Newcastle, seeing change!

Anyone who lives in or around Newcastle knows the city is undergoing something of a transformation.

Newcastle has been re-inventing and improving itself for years now, since the closure of BHP, and the local catch phrase is “Newcastle – see change“. It has been a great thing, the city has evolved to be seen as more than the blue-collar, working class, industrial steel town that it once was. Newcastle is a vibrant, diverse, exciting city, with great restaurants, beaches, cafes, live performances, open spaces, galleries, markets, shopping,  history and definitely worth a visit. But it’s polish is fading a bit just lately.

I love the city of my birth and the place I always return to and currently choose to call home. At the moment it is not an easy place to live. There is a huge amount of construction going on in this city and has been for quite some time now. It seems like the whole city is a construction zone, with the majority of Hunter Street (the main road through the city) blocked to vehicular traffic and many side streets closed completely or partially. It is all beginning to take it’s toll, since it is extremely difficult to get into the city and parking is extremely limited visitor numbers are well down; many businesses are having to relocate or close down completely. It’s sad, and very frustrating. I’m sure it will be wonderful when it’s finished, but at the moment that seems like a long way off.

I participate in a photography challenge class, and this weeks challenge was “street scene”. Great!I knew exactly what I wanted, so on a very chilly morning I walked along Hunter Street and captured some images of what’s happening in my home town.

Here’s what I saw:

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In the background is the very modern, recently completed building for the University of Newcastle, while in front of it sits the Civic Theatre, dating from 1929. The old and the new!

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Hunter Street near Courthouse

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Light rail construction works along Hunter Street near the courthouse.

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Construction works along Hunter Street, near Darby Street.

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Darby Street & Hunter Street intersection

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Hunter Street near Crown Street

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Hunter Street near Brown Street

Change is a constant in life, and we have to weather the bad to see some improvement; let’s hope it’s not too long in coming!

A visit to Blackbutt Reserve

Today I took Becky for a visit to Blackbutt Reserve to view a few of our native animals.

We were lucky to fit the visit between rain showers.

We saw some kangaroos:

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Some very sleepy koalas:

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Some native birds:

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Sulphur crested cockatoo

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Kingfishers

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Gouldian finch

But really, for me, this was just an excuse to visit the wombats again.

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Sally (3 year old common wombat)

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Clyde (15 year old common wombat)

Wombats make me very happy, and it was nice to share them with a friend who had never seen one before!

Sightseeing around Newcastle

With Becky visiting from Texas, I have had an excuse to do some activities that I have wanted to do, but not got around to.

Yesterday we did a river boat cruise along the Hunter River.

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We left from Newcastle Harbour (where the Hunter River meets the sea) on board one of Nova Cruises boats and cruised up to Morpeth.

 

The trip along the river is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was a lovely day for it – pleasant and relaxing. From the harbour, we travelled up to Hexham where it is necessary to lift the bridge for the boat to pass underneath. I have never experienced the bridge going up, so that was good to see.

There were lots of interesting things to look at along the way as well.

I love an old, ruined building.

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Morpeth was established in 1821 and was a bustling river port in colonial days. It is a lovely historic town right on the Hunter River, with National-Trust listed buildings, craft and antique stores and some lovely, scenic places to eat or sit, relax and grab a coffee. We shopped a little and had lunch.

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Historic Morpeth bridge from the Hunter River

Newcastle harbour is home to the largest coal exporting port in the southern hemisphere, and as we were coming back we saw a fully laden ship on it’s way out of the port. These ships are huge.

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A visitor from Texas, USA to Newcastle, NSW!

 

My friend Becky is currently visiting us from Texas. We meet through the pilates class at the local gym in Sherman whilst I was living there, and now I would consider her one of my best friends. Becky has been in Newcastle now 5 days. We have been exploring a little and I have been showing of the parts of my town (with plenty more planned). But today is a bit of a rest day as Becky picked up a cold on the way over (we’ll blame the aeroplane germs). So I’d thought I write a little about what’s happened so far.

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A lazy Sunday afternoon drink listening to some live music at Queens Wharf

We have done a bit of walking, well, quite a bit really. We have been along the harbourside, past the beaches, visited the Christ Church Cathedral, have done a spot of shopping (how can you not?) and have taken a few photos. It’s been fun!

