Our Rich Cultural Heritage

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Newcastle - our delightful historic city by the sea

Nobbys Wy-by-gamba. Awabakal and Worimi. Convicts and coal. BHP, the earthquake and the Pasha Bulka. Newcastle is a delightfully historic city by the sea, shaped by significant historic events and set within a captivating coastal landscape. There's no place like home and our city is cherished by many. 

Our history begins in the dreamtime many thousands of years ago when the ancestors found abundance and life on the shores of the Hunter river. Today our city is one of Australia's oldest and most endearing with a blend of old and new architecture, a dynamic working harbour and an array of fabulous beachesOur people share a proud history of industry and enterprise and a unique cultural heritage. 
 

The former Victoria Theatre - Perkins Street Newcastle

Built in an era of vaudeville and live theatrical shows, the former Victoria Theatre has outstanding heritage significance to the state of New South Wales. It is the oldest theatre building still standing in New South Wales, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1890. It represents an age of silent pictures, vaudeville and early legitimate theatre that no other building can offer in this State.
 
The interior is a virtually intact theatre space, except for vestibule/back stalls alterations and false ceilings in the front area that were installed for retail purposes.  The theatre represents an 1891 facade, an auditorium that is both 1891 and 1921, with extensive backstage facilities. It is an important part of Newcastle’s heritage, but also a significant building for NSW. 

The four level timber fly tower at the rear of the building runs the full height of the building and is rare in New South Wales and perhaps, Australia. The fly tower allowed props and lighting to be shifted into position on the stage. Today, the ropes, winches and pulleys of the tower remain in situ, and these are the precious artefacts of the 1890s theatre.

The Victoria Theatre opened in 1876, but was partially destroyed by fire in 1890. It was rebuilt during 1890-91 to a design by James Henderson, a prolific local architect. Henderson is attributed the neo-Grecian decorative scheme which he applied inside the three level auditorium and to the front façade. A large stage house and small first class hotel were added to the front along with seating for 1700 people. The dress circle alone could accommodate 500 people. The stage was 13.7metre wide, 11.6metres deep and 16.8metres high. 
In 1942, Hoyts took over, converting the space into a movie theatre. In 1955 Cinemascope was installed. Although used as a movie theatre, it was still used for performances up until the 1960s.

The gold plated ceiling rose detail, the stage, fly tower and proscenium arch along with other interior surviving elements are distinctive and unique and should be recognised, cared for and restored.

The theatre has the potential to be a grand performance or public space, and was recently purchased by a theatre company. We are looking forward to an exciting and promising future for this grand old building.  

To listen to  ABC 1233 Local Treasures program on the Theatre please follow this link

Born Again - heritage buildings revitalise Newcastle

We love our heritage buildings and many have been renovated and revived, because re-purposing preserves important aspects of our city's history.  

Recycled buildings frame the character of our great city and make us feel proud of our long standing commitment to heritage conservation. While other coastal cities have lost their character, we have recycled many of our historic buildings to reveal the interesting layers in our history.

Our many historic buildings demonstrate the importance of our heritage to economic revitalisation. 

  • Newcastle's police lock-up, built in the 1860s, is now the  Lock-up Cultural Centre - museum, exhibition, cultural space, and home to Newcastle Writers' Centre. A must-see inner-Newcastle cultural destination.
  •  Customs House Bar and Restaurant, 1 Bond Street Newcastle, was once the government's maritime administrative centre, and is now a popular function centre and great dining experience. Soak up the history in this architectural legacy of outstanding architectural significance.
  •  Sprocket Roasters at the corner of Watt and Hunter Streets, is proof that a historic bank can be transformed into a delightfully quirky cafe and casual dining space with minimal intervention. Sprocket roasters offer great coffee, tantalising treats and watering facilities for your 4-legged friend.
  • Ancient heritage listed railways can also be sensitively put to enterprising new uses. The  Fernleigh walking track and cycleway, stretching 15 kms from Adamstown to Belmont, was originally the Redhead Coal & Company's coal railway. It is now a fantastic community asset as a shared walk/ cycleway that leads through spectacular scenery, and is loved equally by locals and visitors alike.

Our train stations 

Wickham, Civic and Newcastle train stations are architecturally interesting building complexes, and are locally important aspects of our rail heritage. With the cessation of rail uses, we present a brief outline of the history of these stations on this page. 

Newcastle railway station

When the Great Northern Railway was extended through to Newcastle in 1858, Newcastle station was at that time situated at Honeysuckle at the site of the Honeysuckle Point Terminus, roughly in the vicinity of today's Civic Station. The line was extended through to Newcastle after calls from Newcastle residents to extend the passenger line to the centre of town. In 1857, a parliamentary select committee recommended a single line for goods and passenger traffic be laid from Honeysuckle Point, to the wharf at Watt Street. Newcastle station opened on 9 March 1858. It would permanently replace the temporary terminus on what later became Civic station.

The NSW State Heritage Register (SHR) acknowledges the significance of the Newcastle Railway Station group, through its inclusion on the SHR. The group has historical associations with the Great Northern Railway as its second terminus, built one year after the line was opened. Until its use ceased on 26 December 2014, the station was one of the longest continually used railway places in NSW.

Newcastle station was the headquarters of the physically separated northern rail system until the construction of the Hawkesbury River bridge in 1889. In 1878, a substantial first floor office space was built and this in itself provides tangible evidence of the important administrative arrangement of the Newcastle group owing to its separation from Sydney. The   SHR listing states that the building has an ornate architectural style and fine detailing that "remains a tangible reminder of an age of prosperity and confidence in the NSW rail system and the strategic importance of the station within the northern region of the state". 

The  SHR listing summarises the significance of the Newcastle railway station group as follows:

"The grouping of the station building with the multiple platforms, signal box, the remains of the adjacent gas works, railway accommodation (hotel and staff housing) and archaeological remains of the former goods yard and loading docks form an outstanding railway precinct that is rare in NSW due to its urban setting and its context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century city centre of Newcastle. The Newcastle Railway Station Group also provides rare remaining evidence of the nineteenth century operation of the Great North Railway, which was the first railway line in NSW. The interior of the Signal Box in particular is highly intact and is able to demonstrate clearly the aesthetic qualities of a 1930s signal box and its operation." 

Civic railway station

Civic railway station is located in Civic. Its role as a station was to service the administrative heart of the central business district, opening on 22 December 1935. Designed in the Inter-war Functionalist style, the building features finely detailed brickwork and a terracotta marseilles tile roof with open rafter ends. Its design was all about the precinct which it serviced - the building was designed to address the 'square-about' to allow for passengers to alight from trams and buses. It was also designed to acknowledge and complement the Civic Theatre, City Hall and Civic Arcade on the opposite side of Hunter Street.

Civic Station is important in the course of Newcastle's twentieth century history, providing visible evidence of the civic town planning scheme of the 1930s. 

Wickham railway station

Wickham railway station opened in February 1936 to serve Newcastle West as a part of an upgrade to the Newcastle city centre public transport system.  It was conveniently located to allow workers and shoppers to easily disembark for the Newcastle Trades Hall, the Wickham School of Arts, the Store Cooperative society, and the Castlemaine brewery. 

A classic Inter-war station, Wickham is a double platform station in the Inter-war utilitarian style.