I was interested to take a look around Newcastle, given I had recently seen a presentation by Marcus Westbury on Renew Newcastle, where he showed how a city at rock bottom was starting to turn itself around. While there are also crucial differences between Newcastle and Fremantle, the similarities are palpable, with the overwhelming impression being that of being trapped in a modern day Christmas Carol, where the ghost of Christmas Future is Fremantle turning into Newcastle.
The similarities between the two cities are the decline in the main shopping street, for Adelaide Street read Hunter Street and the new attraction being a café strip in Newcastle called Darby Street. The decline in traditional retail has resulting in pop-up shops, but in Newcastle these are not only in Council owned property, private owners have also seen the advantage of revitalisation and stimulation.
The differences is that Newcastle is a city and port in its own right, unlike Fremantle which is the port city of the greater Perth metropolis. While Newcastle has prospered since it’s foundation today it is a one commodity city, coal. It is the largest coal exporting port in the world.
The Newcastle renaissance, young as it is, has seen empty shops turn into pop-up shops and turn into viable businesses with money being spent on them and rent going back to the owners. This did not just happen by itself; Renew Newcastle played a vital role. However if one stands back and looks up you see the upper floors are derelict. As one moves out of the centre of town things look a lot better, with a lot of apartment housing close to the beaches and harbour. One lesson for Fremantle is a large Crown Hotel cutting a large segment of the CBD off from the waterfront.
One thing Newcastle can be proud of is their art gallery at the Council offices. This seems common in NSW, with Wagga Wagga gallery also being in the Council building. They boast some fine pieces of art from people such as Bret Whitley, Claude Rodin and William Dobell.
To me, Newcastle looks and feels like a fine city down on its luck, what it desperately needs is a new industry to boost employment and confidence. Compared to Newcastle Fremantle is traveling very well, but it would be good to remember what may lie ahead if we take our eye off the ball.
The slideshow shows boarded up and rundown buildings, a dead main street, no parking problems there, street art, warehouse conversions, Victorian terrace homes, a view from the top of Queen’s Wharf Tower, inside the Art Gallery, harbourside offices and beach side hotel and apartments.