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Christ Church Cathedral

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Newcastle Town Hall and the pool in front of Civic Fountain

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Becky and the pump house for the Newcastle Ocean Baths

Becky has written a couple of blog posts about her adventures so far. Check them out here.

We also took a drive up to the Hunter Valley vineyards and tasted some excellent wine. Andrew was the designated driver so we could enjoy what was on offer. Besides the good wines, there are also some lovely, picturesque views. The following pictures were taken at Audrey Wilkinson vineyard (excellent wines). We also visited Tulloch wines (also very good wines),  before having some lunch. There is something for everyone in Hunter Valley wine country, from boutique vineyards through to the large well known wine makers, and many excellent places to stay and to eat – so come and visit and spend the weekend (or week) relaxing in the Hunter Valley.

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Red roses means red grapes

 

This is the first time I have had a non-family member house guest in a long time. It certainly makes you pay more attention to what is around you (and clean up after yourself more). Seeing your surroundings through the eyes of a visitor from overseas will give you a new perspective on things. There are subtle differences between the USA and Australia, from light switches and power point switches to not so subtle differences, like driving on the other side of the road, and it’s fun to be able to discover and comment on these with a friend.

Tomorrow we are going on a Hunter River cruise to the lovely town of Morpeth. We are both looking forward to that.

 

 

Winter Stress Release at the Beach

Today was a good day!

I took myself off far a walk at the beach this morning (while my husband sat at home and prepared tax returns – bless him). I have much I need to do too, but what I really needed was a break – and the best place for me to find solace is at the beach! So off I went with my trusty camera and enjoyed an hour or so capturing images around one of my favourite places.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t see any whales today (they migrate up the coast at this time of year, so you will often see them off shore). If you like whale watching, then Newcastle and Port Stephens are great places to catch them. Whale watching in Port Stephens

It was a gorgeous winter’s day in Newcastle today, except for the wind, but otherwise, it was lovely – the sun was out and it wasn’t too cold.

 

The surf was up today, and apparently it was a great day for the surfers.

There was a lot of white water about today,

and with the surf up, the ocean baths were closed as the waves were breaking into the pool and washing all over the pool deck, but that didn’t stop a few hardy souls from swimming through the breaking waves.

If you’d like to see more of my photos from today – check out my SmugMug page:

Newcastle – A New Perspective

Over the weekend I took part in my first Meetups activity and partook of a street photography walking tour of Newcastle City. We only covered about 2 blocks in about 1 – 1.5 hours and I must admit it, it was something of an eye-opener. I took time to really take notice what was around me; to look up as well as what was in front of me and to really see (I got so immersed in my photographing that I was nearly run over).

We started our outing in Market Street, by the new Post Office and walked east up the mall to Bolton Street and then back along Scott Street to complete the loop.

Newcastle has some amazing architecture (I’ve always known that),

The once glorious old sandstone post office building:

oldpostoffice the art deco buildings:

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gloriouscolumns but there is also some great graffiti art:

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There is so much development going on in Newcastle at the moment – it’s a great opportunity to get out, explore the city and to document some of those changes, and to see things you perhaps have never noticed before.

Like the sandstone figures adorning the old Longworth Institute building in Scott Street:

I feel like this some days!

I feel like this some days!

I actually really enjoyed my afternoon out – I meet a couple of new people who share an interest in photography and I saw my city from a different perspective.

Here are a few of my favourite images that I thought I would share with you.

Who doesn't love an orange door!

Who doesn’t love an orange door!

 

 

A Stairway to Heaven?

A Stairway to Heaven?

 

Reflected buildings!

Reflected buildings!

 

I really do love the city in which I live, and I feel privileged to live right amongst it where it’s not too far to walk to anywhere really.

It’s been quite a while since I have posted anything on my blog (there have been a few reasons for that, which I may include in future blogs, but for now, it’s good to be back writing again). I hope you enjoy it and come visit again!

