Too much trouble

January 24, 2021
Alexandra Canal 2006

This picture comes from a Sydney Water website. It shows the position in 2006. A lot has changed since then.

Alexandra Canal was built in the last decade of the nineteenth century to canalise a waterway and swampy area previously known as Shea’s Creek, which drained (roughly) from Surry Hills to the Cooks River, just before that river entered Botany Bay.

This was already not the nicest part of Sydney. The idea was that a navigable canal would open the area up to new industrial uses. This was never much of a success. The canal silted up; road transport improved. Meanwhile, to its south-east, Kingsford Smith airport squatted ever larger and louder. To its north/west were brickpits and rubbish tips.

On the picture above, the green area at the top is Sydney Park, which started to emerge from former brickpits, rubbish tips and other industrial uses in the 1980s. The scraped area to its south-west is now covered with roads and flyovers associated with the mouth of the Westconnex M5 extension tunnel – ie the M8 which will soon be joined by other Westconnex tunnels from the north west. Two new bridges have been pushed across the canal (Gardiners Road leading to the M8 and Campbell Road) and basically that area is entirely given over one way or another to roads, though we are told there is open space beneath and between them.

The grey line snaking from left to right is the goods railway which leads to Port Botany.

The Princes Highway, roughly parallel to the canal, is surprisingly inconspicuous in this picture. In a way that is part of the problem for which all these new roads are apparently the solution. The brown area to its south-east was an enormous truck parking lot. There is now an IKEA on the site of one of the two large white buildings just above it in the picture. This fronts the Princes Highway.

There was a dream in the late 1990s to remediate the canal into a “Little Venice” but this was abandoned when it was decided that the sludge in the canal was too toxic to be disturbed. At least, that was the official announcement. There may have been other reasons as gradually other infrastructure has been shoved into this unloved area. At the bottom end, the pipeline from the desalination plant emerges from the other side of Botany Bay.

The green areas further along the canal to the south west have been playing fields and a golf-driving range and waste land which was obviously a rubbish tip.

The truck parking area, the former golf driving range and some of the playing fields are now the site of the Sydney Gateway Project, which basically just means more spaghetti junctions and roads. We are promised more “open space” beneath and between these.

Meanwhile, on a street heading off the Princes Highway just opposite IKEA is this tree:

You would think amidst such desolation, such a tree would be treasured, but it has outgrown its welcome.

From that notice: the tree “is fair overall condition and is causing severe damage to the surrounding public infrastructure that is difficult to overcome through reasonable and practicable means.” It will be “replaced” by a crepe myrtle to be planted during Council’s 2020-2021 planting program.

In case you missed it, the final section, headed “Trees are good” states “Council is committed to increasing our tree canopy with new tree plantings that will improve our urban environment.”

Watch out!

January 24, 2021

Seen in Queen’s Square Sydney on the way to the dentist last year.

Is it because of the dangly bits, or are men more careless than women?


December 30, 2020

Back in about August D ordered a bicycle online from China. This fortuitously arrived on Christmas Eve.

We spent that evening assembling it and a bit more time the next morning when we realised we’d got the front fork back to front.

In the afternoon we ventured forth to the local riverside bike path. As D struggled with the unfamiliar (to him) gears on his bike, small children wobbled by seasonably on theirs.

Otherwise, it was a subdued festival for us. A big part of Christmas is a kind of intense homeliness. After so much time at home this year it was difficult for that to feel so special.

Seppelt Sparkling Shiraz provided the fizz. I’m not sure that I really like it all that much – I never buy it any other time – but it has become a personal tradition. Other traditions were only perfunctorily observed. Christmas pudding was an unsatisfactory purchase from Coles. I didn’t bother to make brandy butter.

The high point was an exchange of friendly greetings with the older members of the indigenous extended family who live a few doors up from us. Two channel-billed cuckoos were feasting on the fig tree in their front yard and we watched them together.

It’s far from a 100% reconciliation and it is unrealistic to hope for one, but I was heartened when a younger member of the family later gave me a friendly wave as he pushed a stroller past my street-facing window.

