1.NEWCASTLE EAST AND THE HEADLAND
People who don't know Newcastle are always surprised at how many different activities the city offers. A logical place to start is the visitors' centre which is situated at 363 Hunter Street (on Wheeler Place). The staff are knowledgeable and very helpful, tel: (02) 4974 2999 or contact them via email at email@example.com
The Famous Tram
A 45-minute overview of the city, its major tourist attractions, convict past, fort, gaol etc, with an informative commentary, is provided aboard Newcastle's Famous Tram, a replica tram from the days when they were a major means of intracity transport. It departs from Newcastle Railway Station (cnr Watt and and Scott Sts) twice a day, 10am and 1pm. The tram runs a service to the Hunter Vallley on weekends. Ring (02) 4963 7954 for prices or contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Police Station
Walk east (towards the ocean) along Scott St. At 92 Scott St, opposite Pacific St, is the fine old stationmaster's residence (1858). Beautifully restored it has fine iron columns supporting a porch with very ornate cast-iron lacework. Opposite, at the corner of Pacific and Scott Sts, is a building partially obscured by hedges and trees. It is the former Newcastle East Police Station (1880) built as a water police residence.
The Old Courthouse Column and Coal Mining Monument
Head east along Scott St. Near its end Parnell Place runs off to the left. This thoroughfare was hit by shells from a Japanese submarine in 1942. To the immediate right is a small park wherein lies a large column. This belonged to the old courthouse (1841) on the corner of Bolton and Hunter Sts which was demolished in 1899 to make way for the post office.
At the end of Parnell Place is a complex intersection, to the side of which is a monument to Newcastle's coalmining and shipping industries with a series of plaques depicting the evolution and interaction of both industries.
Fort Scratchley and Maritime Museum
From this intersection a small driveway heads up the steep hill to Fort Scratchley which is perched atop a large knoll that lies immediately behind, and overlooking, Nobbys Beach, the headland and the river mouth. Called Braithwaite's Head by Lt. Shortland in 1797 this eminence was later known by various names (Fort Fiddlesticks to the convicts). Being an obvious place for a warning beacon, a signal mast was set up in 1804, earning it the name Signal Hill. It was replaced by a coal-fire beacon in 1813 which burned until Nobbys Lighthouse was set up in 1858.
The army gained use of the site from 1843 and it was, for some time, used as a training ground. When fear of a Russian invasion gripped the colony in the 1870s it was decided that Newcastle, because of its strategic importance as a coal and steel producer, needed to be properly fortified. The fort, designed by Lt-Col. Peter Scratchley, was built between 1881 and 1886 though it was, of course, upgraded in the twentieth century. The Heritage of Australia notes that Fort Scratchley 'is one of only two examples of late 19th-century military fortifications in New South Wales'.
The fort¹s moment came in June 1942 when a Japanese submarine attacked Newcastle which, as a coal port, was an obvious target. The guns of the fort (which, at this point, had been waiting for action for sixty five years) then fired the only shots ever launched at an enemy vessel from the Australian mainland.
The military finally departed from the site in 1972 and it is now the Newcastle Region Maritime and Military Museum, open from 10.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. every day but Monday. Displays include the Boat Gallery, a carronade gun from 1762, a torpedo (they're bigger than you might think), items salvaged from the French barque Adolphe which was wrecked on the northern breakwater in 1904 (and which can still be seen at times) and the Time Ball, which stood atop Customs House from 1877 to the 1940s, and which was lowered at exactly 1.00 p.m. each afternoon to allow ships to check their chronometers.
In the rock platform below Fort Scratchley are the ocean pools known as the Soldiers Baths, built in 1882.
Immediately below Fort Scratchley, off the roundabout at the end of Nobbys Rd, is a kiosk and a large carpark adjacent Harbourside Park. From this point a very narrow finger of land extends out from the mainland to the knoll known as Nobbys Head whereon sits a lighthouse standing sentinel over the southern side of the Hunter estuary. Beyond the headland the rocky mass of the southern breakwater lends a sheltering arm to ships entering the harbour.
Captain Cook, passing up the coast in 1770 described Nobbys as a 'small round rock or Island, laying close under the land'. This refers to the fact that it was then disconnected entirely from the mainland.
Lieutenant Shortland sought shelter at Nobbys while searching for escaped convicts in 1797 and named it Hackings Point. There he found coal and this resulted in a subsequent visit by Lt James Grant who called it Coal Island. Coal was mined there until 1817 but the hillock was known as Nobbys by 1810.
Utilising convict labour and rock fill from the Fort Scratchley area, work began on the construction of a pier out to the island in 1818, thought to be the oldest rock-fill breakwater in the Southern Hemisphere. It was named Macquarie Pier after Governor Macquarie who laid the foundation stone. Work was halted in 1823, recommenced in 1836 using rocks from Nobbys, completed in 1846 and rebuilt in 1864. In 1855 Nobbys was reduced in size from 61 m to 27 m and the lighthouse erected in 1857 to replace the coal-fire beacon of Fort Scratchley. The original lighthouse was designed by Edmund Blacket though it has since been replaced
You can walk along this artificial promontory, with Nobbys Beach to your right, past the lighthouse and along the breakwater to its terminus, from whence there are excellent views across to the northern breakwater which extends outwards from the southern end of Stockton Beach, a massive stretch of sandy shoreline which you can see trailing off in a north-easterly direction to Port Stephens. Not far from the northern breakwater, clearly visible on the shoreline of the beach, is the 1974 wreck of the Sygna.
Towards the end of the pier are five bas-relief sculptures reflecting upon various aspects of Newcastle and its history.
Walking back towards the mainland the remnants of some more military fortifications are clearly apparent on Nobbys, though they are not very accessible.
