MORE than being the scene of childhood memories for so many Novocastrians, Blackbutt Reserve seems to bring out the kid in visitors. Which is perhaps why Nuatali Nelmes reacts with delight when she sees a peacock with its iridescent fan of feathers on display.
In this 182-hectare haven about six kilometres from the CBD, you can get close to nature, and nature gets close to you. Peacocks and water fowl wander around the picnic grounds, while further up the hill, amid the trees, are exhibits of native animals, from kangaroos and wallabies to koalas.
“It’s the beautiful green heart of the city,” the re-elected Lord Mayor of Newcastle says.
As a teenager, Nuatali Nelmes trained in the reserve, jogging along its network of tracks. As a councillor, she took on Blackbutt Reserve as one of her “community passion projects”. The reserve, which has been a community drawcard for more than half a century, is undergoing a $9 million upgrade. Among the planned improvements is an adventure playground, with a climbing tower and rope courses, for the Richley Reserve section, where young Nuatali did a lot of her jogging.
“I’m going to go on it, to test it out,” says the Lord Mayor of the adventure playground.
While it is being spruced up, Nuatali Nelmes believes Blackbutt Reserve will always cradle part of the Newcastle character, its “egalitarian, down-to-earth” nature. It is where everyone can be a kid, no matter their age or where they’re from.
“It’s free, it’s well maintained, it’s a celebration of indigenous flora and fauna, and it’s a beautiful space to be in,” says Cr Nelmes.
“It’s just a uniquely Novocastrian thing that this exists.”