp there, where will the big top go? The penny dropped when the first ride arrived.


It was timely that this ride, the Midnight Express, should appear in the park at the same time as this post from Ruth Cotton’s Hidden Hamilton blog on the original midnight express: the nightsoil trucks that collected our city’s poo in the days before sewage systems. And where was it all, ahem, deposited? Yup, Richardson Park. No wonder those fig trees are so healthy.

Further downstream I came across a super-person’s body part, complete with revolutionary star. Or is the star no longer associated with the likes of Fidel and Che? Have we moved on, or did Hollywood just slurp it up? For the life of me I cannot figure out what this might be used for.


It might be a dispenser for anti-capitalist drinking straws, or perhaps a proletarian popcorn holder. I may be wrong.

Viva la revolution, comrade.

Happy baublemas


You would think that Christmas baubles would only appear in the creek in December, or maybe in January when people are packing up their trees. True, this one is from January.


But this one is from September.


This one is from October.


So is this one.


And this festive montage was taken in November.

IMG_9716The moral of the story: baubles make people happy every day of the year.

Merry Christmas, drain lovers, from me and Jambo.


Do magpies grieve?


One of my first Australian memories is waking up in a pup tent at Katoomba on a freezing cold morning to the sound of magpies carolling. It was utterly gorgeous and a clear sign that, Toto, this sure ain’t Kansas. Or, in my case, Cumbria.

Australia is believed to be the home of the songbird, something that would have surprised the early British colonists, many of whom found Australia’s birdsong raucous or screeching or even – in the case of the satin bowerbird – “like the sound of someone dry-retching”.* But surely no one could ever not like magpies?

I was in Richardson Park with Jambo recently, the Tuesday morning after a huge storm. I’d been avoiding the edges of the park for a few weeks as a magpie pair had a nest in the figs and had taken up the habit of swooping; a couple of close calls (a loud beak clack next to my ear) and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. But swooping season was over and so I was strolling under the gangly arms of the fig trees again.

Something moved in the grass. It was a young magpie, almost fully fledged. Another week and it would probably have been independent. Perhaps it had outgrown its nest and this had made it vulnerable to a sudden gust in the storm. I said, “Hello!” and it squawked back at me. I knew that mum must be around somewhere but couldn’t see her. Then …



She must have been watching me, waiting for the right moment to come boring in from behind. Such a powerful blow, it was like a punch to the back of the head. Thankfully I was wearing a hat and so I got away with just a nasty scratch.

I thought, this little fella’s going to be all right with a mum like that to care for him.

Is there something more than pure instinct at work here? Was it just DNA that made mother magpie hurl herself at full speed at this gigantic lumbering creature threatening her offspring? Is it possible that there’s some deeper feeling at work, or am I just being romantic and naive?

Sadly, I was wrong about mum’s ability to look after junior. Two days later I came across him, cold, and with no mum or dad to guard him.


I wonder if his parents simply flew off to start a new nest somewhere else with nary a thought. Or did they feel something – a pang a sadness or regret – when junior lay down and didn’t get up again. I don’t mean a fully formed humanoid wailing and gnashing of teeth but just something, some feeling.

I know that I did.

*Tim Low explains it all very well in Where Song Began.

Rot and decay


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.


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.


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.



Last chance to see


This is possibly the most exciting letter that any rate-payer could receive from his/her council. Look at that, under “Purpose of use”: Wheel of Death. Phwoar!


Sure enough, the signs started popping up on Donald Street bridge. Though I was a bit miffed to see that they’d started saying they’re in Hamilton. Like Hamilton hasn’t enough stuff going on already?


And finally, one Sunday morning I saw it … my first batch of pony poo!


But like all good things it must come to an end.  This weekend is your last chance to see the Wheel of Death and the miniature horses, dogs and clowns. Though, come to think of it, miniature clowns could be a bit freaky.



Got an email from Hunter Water regarding its customer panel. Like all good organisations, Hunter Water seeks customer feedback, and they set up this voluntary initiative a while back. Quite a long while back, in fact. I remember at the time filling in an online form, but then I didn’t hear nuthin. But its nice to know that they “value” me:

I am making contact with you because sometime in the last couple of years you indicated an interest in being part of Hunter Water customer panel. Thank you for your interest – Hunter Water places a lot of value on this panel.

Perhaps I’m just being a snarky old git, but I can’t help but feel that the words “sometime in the last couple of years” take a lot of the oomph out of the “value”. Did someone just find all these old emails that had gone straight to the “Trash” folder? As Spook from Top Cat would say, “Like, sheesh!”

Another undervalued thing is Richardson Park. It’s kind of stuck out on the end of Hamilton North and doesn’t seem like a park at all in lots of ways. The council uses it to park trucks, dump fill or pile mulch, and the football pitch is hard, uneven and unkempt. Most people know it as the place where the circuses set up, or as a temporary park on show day. But some enterprising photographer has used his imagination and has recently started using the park’s fig trees as a backdrop for wedding photos.

The first time I saw a wedding party in Hamilton North I just about fell over. Nobbys Beach: Check. Merewether Baths: Check. Next to the drain in Hamilton North: Wha …? But it really is a perfect, uncrowded venue, with the afternoon sun filtering through the figs.

Maybe brides and grooms on the lookout for unique venues could try the gasworks. Or the creek. Got yarning to Dave the other day, he was busy cleaning up the 66 gazillion empty drink bottles that had appeared since the previous clean up and were now rattling around the concrete. And the toy frogs, of course. Always, toy frogs.

But it’s looking very chipper down there at the mo, with the sun glistening on the incoming tide. Brides and grooms of Newcastle: think outside the square! Styx Creek awaits you! I promise that I will devote an entire blog post to the first wedding party to climb the gas tower or spend the afternoon tagging under the railway bridge.*

* This is not a genuine offer. Both the gasworks and the creek are private property etc. etc. you know the drill.

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.