If you look to your right, as you return along Nobbys Head towards the mainland, you will see tiny Horseshoe Beach facing east out to the ocean. The rock wall adjacent Horseshoe Beach is a popular fishing spot. It lies at the tip of the harbourside area now officially known as The Foreshore.
Start walking in a westerly direction along The Foreshore. At the end of the rocky section is an area known as the Boat Harbour, a stone harbour constructed between 1866 and 1873. It contains the Pilot Station, established in 1866, and the Tug Wharf and has been used continuously for over one hundred years. The earliest pilot station was a convict-manned whaleboat which commenced operations in 1812. Tugs still take the huge coal and container ships from the ocean up the estuary to their moorings. Beyond the pilot station is King's Wharf.
The large section of adjacent grassy parkland is Harbourside Park. The enormous barbecue and shelter shed in the park was originally a railway shed (c.1880) as this area was once the site of the Newcastle East Marshalling Yard. The gigantic yellow building looming over the park at its southern fringe (in Stevenson Place) is the former John Bull Warehouse (c.1890).
There is a pond in the park known as the Frog Pond which, in its original form, was a well fed by a freshwater spring. It was the major source of freshwater for the first European settlers. Convicts once carried 100 gallons of water a day to the prison in Scott St and ships docking in the harbour used it to restock supplies.
The original shoreline of 1797 lay close to this site, drawing attention to the fact that the harbour foreshores are entirely man-made and bare little resemblance to the way the Hunter was prior to the 19th century. They were constructed from about 1840 with material supplied by ship's ballast, the dredging of the river mouth and sand taken from the dunes of Newcastle East.
Walk westwards along Wharf Rd and you will come to Queens Wharf. The observation tower,which is linked, via a walkway, to the city mall offers an excellent view up the Hunter River and across the city. There is also a marina, a ferry wharf (you can cross the Hunter on the Stockton ferry - a pleasant 15-minute trip), a tavern, boutique brewery, cafe and restaurant.
Great North Walk and the Yuelarbah Track
A plaque on the tower indicates that this is also the end point of the 250-km Great North Walk from Sydney Cove through the Hunter Valley to Newcastle, a 14-day walk taking in a wide range of environments and attractions, both natural and man-made. It can be broken down into smaller subsections, such as the Yuelarbah Track (the local section) which covers 25 km. Contact the tourist information centre for a brochure.
The William IV and Merewether St Wharf
Just a little further west along Wharf Rd are the Merewether St wharves where, on the third Sunday of each month, the William IV, a replica of the first Australian built coastal steamer, departs at 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. for a cruise around the harbour, tel: (02) 4926 1200. The original vessel was built near Clarencetown and the replica was constructed at Raymond Terrace.
The industrial area of Carrington lies on the other side of the harbour. Directly opposite the wharves is the state dockyard. To the left of that you will see The Basin receding to the north.
On the corner of Wharf Rd and Argyle St is Argyle House, the former headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Co. (c.1883). It has some particularly fine cast-iron lacework around the eaves and columns.
3.THE SOUTHERN COASTLINE
Newcastle Beach lies off Shortland Esplanade which follows the coastline south from Fort Scratchley down to King Edward Park. There is safe swimming from in front of the surf club at the northern end of the beach. Also at the northern end is a large ocean bath and the canoe pool - an old, large and safe children's wading pool. The southern end is noted for its surfing. Indeed the Surfest Surfing Competition is held annually on Newcastle Beach in April.
King Edward Park
There is an army fortification zone on the hilltop at the southern end of King Edward Park. The military remnants can be seen near the carpark at the crest of the street known as The Terrace. The fortifications were established in 1890 but rebuilt during World War II when it was known as Park Battery. A cement fortess and a series of pillboxes remain though they are now crumbling and marked by graffiti.
From this point there are good views eastwards over the ocean where there are usually dozens of ships queueing for entrance into the harbour. To the north are Newcastle Beach, Nobbys Head, the two breakwaters which superintend the river estuary and, beyond that, Stockton Beach. Within the river mouth the Hunter recedes north-west into the distance and northwards into Stockton Channel where it passes under Stockton Bridge while Throsby Creek snakes its serpentine way to the south-west. As you gaze down towards the harbour you can see an obelisk at the far end of the park, Newcastle Anglican Cathedral towering atop an intervening hill and the weight of heavy industry encamped implacably about the estuary voiding its bowels to the sky.
Wander down The Terrace, observing the fine Victorian terrace houses (c.1890) which give the street its name. At the bottom of The Terrace turn right into Reserve Rd then take the left into Wolfe St. There is a signposted set of steps to your right leading up to The Obelisk situated atop a hill from whence there are excellent views. A windmill built on this site in 1820 became a major navigational aide for shipping. Its demolition in 1847 provoked protests from mariners and, consequently, the obelisk was erected as an alternative marker in 1850. An early water reservoir was situated under this spot in 1885.
Looking south, back down into the gully, there is a lovely octagonal band rotunda (1898) with finial, columns, balustrades and intricate lacework, all of cast iron, as well as a frieze around the base. This depression was once the site of a paddock for Australian Agricultural Company horses which worked in an adjacent pit (at the corner of Bingle St and Anzac Parade). It now features a sunken garden.
If you walk along Reserve Rd to the fencing on the hillside you will find a road alignment post on the far side dating from 1864, together with an explanatory plaque.
One of the roadways which winds through the park leads down to the Bogey Hole at the very bottom of the cliffs below the fortifications. This large excavation in the rocks tells us something of the nature of Newcastle in the early 19th century. It is, in fact, a bathing pool which was built by convict labour for the personal pleasure of Major James T. Morriset, the military commandant from 1819-1822 who did much to improve the breakwater, roads and barracks in the settlement. Known for many years as Commandant's Bath it became a public pool in 1863. As one stands and watches the waves ceaselessly washing over the pool the extent of the achievement and the grossness of the indulgence becomes apparent, for the convicts must have dug this hole between waves, waste high in water.
