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Coast with the most – why an old coal town could become our Berlin

13 September 2008 | Posted in: Media, News

Lisa Pryor, The Sydney Morning Herald:

Looking west across Newcastle at sunset, beautiful pointy things mark the horizon. Clock towers, cathedral spires, cooling towers, coal loaders. At the eastern tip of the city, within sight of the surf, rust marks drip down the iron-lace balconies of ramshackle terraces, staining the whitewash below.

As a child, visiting grandparents in the outer suburbs, I never realised this city, our almost-but-not-quite city, is in many ways a fantasy version of Sydney. Back then I knew the Newcastle of weatherboard and broken cars, veggie patches and dogs of indeterminate parentage.

Now I see another side of this coal town, a place where it is not only possible but affordable to live within walking distance of beach and city, with great coffee, galleries, stately architecture and a decent university. Plus all the perks of a small town: mild traffic, space, parking meters that ask for only 80 cents an hour.

Even squinting through rose-coloured glasses, it is easy to see this place still has problems despite its revived waterfront, apartment culture and walking tracks. Hunter Street, once the main shopping strip of the central business district, is falling apart. Too long and particularly inconvenient in this era of suburban shopping malls, the street has become a string of empty shopfronts, interrupted by retail non sequiturs: a tattoo parlour, a theatre, car dealerships, a scrapbooking shop.

In keeping with the creative spirit that has caught hold of this once rough town, someone is doing something about it.

For the full story, visit The Sydney Morning Herald web site.