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Articles Blog

Newcastle, Australia

Karyn Planett

Like Carrying Coals to Newcastle? Not Likely.

Well, for those familiar with the saying, “it’s like carrying coals to Newcastle” you understand it means doing something absolutely pointless or completely superfluous. It’s because there’s already lots of whateveritisyou’retalkingabout there. It’s like saying, “do you want some more useless stuff for your room Tommy?”. You see, England’s Newcastle-upon-Tyne needed no coal in the Middle Ages because it was a successful coal mining center already. Get it?

The Newcastle you’ll soon visit was named for its English counterpart because it, too, has known success associated with coal mining. In fact, it’s claimed that even today Australia’s Newcastle is the world’s largest coal exporting port. So you won’t likely be carrying coals to this Newcastle, now will you?

Mark Twain Was Here

In 1895, he was. The American author and humorist described Newcastle as “a very long street with, at one end, a cemetery with no bodies in it and, at the other, a gentlemen’s club with no gentlemen in it.” Today he’d be dead wrong on both accounts, oddly enough. There are the most congenial gentlemen and ladies whose true mission is to welcome you to their thriving community, New South Wales’ second largest. They’ll tell tales about its early days as a penal colony, dating back to 1804 when convicts were punished by doing hard labor in the mines. They’ll speak of the industrial boom time when miners were digging for coal as fast as the dockworkers could ship it out. And when the steel mills glowed red hot even through the long, balmy Australian nights. Then, how the local Novacastrians were hard working, salt-of-the-earth blue-collar folks carving out a life. And, they’ll boast about the city’s gentrification standing tall in the shadow of Sydney’s limelight, a mere 100 miles away. These folks, some of the 250,000 residents, will be waving from their terraces as you sail up the mouth of the Hunter River.

Looking Back At Hard Times

You can do so with little trouble. This was a penal colony and few came here in the early days for shopping and a barbie in the park. No. They came to do time or oversee those who were.

Maitland Prison, a museum today, housed some of the nation’s hardest criminals for 150 years. It’s considered the country’s longest operating prison. Hear tales from ex-warders and ex-inmates who served in Maitland. The first group went home at the end of their shifts; the latter to maximum security lockdown. You won’t have time but, if you did, you and your pals could book a night in lockdown for the true prison experience. What a hoot!

Even prisoners needed a bit of fresh air now and again. That’s where the Former Convict Lumber Yard comes into play. Now a park, it features representations of what a day in the woods was for these less-than-friendly fellows. You’ll need a bit of imagination as some of the early buildings have not withstood the test of time.

But Others Have

Those in Morpeth, for example. During the 1830s and 1840s, this town served as the Hunter Valley’s main port. Lieutenant E.C. Close is noted as the visionary who, from 1831 to 1841, developed 2500 acres into a river port. Many of the historical buildings are listed on the Register of the National Estate including Closebourne House, the public library, railway station and police station. The town, a popular get-away destination today, was named for Morpeth Northumberland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s neighbor back in England.  

Another resort town in the area is called The Entrance, curiously. And speaking of curious, one of the highlights is the daily pelican feeding. Other sites include the Boardwalk, the War Library Museum, and lots of recreational opportunities. The area has a fascinating history, with enough stories for a Hollywood blockbuster – shipwrecked fishermen taken in by Aborigines; a white woman living with the indigenous people; Chinese fishermen at Toowoon Bay and a rail line to Newcastle from Sydney that opened the floodgates of tourism.

And, for those who are more interested in nature, there’s the Blackbutt Reserve or the Australian Reptile Park. In addition to adorable fuzzy stars like koalas and kangaroos there’s the oddball platypus and the gnarly dingo. The highlight for some is the park’s ever-popular venom-milking program that’s credited with saving some 300 lives annually.

Well, all this sightseeing need not weary you. Step into a tearoom for a spot of tea, nibbly bits and bikkies or into a wine bar to sample some of Hunter Valley’s finest wines from its 110 wineries including the award-winning Roche Tallawanta Shiraz or their fine Premium Reserve Shiraz. Toast to your adventures ashore in Newcastle as you sail out, back past those who so eagerly welcomed you earlier in the day. Remember to wave.