A LOT a has changed in Newcastle since 1951, but the Mattara Hill Climb has retained its place as a much-loved highlight on the city’s events calendar.
Sadly all good things must come to an end and this will be the last year the fast cars will roar around King Edward Park’s twisting circuit on the October long weekend.
We now live in an era when even the simplest community event needs to justify its existence in terms of how profitable it is. This is generally closely linked to attendance and sponsorship figures.
Though not immune from these realities, the hill climb has marched to the beat of a different drum.
At the core of its success are dozens of passionate car club members and their friends who have each given hundreds of hours to ensure the event’s longevity.
Many of them are car enthusiasts who directly benefit from the race. But their labour has also helped create an institution that has attracted some of the biggest names in motorsport to Newcastle over the past six decades.
Like many other organised recreational activities, the hill climb harks from an era when the safety concerns for participants and spectators were not what they are today.
It’s impossible to imagine approval being given for a contemporary car race where there was a real risk of a vehicle going over a cliff or landing on a spectator.
The race may be a lot safer today, but it’s doubtful anyone would say it is as much fun as in years gone by.
The reconfiguration of King Edward Park’s roads and footpaths as part of the Bathers Way coastal walk project will mean it will no longer be a suitable location for the car race.
The Newcastle MG Car Club has been gracious in recognising the hill club needs to wind up for the wider benefit.
The recently completed sections of the Bathers Way have proved an enormously popular addition to Newcastle’s register of recreational and eco-tourism assets.
In addition to the planned Nobbys to Merewether section, the Newcastle Herald reported in June that consideration is being given to extending the walkway through to Belmont.
This could involve the adaptive reuse of the disused Merewether mining tunnels as well as creating links to the Fernleigh Track.
Although these additional components are a long way from being realised, it is clear the project is destined to sit alongside many of Australia’s, if not the world’s, best coastal walks.
Thousands have enjoyed the Mattara Hill Club over the past six decades, and hopefully generations to come will benefit from the Bathers Way walkway well into the next century.