Just south of King Edward Park the land continues to rise to a high point atop Shepherds Hill. The name presumably derives from Lt-Col. Paterson's 1801 survey report, in which he named it Sheep Pasture Hill after the English associations its appearance stirred in him. Strzelecki Lookout, atop the hill, is named in honour of the Polish geologist and explorer whose chemical analyses and research into coal deposits from 1839-45 influenced the development of the region.
Looking southwards from this excellent vantage point the form of the coastline is clear: a series of beaches separated by rocky chunks of headland which rise steeply above the waterline. These bluffs range in size from small headlands to sizeable stretches of coastline. To be more specific, as one gazes southwards, the tiny beach near the southern end of Shepherds Hill is Susan Gilmore Beach, then there is Bar Beach followed by a small rocky outcrop, on the other side of which are Dixon Park Beach and Merewether Beach. Next is a major headland, followed by Burwood Beach, a small promontory known as Little Redhead Pt, Dudley Beach, then a lengthy strip of escarpment and finally Redhead Beach which becomes Nine Mile Beach on its sojourn to the Swansea area at the mouth of Lake Macquarie.
Looking westwards the view extends over Newcastle West, Hamilton, Broadmeadow, Waratah, Jesmond and on to the mountains. The north-eastern tip of Newcastle is obscured though it is possible to follow the south-westerly course of Throsby Creek and to discern the belching smokestacks of the Mayfield steelworks.
Hang-gliding is very common from the hilltops, particularly off Shepherds Hill.
Susan Gilmore Beach and Bar Beach
Memorial Drive follows the rim of Shepherds Hill south past another carpark and lookout area to Bar Beach, a popular and patrolled family beach behind which is Empire Park. From the northernmost end of Bar Beach there is access to tiny Susan Gilmore Beach, named after an American ship which was wrecked there. It is separated from Bar Beach by the protrusion of Shepherds Hill's southern end; a degree of isolation which makes it popular with those seeking a more complete tan.
Dixon Park Beach and Merewether
At the southern end of Bar Beach a small headland separates it from Dixon Park which abuts Dixon Park Beach - another patrolled family beach, the southern end of which is known as Merewether Beach. There is a fine and very large ocean pool at its far end, said to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The carpark above Merewether Beach offers good views northwards to Shepherds Hill.
In European terms Merewether was initially part of the Burwood Estate which belonged to James Mitchell who commenced coalmining here in the 1840s. He built a copper smelter and later added a rail link to the Newcastle wharves.
Merewether Heights and Hillcrest
From here the main road (Scenic Drive) climbs steeply to Merewether Heights. There are good views westwards over the sprawl of suburban Newcastle. Not far from the road, to the right, on a hillside surrounded by trees, is an historic and very attractive mansion known as Hillcrest (it is the only distinctive building to be seen and is a light mustard colour characterised by numerous gables).
It was built by Edward Merewether, after whom the area is named, in 1861. Merewether came to NSW in 1838 as aide-de-camp to Governor Gipps, became Mitchell's son-in-law and was superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company from 1861 to 1875.
Near the top of the hill take the sharp left into Hickson St for more fine views along the coastline. From here the land drops again down into Murdering Gully.
Yuelarbah and Burwood Beach
Scenic Rd soon rejoins the Pacific Highway. About 1.5 km south, turn left into Kahibah Rd then left again into Burwood Rd. As you drive south along Burwood Rd watch for the railway line across the road. Tiny Kahibah Station is to the right. Just past the line, to the left, is the Yuelarbah Picnic Area and walking track which leads through dense bushland along Flaggy Creek to Glenrock Lagoon and on to Burwood Beach (2.5 km). This is part of the aforementioned Great North Walk which leads on to Newcastle (8.9 km) and, in the other direction, for those who are feeling fit, to Sydney Cove (241 km).
Glenrock Recreation Area and Dudley Beach
Further south along Burwood Rd there is a good view to the left down to Dudley Beach and the tankers entering or leaving Newcastle Harbour. Just beyond this point there is a left turn into Dudley Beach Rd (the signpost says Glenrock Recreation Area) which leads down to a large carpark behind Dudley Beach, another fine stretch of coastline which feels quite remote and un-suburban. This is a very pleasant spot with wooded slopes rising to the west and high headlands demarcating either end of the beach. There are usually around two dozen tankers offshore.
Awabakal Nature Reserve
At the southern end of Dudley Beach is a stretch of rocky coastline which forms the eastern boundary of Awabakal (pronounced 'ar-wob-a-cawl') Nature Reserve, 200 ha of freshwater swamps and creeks, sheltered gullies, wet sclerophyll forest, wet and dry heath, rock platform and a variety of animal life, as well as Aboriginal middens and campsites. There are several lagoons and an old quarry site which can be reached by means of walking trails which also lead out to Dudley Bluff on the coastline.
These walking tracks depart from the end of Collier St, Redhead, and from the ends of both Boundary St and Ocean St, Dudley. However, they are not clearly signposted and hence it is advisable to ring the local ranger on (02) 4942 6311 in advance of any prospective visit in order to clarify matters.
Just south of Awabakal, at the end of Beach Rd, is Redhead Beach, a fine surfing beach that extends southwards as Nine Mile Beach to the Swansea area. There were once several farms within this intervening stetch of land. An orchard existed at Redhead in the 1860s but the area was later given over to mining. The pit was located adjacent Redhead beach with a jetty for shipment up to Newcastle harbour.
