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.


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.)


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:


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.


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!)

Under the bridge


My son is on a bit of a Red Hot Chillie Peppers jag at the moment, endlessly plucking out Flea bass lines on his Yamaha. Personally I find the Peppers a bit samey, but I do like Under the Bridge.

It’s where I was the other day, the bridge over Maitland Road that is, taking advantage of a low tide on the way to the dog park. This bridge has a very different feel to the bridges further upstream on Styx Creek; a bit edgier. Someone’s recently abandoned a camp down there, though they look as though they’ll be back soon.


A nice cuppa tea and a shot in the morning. Blimey. It makes my life look pretty tame.


There’s layer on layer of graffiti, not the kind of big spray job or roller that you get elsewhere, but more the frustrated, desperate scrawl of someone who demands “Take notice of me! Respect me!”, all the while being too marginalised or insecure to make their demands in anything other than furtive snarls.


Yeah, ya fuckin parrott!


Go Eagle. Not ‘Eagles’? Not a team, then?


A friend emailed me the other day; his daughter wanted to go into the old gasworks admin building to take photos and he was wondering if it was safe. I’m no expert. The situation changes on a daily basis.

There are lives out there, lives I don’t even pretend to understand.

Low tides, high tides


Part I: Low tides

It’s amazing how different the walk down the creek is when the tide is low. It doesn’t look very low in this picture but I can assure you it is; it’s just that the creek bed is so clagged up with fallen leaves that the water has trouble draining away and ponds around the beck.


At the lowest tide you can cross the creek as far downstream as the TAFE, if you don’t mind having your feet blackened with mangrove mud.


Several man-made reefs have appeared that I didn’t know existed. They may just be old shopping trollies, but I’m sure they fulfil the same function.

Hey, do those gable ends look faces? Someone should get Trevor Dickinson to draw them, he likes faces on buildings.


The weekend before last I walked the whole way down to Throsby Creek with Jambo, right down to the dog park at Tighes Hill.


There’s some work going on by the car scrapper. I don’t know what they’re doing but I do know one thing: that is the most rubbish silt fence I’ve ever seen. Banging in a few star pickets and stretching a bit of shade cloth does not a silt fence make.


The bridge pillars beneath the Maitland Road crossing are covered in oyster shells, something I’d never noticed before.


I know almost every ancient footprint in the concrete of the creek bed, footprints that belong to people who are now in their dotage, if they’re alive at all. But something else that I hadn’t noticed before was this sad face, a bit like a Harry Potter dementor.


They’re still jack-hammering up the concrete banking at Throsby and replacing it with rock revetments; this section is quite close to Maitland Road. How far round are they going with this? I’ll bet they stop at the Styx.


Part II: High tides

And so, after the lowest tides we’ve seen in a while, it seems logical that we should have some of the highest. Is it logical though? I really don’t know much about tides, other than some half-understood “knowledge” about the moon and gravity.

I was talking to someone recently who told me that when there are high tides on one side of the earth there are not, as you might expect, low tides on the antipodes. Rather, high tides and low tides appear in equal and opposite measure. It was all to do with forces, of which gravity is but one. That really made my head hurt.


This week has seen high tides pushing all the way upstream, almost beyond Chatham Road bridge. The high tides, the recent rains that have flushed away the litter, the crystal clear skies and the work by Dave and the maintenance guys has combined to make the creek a spectacular place to be. Early mornings are utterly gorgeous: the edges are teeming with waterbirds, the shrubs alive with insectivores and honeyeaters, the water boiling with leaping fish.


The gasworks is jumping with rabbits at the moment. I came across my first dead one in the creek, which was a surprise. What happened? Dog? Disease? Avian predator? It was too big for the resident black-shouldered kites, kestrels, grey goshawks or even brown falcons. The swamp harrier’s been back, lolloping along at treetop height with its huge wingbeats, occasionally dropping, swooping and banking. It reminds of a German bomber, endlessly mobbed by Indian myna Spitfires.


