Newcastle’s 7000 Years of Achievements Before The Commonwealth

Joseph Lycett - Corroboree at Newcastle c.1818 (Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)
Joseph Lycett – Corroboree at Newcastle c.1818 (Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)

To co-incide with the spectacular Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era exhibition, currently on display at the Newcastle Art Gallery, the University’s Coal River Working Party has submitted a nomination for national recognition for Newcastle’s 7000 years of historic achievements to the Commonwealth of Australia.

Newcastle’s birthplace, the Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Doman have been nominated for inclusion in the National Heritage List, which is a record of places in Australia that have outstanding natural, Indigenous or historic heritage values for the nation.

Locations of Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain sites (Compiled by Mr Russell Rigby)
Locations of Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain sites (Compiled by Mr Russell Rigby)

Nominating a place for the National Heritage List means identifying its national heritage values and providing supporting evidence.

The submission provides compelling evidence of  Newcastle’s history, spanning 7000 years of human habitation. It provides documentary evidence that Newcastle’s Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain is the site of:

– Australia’s first discoveries (1791 and 1796), first export (1799) and first profit (1801) of a natural resource (i.e. coal) in this country.

– Australia’s first full length autobiography and dictionary compiled by James Hardy Vaux in 1811-1814.

– First systematic study of an Aboriginal language anywhere in the country by Biraban, Chief of the Newcastle Tribe (now known as the Awabakal) and the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld and published in a series of works from 1826 to 1892. This is one example of the unique cultural relationship that is mirrored here between Aboriginal and Colonial peoples.

– Australia’s “Cultural Capital” during the Macquarie era from 1810 to 1821 that led to the creation of artistic objects and works of world significance such as the Macquarie Chest, Wallis Album, Skottowe manuscript, notable engravings and paintings.

– Australia’s first environmental action in 1853-1854 on behalf of a community to protect a natural landform (Nobbys)

– Australia’s first Industrial School for Girls, and later, the first hospital for “Imbeciles and idiots”.

– The important transitions in Australia’s journey to nationhood; from government industry to private enterprise, from convict to free labour, from punishment to profit, from a natural to a human-fashioned landscape. The landscape tells these stories in a dramatic fashion; through its changing landforms shaped by the demands of industry, through its archaeological remains intact and in situ, and through the continued and inescapable presence of a bustling working harbour.

The full submission can be downloaded here:


Cover of Treasures Exhibition Catalogue
Cover of Treasures Exhibition Catalogue

We also urge all Novocastrians to also visit the current exhibition at the Newcastle Art Gallery that contains many of Newcastle’s cultural treasures, some of which have not been back here since they were created over 195 years ago. They are not only of national significance, but of international significance, and it is important that all Novocastrians get a chance to see them, even those who have never ventured into a gallery before.

A list of activities can be accessed here:

The Exhibition Catalogue can be downloaded from here:

or here:


We urge all Novocastrians past and present to support this nomination for Newcastle. We believe recognition for Newcastle’s place in the Australian story needs to be acknowledged and restored. This is long overdue.

I wish to thank my Coal River Working Party colleagues, especially Ann Hardy, Dr Brian Walsh, Russell Rigby, Kerrie Brauer, and Professor Erik Eklund (Monash University) and Dr David Roberts (University of New England) for their support and work for this nomination.

We hope that our efforts bear fruit.

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist and Chair, Coal River Working Party

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