4. NATURAL ATTRACTIONS - NON-COASTAL
Nothing more could give the lie to the notion that Newcastle is an exclusively industrial area than Blackbutt Reserve, one of the highlights of any trip to Newcastle. This beautiful area (180 ha) of tall blackbutt forest, woodland and rainforest pockets contains a wealth of flora, birdlife and other animals well within the boundaries of suburban Newcastle, south-west of the city and due south of Lambton. The surrounding vegetation is quite dense and lush with a good canopy, perhaps a reminder of how the land here looked before white settlement. The strange sounds of the Australian bush are quite astonishingly loud and clear at dusk. What is more it is all free.
The main and by far the best recreation area is the elaborately developed Black Duck Picnic Area at the southern end of Carnley Ave (which constitutes the eastern boundary of the reserve), not far from its intersection with Charlestown Rd. There is a large carpark, a very large, open grassed area for play with childrens' recreational facilities, toilets and shelter sheds, a pioneer cottage which replicates the rough style of domestic housing utilised by early and mid-nineteenth century settlers, a large pond with a range of waterbirds, a very large enclosure full of kangaroos, emus, euros and peacocks and, finally, a fenced-off wildlife exhibit which is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily.
With regards to the latter a wooden pathway leads past a series of observation platforms which overlook enclosures within which are some beautiful and brilliantly coloured bird species including the appropriately-named black-winged stilt, the very peculiar rufous night heron, turquoise and king parrots, rosellas, coucals, curlews, the crested pigeon with its peculiar mating dance, the tiny and delicate peaceful dove and the lustrous tropical colours of the lorikeets. The walkway leads to a larger viewing area which encircles an enclosure full of koalas in tree forks. Beyond it is a rocky ledge occupied by wallabies and wallaroos.
Near the carpark is a large signpost which features a map of the whole reserve with its access points and its walking trails, their points of origin and termination and their lengths.
From the southern end of the Black Duck carpark is a signpost indicating the circular Main Ridge Walk (2.4 km), which also takes in the picnic area adjacent Lookout Rd, and the Rainforest Walk (2 km). Another trail behind the kangaroo enclosure heads off to the northern picnic areas. They can also be reached by driving north along Carnley Ave and turning left into Orchardtown Rd. The third left is Freyberg St, at the end of which lies Richley Reserve.
If you continue to the end of Orchardtown Rd then turn left into Queens Rd you will come to the Mahogany Picnic Area from whence there are more signposted walking tracks, although this area is more thinly vegetated, less interesting and not so well maintained. However, if you follow the road around the corner as it becomes Mahogany Drive then a driveway to the right leads to a very pleasant clearing with a readily identifiable walking path which starts you on the circular Tall Tree Ridge Walk (45 minutes) through very tall open forest and woodlands.
There is another well-signposted recreation area on the eastern side of Lookout Rd. This section has two levels. There is a picnic area just off Lookout Rd which is the starting point for the Lookout Walk (20 minutes), supposedly offering spectacular views, though sometimes the dense tree growth obscures the vista. A subsidiary road leads down to the Main Ridge Picnic Area from whence signposted walking trails head off into the very attractive and quite dense bushland, ranging in length from the very pleasant Senses Track (150 m) through the Rainforest Walk (1.5 km) to the Main Ridge Walk. For further information ring (02) 4952 1449.
Shortland Wetlands Centre
The Wetlands Centre is a 45-hectare area on the edge of Hexham Swamp which has been returned to its natural state after spells as a rubbish dump and a football club in the days when marshland was regarded as waste ground. There are walking trails, ranging from 300 m to 1.6 km, interpretation trails with help stations, a bicycle trail (3 km - also suitable for walking) which takes in an old Aboriginal stone manufactory site, a canoe trail along Ironbark Creek and its tributaries, bicycle and canoe hire (or bring your own), picnic and barbecue facilities, ands a visitors' centre where there is a theatrette, a classroom/laboratory (the centre caters for schools and research groups), a cafe and souvenirs for sale.
There are around 170 species of birds on the grounds, including about 30 which breed on-site. Some, such as the freckled duck and magpie geese are rare or endangered. Other species include black swans, ibis, superb blue wrens, nankeen night herons, brown honey sparrows, little grebes, yellow-faced honeyeaters, dusky moorhens, red-rumped parrots, willy wagtails, swamp hens and egrets. The latter nest in paperbark trees in summer and can be viewed from a special viewing tower (bring your binoculars). There are also reptiles, amphibians, mammals, insects, fish and other pond life.
To get there turn south off the highway at Sandgate along Wallsend Rd which becomes Sandgate Rd, then turn right at the roundabout. For furter information contact the Centre on (02) 4951 6466 or email@example.com. They are open seven days from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
Mt Sugarloaf Lookout
Main Rd, which heads west off Lookout Rd adjacent Blackbutt Reserve, becomes George Booth Drive near West Wallsend and continues on beyond Seahampton, at the outskirts of Newcastle, towards Kurri Kurri. Just beyond Seahampton is a signposted turnoff to the left into Mt Sugarloaf Rd which takes you to the top of Mt Sugarloaf itself where, at 412 m above sea-level, there are picnic and barbecue areas, several walking tracks (ranging from 275 m to 1.6 km) and some magnificent views of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Lower Hunter Valley. The two large steel structures at the top are TV transmitters.
The view from the top carpark is eastwards. In the foreground is West Wallsend with the industry about the Hunter estuary in the distance and, beyond that, the ocean. The large inland body of water to the south is Lake Macquarie with Cockle Creek wending westwards and, at dusk, the bright lights of Cardiff are plainly visible at the northern end of the lake.