Lucky “Mr Stone”

December 17, 2020

In 2018, Wade Still, 23 or 24, and father-of-two, was a bit of a loose cannon in the drugs scene at Belmont, just south of Newcastle (NSW).  Still had developed an MO of forcing his way into the houses of other members of the scene and by violent means making off with drugs, keys (for a storage shed where one might guess drugs were to be found), etc.  This had not been without retribution: Troy McCosker, 49, a victim of such an incursion and, it may be inferred, a supplier a bit higher up the chain than Still, mounted his own return raid and retrieved the keys and some at least of Still’s other booty. 

On 17 August, Still stole a bag from McCosker.  “Mr Stone” (a pseudonym), another participant in the “scene,” aged about 33, was aware of some of this and professed to be concerned lest he should be blamed for Still’s latest theft.  He and an associate decided to try to effect the retrieval of the bag.  Stone told the associate that Still “should be knocked.”

Still wanted to borrow a trailer.  Stone told Still he knew of a trailer Still might be able to borrow. He would show Still where it was so that Still would know where to find it if the owner agreed Still could borrow it.  Stone told Still that they could ride there to check it out on his trail bike, but Stone’s bike was low on petrol so he wanted Still to bring some petrol with him when they met. Stone said that because his trail bike could not lawfully be ridden on the road he didn’t want to attract attention by going to the service station to buy the petrol himself.

So it was that lateish on the night of 19 August Still’s girlfriend drove him to the arranged meeting place with one of her petrol containers (I’m guessing the red plastic ones which you are allowed to fill at service stations) filled with petrol.  Still rode away pillion behind Stone, carrying the petrol container.

It was the last time she saw him.

A few hours later, a taxi driver noticed a grass fire in a disused quarry.  He phoned the fire brigade.  He then approached closer and found Still, severely burnt.  The taxi driver called the ambulance.  Still was in agony.  He expressed the belief that he was dying.  He told a fire officer that Stone had poured petrol on him.  He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Stone and McCosker were both questioned by the police on 21 August.  Both were known to police and McCosker’s car had been stopped by the police nearby that night.  Stone said that he had taken Still to the quarry and left him there unharmed.

McCosker was arrested and charged on 22 August 2018.  At that stage it was probably a largely circumstantial case, based on his presence nearby and known grudges against the deceased.

Then in June 2019 Stone returned to the police and told a different story.  He said that he and Still had ended up at the quarry when his bike ran out of petrol.  They took drugs together, lit a fire.  Then somehow – either an accident or an impulsive response to a belief that Still had thrown petrol at him (remember: this is all what Stone told the police), Stone threw petrol at Still which had burst into flames.  Stone fled and contacted McCosker.  When they met (eerily, stopping at a cemetery) Stone told McCosker what had happened and that Still was in a bad way.  Should they get an ambulance or should they finish Still off?

In fact, some other passers by had seen Still at this time, as he had managed to get to the road and was waving and shouting, but they did not stop.

Stone said that McCosker arranged to get more petrol.  They travelled together to the quarry and found Still.  Stone poured more petrol on Still and set him alight again.  They departed. 

Possibly the approaching headlights of the taxi drove them to quit the scene even though Still was not yet “finished off.”

Having confessed, Stone was ready to plead guilty.  More usefully to the police, he undertook to testify against McCosker.  After a trial, McCosker was also found guilty.

They were each sentenced by Justice R A Hulme (the elaborate moniker is because at one point there were two Justice Robert Hulmes on the Supreme Court: the elder, Robert Shallcross Hulme, died earlier this month).

Stone was convicted and sentenced first. Justice Hulme determined a starting point for his sentence as 36 years.  Stone was entitled to a “discount” of 25% for his plea of guilty at the first opportunity and an additional discount of 10% for the assistance he had agreed to give in testifying against McCosker.  (The pseudonym is presumably on account of this.)  Accordingly, Stone received a sentence of 23 years and 4 months, with a non-parole period of 17 years and 6 months.

McCosker was entitled to no such “discounts.” At the sentencing hearing his counsel argued that McCosker’s culpability was less than Stone’s. You can see why he might have made that submission, but it was rejected. According to the judge:

“There is no basis to distinguish between the culpability of each offender. Just as I found Mr Stone’s offence was “a most heinous example of its type and is easily in the upper range of objective seriousness”, so too is the offence of Troy Lee McCosker.”

He sentenced McCosker to 36 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 27 years.

R v McCosker – NSW Caselaw R v Stone – NSW Caselaw

Remember this?

December 14, 2020

This book came to me from my mother, who in turn obtained it from York State School, in Western Australia (which she attended). Perhaps it was discarded owing to its poor condition.

