My home town is known for several things:
* It is the traditional tribal lands of the Awabakal and Worimi aboriginal peoples.
* The Pasha Bulker washed up on the shores of Nobby’s beach during the 2007 torrential downpours.
* It is the gateway to the Hunter Valley where you can get yourself some of the best bottles of Shiraz on the planet.
* It has the largest coal export harbour in the world.
* Was made famous in The Newcastle Song by comedian Bob Hudson.
Newcastle is a beautiful geographic city, lying with the Pacific Ocean on one side with lofty cliffs and stunning beaches, and the Hunter River and harbour running right along side Hunter Street. My little suburb of Swansea is about twenty-five minutes south of Newcastle city. We would boast that we were “going to town”, because a journey into Newcastle was a big thing. Newcastle was a buzz with department stores, cinemas, restaurants, fashion shops. If you were “going to town”, you were going places. Hunter Street was the avenue where it all happened, and people would drive along this strip just to see and be seen.
Then at 10.27am on 28th December 1989, people had just started their day when the a 5.7 MMS sized earthquake shook the city and surrounding areas, dispelling the myth that “we don’t have earthquakes in Australia”. 13 people were killed and over 160 were injured. The city itself was shut down and was patrolled by the army to stop site-seers trampling through what was a potentially dangerous environment. The financial centre of Newcastle moved to the outlying suburbs of Charlestown and Kotara.
The city reopened but never really recovered. One by one the businesses started to close. Gone were the fashionable shops that moved into larger shopping malls. The Royal, Kensington, Lyrique Cinemas closed. With the amount of reconstruction required, by the time it was finished, the people who had moved out were now settled in new locations. People were never attracted back into the heart of the city.
I do get a little intolerant of outsiders who criticise the place. Not because what they are saying does not have any merit, but because I knew a time when such things seemed impossible.
Recently I caught the train right into the centre of the city, and walked down Hunter Street to see vacant and derelict shops, one after the other. A town of old buildings that seem to sag under the weight of emptiness. The garish architecture of newer buildings clash along this once thriving sidewalk. The financial centre has stayed outside of the city limits, so there is no major injection of fund into the heart of the city anymore.
I left this place in 1994, moving to Sydney with the youthful vow to never return to live there permanently again. As I looked at the barren image of this town, I realised just how true that statement was for me now, although the rebellious nature with which it was said has now gone.
I do miss the fact that I can no longer “go to town” and remember this place as it once was.