Exploring New South Wales: Newcastle

Ocean Baths, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Ocean Baths, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Newcastle, New South Wales is a Geordie home-from-home.

The deep-water estuary of the Hunter River was recognised as a source of coal as soon as it was first explored, in 1797.  After it ceased to be a penal settlement in 1822-3, it was colonised primarily by miners from Northumberland and Durham:  it’s slightly unnerving to anyone who knows the north-east England to find that the Australian city has satellites with names such as Gateshead, Hexham, Jesmond, Morpeth, Pelaw, Stockton and Wallsend.

Already exporting the greatest volume of coal of any harbour in the world, Newcastle expected to increase its annual tonnage from 97Mt in 2009-10 to 180Mt by 2013.

Yet the seashore has beaches as fine as any in Great Britain.  Indeed, it’s probably the only place in the world where miners can go surfing at the weekend, if not immediately after work.

As an alternative to surfing, the seashore offers the open-air Ocean Baths (1922) [http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/recreation/beaches_and_pools/ocean_baths] and the Merewether Baths (1935) [http://envisagedcity.com/2012/02/04], where you can swim in a pool with a sea-view to the horizon.

Like its English counterpart, the Australian Newcastle suffered an economic downturn as the traditional manufacturing industries, particularly steel, went into decline at the end of the last century, but in the past decade the Australian port has been boosted by increases in the prices of coal and iron and easy access to Asian markets.

Newcastle has some of Australia’s finest surviving theatre-buildings, the disused Victoria Theatre (1891) [http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;search=place_name%3Dvictoria%2520theatre%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=100971], the Regent Cinema, Islington (1928) [http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2012/05/07/3497267.htm], presently a hardware store, and the still-functioning Civic Theatre (1929) [http://www.civictheatrenewcastle.com.au/index.php?pg_id=26].  Newcastle’s historic theatres and cinemas are listed at http://www.urbaninsider.com.au/uimap/newcastles-hidden-theatres.

Though Newcastle lost some historic buildings in the 1989 earthquake, its most prominent landmark, the Cathedral Church of Christ the King survived.  The Cathedral is such a magnificent building it deserves an article all to itself.

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