The paper label with Dewey decimal number which has found a resting place inside is my own childhood effort.

The “frame story” of The Arabian Nights is well-known in outline.

I must have read this, but I’d quite forgotten the detail about the black slaves. Talk about bogey-men! Their fate doesn’t even rate a mention.

Hard Times – two journeys

December 12, 2020


My elder sister, YY, lives in London as does my almost-brother-in-law, YYX. YYX’s only brother, Dx, Dx’s wife and their two boys aged aged one-and-a-bit and nine live nearby in a slightly posher neighbourhood.

YYX and Dx’ parents live in Lancashire.  They haven’t seen their grandchildren since last Christmas.

Restrictions in the UK are to be lifted to provide a window between 23-27 December when people may travel without restriction and join “bubbles” of up to three households. 

The plan is that YYX will drive to Lancashire, bring his parents down to London for Christmas and afterwards drive them back.

All of this must be done within the “window.”  Normally the drive is 4-5 hours depending on traffic.  Traffic will be bad.  To avoid it as best he can, YYX will need set out well before dawn.

I can well imagine that first trip north: YYX slouching towards Lancashire in sluggish traffic on a wet and wintry road, the windscreen wipers beating, the heating turned right up.


In Shanghai, D’s mother, now in her nineties, has been bedridden since March.

D’s three sisters and two of his nieces maintain a constant watch over her between them.

D spends hours each day with them on wechat video calls.  His mother is very despondent.  When her strength rallies the calls are punctuated with wails of grief.

In normal times, D would have been by his mother’s side long ago.  Now he cannot be without exceptional consents from both the Australian and Chinese governments.  Even supposing D could obtain flights, he would face quarantine in both directions.

It is difficult to imagine when D will be able to make that journey.

(no relation)

November 30, 2020

Somewhere in the coverage of our Prime Minister’s recent trip to Japan (I cannot find it again now) somebody from our defence/security establishment hailed him as “Morrison of Tokyo.” The meaning, as I took it, was that Morrison’s trip was a bold move and a success.

I wonder just how many of that somebody’s readers detected the reference to this book and its subject?


November 29, 2020

Three men set out from the city to a distant rural address. Their mission (so it is said) was to visit KC to perform sexualised intimidatory role play. The fee for this could be as much as $5,000 “if it was really good.”

They reached their destination at about 6am. Two of them, bearing machetes, entered the house.

They had come to the wrong address. This was apparent to them almost straight away once they asked the resident his name. They left.

Later they went to the right address, which is where the police found them following a call from the first, surprised resident. By then KC had fixed them up with breakfast. (Presumably the role-play was on the back-burner for the time being.)

More details are in the judge’s reasons after a judge-alone trial of one of the three men: R v Leroy.

The postgraduate and the pizza bar

November 23, 2020

So it turns out that somebody, now helpfully identified as a 346-year-old Spanish postgraduate with a month left on his visa, falsely told authorities in South Australia that he just bought a pizza from a pizza bar when he was actually working there. This is said to have triggered an unnecessarily severe and prolonged lockdown.

At first, the relevant police said there was nothing he could be charged with.

Now there has been a rethink and a great and public pile-on seems to be under way. If this man has so much as an overdue library book he’d be wise to return it asap. People are angry.

Something similar happened with the accusations levelled against the Queensland nurse earlier this year. We were told so much about her. The true story was somewhat different.

As for the man in SA, yes it was wrong of him to have concealed that he had worked there, but we do not know exactly what he was asked and whether he appreciated the importance of his answers or even what his motive or possible motivation may have been to conceal his employment.

From a public health perspective you need to design around the possibility of such concealments. Presumably it was checking which revealed that he had in fact been working there. One question with hindsight must be how much of that checking could have been carried out earlier, given how critical this piece of information proved to be.

In my opinion, the first response was the wiser. Remember the AIDS epidemic and what we learnt about the need, for public health’s sake, to maintain confidences and to eschew condemnation as far as possible?

That proposition is more elaborately and carefully advanced in the former Fairfax press under the headline Blaming and shaming breaks a cardinal rule of public health.


November 19, 2020

Came across this letter (and the enclosed essay) when attempting to purge ancient stuff.

For some reason the paper had totally degraded which is why I have taken a shot of it.

Would such a letter be sent today?