This post follows on from this one.
This was my twelfth visit to Newcastle. (And I have subsequently made a thirteenth.) I have visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Pisa, Venice, Verona, Florence, Dublin, and Frankfurt only once each but because I was in the holiday frame of mind every time, I explored these cities properly, visiting their historic and cultural hot spots rather than consuming sale items and soft serves at the nearest Westfield. For example, looking back at my photos, I have 8 photos of Verona (and I was much more controlled in my photo taking back in 2006. It was pre-instagram so I didn’t even have a photo of my lunch!) and I spent 2 hours there. That’s 1 photo every 15 minutes; some proper touristing.
Where my wandering statistics are trying to lead are to the realisation that Newcastle was a city with a story which I had ignored for long enough. It was time to finally explore the city with eyes anew!
I started the day, as I usually do in Newcastle, being so indecisive about breakfast, that I have a toast medley of ever increasing decadence – vegemite, peanut butter, marmalade and nutella.
I had found a self-guided tour online and convinced my uncle to tag along. Due to parking convenience, we started our tour off the recommended path, at the Nobby’s Beach Surf Pavilion, where I took the quintessential photo of the lighthouse under the arch, at my uncle’s recommendation and a few more for good measure.
Now that I reflect back upon this walk, it seems that we were very liberal with the “self-guided” part of our walk. Our second location, Fort Scratchly was also not listed on the walk but it was only a short walk up a hill from Nobby’s Beach so it seemed worth it. Especially since the view while walking up the incline was nothing to complain about and actually allowed us to tick off one of the future stops, Stop 7, the estuarine foreshore, the custodians of which are the Awabakal people.
(Apparently, the apartments in the second photo of the last group of three are actually council housing. Uncle Jim explain that they are a source of much controversy due to their stunning harbour and sea views.)
Fort Scratchely (the fort formerly known as Braithwaite’s Head) was the site of Australia’s first coal mine, manned by convicts from 1801. From 1828, the site’s purpose was changed from mining to military, transitioning through a couple of names, Fort Battlesticks, Flagstaff Hill and Signal Hill, before becoming the Fort Scratchley of today (or to be more correct, the Fort Scratchely of yesterday, considering that it no longer an official military base).
One of the side effects of having a position that provides excellent vision of approaching war ships is that when the war ships aren’t a threat anymore, you end up with excellent views of the surrounds.
Try as we might, without looking too suspicious in a residential street, we were unable to locate the official Newcastle Heritage sign for our first official stop on our walk, Parnell Place. With the absence of the sign and its information, I am unsure of the exact historical significance of Parnell Place, but the houses were very advanced in age, in some sort of “Tudor Revival” style, and if that’s not enough to get you a heritage listing, I don’t know what is!
The was a memorial to coal, presumably with a block of coal atop it, with some very intricate copper friezes depicting scenes from the “life” of coal in the Hunter.
I was getting a bit disgruntled by the time I found the sign for Stop 10 – it was quite warm in the sunshine and I had made the mistakes of wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and a felt hat, and, uncharacteristically, going outside during the day. Newcastle Heritage and I differ in our interpretations of what is a site of interest and what is not. Stop 10 was the site of the former gaol, but there was nothing left of it and pine trees had grown over the area. However, I was willing to forgive Newcastle Heritage because at least reading the sign was quite informative. It mentioned both mining and trams (two things high on the list of “Infrastructure That I Like”) and they spelt “gaol” correctly, appealing to my inner Grammarian.
We walked in the direction of the ocean, as guided by the map and arrived at Stop 11, the Newcastle Ocean Baths, an Edwardian era project which was completed with a fantastic Art Deco facade in the 30s.
The last time I was here, it was much gloomier. As much as I romanticise stormy weather, it was nice to see the gorgeous art deco colours to full advantage in the sunlight.
While I was polite enough not to take photos of ocean bathers in the official area of the baths, I couldn’t resist photographing these seagulls during their ocean bathing. This location reminded me of Mrs Bennet’s praise of the salt water swim. “A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever,” she proclaims in Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 41!
Further around the headland, we found Stop 12, Newcastle Beach. and a few more avian friends enjoying the sunshine and sea air.
Just as I had re-gained my faith in the quality and actual existence of stops on the Historic Walk, I was confronted with Stop 13, Former Shortland Park. This location was once described as having “resplendent gardens” but was now a patch of sandy grass punctuated by a concrete tunnel.
Due to our unwittingly jumping the gun and seeing Stop 17 before Stop 16, we took the opportunity to walk down Bolton Street on our way from Fletcher Park to Stop 18 and passed the old court house and some more terrace houses. One of the houses was of particular significance to my uncle, because it was formerly the residence of some of his relatives. We checked the nameplate, and unfortunately, none of their descendants remain in the building.
And then we came to the last stop on the walk (if we had started from the beginning), Stop 18, the Newcastle Railway Station!
I’m not really that in tune with the supernatural world. I’ve never seen a ghost or at least I’ve never had a ghost be able to distract me enough from the things I’ve got going on in my own bubble to make its presence obvious to me. That said, I certainly felt a sense of unease approaching the padded cell in The Lock-up so much so that I couldn’t make myself go in. It was pretty creepy. The photo doesn’t really do it justice. It was actually much darker than that but my lovely camera knew to expose it a little longer to get a decent photo.
Aunty Wilma was keen for lunch so we headed towards Stop 3, Customs House, which, like all Customs Houses I’ve ever encountered had been converted to a charming restaurant, although the service was a little slow at the start of our experience.
After lunch, on our way back to the car, we walked past Stop 5, the former rail marshalling yards which has some interesting sculptures and is overlooked by some lovely historic homes.
I returned to the car with a full belly, brain and camera. Although I do like a good grumble about things like passing former historic site off as actual historic sites, inconvenient waitresses and the oppressive heat for which I was unprepared, I did have a lovely day out attempting to follow the Newcastle East Historic Walk. I’ve made a graphic showing exactly where I went compared with where I was supposed to go.
In the evening, my cousins, cousins-in-law and second cousins came over for dinner. We celebrated my Aunt’s gallery opening by cracking open the bottles of pink champagne that my parents had sent.
Pikachu also had a sneaky celebratory vino and canapé… Cheers!
The next day, being touristed out from my walk, Kel, my cousin’s wife, and I spent the morning being decadently suburban by having a coffee and a pedicure at the Maitland shopping centre. Both of us lacked the foresight to actually wear thongs but we were taken care of with some pink disposable monstrosities.
We had a delicious lunch at my cousins’ place, rounded off with a cup of Stockholm Black, which Aunty Wilma had given me as a thank you for speaking at her gallery opening.
What a lovely (and thematically appropriate) ending to my Newcastle leave of distinction!