An impromptu visit to the Hunter Wetlands

Today I was feeling a bit restless; I needed to do something…., but what? Go for a walk? But where? I had pretty much decided I would head into town and walk along the Foreshore – always my “go to” for something to do. But, literally as we were walking out the door, I had an idea – what about a visit to the Wetlands? It was somewhere that had been on our list of things to do in Newcastle for some time. So today was the day we went – a walk and perhaps some photo ops as well, sounded like a good idea!

HWCThe Hunter Wetlands Centre is located on Sandgate Road, Shortland, and about a 10-minute drive from where I am currently living. The Wetlands Centre is a conservation sanctuary and covers an area of 45 hectares and reportedly is home to over 200 wildlife species. I found it to be quite peaceful. The walk was easy, although, I found there wasn’t too much wildlife around today, but I did manage to capture a few snapshots worthy of sharing.

Taking flight:

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Native Flora (Banksia) as well as fauna:

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The brilliant shade of green was created by the blue/green algae present:

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HNWR_VCsign_01I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma (where we lived in Texas). Although they are 2 different wildlife sanctuaries, they are quite similar.

The Wetlands Centre was once part of an extensive wetland system between Shortland and Waratah West, which was part of the Hexham Swamp complex.  The wetland system was progressively filled as part of sanitary landfill operations, construction of a railway, development of football fields, and other works, until only remnant patches of wetlands remained. In late 1985, after much lobbying by locals and the Hunter Wetlands Group, land and buildings were acquired by the Shortland Wetlands Centre Ltd. Many years of hard work, conservation, regeneration and redevelopment have resulted in the centre earning a reputation as a centre of excellence, particularly in wetland education.

The Wetlands is family friendly and a small $5 entry fee will get you into the sanctuary, and once there (if you choose), there is plenty to do. Of course there are self-guided walking trails – we did the “Discovery walk”, which was only about an hour, and easy going. There are also guided walking tours, cycling trails (you can hire bikes on site if you don’t bring your own), canoeing in the waterways, Segway Tours and a children’s playground. Of course, you can just sit, relax and watch the birdlife. It’s also a great place for a family event or picnic – there are plenty of shelters and BBQ areas with picnic tables. The Hunter Wetlands Centre is a self-funded community owned, not for profit organisation and is also an accredited Visitor Information Centre.

Do yourself a favour and take in a visit if you are in the area, or even if you are a local and haven’t been yet!

ANZAC Day 2016 – Lest we forget!

This coming Monday is ANZAC day. In Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC day is observed every year on April 25th. It is a solemn national day of remembrance and commemoration.

ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and ANZAC day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of the ANZAC forces on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 during WWI, in order to capture the Dardanelles. It was the first major military conflict that the ANZACs fought in. This year marks the 101st anniversary of that terrible event.

ANZAC day starts with a dawn service to remember those thousands of brave souls who lost their life during the battles of World War I. There are Dawn Service ceremonies held at hundreds of locations across Australia. There are more than 40 held in the Newcastle and Hunter region alone. The largest in Newcastle is held at Camp Shortland at Nobby’s beach. I actually attended last year, and being the 100th anniversary, there were record crowds, but it was still quite an experience.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service - Newcastle, 2015

ANZAC Day Dawn Service – Newcastle, 2015

ANZAC Day was first celebrated in 1916 however, the first organised dawn service is generally regarded as being held in 1928 where two minutes silence was observed and wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph in Sydney. The tradition continues and now includes the honouring all Australian service men and women who have been killed in any military operation which Australia has been involved in, with commemorative services taking place at dawn (the time of the original Gallipoli landing). Services also include the laying of wreaths, reading of letters, a bugler playing of the Last Post and a period of silence.

Following the services there is a march for service men and women (in Newcastle this occurs down Hunter Street). However, Sydney hold one of the biggest services in the country which is televised, along with the service conducted at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The day generally also includes a few beers and the playing of two-up. You’ll also see plenty of people wearing a red poppy (the Flanders Poppy is normally worn as part of the ritual of Remembrance Day (marking the Armistice of 11 November 1918), but is now becoming increasingly used as part of the ANZAC observance). It is most usual to wear a sprig of rosemary, however.

Thousands of Aussies and Kiwi’s (individuals from New Zealand) also make the trek to the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey to attend the Dawn Service at Lone Pine. I have been lucky enough to visit Gallipoli and see ANZAC cove where the troops landed and Lone Pine where many diggers are now buried.

