AN AWE-INSPIRING underground museum in King Edward Park could become “one of our true jewels” if civic leaders dreamed big and didn’t succumb to “penny-pinching”.
That’s the view of one of Newcastle’s most respected architects, Brian Suters, who has drawn up sketches of what the Shepherds Hill Defence Group could look like if Newcastle council redeveloped the entire precinct.
He said King Edward Park, with its expansive views of the ocean and historical ties to Newcastle’s foundations, was one of Australia’s most treasured public sites that deserved “something of significance”.
The plan involves using the defence group’s existing network of tunnels to create an underground museum that would pay homage to the park’s coal mining, military and Aboriginal history.
Shepherds Hill Cottage, which is currently subject to an expressions of interest campaign to determine its future, would continue to be used by Marine Rescue volunteers under Dr Suters’ plan.
However, the cottage would be shared with an artist-in-residence who would exhibit their works in the museum.
A striking floating glass dome structure would be built above the gun pit under the concept.
Dr Suters said his idea was inspired by the popularity of underground museums around the world, including Denmark’s “invisible” Tirpitz Museum, a war museum built inside a concrete bunker that attracted 100,000 visitors within two months of opening.
“I’m not suggesting we should do anything on this scale, but it shows what is possible,” Dr Suters said.
“The site is perfectly positioned on Bathers Way, the Memorial Walk a stone’s throw away. The museum could be a place to stop and take in the history. It would be something of significance … one of our true jewels.”
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Dr Suters, who has been a major figure in crafting the physical look of modern Newcastle, wrote to the council last year to stress the “enormous potential” of the site.
He said its future development should not be limited by “penny-pinching” and encouraged philanthropic involvement.
“The adaption work would respect the past, but it would throw light on the future,” he wrote.
A Conservation Management Plan prepared by City Plan Services found while the military installations were highly significant, they suffered from being in a generally poor condition, particularly the battery post.
The condition of the fortifications deteriorated under “limited maintenance and conservation works”, the report noted.
Only the Shepherds Hill Cottage, and not the entire defence group, is subject to a campaign to determine its future use.