Jambo was, of course, morbidly interested.


Do yourself a favour: get up early tomorrow and go for a walk down your local creek. You just don’t know what you might find.

A foggy morning


Sunday morning. A thick fog, which is just starting to lift as I hit the creek.

Sounds are muffled. The cars crossing the Griffiths Road bridge sound as though they’re much further away, but the bubbly ragtime of Eric Gibbons’ trombone over at the farmers’ markets sounds as though it’s coming from inside the drooping branches of the fig trees in Richardson Park.

It’s been raining and the water’s dark. Since the start of La Nina last year a little “beach” has appeared at the confluence of the Styx and the Chaucer Street drain. It’s only a few feet long, maybe twenty feet by three feet, but it has the dappled corrugations of a real beach. I thought it was topsoil being washed down from the playing fields upstream but now I realise that it’s made from the sandy silt that leaches out from behind the concrete bankings.

There are gaps appearing in the soil behind the concrete in some stretches of the creek, holes that you could stick your arm into (if you were foolhardy enough to want to do so).

Wherever you have a hard material up against a soft material you’ll have some kind of erosion. Down at Throsby Creek they’re tackling the issue by removing some of the concrete bankings and replacing them with battered-back rock revetments.

I’m not sure that this would work for the Styx, if only because the banking is so much steeper and deeper, but at some point in the future Hunter Water is going to have to engage with this problem. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, given that the Styx (unlike Throsby) isn’t surrounded by well-visited, highly used parkland.

In the meantime, Jemena Pty Ltd, the owners of the derelict gasworks, have installed a couple of new inspection caps.

That’s interesting.

Earth Week, 1976


I’ve had the great good fortune to be contacted by Kevin McDonald. Now retired, Kevin has devoted his professional and personal life to environmental education in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

The photo below (first published in the Newcastle Morning Herald in September 1976) shows Kevin and a group of Islington Public School students taking water samples from the reach of the creek behind the school; that is, the part of Styx Creek opposite the TAFE, just before it connects with Throsby Creek at Maitland Road.

The project was part of Earth Week in that year. Kevin, who was senior lecturer in biological and environmental sciences at the then Newcastle College of Education, says:

The project was part of a wider program of urban environmental education, and the then teacher-in-charge of the Awabakal Field Studies Centre, Brian Gilligan, produced a set of notes in booklet form. At the time, I was President of the Association for Environmental Education (NSW) and we had urban E.E. as a theme at our annual conference (in 1976).

The Herald article that accompanies the picture says, “Throsby Creek at low tide is an unpleasant site”. Well! A lot’s happened since then. Heavy industry has pretty well moved out of the city, but the pollution produced by individuals seems to have increased. We might not have to close the windows if the wind’s blowing the wrong way or hide the washing from clouds of soot but what the steelworks no longer provides we seem to have made up for in spades.

This evening there was a warm northerly barrelling downstream. Just by the confluence of the old Styx Creek (the “Chaucer Creek drain”) and the “canal” I came across this mini version of the Pacific Gyre, an aggregation of drink bottles, busted thongs and empty aerosol cans all caught up behind the skeleton of a rusty mattress that the wind had clothed with leaf litter and sticks.

It’s disheartening to come across this amount of trash. Have we learned nothing?

I think we have. There are many things that are worse in 2012 than in 1976 but there are many things that are better. As I sat supping a schooner in the Honeysuckle Hotel after a day spent muralling at the Museum the Trevor Dickinson I was reminded that the hotel was once a post-industrial nowhere land, the site of a disused power station. It took people with vision and energy to make the magnificent foreshore precinct a reality. We can do better. But then, I  guess I’m just a Pollyanna.

On an unrelated note, I was pleased to find this Christmas bauble the other morning. Every time I think “That’s it! Bauble season is over!” I find myself surprised by yet another of these cheerful little reminders of  Yuletide. It is impossible not to smile at the uselessness of a bauble. Even the word …