IN SOME ways, University of Newcastle archivist Gionni Di Gravio resents having to seek Canberra’s approval.
“Especially because we were here before them,” he said.
“We are the Cinderella city of Australia, we’ve done the hard work, but it’s the ugly sisters like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra that get the invite to the ball.”
But, that aside, the push is again on to have the Newcastle’s historic Coal River Precinct recognised on the national heritage register.
To Mr Di Gravio and the Hunter Living Histories working group behind the bid, the Coal River Precinct is the birthplace of the national economy.
“It’s where we developed our industrial base with the discovery of coal mining, and we’re still wedded to that today,” he said.
“They tried finding coal in other places but it was Newcastle that nutted it out, that got it out of a tunnel under Fort Scratchley, put it on a ship and sold it for the return on an export in modern Australia.”
The precinct includes the likes of Fort Scratchley, the convict-built Macquarie Pier which now forms part of the Nobbys breakwall, and sites throughout the city’s east end which were the birthplace of coal mining and of the city itself.
It’s also the site of Australia’s first environmental protest – when, in the 1850s, a group of civic leaders led a push to save Nobbys Headland from demolition plans.
The tunnels where the dynamite was to be buried inside the headland still exist today, though blocked off from access.
The precinct is already listed on the state heritage register as a site which “concentrates the whole story of the development of New South Wales’ first and most important industrial centre”, as well as an area rich in Aboriginal history predating European colonisation by tens of thousands of years.
But, despite that, this is the fourth time a national listing has been sought for the site.
Newcastle City Council moved a motion in 2015 supporting the bid for national recognition of the area, and Greens Deputy Mayor Michael Osborne said he believed the site ought to be listed.
“The area encompasses Newcastle’s first coal mine, the site of the first navigational aids for coastal shipping and Hunter River traffic, and the site of a series of fortifications designed to protect the growing settlement,” Cr Osborne said.
“Nobbys Headland, or Whibayganba, is an important Indigenous dreaming site, the home of the giant kangaroo and the focus of Australia’s first environmental action which took place in 1853 and 1854 to protect the natural landform.”