Last week as the panic and despair unfolded over the twin decisions of GPT and DJs to leave town, my mind drifted back to July 2007 when the Pasha Bulker left town.
Many CBD retailers and shop owners were sad to see it go, because their sales had doubled while it was here.
At long last Newcastle had an ‘attraction’ that everyone was clamouring to see, and on the way, bought something at their shops.
As the Pasha Bulker floated back out to sea, Newcastle sank back into its usual divisions and arguments.
In ancient times such a dramatic event would have been seen as an omen. Poseidon, god of the sea, threw that ship out of the ocean and smack dab in the middle of Nobbys. His message to us may have been something like ‘Build it and they will come’.
We need to create a beautiful and awe inspiring attraction. Yes, it could be an even bigger shopping centre, but that’s only as good as the next bigger one. But Newcastle has something more to offer, its history, its culture, its natural beauty. All lie at the heart of the Australian nation. Why not glorify that?
Back in 2008 Council unanimously adopted Boyce Pizzey’s Coal River Precinct Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan. This would have created a magnificent visual attraction at the top of town. Imagine the Fort Scratchley search light with 4 other light cannons criss-crossing the evening sky, each beam representing one of the five foundation stories of Newcastle, along with a sound garden. Nothing ever came of it. Why?
In 2009 a young final year Master of Architecture student Andrew Cavill designed a magnificent discovery centre, a ‘Newcastle Opera House’ style building called ‘The Midden’ adjacent to Nobbys Beach.
The University even commissioned a new symphonic and choral work for Newcastle by Colin Spiers called ‘A Slender Strand of Memories’.
This year has seen our member for Newcastle buy back the former Newcastle Post Office and place Nobbys and the Carrington Pump House into public ownership and management as well as undertake the formal heritage listing of the James Fletcher Hospital site.
Imagine a symphonic work performed outside the Carrington Pump House, at dusk, lit up like a Roman temple, with concert goers sailing across the harbour from the Maritime Centre, to witness the performance under the stars in candle lit gondolas.
Imagine the ground floor of the Newcastle Post Office with a permanent display of Newcastle’s historic records that verify the great accomplishments and our global relations across time. Imagine those beautiful series of Panoramas from 1812 to the present spanning the walls of our city.
We are nothing without our history, and our records, lay testament to who we are as a people. All these things could become real if we wish them to be. Dreams are always dashed when someone say’s ‘its too expensive’ and the result invariably is we don’t do anything exciting.
The dreams and aspirations of our creative people are the missing pieces of the ‘magnet’ that will attract the visitors, and they deserve all the investment and respect they require.
Egypt has its pyramids, and we have a rich and older Aboriginal culture and unique colonial heritage that is world class if we wish to acknowledge and look after it. I’m sure the Egyptian government doesn’t have to worry about revitalising their Cairo CBD, and neither would we have to worry about our CBD if we choose to promote our unique history on the world stage. Of course we can’t do that if we are clamouring to bury or eliminate it because it’s in the road of ‘progress’ and ‘revitalisation’.
Too often the protection of our heritage is pinned against business will in a fight to the death to build something new and shiny. The new and shiny wins most of the time. I see a multitude of new shiny apartment buildings boxing the Newcastle skyline. Have they revitalised the CBD? Perhaps we need to think outside these boxes?
When people speak of the urban renewal, let’s talk about a Novocastrian Renaissance instead. And rest assured that the more we look back, the more inspired our future becomes. Our business is a product of such aspirations and so I solemnly ask we come together for Newcastle. As the poet Vergil declares in his crowning work the Aeneid, let’s do it for the ‘Fame and Fortune of Our Descendants’ .
Gionni Di Gravio