The bitumen walkway which heads off from the carpark winds its way up and around the summit and leads to The Pinnacle from whence the views are outstanding. To the south-east it is possible to see a great deal of the Central Coast and its hinterland dominated by the lake system. On the western shore of Lake Macquarie are the stacks of Eraring Power Station. Rotating slowly to the right the eye meets the Watagan Mountains to the south-west, then the congregations of houses which constitute Cessnock to the west, Kurri Kurri to the north-west and Maitland to the north.
5. MAN-MADE ATTRACTIONS
Newcastle Regional Museum
Located at 787 Hunter St, Newcastle West, Newcastle Regional Museum is a large modern centre housed within an old brewery with a range of displays relating to the industrial and technological heritage of the city, including a major coalmining exhibition, items of social history and, perhaps its greatest attraction, the Supernova Science Centre - a very much child-oriented, hands-on, interactive science display on the top floor which includes Mininova for 3 to 8 year olds. It is open every day but Mondays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and entry is free, contact (02) 4974 1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a number of activities centres of different types in the larger Newcastle area. Go Karts Go is located at Energy Australia Stadium in Broadmeadow (tel: 02 4952 9129), Newcastle Supa Putt, at the corner of Turton Rd and Griffiths Rd, Broadmeadow (tel: 02 4952 1344), . To contact Newcastle Paintball ring 1800 633 317.
The major art gallery in Newcastle is Newcastle Region Art Gallery in Laman St. Newcastle's major gallery it houses over 3000 works, focusing principally on Australian art dating back to the colonial period, with works by Arthur Streeton, William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Brett Whiteley. There are also fine collections of Australian and Japanese 20th-century ceramics and Aboriginal bark paintings from Arnhem Land. The gallery is beautifully situated in leafy surroundings opposite Civic Park and is open every day but Monday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. , contact (02) 4974 5100 or email@example.com
The Von Bertouch Galleries are also on Laman St (no. 61) and they are open Friday to Monday and by appointment, contact (02) 4929 3584. Outback Art at 64 Industrial Drive, Mayfield, is housed in Simpson's Cottage built in 1852 by local stonemason William McNulty who built several churches in the area. They are open weekends or by appointment, contact (02) 4963 3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Others include the John Paynter Gallery at 90 Hunter St (tel: 02 4925 2265), Back to Back Galleries at 57 Bull St (tel: 02 4929 3677), Studio 48 Art Gallery in Mackie Ave, (tel: 02 4956 4515), the Watt Space Gallery at the corner of King and Auckland Sts, (tel: 02 4921 8733), the John Earle Studio at 126 Glebe Rd, Merewether (tel: 02 4965 3121), the Steep Stairs Art Gallery at 96 Glebe Rd, The Junction (tel: 02 4965 4494), and three in Cooks Hill: the Cooks Hill Gallery at 67 Bull St (tel: 4926 3899), the Gibson St Gallery at 15 Gibson St (tel: 02 4929 3070), and the Wide Horizons Gallery at 144 Darby St, tel: (02) 4929 6883.
Tours and Explorations
There are numerous tour operators who offer trips to various types of attractions in various different areas aboard various modes of transport. As previously mentioned the William IV, a replica steamer, departs from the Merewether St Wharf at 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. for a cruise around the harbour on the third Sunday of each month, contact (02) 4926 1200.
Newcastle's Famous Tram departs from Newcastle Railway Station on the hour between 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m., seven days a week for a 45-minute tour of the city, its major tourist attractions and its heritage sites, together with a running commentary. There is an additional 3.00 p.m. tour during school holidays but the service does not operate at all on public holidays, contact (02) 4963 7954.
Horizon Safaris conduct 4WD tours from Newcastle north through Stockton Beach up to Port Stephens or through the vineyards of Port Stephens and the Lower Hunter, as well as a tour through the heritage of Morpeth, contact (02) 4982 6328. Scenic Tours Australia are located at 50 Hunter St, Newcastle, contact (02) 4929 4333. Hunter Valley Day Tours offer a range of guided 4WD tours of the Hunter Valley complete with commentary. They pick up clients from anywhere. Bookings are necessary, contact (02) 4938 5031. Hunter and District Excursions are based in Mayfield (tel: 02 4967 5969 or email: Gmorganhades@aol.com) while Sand Safaris Active Adventure Tours explore areas such as Stockton Beach (tel: 02 4965 0215 or email@example.com).
Local history walks and talks are conducted by Carole Frazer, tel: (02) 4967 5969. Two books concerning local walking trails are Walks in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, and Coastal Walks from Newcastle to Sydney, both by Ken Scott.
Newcastle has numerous buildings and sites of historical value, some of them of considerable architectural quality and interest.
The former Customs House is a large and graceful building adorned by a prominent clock tower. One of Newcastle's most impressive architectural monuments, it was designed by colonial architect James Barnet and built in 1876-77 with the Watt St wing added 1898-1900. To the rear is the old railway pay office (1879).
This whole block of land was once occupied by a convict stockade, established in 1805 under the supervision of Charles Throsby. It functioned as the major work area for convicts, being principally a lumber yard. It was destroyed by fire in 1851 by which time it was in commercial use.
Opposite the Customs House is Newcastle Railway Station. Considered a major example of Victorian railway architecture it constitutes five buildings, symmetrically arranged and was built in 1878. The line to Sydney was not completed until 1889.
The fact that these civic buildings stand virtually adjacent to and overlook both city and harbour is entirely appropriate as it reflects the integration of what is very much a working harbour into the city's public life.
Hunter St (PWD Building, Police Station and Post Office)
Proceed up Watt St then turn right into Hunter St. The three buildings on the right-hand side of the road occupy an entire block and together they make a major contribution to the quality of the inner city streetscape. They also represent the work of three of NSW's four most significant government architects. To the immediate right, on the corner, is the old Public Works Department Building, originally a post office (1860) but redesigned by James Barnet in 1872 for the PWD with the upper floor added in 1877. A plaque on the building reminds us that several of Newcastle's major thoroughfares are named after noted engineers - George Stevenson, Thomas Telford, James Watt, Matthew Bolton, Thomas Newcomen, Arthur Wolfe and the Perkins family.
