NO sooner had he laid eyes on the place than John Shortland realised he had sailed into somewhere special.
It was September 1797, and Lieutenant Shortland was searching for escaped convicts from Sydney when he entered what he called a very fine river. He sketched the river’s gaping mouth, and from along the shore, he collected chunks of coal, clutching the economic future of a region. Having named that river after the infant colony’s Governor, John Hunter, Shortland wrote to his father that this waterway would be “a great acquisition to the settlement”.
And so perhaps for the first recorded time, the word “great” was applied to the area that would become Newcastle. Of course, for many generations before Shortland passed Nobbys, the Worimi and Awabakal people knew this was a great place to live.
As Shakespeare observed, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em”.
Newcastle was not born great. It was founded as Sydney’s Siberia, to use historian John Turner’s term, so the authorities had somewhere to banish those convicts still bucking the system. The prisoners lived in flimsy buildings on the fringe of sandhills, burrowed for coal and cut timber upriver. And yet, despite the intention of creating somewhere that felt like punishment, a harbour town took shape. And that harbour town blossomed into a great city.
From its combination of location, resources, and the community that grew here, Newcastle has achieved greatness. And, with successive waves of new Novocastrians from near and far bringing fresh ideas and skills, and in the way the city has rallied in the face of economic challenges and natural disasters, Newcastle has had greatness thrust upon it.
So in the eyes of many, John Shortland’s prophecy was spot on. Just about all of us who have ever lived here believe Newcastle is great. But that one word holds so many meanings, depending on who is saying “great”, and what their relationship with Newcastle is.
So to explore our city, and to learn a few more definitions of “great”, let’s experience Newcastle through the eyes and lives of some people who call this place home.
Brian Suters’ first big project in Newcastle: the Civic fountain. He had worked on that as a young man with artists Margel and Frank Hinder.
It was 1964 when Suters returned to Newcastle to forge his career in architecture. He could have gone anywhere. He had won a university medal and had seen the world on a travelling scholarship. But Suters chose Newcastle, the city he had moved to as a five-year-old. Read his story.
Brock Lamb is the Knights’ five-eighth and Rookie of the Year. He may wear one of those hip three-days’ growth on his face, but that can’t hide his youthfulness. Lamb is just 20. Yet he’s old enough to remember watching Andrew Johns run onto the field, the same journey he now makes into the heart and soul of a city. Read his story.
The Alkasims were living in Jordan, having escaped from their war-ravaged country, when they were offered places in Australia under an extension to the Federal Government’s humanitarian program. The Alkasims knew only one thing about Australia - “kangaroos” - but they held hope that it would also offer them something their home no longer could: peace.
So walking on Nobbys Beach for the first time in 2016, the Alkasims sensed their hope would be realised. Read their story
Alf Carpenter learnt to swim in the Murrumbidgee River as a boy in Wagga Wagga. During the Second World War, while serving in the Middle East, he was founder of the Gaza Beach Lifesaving Patrol. Then, while swimming for his life away from a bullet-riddled barge after a Japanese attack off Papua New Guinea, he struck up a conversation with a digger from Newcastle. The rest is history. Read his story.
Suzie Galwey and Jock Carter
The way they talk so passionately about Newcastle, Suzie Galwey and Jock Carter sound like Novocastrians. Ms Galwey even uses the term “Newy”. Yet they, and their two children, have lived in Newcastle for less than six years. Read their story.
As a kid, John Earle wondered why he was stuck in Newcastle, when, in his eyes, Hollywood was the centre of the world.
Half a century on, as one of the city’s best known artists, Earle sees his hometown differently. Read his story.
As a teenager, Nuatali Nelmes trained in Blackbutt Reserve, jogging along its network of tracks. As a councillor, she took on the reserve as one of her “community passion projects”. It remains her favourite place in Newcastle, read on.
What do you love about Newcastle?
We want to see photographs of your favourite places, people and the reasons you love Newcastle. They will be used in a online gallery to showcase the beautiful place we call home.
Email your photos and details to firstname.lastname@example.org