In late winter, I spent a couple of days in Newcastle. I’ve passed Newcastle plenty of times and was vaguely familiar with its convict and industrial heritage. It was great to have a bit of time to get a better sense of its history and atmosphere.
Newcastle is famous for its beaches, and I was drawn to Nobbys Beach. Nobbys Head was originally an island. Whibayganba in the local Aboriginal Awabakal language means home of the giant kangaroo. It was called Coal Island, then Nobbys Island. It became known as Nobbys Head after it was connected to the mainland by the Macquarie Pier. This pier was eventually replaced by a breakwater which significantly improved the safety of the harbour. The waterfront was an enduring attraction, and the coastline was never far away. The foreshore area, in front of the old railway station and Queen’s Wharf area, was constantly busy with people out walking, running and roller skating.
The Great Northern Railway was built in 1859, but it wasn’t until the Hawkesbury Bridge was built in 1889 that there was a direct railway link to Sydney. The station was built in 1878, and was operational until December 2014. It has been repurposed into a series of shops and studios, and there are regular events and functions held here. It has a play area for children, and the new light rail runs on a parallel street, a link between the old and the new.
Newcastle Customs House was an important civic building for decades, and it epitomised the significant role played by the Newcastle docks. The building was one of colonial architect James Barnet’s designs. It is located next to the terminus of the railway station, and is a reminder of the importance of the maritime and commercial history of the city. It is now a hotel and function centre.
Civic pride is also evident in the grandeur of buildings such as the Newcastle City Hall. It is one of many attractive buildings in the Civic Park area, and the library and art gallery are across the park.
The large Brett Whiteley sculpture situated outside the Newcastle Art Gallery is hard to ignore. ‘Black Totem II’ was relocated from Sydney to Newcastle in 2013. The sculpture was recently restored after suffering overexposure to UV and salt spray for over 25 years.
Amongst the heritage listed architecture in the Newcastle CBD are more modern buildings including the NeW Space. This is one of the University of Newcastle buildings. The university began as a college of the University of New South Wales with the first students accepted in 1952. Following public demand for a local university, the college was expanded and it became an independent university in 1965.
The Newcastle Museum is located in the historic Honeysuckle Point railway workshops. Permanent exhibitions include A Newcastle Story, early Aboriginal life and Fire and Earth – a short show about BHP steel production. BHP was a major presence and employer in the town until its closure 20 years ago. There is a link to an article here documenting the closure. There is also an exhibition marking the 30th year anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake (28 December 1989).
One of the joys of wandering around the CBD was coming across old buildings like this one. Inevitably there were pockets of closed shops but there was also a lot of renovation work underway and old buildings being repurposed for current needs.
There was also lots of bright street art, like the example above. I kept spotting telecommunication hubs painted to look like some of the locals, and there is an interesting post on some of the amazing murals dotted around the city here.
Newcastle offers an interesting mix of attractions for visitors along with a vibrant history. When was the last time you visited a place both familiar and new?
[Photo: Nobbys Head, Newcastle]