Monday, August 01, 2011

Selling New England to itself

in Cold Chisel, Silverchair & the Newcastle musical tradition, I wrote (as the names suggests) a little about Newcastle's musical tradition. This drew comments from Greg about Newcastle's broader cultural tradition, including its excellence in dance. Now Greg has added a postscript comment to that post:

Late Mail: In the final of the McDonalds Performing Arts Challenge at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday night, Dan Wilkinson from Newcastle was runner up in the solo classical. Dan dances with the National College of Dance (NCD) in Lambton.

In the final of the contemporary group section NCD went one better to win. Dancers from Newcastle continue to excel!

Well done!

At the end of July, Newcastle's Urban Insider carried a two part interview by Cormack O'Connor with Byron Williams from The Herd - The Inside Word with Byron from The Herd: Part 1; The Inside Word with Byron from The Herd: Part 2. The pieces covered Byron's work with the young people's mental health group Headspace as well as the band.

Wikipedia classifies The Herd as a Sydney band. Reading the interview, I'm not sure that's absolutely accurate any more. In any event, I was interested in Byron's comment on the Newcastle musical scene. I quote one part:

Why have you decided to be based in Newcastle?

I just sort of realised when I was in Sydney that I was only using 1/8 of the city, so I thought why not move somewhere that’s like 1/8 the size of Sydney and use it all. Also the beaches and lifestyle. Everything that Newcastle stands for I’m passionate about. Newcastle has a great live music scene, I like live music. I’m really into the beach and surfing and the architecture. Newcastle has a lot of the things I’m really passionate about and less traffic. Lots of my friends and The Herd are in Sydney but it’s just down the highway, I’m getting used to that train ride. I’ve even got my favourite seat marked out (laughs).

What is something you’d like to see happen in the Newcastle area?

I’d like to see this beautiful city centre thriving. The Renew Newcastle scheme is going really well but just walking around here having only recently moved into the city, it’s just beautiful. It makes no sense why it isn’t thriving so that’s what I’d really like to see. Maybe a couple of new venues, a couple of old venues revitalised.

The Cold Chisel post inspired last week's Armidale Express column. There, teasing my Armidale audience a little, I said in part:   

Newcastle has a great musical tradition, something that I have really only become aware of quite recently.

It’s not just Silverchair, Newcastle’s best known band, but band after band.

Further, while Newcastle’s musical tradition has that somewhat gritty element common to other aspects of the city’s cultural life, the tradition extends beyond this into every element of music.

I know that Armidale prides itself on being the cultural capital of the North, but Newcastle would give the city a run for its money any day.

I went on to say that, In fact, what we have across the broader New England are remarkably vibrant but varied cultural activities little recognised in the metro centres. It’s not just Armidale or Newcastle or Tamworth, each interesting if different, but a range of other centres as well.

One of the difficulties with current institutional structures is that information doesn't flow very well within New England. With newspapers, for example, most New Englanders read their local paper and then sometimes a Sydney or Brisbane paper. Big events such as Country Music Week are large enough to get into general media coverage, but otherwise someone in Armidale will not be aware of, say, the Newcastle scene unless they have family or business connections there.

Our own inherent parochialism doesn't help.

Sydney or Brisbane's good, but if it's in Armidale or Newcastle or Glen Innes then it's second rate. We complain when outsiders treat our activities as second rate or, just as bad, ignore them entirely, but then we apply that same blind test to others within New England.

It's not just that we can't expect others to take us seriously if we we don't take ourselves seriously. We actually lose access to much of our own richness and variety.  

That is one of the reasons why, in tourism terms, I often start with internal New England promotion, marketing one part of New England to other parts. It's silly, really.

Someone in Sydney will drive for up to three hours to go to an event. We won't drive for an hour and a half to go to an event in a neighbouring town. We have lost the richness in our own backyard.


Denis Wright said...

I love a stirrer! Did you get some indignant responses, Jim?

Jim Belshaw said...

Not at this stage, Denis. Never quite sure just what will get a response in the Express columns.

Stu said...

Music and the arts are opportunities for Newcastle to thrive and give Sydney a run for its money.

I'd love to see the Victoria theatre in Perkins St restored and more bands, plays and shows visit Newcastle.

This is NSW's oldest theatre and restored would be on par with any offering in Australia.

Venues like this ad to the cultural fabric of a city and the historical aspect makes the experience more memorable. I would compare this to the Brixton academy in London, giving Newcastle and New England a cultural icon that Sydney would envy.

Jim Belshaw said...

That sounds like a good idea, Stu. For those who do not know the Theatre, see

Do you know if there are any moves moves to restore the theatre?

Jim Belshaw said...

I have now brought the Express column referred to on-line

Stu said...

There have been some limited attempts by community groups to restore the theatre but as with most of the derelict sites in Newcastle they are partly damaged by the earthquake and owned by a wealthy gent (who I believe owns a lot of hotels) who has limited interest in the restoration of the site and is probably waiting for it to fall over so he can build units.

I can't wait for the housing boom to end.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thnks, for the information Stu. Greg added a liitle more information in general on theatres in a comment on

Rod said...

This is something you might be interested in Jim. I have recently subscribed to a magazine (that is not the interesting bit). It is New England Country Living Magazine. It is a quarterly magazine showcasing the New England from the Scone to Tenterfield and from Bellingen to Bingara.

It is produced in Tamworth.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks Rod. I will follow up.