Next door is the police station, a two-storey sandstone building designed by Mortimer Lewis in 1859 and extended by James Barnet in 1890. It now houses the John Paynter Gallery and the lock up which features the original padded cell and exercise yard of the old lock-up.
On the corner of Hunter and Bolton Sts is the post office - a fine piece of Edwardian Classical architecture designed by W.L. Vernon and erected on the site of the old courthouse in 1903. With its ground-floor arcade, first-floor colonnade, parapet and cupolas it was apparently based on Palladio's Basilica at Vicenza. The Bolton St annex was formerly a Bond Store (1875-1903).
Further west along Hunter St is the mall which retains a large number of Victorian and Edwardian facades above ground-floor level.
Turn right down Bolton St then left into Scott St. Around the corner, at 127-131 Scott Street, is an excellent two-storey red-brick building with an elaborate facade designed by Frederick Menkens who moved from Germany, bringing with him the baroque style of his native land. This was his favourite building and he subsequently worked from a room on the second floor. Its highlights are the superb oriel windows on the first floor, the carved keystones to the ground floor windows, the door, and the overall ornamental detail culminating in a niche containing an anthropomorphised sculpture of 'Commerce'. It was built in 1892 for brewer and alcohol merchant Joseph Wood as offices and auction rooms, became the Longworth Institute (a library, art gallery and music recital centre) and is now the Air Force Club.
Retun up Bolton St, one of the first thoroughfares of the settlement, and proceed to the King St intersection. Across the road, on the south-western corner, are the old court chambers (1898) - a building which sports a considerable variety and degree of ornamentation about the gables, windows and doors and which bears a corner plaque with the bust of a judge, together with the name of the building and architect.
Behind the building at 51-55 Bolton St is Rose Cottage (1828), Newcastle's oldest surviving building. It was, apparently, once the home of 'Black' Harris, a man of dubious but well-established local renown.
At the corner of Bolton and Church St is the Grand Hotel (1891). On the opposite corner is Newcastle East Public School, Newcastle's first school which was established in 1816 by Commandant Thompson under a convict teacher. It is the oldest school still in existence in Australia and was moved to this site in the 1830s. It became a public school in 1883. The present building dates from 1908.
At the head of and overlooking Bolton St are the imposing archway and the pillars of justice (overseen by the lion and unicorn and a bust of Queen Victoria) of the courthouse (1890). It is a symmetrical design with a central block flanked by two wings and a pediment capped by a small tower.
Proceed westwards up Church St then turn left up Newcomen St. On the right-hand side is a very large grammar school (c.1860). Return to and cross over Church St, continuing northwards down Newcomen St. On the left, occupying the latter end of the street, is the Newcastle Club. The building which now constitutes the southernmost section of the club complex is Claremont (c.1840). One of Newcastle's oldest surviving buildings, it was built for the Australian Agricultural Company. The wall was erected by convicts.
Christ Church Anglican Cathedral
Return to Church St and turn right, continuing westwards. The building which gives its name to the street is Christ Church Anglican Cathedral which replaced an earlier Anglican church dating from 1817. This gigantic building is one of Newcastle's most impressive. However, its construction has been lengthy and piecemeal. Originally designed by J. Horbury Hunt in 1869, work did not commence until 1883 as a result of financial difficulties and arguments about design. Even then Canon Selwyn's interference and determination to wrest control from Hunt slowed construction which ceased again in 1885 and did not recommence until 1891. Although the building was dedicated in 1902 the chancel remained incomplete until 1912. The nave was finished in 1928, the tower in 1979 and the central spire still awaits construction.
There is a separate timber bellcote on the grounds, 72 stained-glass windows, a wealth of religious adornment within (mostly donated) and fine views from the grounds. It is, of course, advisable to inspect the interior where you will find a self-tour pamphlet. Guided tours can also be arranged by prior arrangement.
Over the road is Cathedral Hall (1883), also designed by Hunt, which served the congregation while the cathedral was being built.
Proceed westwards over Wolfe St. To the right are a series of Victorian terraces from the 1890s. Duck up Perkins St. On the right is St Mary's Star of the Sea Catholic Church (1866). Just past it is the presbytery, originally the residence of the man who kept the light towers ablaze (see entry on Tyrrell St).
On the north-eastern corner of Church and Brown Sts is Minumbah (1890), a substantial Victorian residence thought to have been built by Newcastle's first lord mayor as a wedding present for his daughter. Just beyond this point, to the right, is the site of the Australian Agricultural Company's 'A' Pit - the first they established in Newcastle and, in fact, the first privately owned colliery in Australia. The private railway line they built to carry the material to the harbour was the first railway in Australia.
As you approach McCormack St, to the left, are two fine 19th-century mansions at 49 and 51 Church St. Marlborough House is a very fine, two-storey red brick house with arched windows and doors, while Woodlands is a rather beautiful mansion built in 1878 for Joseph Wood of Castlemaine and Wood Brewery with quoins, columns and cast-iron lacework, set in an attractive garden with stone fencing.
Laman St (The Regional Art Gallery, Baptist Tabernacle and St Andrews)
Turn left into McCormack St and, at its end, take the right into Tyrrell St. Near the bottom, to the right, is a synagogue dating from 1927. Cross Darby St and enter shady Laman St. To the right is beautiful Civic Park and to the left is the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery.
By the corner of Laman and Dawson St is the Baptist Tabernacle Church (1889) with elaborate pillars and arched entranceway and, just beyond it, to the right, is St Andrews Presbyterian Church (1880s), an impressive building designed by Menkens with a very vertical aspect and tall spire.
