We look after our own


The last time I was in a union was over 20 years ago. I was in the Missos (Miscellaneous Workers) when I was in Alice Springs, but after I left town I opened a bookshop, and worked freelance, and for one reason or another I’ve been self-employed (and unionless) for two-plus decades. When my son got a job at KFC they joined him up for the union (the “they” being the union, not KFC) and stuff started coming through the letterbox, which I read studiously and my son studiously ignored.

The hard work and sacrifice of unnamed thousands of people in the union movement gave us many of the things that we now take for granted in our working and domestic lives. But, like Feminism, the current generation is not interested in the history lectures, the finger wagging and the general curmudgeonliness that men and women of a certain age are prone to offer on a free and regular basis. But they’re still out there, the unions.


That phrase, “we look after our own”, is at the core of what unions are about – the good bits and the bad. A song of roughly similar name, by Bruce Springsteen, became the anthem for Obama’s medical insurance reforms in the USA. Though I’ve never considered myself much of a Springsteen fan I do appreciate his ability to create driving, anthemic songs with lyrics that really connect with his audience. It’s an audience that’s usually represented as the disenfranchised, blue-collar workers of the American Rust Belt, though it also scoops up a goodly bunch of the denim-wearing right-on middle classes. I think. I may have just made all that up.

We don’t have a terrifically great record of looking after our own in the Hunter Valley, at least not when it comes to our flora and fauna. We’d cut out all the red cedar for a hundred mile radius within twenty minutes of the first timber-getters arriving, and our koalas and emus are just about out of habitat.

I was surprised to see the glossy black cockatoo listed as “vulnerable” in Michael Roderick and Alan Stuart’s list of threatened bird species of the Hunter. I’m sure I’ve heard them squawking past, with that distinctive “wheezing and grating” call of theirs. My wife recently found this yellow-tailed black cockatoo feather, which was at once exciting and a reminder that I haven’t heard a glossy black call for a long time now. Too long.


At least the grass and scrub and lantana in the gasworks is thriving. There are too few places in our cities that are messy and unkempt enough for our birds, particularly insectivores, to thrive. It’s a paradox of modern living; if we are to look after our own – our birds, snakes, frogs, butterflies and bandicoots – we’ve got to stop looking after other parts of our world. Put simply, we need more derelict places where Nature can take its course. We need more of this:


And this.


Rotting sleepers, lantana, cotton weed. Rubbish? Invasive pests? Yes, but in the absence of anything else they’re also lifesavers. And compared to the concrete wasteland inside the creek, a bit of lantana scrub is heaven.


It’s a dilemma for me. I can’t stand to see the decay that’s taking over the old Gas and Coke building (more on this to follow) but at the same time I really feel protective about the general dereliction, lack of care and oversight that’s made the rail lines and the gasworks into a thriving park for urban wildlife. Until we start to genuinely look after our own, or own will have to look after themselves in the gaps we leave when we stop caring.