You can smell the coal dust today, not just see it 2.10.2010


Years ago I had a friend who loved gliding and he convinced me to go on a joy flight.  I only went once because it was claustrophobic and nauseating but what I did learn from it, apart from the fact that you can have all that space around you and still feel penned in, is that there are Weather Things called Inversions and I assume that’s what we have today.

Low clouds are keeping our most precious resource, coal dust, from our Glorious Coal Piles at Kooragang, from blowing away. They’re conserved for the benefit of the tourists who have come to the This Is Not Art festival which is on this weekend. 

It takes me back to my childhood, when the whole country thought the QRAP that BHP was blowing all over our town made it dirty and filthy. I actually drove over to Kooragang this morning to photograph a new building that’s going up over there – that would have made the best green roof – there are a heap of green roof images here –  and was moved to stop a few times because the haze was a sight to behold. Most days, when you can see it, you can’t smell it, but today is an exception.

I was really happy to learn months ago that Port Waratah Coal Services has spent over $1million on trees in the last few years. NCIG has finally planted some trees. Please grow fast, little trees, so I don’t get quite as strong a  ‘gotta leave this town’ feeling every time I drive across Kooragang Island.

In breaking news, on page 60 of The Herald today is an advertisement telling us that Laman Street will be closed from October 9th to 29th. Thankyou Newcastle City Council. Two days after the court case being mounted to stop them they’ll be in there. You have to admire such confidence. More rate money spent on advertising. If they follow their form from last time they’ll have the cherry pickers in there before we’re out of the courtroom

If you haven’t realised it yet, council officers, not councillors, are the driven ones here when it cones to cutting down our beautiful avenue of trees. They will not be beaten. You can’t plan something like this for almost ten years and just let it go. One of the councillors sensibly pointed out to me recently that they themselves cannot be experts in everything so they rely heavily on the advice they are given by council officers. What a sad system when they’re being sold such a barbaric, immoral, dud idea.

Last night at the vigil in Laman Street [every night between 5pm and 7pm till the last night of the court case, 7th October] I talked with a man who has lived in Newcastle all his life and he, like everyone, could not believe what a moronic idea it is to say these trees are unsafe. It was great fun to be with him because he took over my job of asking people to sign the petition. Every town thinks their council is bad, but this has to take the cake for stupid ideas – that award (the cake) must be absolutely handed to council officers. Men and women into power dressing, climbing the ladder, collecting trophies along the way. What a great trophy this will be: a Laman Street destroyed, just as Tyrrell Street was destroyed.

And while we’re thanking council for looking after us, here’s an example of priorities: a gutter has been fixed in Hamilton South, beside a stormwater drain, where no one ever walks. [Double-click on the picture on the left and it will enlarge.] A gorgeous fig root that had draped itself over the old gutter has been cut to make way for concrete. It’s a metaphor. I think it’s time we took bets on which utility is keenest to do work once those pesky figs are out of the way in Laman Street. I hope it is utility work that’s driving this, because if it’s just arborists hating big trees, you have to question their intelligence.

Off topic, here’s a tree failure for you: the Marie Antoinette tree at Versailles fell over in a storm. Hundreds of years old. For our council employees, take a look at the picture: this is how you recognise a tree failure. The roots are actually out of the ground. (See Underwhelming Storm Damage for the photos acquired via what used to be called Freedom of Information for what our council calls tree failures.)

I may have discussed it before, but the California Tree Failure Report Programme is an initiative of the University of California. It ‘was established in 1987 to collect quantitative information on the mechanical failure of urban trees (trunk breaks, branch breaks, and uprootings). This information is used to develop “failure profiles” for genera and species to more accurately assess failure probability in standing trees…’

My favourite page on this website is CTFRP Statistics. Remembering that this is a US site – so unlikely to have lots of  Australian figs -Eucalyptus is the third most likely species to fail – no surprises there for Australians – and the eighth most likely species to fail is – drumroll – the liquidambar: remember, with the vision you would expect from council tree people, the species that was to replace the Hill’s figs was to be the liquidambar until the idea was laughed out of town. ‘Why not crepe myrtles?’ we should have asked.

There is also an international version of this programme that we could take part in. I can see the emails: ‘I’d like to report some failures of Hill’s figs please.’ ‘Sure – fire away.’ ‘We had a 1 in 100 year storm with wind gusts up to 124 km/hr and one tree with a 4 metre circumference developed a 5cm crack in its base. The other trees shook so much that they made little bits of cement break off the pavement.’ ‘Firstly, what’s a ‘metre’ and a ‘centimetre’ – this isn’t Canada here, you know – and secondly, are you really the work-experience student pretending to be an arborist? Did the roots move? Did the ground heap up around the trees? Did they tip over? Did the trunk break? Did a major branch fall off?You don’t want to be contacting us, you want to be contacting a new website called  I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. If they think it’s out of their league, can I suggest you contact http://www.YouCanFoolSomeofthePeople.govHome


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