Further down Laman St (at no.61) are Von Bertouch Galleries in a lovely old building (c.1870).
Turn right down Auckland St then right into King St. The city hall, to the left, is a large and impressive civic building with a tall clock tower which was opened in 1929. Just beyond it is the unusual circular design of the City Council Administration Building.
Cross over King St and enjoy a walk beneath the enormous shady trees of Civic Park. There are two war memorials and the unconventional sculpture of Captain Cook Memorial Fountain. This is also a very pleasant spot for a night visit when the bats are plainly audible and, in springtime, the ripe fruit falls from the trees like raindrops, forming a thick slippery surface beneath the feet and filling the air with the heavy odour of mouldering matter.
Tyrrell St (School, Tower and Reservoir)
The steps by the fountain lead you back to Laman St. Cross Darby St and head east back up shady Tyrrell St. As you climb the hill the well-established trees which line the street almost form a covering canopy. There are some attractive houses and the scent of the gardens is heavenly in spring.
At the top of the hill is the intersection with Brown St. To the right is a public school which dates from 1878 and which became Newcastle's first high school in 1911. It was on this site that the aforementioned Newcastle East Public School was established in 1816.
On the other side of the road is a large stone tower, one of two built in 1865. Fires lit in their crenellated peaks served as navigational markers to orientate ships entering the harbour. The views down the hill over the harbour and the Hunter River are excellent.
Behind the high brick wall diagonally opposite the light tower is Newcastle's first water reservoir (still in use), dating from 1881 and storing water pumped from Walka pumping station near Maitland.
On the right-hand side of Tyrrell St, just before and after you cross Wolfe St, is an attractive series of Victorian terrace houses dating from 1870-1890. Note also the beautiful houses across the road at 22-26 Tyrrell St, opposite the bottom of Barker St.
Turn up Barker St. To the right, at number four, is another exceptional, enormous and extravagant building named 'Shalamah' with a fine timber verandah and stained-glass windows. Being situated on increasingly elevated ground with fine views the quality of housing here suggests that it is an up-market section of town.
At the end of Barker St is Ordnance St. To the right, appropriately crowning the hilltop, is an extraordinary and enormous mansion named Jesmond House. Built in 1870 it was apparently considered Newcastle's most fashionable house at one time and it is not hard to see why. Highlights are the elaborate staircase leading to the second-storey verandah with its beautiful central pillar, ornamental cast-iron fencing and ornate columns. On the other side of Barker St (no.11) is Bryn-Y-Mor Lodge (c.1880) built as stables for Jesmond House. Nearby is The Obelisk and King Edward Park.
Turn left into Ordnance St and cross over Newcomen St. Look down over the brick fence to the left into the grounds of the James Fletcher Psychiatric Hospital. This was the site of a military barracks built in 1841.
Just below the fence, at the street corner, is the original residence of the barracks' military commandant (1841). Look northwards along the Newcomen St fenceline. About halfway along is the main barracks building (also 1841).
At the end of Ordnance St turn left down Watt St. On the left you will soon come to the hospital's main entry point. Newcastle's first underground coal shaft was sunk 18 metres inside this driveway in 1814.
Just past the driveway, to the left, is Fletcher House, a large brick building which was erected in 1841 as the gatehouse to the military barracks.
Over the road is Fletcher Park, named after James Fletcher whose likeness appears on the statue which is the reserve's centrepiece. Fletcher (1834-1891) was chairman of the first district miner's union in 1861, a founder of the Newcastle Morning Herald in 1876 and a Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1880-91, during which time he served both as minister of mines and of public works. He was known as a friend to the miners and was held in sufficient esteem to occasion the erection of the park's statue in 1897 by public subscription.
Watt St and the earliest days of the penal settlement
Watt St was effectively Newcastle's first street. It started its life as a track down which convicts pushed barrows of coal to the original wharf near the site of the present Customs House. Initially known as High St the name was changed in 1823.
The next crossroad is Church St. On the corner, approximately on the site of the present police station, Government House, the residence of the penal settlement's commandant, was built in 1804, though it was destroyed by fire in 1823.
Opposite, on the north-western corner is Buchanans Terrace (c.1890). Sessions House stood here from 1822 until that time. It was originally Newcastle's first courthouse, then served as the first post office (1828), a temporary customs house (1839) and a presbyterian manse (1859).
A little further down the street, to the left, where St Philip's Presbyterian Church now stands, a military barrack was erected in 1816. In a game of musical churches, the original St Andrew's Presbyterian Church was built here in 1850 but rebuilt in Laman St in 1890 while the present St Philip's was built at 178 Hunter St in 1863 but moved here in 1905.
Over the road, where there is now a carpark, the subaltern's barracks were erected for junior military officers in 1818. Continue north down Watt St to the King St intersection. The north-western corner is the approximate site of the penal settlement's commissariat store which stood here from 1812 to1849. On the right-hand side of the road, just before the corner of Watt and Hunter Sts, where the walk started, is the former site of a large building erected to house convicts in 1820.
7.HERITAGE BUILDINGS - FURTHER AFIELD
Hunter St Technical College and Trades Hall Group
This fine complex stands out from the mundanity that prevails at the western end of Hunter St. It is located at 606-608 Hunter St, just past the Union St intersection and to the right if you are heading west. Built in 1894-95 of terracotta and polychrome brick it is a flamboyant design with a highly decorative facade of yellow bricks and carved grey stonework.
Cooks Hill is named after Samuel and Elizabeth Cook who took up residence in this area in 1869. There are too many heritage buildings to be thorough but hopefully the following are the most interesting.
