'Labour of love': Hunter Living Histories video turns back the clock on early Newcastle

IT'S sometimes said the only way to move forward is to look back.

And these awe-inspiring three-dimensional images recreate the way we were: a throwback to colonial Newcastle where the young settlement was only just finding its feet.

They were created by architect Charles Martin for Hunter Living Histories, formerly the Coal River Working Party, and its time machine project, which aims to offer modern Novocastrians an insight into life in 1825, through short videos that give the viewer a fly on the wall experience.

The latest instalment of those videos was released this week, and it is the most advanced the group has produced to date, with the first clip released in 2012.

The sequence begins behind the original church where the modern-day cathedral stands now, before flying down to the settlement perched at the river mouth.

The viewer sees how different the city was in 1825: Nobbys Breakwater was yet to be built; Newcastle’s first main street, now Watt Street, led to a wharf where baskets of coal would be shipped away; and a convict lumbar yard loomed large over the area’s early inhabitants. 

Viewers will be amazed by the topography, with this enriched video showing an untouched and vastly different shoreline.

The renderings were based on authentic historical archival maps and survey records, with the details cross-referenced with other materials from around the time such as paintings.

The fly-through was screened by Hunter Living Histories at a digital heritage conference in Brisbane on Thursday.

Mr Martin, who has been involved with the project for six years, said the recreations were getting better as time and technology advanced.

“The model is being continually worked up, and put into different programs, adding more entourage and realism,” he said.

The sequence first began as a terrain model, with the details gradually added over time. Individual images were designed in Photoshop and applied to the overall project in panels.

The moving objects – which include the sky, rippling water, chimney smoke and people – were built in a sophisticated rendering program.

It is hoped that with further advancements in technology, and if sponsors come on board to fund the project, an augmented reality experience could be created, allowing for an “immersive” view of a bygone era.

“I think the project will excite people, and give them an understanding of the way things were in a more visual sense,” Mr Martin said.

“Previously all we had were a series of static drawings and paintings; this is trying to see it in a more three-dimensional way.

“Who knows what it will be like in 10 or 20 years’ time, but you could have the full immersive experience – you could feel like you’re being transported back in time.”

TIME MACHINE: A recreation of Newcastle in 1825, looking out towards where the Nobbys Breakwater stands today. Pictures: Hunter Living Histories

TIME MACHINE: A recreation of Newcastle in 1825, looking out towards where the Nobbys Breakwater stands today. Pictures: Hunter Living Histories

The project is also envisaged to include the days before settlement to show Indigenous history.

“People will appreciate how Newcastle began, how it evolved and its place in history,” Mr Martin said. 

“Not only its colonial history, but to be able to go back and tell Aboriginal stories, and that would be where input would come from the various Aboriginal communities to be able to flesh out that part of history.”

Hunter Living Histories chairman and Newcastle University archivist Gionni Di Gravio said the work was a “labour of love” and unlike anything attempted before in Newcastle’s history.

“I think it goes to show the love that people like Charles and the others who work on this project have for Newcastle,” he said. “It’s a work 20 years in the making, with all the work to accuracy that goes on, and it’s a work that will continue.”

Mr Di Gravio added that it would be “fantastic” if the project received a financial backer and more community participation to realise its full potential

THEN AND NOW: Where Shortland Esplanade is today. The renderings show how much of Newcastle's shoreline has changed over 200 years.

THEN AND NOW: Where Shortland Esplanade is today. The renderings show how much of Newcastle's shoreline has changed over 200 years.

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