Lone Pine - Gallipoli

Lone Pine – Gallipoli

My visit to Gallipoli was in 2006. We were there as part of a tour through Turkey, and we arrived early in the morning – the best time to get there as there was no-one else around. What an incredibly moving experience. I cannot describe how it felt to be there – it was just incredible; very solemn, awe inspiring, overwhelming, and heart-breaking. And if ever you decide to visit Gallipoli, I would recommend not going around ANZAC day; visit without the hordes of other people, take your time and really appreciate the whole experience.

ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli peninsula

ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli peninsula

Some of the trenches around Gallipoli

Some of the trenches around Gallipoli

Please take the time to observe ANZAC Day and remember those who sacrificed their lives!

“THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, AS WE THAT ARE LEFT GROW OLD,

AGE SHALL NOT WEARY THEM NOR THE YEARS CONDEMN,

AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN, AND IN THE MORNING,

WE SHALL REMEMBER THEM”!

More information about ANZAC Day can be found at the Australian War Memorial web site.

Steaming into life…

A visit to Steamfest, Maitland 2016

It’s been quite a while since I last did a blog post (3 months, in fact). I could name any number of reasons why I haven’t posted; in moving back from the US, I found my life had returned to being something like ordinary, mundane, boring even. I felt like there was nothing interesting happening, no adventure in my life and thought I had nothing worth writing about. However, when it comes down to it – I just couldn’t bring myself to do it – the fact was I was feeling a bit low and found I was struggling a little with settling back into life in my own hometown – not being able to move back into our own home didn’t help matters either. I found myself starting to move into depression despite efforts to look for all the positives in my life – I still had a job, and I wasn’t living out of my car, for instance. Anyway, moving past that I am trying to get back to the life I want to live. This weekend we did something interesting and went to take a look at “Steamfest” – I thought I might share some of the experience with you.

Steamfest signage at Maitland train station

Steamfest is a festival celebrating steam, of course. But the highlight of the festival is the return to the railway tracks of the old steam locomotives, which brings thousands of visitors to Maitland railway station and surrounds. The event brings by steam engines from the Canberra Railway MuseumPowerhouse Museum and Trainworks Railway Museum and rail motors from the Rail Motor Society.

Steamfest began in 1986 after the last coal operated steam hauled freight service in Australia on the South Maitland Railway Line closed in 1983. This year marked the event’s 30th anniversary. Steamfest is held over 2 days in April every year at Maitland in the Hunter Valley region of NSW. There are plenty of activities to keep everyone in the family entertained, but especially those who appreciate the age of steam on the railway tracks.

Steam Engine 6029 - “The Garratt”

Steam Engine 6029 – “The Garratt”

During the festival, over both days, it is possible to take a trip in one of the old steam trains. From Maitland train station you can take a trip to Branxton, Barrington, Singleton, Broadmeadow and do the Port Waratah Coal Run. Next year I would really like to do one of these trips – maybe the Port Waratah Coal run!

There are some great steam displays, featuring antique machinery, market stalls and of course, the wonderful steam engines as well as some of the old Rail Motors, including the old “red ratlers”.

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A “Red Ratler”

You can also take a helicopter joy flight over the area. On the Sunday there was also a Show’n’Shine featuring classic cars, hot rods and motorbikes as well as live music and rock and roll dancing.

The highlight of the festival every year is the Great Train Race between one of the steam trains and a Tiger Moth; this year however, there were four steam engines involved – racing each other, as well as four Tiger Moths in the skies above.

2 of the 4 Tiger Moths taking part in the Great Race at Steamfest 2016

2 of the 4 Tiger Moths taking part in the Great Train Race 

This had never been done before on such a scale. It is possible to buy tickets and take part in the race on the trains; however, if you miss out on a ticket you can view the trains from any number of vantage points (overhead bridges, train stations and pedestrian overpasses) along the route. I didn’t get a ticket (maybe next year), so I watched them go by at a nearby train station; what a great thrill it was to be able to witness a part of it.

