It is now several years since my last proper visit to Newcastle. I have been there twice in the last few years, but I was running workshops and just went from the airport to the venue. This means that I am not in a position to properly comment on a story by Debra Jopson in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
For those who do not know Newcastle, the old central city has always been Newcastle's jewel. This is an area of historic buildings, including buildings dating from the City's past as a penal settlement. Now it appears that this is under threat.
The photo shows the historic, now vacant and apparently vandalised, Newcastle post office.
According to the story, Newcastle's centuries-old inner city has about 150 empty buildings. Hunter Street, the main street, presents a parade of boarded shopfronts and vandalised buildings once considered architectural gems. Nearby, the city's shopping mall is in deep decline.
I said that I could not comment properly, but if true the story suggests an unfolding tragedy.
The last time I spent a few full days in Newcastle, I was struck by the apartments along the river, blocking out the water. I was also struck by the decline in the CBD. Things seem to have got worse.
Poor Newcastle. In 1967 we lost the New England New State plebiscite on your vote when you obeyed the directives of the then Sydney ALP Government and voted no. I understand the deep tribal and class loyalties within Newcastle, the reasons why you followed orders even though it was against your own economic interests.
I take absolutely no pleasure in your problems. Newcastle is New England's big city, one of the keys to the history of Northern New South Wales. I was very young when I first visited Newcastle, and I loved it. It was so different.
Since then I have watched Newcastle's growing emasculation.
It's not all bad. In pure life-style terms, Newcastle still offers one of, if not the greatest, combinations in the country. Dare I say it?, possibly even better than Armidale! I stand to be corrected, South Australians might challenge me, but to my mind there is no other place in Australia that offers such a combination of city and country. Newcastle also has a vibrant cultural life.
So, as I said, its not all bad. Still, if Debra Jopson's story is in any way correct, there is a fair bit of work involved in re-building central Newcastle.