Newcastle – some love it, some love to hate it. I, for one, am a lover not a hater. For my Travel Writing subject last year I had to write a piece on the city that I lived in (at the time), and try to capture some of the energy and stories of that place. It’s not a brilliant piece of writing by any means, but it does make me nostalgic for the town that was, until very recently, my home for 16 months.
N.B. the photo header for this blog is also of Newcastle. It was taken last year at Nobby’s Beach.
Newcastle by summers day is typically bathed in sunshine, fresh sea breezes cooling the lazy trickle of bare footed locals and visitors heading to and from any one of the local beaches. Situated on the East Coast of Australia, it has the rare luxury of being a regional town that also offers all the benefits and amenities of a big city. Historic Hunter Street stretches over 3 kilometres from the West, extending almost to the sea at the East end of the city. The Cultural Centre, now home to a museum and writer’s centre, once upon a time was the local Police Station, hosting the city’s worst sinners in tiny cells still intact and complete with scratches on the cold stone walls. The streets off Hunter Street are also home to a number of hostels, but the scantily clad backpackers from all over the world spend little time in them, instead treasuring their close proximity to several breathtaking beaches. Men and women of all ages run eagerly with surfboards under their arms, passing businesswomen and men on their way to work, yearning to catch the first waves of the day.
Near the East end of Hunter Street is Nobby’s Beach, where begins the Newcastle Breakwall that extends right out to sea. Walking along the historic structure tourists can be seen admiring the glistening water, the horizon lined with distant red coal ships waiting to come in to the harbour. Locals jog past, savouring a spectacular view for their daily exercise. Cyclists ring their bells to alert their approach to a family taking a stroll. A group of young friends point to the distance, unsure if they’ve spotted a simple break in the water, or a commonly sighted whale or pod of dolphins. A couple wander serenely, their German Shepherd beside them happily puffed and extraordinarily drenched from spending the last hour at the neighbouring dog beach; a playground where humans happily observe the joy of their canine companions pursuing dogs three times their size up and down the beach, snapping at the waves and chasing tattered tennis balls. All of them are at risk of taking off with the enthusiastic wag of their tails.
As the sun sets and the night becomes cooler the streets become bare. The markets in Hunter Street are packed up, with little left but the aroma of wood fired pizzas, fresh flowers and the sparkle of a sequin on the pavement to verify their earlier presence. The backpackers retreat to their hostels, and cafes and restaurants light candles to welcome hungry diners. Scents of Balinese cuisine, international flavours, and fresh seafood make mouths water, and sun kissed faces enjoy drinks looking onto the moon glistened waves of the sea they earlier bathed in. Hunter Street Mall becomes strangely silent, waiting for the late night crowds to pass through on their way home from one of the local pubs, their singing and merriment occasionally disturbing sleeping residents nearby. Eventually darkness envelops the streets and silence prevails once more. The wind carries only a distant sound of the roaring waves. A tiny speck on the horizon earlier in the day, the titanic presence of a coal ship now slips silently into the harbour, the disguise of night finally failing as its soundlessness is betrayed by the tremendous blare of its horn.