Walking Tours- Living Newcastle’s History

On Sunday 13 November 2016 the Crime & punishment Walk and Radical Newcastle walks were held in Newcastle. These pilot walks are an initiative of The Centre of 21st Century Humanities and Global Newcastle Network, supported by UON Library’s Cultural Collection. The walks were developed and led by UON historians Dr Nancy Cushing and Dr Ann Hardy.

Crime and Punishment Walk

Dr Nancy Cushing speaking to tour participants at the Former Post Office, previously site of the former court House 1842- 1880s
  • The walk started at the New Courthouse, 343 Hunter Street. This state-of-the-art building only opened early 2016 and was designed by Cox Architecture, built by John Holland at cost $90 million. It has ten courtrooms and two tribunal rooms for Local, District and Supreme Court hearings. The building has impressive artworks by local artist Brett McMahon Melaleuca, and Dani Marti, a Sydney based Spanish born artist’s Midden Wall.
  • Second stop, was the corner of Hunter and Burwood Streets where the odd triangular piece of land on which the court house sits was discussed, as well as the site of the notorious miners and sailor’s pub, the Black Diamond.
  • Next stop, the Embassy Café. Greek cafes in Newcastle were a great gathering place for the people in the mid twentieth century. They became hang outs for sailors and servicemen and sometimes places of crime.
  • Newcastle’s pubs were also places of crime. Reportedly 149 pubs in Newcastle at the turn of the 20th century. Patronage declined from 1910s as coal mines shut down and in the early 1960s. They could also be places of criminal activity ranging from drunken fights to breaches of the rules and regulations around the service of alcohol. The Lucky Hotel had its first hotel there from 1860, named Bank Hotel. The current building was known as the Oxford Hotel until 1977 and renamed Lucky Country. White collar crime is discussed at this site.
  • The Crown & Anchor Hotel (1923) was another infamous hotel. A hotel has existed on site since at least the 1870s. In 1877, Stuart’s Family Hotel was renamed the Crown and Anchor, reflecting the city’s role as a port and the thousands of sailors who visited the each year. At this site the practices of Crimping and Shanghaiing are discussed. Also see a story about this maritime practice by Patrick Lindus.

    Jack Sample’s Crown and Anchor Hotel and decorations Hunter Street Newcastle, NSW, 17 September 1897
  • The Lock Out laws are discussed at a stop in the Hunter Street Mall. The Mall was created in the 1970s in an attempt to create a more congenial shopping district to compete with the new malls being built in the suburbs. Many nightclubs were located there, and premises could stay open and serve alcohol until 5 am. Newcastle had the highest rates of alcohol-fuelled assaults and injuries in NSW. The impact of the Lock Out laws and implementation elsewhere, such as Kings Cross were discussed on the walk.
  • A stop at the former Newcastle Post Office, described the site of the former Court House that was earlier located there. Newcastle’s first court house was designed by Architect Mortimer Lewis and opened in 1842. One quite violent incident was discussed at this point, this was the 1878 inquest into the stabbing death of James Downie and involved the violent clash of young seaman and a black coal trimmer named Andrew Johnson.
  • The group then walked to the former Court House in Church Street. This court house was first used in 1892 and is a similar design to the previous court house. Architectural features are discussed, such as the original wooden ceilings, clerestory windows and wooden bench seating in the galleries. The old courthouse has long been notorious for its antiquated facilities, pest problems and damp, dark conditions.
  • Our last stop was a tour of the current Police Station.  Many thanks to Newcastle Command for allowing us to visit the site. fullsizerender


Radical Newcastle Walk



  • The walk started at the Newcastle Library in Laman Street. Participants heard about Newcastle’s (Coal River) early radical origins.  The penal settlement was permanently settled after Irish rebels took part in an uprising at Castle Hill in Sydney in 1804. The story of Hidden Treasure hotel in Laman street is also told at this point, recounting a newspaper article stating that buried coin from an earlier unsolved robbery was uncovered while sinking a backyard well was found in 1877, possibly buried during the penal settlement and association to Newcastle’s radical beginnings. Also see The Treasure Troves of Laman Street
  • The 2012 campaign to save 14 fig trees in Laman street and fierce community battle by ‘Save Our Figs’ is described, as well as the work of long standing activist Norm Barnwell (19 -2013) and his role in both the Laman street protest to save the fig trees and infamous ‘Battle of Birdwood’ which took place in the city’s west in 1973. Why are people so passionate about the protection of trees?
    Photograph courtesy The Daily Telegraph 2011
    Photograph courtesy The Daily Telegraph 2011

