Published in the Australian Newspaper, June 2013

Let us celebrate a weekend in grime. Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley lays claim to being the world’s dirtiest brown coal factory. I can attest the walls could certainly do with a scrub. We camped on the shores of the cooling pond, an artificial lake that keeps the power plant cool while the power plant keeps the pond warm: nature in perfect harmony. “They check it for algae every Wednesday morning,” said a woman wearing gumboots. “Good reading this week.”

Two young boys sat on the rim of the pond, dangling their feet in the water and watching a pair of goldfish, trapped in a small, concrete holding-area. Across the far side of the pond power lines were strung upon muscular pylons, loaded up with mean, brazen, unapologetic coal-fired electricity. Hazelwood itself was stern, foreboding, an impenetrable fortress, surrounded by barbed-wire: the name even sounded like a prison, or at the very least a lunatic asylum. An industrial eminence in the dull countryside; an old-fashioned school master stuck in the past, brandishing its cane. A bully who never grew up, but instead grew old and was now a dangerous loner. In its lighter moods it could be construed as an eastern European chocolate factory. The faded stenciled name-tag gave it some charm, the red brick was warm and the chimneys were lined up in orderly rows; obedient, proud soldiers. In the evening we pitched a tent, stalked shags in the reeds, taking photos of the flocks as they mooched around, honking up the last of the December light. And all the while the cooling pond steamed and spat belligerently, smoking up a storm. You best not ask how, but the water’s temperature is roughly that of a tepid spa pool, and we plunged into the warm, brown coal goodness that still December evening, and the shags took flight, dragging their pointed toes across the ripples. An overweight couple sat and cast their fishing rods through the steam into the pond, took a swig from a VB longneck and put their arms around each other. This amazing flurry of activity was naturally watched over by the immovable power station: dirty, bleak, of another time, sick, spewing soot and coughing its lungs out. There were no other campers.