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April 10th 2012
Published: April 12th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

I had heard Newcastle mentioned a lot and was vaguely aware that it was a city north of Sydney, but that sums up all my previous knowledge of it. I was intrigued to see what it was actually like and it was only when I started reading about its history that I learnt that Newcastle had had Australia’s most destructive recorded earthquake in 1989. However, the city took that opportunity to rebrand itself. This former steel town (where the worst-behaved convicts were sent!) is the largest coal export harbour in the world. It certainly has a very industrial feel to it and the coal industry is very evident (in fact, yesterday’s newspaper stated that the coal boom is causing traffic jams) but the various rejuvenation projects have paid off.The city has flair and an up and coming arts scene.

Unfortunately the weather was decidedly unwelcoming during our stay. As soon as we arrived the heavens opened… and it remained pretty much that way until we left a couple of days later. So, instead of our usual outdoor activities, we did lots of indoorsy things.

We enjoyed visiting the Regional Art Gallery as well as the Library for an impressive Wildlife Photographer Exhibition. With entries from 95 countries and a variety of categories, such as “wildlife in an urban setting” and “nature in black and white”, the photos were beautiful, captivating and mesmerising. My favourite was an image of a Qinling golden snub-nosed monkey; the overall winner was an image of eight pelicans rescued from an oil spill. The regional art gallery’s most memorable exhibition was “Leaving a Legacy – Margaret Olley’s gifts to Newcastle”. Margaret Olley was a (by all accounts extremely independent and headstrong) Australian painter who championed the arts and significantly contributed to Newcastle Regional Art Gallery’s collection. Displayed were works of art which she had donated to the gallery – some of her own but mostly by emerging artists whom she had supported by purchasing their work. There was also an exhibition called “Desert Country” featuring works from the forty year evolution of the Australian desert painting movement. I don’t yet know much about Aboriginal art but, from this exhibition, I learnt that its principal focus seems to be symbolism (of dreams perceived by the artist, Aboriginal legends and significant locations and rituals).

By far my favourite spot in town is Darby Street, Newcastle’s answer to Melbourne’s Brunswick Street (incidentally, the reason I agreed to move to Melbourne!) with quirky shops, cosy cafés and eclectic restaurants. We spent some time hanging out in Longbench (free wifi, yay) and Goldbergs which is one of Darby Street’s oldest haunts. It was warm, friendly, homey – and it had a sofa! I know we all take sitting on a sofa for granted but now that I don’t have one, I seek out places that do. There was actually someone sitting on it when we first arrived, so I positioned myself on a nearby seat and got ready to make a dash and claim the sofa as soon as it was free!

The people of Newcastle are really friendly. I had a waiter practically hug me, struck up a very interesting conversation with a swimwear shop assistant and was offered a lift by a lady on the street because it was pouring with rain. Almost everyone seems relaxed and up for a chat.

On our second and third mornings I indulged in a hot vinyasa yoga class. I really got into that in Melbourne and had been missing it very much. It was great to get back into it and, because of all the sweating in the hot studio, there were showers. Bonus! :-)

To get our bearings and see the different areas of Newcastle, we strolled around the city centre and went for a bit of a driving tour and checked out some of the beaches. There are plenty of opportunities for surfing here but it was way to cold for us to venture into the ocean. Autumn has truly set in and Dean says that we need to speed up our northbound travel. He has been looking up locations with a temperature of 29oC+ and reckons we ought to be in Townsville, Cairns or Perth! I still have trouble getting my head around the fact that, in the southern hemisphere, it gets warmer the further north you go. Dean went for a swim in the ocean baths, fabulously set up sea water pools that are tucked away behind a huge art deco pavilion.

We’re loving our revised van setup and everything seems to have a purposeful, convenient place to live. It’s nice to have space for ourselves instead of having stuff get in the way all the time.

The other day we ran out of water for the first time. Even though we were in civilised surroundings, it was remarkably hard to find a tap from which to fill up our jerry can. It was a valuable reminder to stay on top of things and I’m glad it happened before we got to the more remote areas.

Additional photos below
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12th April 2012

That monkey is sooo cute!! I want one!! Glad you guys are having such a fab time, it's great reading about all the places you are visiting. Love Gina and co.
19th April 2012

Isn't the monkey adorable?! Apparently he's sitting like that, with his hands and feet tucked in, in order to keep nice and warm :-) Thanks so much for your email with the birthday photos. You should seriously become a professional cake maker! Will email back soon. Lots of love x5 Jxx

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