    Laman Street Fig demonstration 2012
    Laman Street Fig demonstration 2012
  • From the centre of Civic Park various architectural styles in the Civic Precinct can be viewed, from sandstone to concrete, Art Deco to Brutalism. And representations from different decades reflect times of crisis or prosperity.
  • The iconic ‘Captain Cook’ fountain in Civic Park was also discussed. Its creation of the fountain by two leading modern artists Margel and Frank Hinder was controversial in 1961 because the community was not happy about spending $79,000 on this very modern public art. Another controversial art project was Brett Whiteley’s Black Totem II ‘egg’ sculpture gifted by Wendy Whiteley in 2014, detail of this situation was discussed and impacts to the cultural sector.
  • Civic Park has been the site of many protests and marches. Many rallies and protests by diverse associations and professional groups. Anti-war march against war in Iraq 2003- Newcastle Herald- Rally for the Rail (2014), Hunter Deserves Better (2014) Bust the budget Rally (2014), ‘Walk together to support refugees’ (2014).

    1995 01 Newcastle International Women’s Day (Poster)
  • Participants heard the story of Newcastle City Hall and the legacy of Morris Light (1859- 1929) who served as Mayor of Newcastle from 1924-25. Light was instrumental in ensuring the people of Newcastle receive a beautiful and deserving City Hall. However, the development was not without controversy, a battle between Council and coal Baron Mr John Brown ensured. Light wanted Brown to relinquish possession of the old Black Diamond Hotel site (on hunter Street) as a ‘gift’ to the people of Newcastle. This didn’t occur, instead a decision was made to have the hall facing King Street, directly focus on what would later become the Civic Precinct.“architecture of the inter-war years, some art deco forms, the style of Hollywood and ocean liner interior and the NY skyscrapers of the Jazz age – a functional modernism associated with the spread of American culture” Barry Maitland – Architecture Newcastle
  • The ‘Hall of Science’ located on corner of King and Darby Streets was also discussed. This was a movement that came to Australia from Britain in the 1880s and operated in Newcastle for 9 years.
    “The Hall was not a grand building in style, being of weatherboard construction, but it was fitted out with an upright grand piano and, at 10 metres in width and 20 metres in depth, could seat three hundred people.”The hall was a valuable centre for the spread of radical ideas. Also see Chapter 13 in Radical Newcastle Book by Tony Laffan
  • From Civic Park it was a short work west along King Street towards the former Trades Hall Council at the Former Newcastle Workers Club. Here we were met by local historian Ross Edmonds who talked about ‘The Silksworth Dispute’ involving Chinese coal trimmers abused by management and given assistance by local communists and Trades Hall Council. Also see Chapter ‘The Silksworth Dispute’ in Radical Newcastle Book by Ross Edmonds.
  • Our last stop was the Star Hotel on King Street in Newcastle West. Here we heard about the Star Inn established in 1855 the Cameron Family Hotel who had a long association with hotels and Newcastle Jockey Club. The Cameron’s were also generous towards the Miners Union during 1909 coal strike.
    The final story on the walk was about the infamous Star Hotel riot that took place on 19 September 1979. The hotel had a diverse mix patrons, it was an alternative space for local rock musicians, transgender performers, as well as traditional working class. Events of the night were discussed (as recounted from interviews from people there on the night) and possible reason why the riot occurred at all, with many believed the hotel was shut down too abruptly, and people got angry spilling out into King Street. A series of  Interviews by Noel Davies in 2003 with people at the Star Hotel Riot (1979) are available on UONCC SoundCloud
    Also see Chapter 20 ‘Star Hotel’ in Radical Newcastle book by Bernadette Smith

More walks are planned for 2017


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