This post has been a while in coming (and I apologise for that – settling back into life in Aus is taking some time) and this is a little longer than normal, but I encourage you to read to the end. 🙂
After being away for 19 months living in, and exploring the United States, I returned to the city of my birth and thought I would share something of my hometown for those who don’t know it (particularly my American friends).
Newcastle is generally much underrated; being relatively close to Sydney, it is often overlooked as a tourist destination. But let me assure you Newcastle has much to offer.
Newcastle actually made Lonely Planets top 10 cities to visit in 2011 (the first Australian city to do so). It is a vibrant city, with a working harbour and some of the best beaches you will visit! The city is undergoing a bit of a rebirth at the moment; like many cities around the world it has had to reinvent itself in the face of economic changes.
Newcastle is probably most famous for it’s coal. It is because of coal, that Newcastle was first settled. Whilst searching for escaped convicts, Lt John Shortland discovered the river (which he named the Hunter River), a deep harbour and an abundance of coal in the area. As a result Newcastle was established as a penal settlement – with convicts mining the coal – and gained a reputation as a “hellhole” – this was the place where the most dangerous convicts were sent, to dig in the coal mines as punishment for their crimes. Newcastle was built on the backs of convict labor and remained a penal settlement until 1822.
In later years, Newcastle’s backbone was the BHP steelworks, which operated in the area for 84 years (the steelworks closed in 1999 – marking a significant turning point in the city’s history). There is also a great interactive display at Newcastle Museum about BHP – check it out if you can. I think nearly everyone living in Newcastle either worked at BHP, or knew someone who did (both my parents and my husband worked for BHP in Newcastle). As a result Newcastle had the reputation as the Steel City – a very industrial city, and consequently, was looked down upon.
It has taken many years for Newcastle to emerge from the shadows of that dark reputation, but I think it is continuing to develop and reinvent itself and has emerged as a cultural, cosmopolitan place to live and visit. The historic wharf area and railroad workshops have been transformed; areas by the harbour are no longer dirty, industrial or rundown, but are vibrant and alive with new residential buildings, hotels, pubs, restaurants and public pathways and parklands. From where I lived it was a quick 2-minute walk to harbourside restaurants and a pleasant 15-20minute walk along the harbour foreshore to the beaches.
Here’s a quote from Lonely Planet that sums up Newcastle:
Newcastle may be one-tenth the size of Sydney, but Australia‘s second-oldest city is punching well above its weight. Superb surf beaches, historical architecture and a sun-drenched climate are only part of the city’s charms. There is fine dining, hip bars, quirky boutiques, and a diverse arts scene. And did we mention the laid-back attitude? Yes, Newcastle is definitely worth a day or two of your time.
With a wrap like that, why not come see for yourself and come visit me?
And just to finish up, here are some interesting facts about Newcastle:
- Founded in 1797, Newcastle is the second-oldest city in Australia.
- It was a penal settlement until 1822
- Awabakal is the name of the Aboriginal Indigenous tribe that lived on the banks of the Coquon (Hunter) River which flows past Newcastle (Muloobinba – place of the edible sea fern) on its journey to the sea.
- Locals are referred to as Novocastrians
- Newcastle is often colloquially referred to as “Newie” or “Newy” by locals
- Newcastle Port is the world’s largest coal exporting port.
- In 1989, Newcastle was rocked by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake, which became Australia’s worst natural disaster.
- In June 2007 in the midst of a terrific storm, the bulk carrier ship, MV Pasha Bulker, ran aground at Nobby’s Beach after it failed to heed warnings to move offshore.
- In 1911, BHP chose the city as the site for its steelworks due to the abundance of coal and opened in 1915
- Stockton Beach is the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Sand from Stockton Sand Dunes is exported to Hawaii.
- Newcastle’s ‘Bogey Hole’ is one of the oldest ocean baths in Australia and was built around 1820 by convicts for the personal use of Commandant Morriset. The name Bogey Hole is derived from an aboriginal term meaning ‘to bathe’.
- There are 6 beaches within 5 minutes drive of the Newcastle CBD.
- Merewether Baths is the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Iconic Australian biscuit manufacturer Arnott’s traces its humble beginnings back to Newcastle when a small bakery was opened by William Arnott in 1865.
- 2004 Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins, once a Newcastle Knights cheerleader, still calls Newcastle home.
- Current population of the Newcastle LGA is around 555,000, with the city itself having a population of about 155,000
Some Historical firsts:
- Australia’s First Export was a shipment of coal from Newcastle in 1799
- In 1801 Australia’s first coal mine was established under the present site of Fort Scratchley using convict labour. The entrances were sealed in 1885 when Fort Scratchley was built.
- The first and only time that Australian Guns have fired on an enemy vessel during war was when Fort Scratchley’s 6-inch guns fired on a Japanese submarine during World War II.
- Newcastle was home to the first ‘lighthouse’ on the east coast – a coal-fired beacon at Colliers Point which opened in 1804. The famous Nobbys Lighthouse was turned on in January of 1858.
- Newcastle East Public School, established in 1816, by school teacher Henry Wrensford and seventeen convict children aged 3 – 13 years, is the oldest continuously run school in Australia.
- Joy Cummings was Australia’s first female Lord Mayor and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle from 1974 – 1984.
Here are some links with more information about Newcastle if you’d like to learn more:
Wikipedia – Newcastle
Hunter Valley Wine Country
More historical facts
I would liked to have added some more/better photographs, but most are on my desktop computer which is still on it’s way to me from America; so, sorry for the ordinary (and lack of accompanying) pictures.