St John's Anglican Church, at the corner of Parry and Dawson Sts, is Newcastle's oldest surviving church, designed by Edmund Blacket in the Early English style he favoured and built in 1856-59 with the church hall erected in 1860.
Head west along Parry St for two blocks and turn left. The thoroughly unimpressive and very small section of park in the middle of Corlette St is of interest purely for the fact that it was the site of Newcastle's first cricket pitch (c.1860).
Return to Parry St and continue west for one block, turning right into Union St. At 163 Union St is Leslieville, a fine house with a lovely garden built by William Arnott of Arnott's biscuit fame (c.1880).
The terrace groups from 39-45 Union St (c.1880) and Strathearn (1889), around the corner in Bull St, are also of notable quality. At the corner of Bull St and Corlette St is a corner shop, the birthplace of famous Australian painter William Dobell (now thoroughly altered). At 25 Olsen St is the birthplace of painter John Olsen whose Five Bells can be found in the opera house. He also has a mural in the Newcastle City Hall.
At the corner of King St and Stewart Ave (the Pacific Highway) there is an enormous and impressive looking head frame (1928) from Burwood Colliery with a huge coal scoop (approximately 6 m x 5.5 m x 5m) of unexplained origin and function. A fine and large brick building over the road at the Technical College dates from c.1888 when it was part of the Castlemaine Brewery which drew its water from an abandoned mineshaft at the Hamilton sandbeds.
In Dennison St is St Peter's Anglican Church, designed by J. Horbury Hunt and completed in 1885.
Just south of the Pacific Highway as it heads west out of Newcastle (via Maud St) is Waratah. This area initially passed into European hands in 1823 when it was issued as part of a land grant to John Laurio Platt. He later sold this property to the Australian Agricultural Company which established coal mines. A settlement of miners and brickmakers developed in the early 1850s, originally known as Hanbury Village. The present name comes from Waratah House, built by Charles Simpson, who bought some land here in 1848. He rowed to work at the Newcastle Customs House. It is today an industrial and dormitory suburb.
At the corner of Lorna and Bridge Sts is the former Catholic Deaf Centre (1886-88), now the St Catherine of Sienna Nursing Home. The Bridge St side of this enormous building is in fact the rear and is unremarkable. Its elaborate facade with decorative work along the gables is best viewed from inside the driveway which runs off Lorna St. Both buildings were designed by Menkens. The Catholic Church (cnr of Bridge and Platt Sts) appears to be by the same architect.
At the corner of Georgetown Rd and Harriet St in Waratah you will find yourself at the top of a hill. Head downhill along Georgetown Rd and, to your right, between Harriet St and Tighe St, are the former Hanbury Public School (1864), the former courthouse and, at 96 Georgetown Rd, opposite Tighe St, the former police wireless station. The latter two date from the 1870s and were designed by James Barnet.
Bethel Chapel, Lambton
Immediately south of Waratah is Lambton, another former mining village with a number of old miners' cottages along its back streets. Bethel chapel attests to the fact that many of them were once occupied by Welsh miners. They built the chapel in 1868 of locally quarried sandstone and, for many years, services were conducted in the Welsh language. Later a congregational church, it is located at 43a Dickson St, between Grainger and Morehead Sts.
Stockton and Mayfield
It isn't a bad idea to take a drive over to Stockton, not necessarily for its heritage values but for a closer look at the industrial aspects of Newcastle.
The Pacific Highway passes through Mayfield north-west of the city centre. It was once a wheat and wine grape area and a popular spot for urbanites seeking a bush picnic. Some substantial homes were built late in the 19th century as the area became a residential site for those who came into wealth in the boom years of the 1870s and 1880s. However, when BHP established its Port Waratah Works in the 1910s, the character of the area changed as the local economy was reoriented to heavy industry.
Turn right off the highway into Vine St, follow it to its end, turn left into Industrial Drive then right into Tourle St which will take you by the Newcastle steelworks and over the South Channel of the Hunter River on to Kooragang Island, reclaimed in recent years for industrial usage and the construction of the Kooragang coal loader.
What is most striking is the sheer vastness and enormity of everything - massive buildings, massive ships, massive mounds of coal, massive silos, massive cranes and a gigantic windmill looking like an enormous aeroplane propellor. Industry as far as the eye can see, dirty and dreary but quite awesome nonetheless.
This road takes you across Stockton Bridge, after which you take the right turn into Fullerton St and follow it south alongside the Stockton Channel of the Hunter River which is to the right. On the other side of the channel is the eastern rim of Carrington.
Stockton was originally known as Pirate's Point. Aborigines, who had camped here for hundreds of years, had left middens which were the only source of lime in the early days of the penal settlement. Salt was attained through the evaporation of highly saline water attained from the masses of mangroves which lie off Stockton's shores.
A village of weavers and spinners grew up around a large tweed factory established in the early 1840s off present-day Punt Rd, near Griffith Park. When the factory burned down in 1851 the economic focus shifted to timbergetting, shipbuilding and maritime services. The Stockton Coal Company estbalished a mine in 1886 but it was troubled by waterlogging. The mine had closed by the turn of the century but by that time Stockton had become a residential area supported by new industrial developments.
At the southern tip of Stockton is Griffith Park, not the most cultivated of parks but there are good views across to Newcastle. From left to right the landmarks are Nobbys Head and Lighthouse, Fort Scratchley, the tug wharf, the foreshore, Customs House and the railway station, Queens Wharf and, behind it, Christ Church Cathedral. From here the hilly nature of the terrain on which Newcastle stands is most apparent. The ferry service also operates from here across to Queens Wharf.
It is a pleasant walk around to the northern breakwater where you can see the remains of the Adolphe, a French barque wrecked in 1904. The wreck of the Sygna (1974) is plainly visible further north along Stockton Beach.