The Obelisk is one of our city's oldest navigational markers.
The first navigational marker on the site was built in 1820 and was known as the Government Flour Mill. During a strong wind it would grind 10 bushels of wheat per hour. This had been at the instigation of Colonel Morisett, who appealed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie to erect a windmill to grind flour for the settlement.
As it was situated upon a prominent knoll the windmill was visible for many miles along the coast, and was used as a guiding mark for the masters of sailing crafts approaching the port of Newcastle.
In 1847 the Government decided to demolish the mill and it was submitted to auction to be demolished. It was purchased by a Newcastle resident.
A storm of protest
The action roused a storm of protest in shipping quarters, where it was claimed that the old windmill was a guiding mark for mariners entering the harbour. Petitions were at once forwarded to the Governor, but the purchaser sped up the demolition and the building was down before the Government could cancel the sale.
However, continued agitation by the shipowners compelled the Government to act, and in 1850 the Obelisk was erected on the spot where the old windmill stood.
On June 12th 1850, we read in a Government Gazette:
Directions for Entering the Port of Newcastle
"When the Obelisk is in with the tower by the light you are nearly off the rocks east-southerly of the Nobbys and when the Nobbys is in with the same you are off the rocks north-west of the same.
"The Obelisk open to the west of the Queen's Wharf will head you clear off the rock on the port land going in.
"The Obelisk open to the eastward of the Wesleyan Chapel will clear the Oyster Bank and the North Bank, and will lead in from twenty-four to fourteen feet of water as you approach the Oyster Bank on the starboard side going in, and from eighteen to twelve feet as you approach the North Bank, also on the starboard side.
MERION MORIATY, Port Master."
Obelisk hill is now a popular park and lookout with expansive views over the lower hunter plain.
The Obelisk has suffered damage at various times from lightning strikes and was seriously damaged during the 1989 earthquake. Disaster struck on June 8 1985 when the reservoir buried beneath the Obelisk exploded, causing its roof to collapse and injuring two young girls.
The explosion was heard across Newcastle and an inquiry was undertaken. The inquiry found that the explosion was caused as a result of gas leaking into the reservoir from a damaged gas main. The gas was ignited by sparks from fireworks that the victims were using. After the explosion the reservoir was filled in and a plaque was laid to mark the event.