3 of the 4 steam engines approaching the station

Only 3 of the 4 steam engines visible as they approach the station

I can recommend a visit to Steamfest, and the best thing – it’s free. You only have to pay for tickets for a train ride if you want one, or a nominal $2 charge for entry to the Rally Ground where all things steam were on display, including:

a genuine steam roller-

SteamRoller

a steam wagon-

Steam Wagon

“Sooty”, the steam tractor-

Sooty

and miniature steam trains that the whole family can take a ride on-

So, if you ever find yourself in the Hunter Valley region of NSW in April, why not go along!

Cirque du Soleil – a circus experience like no other!

Have you been to see Cirque du Soleil yet? If not, do yourself a favour and go!

CdS_tixI was a Cirque du Soleil virgin; I had heard a lot of hype about this performing troupe, and although I really knew very little about their shows (except that they were supposed to be spectacular), I had always wanted to see one. I really wanted to go when we visited Las Vegas the year before last, but my husband wasn’t too keen, so when I heard they were performing in Newcastle I resolved to go. I found a willing accomplice (and fellow Cirque du Soleil virgin) in my sister-in-law. So, I booked tickets and we went yesterday – Sunday.

After a rear-end accident on the way to the event, we eventually made it and sat down about 30 seconds after the start of the show. It was absolutely fabulous!

Now, I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the beginning – there are few words spoken and the singing that occurred was in French, I think, so I didn’t understand anything. I also felt a bit lost at the start because I couldn’t really follow the story line. I only knew what I had heard, that the show was essentially the world created as result of a young girls imagination.

The concerned feelings didn’t last too long, and I was quickly absorbed by the performances; there were amazing feats of strength, balance, coordination and endurance. There is plenty to look at, sometimes I didn’t know where to look on stage, there are often other skits happening in the background; even the transition between acts was well performed. Quite a few acts take place in the air with the performers suspended from the roof over the main stage on various types of apparatus that actually move across the stage.

Here is a brief (and incomplete) list of some of the acts on show:

  • an artist who performed in a large German Wheel, doing tricks, spinning and balancing throughout,
  • aerial acrobatics on ropes and red silk fabric
  • aerial hoops, suspended from the ceiling
  • a performance of Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) where the artist manipulates a wooden spool balancing on a string that links two wooden sticks (handles)
  • a routine involving multiple skipping ropes operating simultaneously with about 20 performers interacting to produce an amazing skipping sequence (quite different to anything you would have done in the playground as a child, I can assure you)

Before I knew it an hour had passed and it was time for intermission. The second half of the show was just as good and passed just as quickly, but I think my favourite act was the “statue” couple – a man and woman who perform an absolutely amazing act of balance and strength as the two never lose contact, but create seemingly impossible feats of balance, strength and flexibility (I was in awe – I think everyone else may have been too).

The whole show was supplemented with some great music (which I found hard to pigeon hole – sounding at times middle Eastern, and at others like Irish folk music), but was perfect for the show and all performed by the live band on stage.

Taken at the end of the show - I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

Taken at the end of the show – I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

This was a great spectacle and definitely worth the ticket price. We had great seats, close enough to see the performers muscles rippling with strain and effort, but if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to sit on the right side of the stage (as you are looking at it) as there were one or two performances where you would probably get a slightly better view (and don’t get the premium seats on the floor in front of the stage – you can’t see the performers feet – which I, for one, like to see).

I would also recommend a little research first – so I have provided a very quick run down about “Quidam by Cirque du Soleil” and a link to a preview video if you would like to get a taste of it.

A few quick facts:

  • Quidam was the ninth stage show produced by Cirque du Soleil and premiered in in April 1996 as a big-top show in Montreal; it was converted into an arena format beginning in 2010.
  • Quidam refers to the feature character, a man without a head who carries an umbrella and a bowler hat
  • The word Quidam in Latin refers to “a person unknown”
  • The show is the result of the imagination of a girl named Zoe who is ignored by her parents.
  • There are also several other characters that make regular appearances throughout the show

If you want to book tickets to see the show in Australia, go to Ticketek, but you will have to hurry; the Newcastle season ends on January 24th and then the show heads across the Tasman to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. Prices vary from around $76 to $160 each for adults.