Its heart is surprisingly small - there is a suburban sprawl but I confined myself to the the old historic city. The one that had convicts build the breakwater to allow easy access to the harbour, the one that provided the Ocean Baths for its citizens, the one that placed Fort Scratchley right at the top of the hill, as a lookout for enemies, the one which built an iconic Customs House and prided itself on its warehouses, now beautifully converted into the town's Museum and the waterfront with its new apartment buildings and shops.
Walking around the city I came across some lovely insights. The Museum is a great collection of Newcastle history complete with showcases of what it is famous for, Cedar products, Arnotts biscuits, glass ware, pottery and its dairy Industry and of course coal and iron ore. As a result of the rising need for workers, families flocked to the area. I will mention one story which is so relevant to our times. His name was Saad Abikhair and he arrived from Syria in 1895. He and others were immigrants trying to eek out a living by hawking small wares from house to house. Finally in 1928 he set up an Emporium which became very popular with all the locals.A new way of shopping had arrived in Australia, a big department store which sold everything a housewife of those days could ever wish for and the one I liked best was this poster.
The Emporium shut its doors in 1996 and the building has changed hands several times but more recently its doors have been thrown open to artisans and craft people, who pay a very low rent to occupy small parts of the building in return for a 30 day notice period to quit, if needed. I walked around and met some lovely women who told me how in 2008 the main part of the city was largely derelict, the big Employer BHP had gone by then, taking with it 11000 jobs and people were scared to walk the streets. "Renew Newcastle" was a movement which breathed life back into the central part of the city and now collectives are springing up with interesting start ups, business ventures, lovely cafes and restaurants.
One of the women recommended a small coffee shop run by a couple of Umbrian women called "Umbria" so off I went to find it and had the most delicious cup of coffee and a canoli to die for. I chatted to one of the women, finding out about what made them start the coffee shop. Their parents had come over in the 50s. The mother was an excellent cook but had passed away. For years she dreamed of having a small coffee shop serving all her mum's delicious cakes. "Sometimes" she laughed "there are more family members then customers in here but it is early days yet and business will pick up."
Other places served Books and Coffee = a perfect combo.
We ate at the some fabulous restaurants like "Paymasters" lovingly restored, and "Supper Lane" and really enjoyed our conversations with the owners and other guests.
Supper Lane is a great little restaurant with a fabulous cheese selection but even better was the appearance of St John Commandaria, on the menu, a Crusader fortified wine all the way from Cyprus, which floored me completely. A glass of it was fabulous with the cheese.
The coloured tiles on the wall showing irises in their splendour.
In the Museum there was a painting by Virgil Lo Sciavo 1953 - love the name as well - and here it is - at that time it was showing the changing face of Newcastle from a city concentrated on cedar and wool to one of coal export, iron ore and steel making.