GLORY DAYS: 101 great Hunter moments

Welcome to The Hunter: Glory Days, a countdown of 101 of the memorable moments in the Hunter’s history.  

Glory, according to the dictionary, is “exalted praise, honour or distinction, an object of pride, a state of splendour, magnificence or great prosperity”. 

The Hunter has seen many days that could be described with these words, from celebrations of the end of war, moments of discovery, sporting achievements, historic undertakings and accomplishments across fields including industry, arts and commerce. 

Many such moments are mentioned in this magazine, but for every one here there are thousands more that occur in the region every day. 

For every world champion here, there are others who play sport to the best of their ability, making the valley the home of champions that it is. 

For every musician, painter and artist here, there are more who make the Hunter a hotbed of the arts. For every person who makes it to the top, there are others who toil in valuable lives.

For every innovation, industry and golden moment on these pages, there are more that have made the region what it is today.

The American author Ernest Hemingway wrote in a style he referred to as “the iceberg approach”.

In his theory, seven-eighths of a story is “underwater” for every part that shows, so the reader is only getting a small portion of a bigger picture, but still gets the feel of the big picture.

This magazine is the Hunter in iceberg theory. Just as the visible tip of an iceberg masks a greater mass beneath, these 101 tips of the Hunter “iceberg” hide a bulk unseen but, hopefully, felt. 

Welcome to The Hunter: Glory Days, a countdown of 101 of the memorable moments in the Hunter’s history that have led it to this place and time.  

The Hunter: Glory Days was originally published in June 2012 and written by former Herald editor, the late Chris Watson.  Each week we'll add to the countdown. 


WORLD WAR II IS OVER: Phyllis Mook and Flo Dillon danced VP Day away surrounded by a huge crowd in Hunter St.

WORLD WAR II IS OVER: Phyllis Mook and Flo Dillon danced VP Day away surrounded by a huge crowd in Hunter St.

     In the early afternoon of Wednesday, August 15, 1945, an estimated 100,000 people crammed into the city area of Newcastle to celebrate and dance in the streets: World War II was over.

 In a Hunter Valley coalmine a wheeler heard the news and sent skips into the mine chalked on the side with: “Official. The bastards have chucked it.” 

When the news reached The Dyke on Newcastle Harbour, men rushed to catch the ferry while others couldn’t wait and dived, fully clothed, into the harbour to swim to the city.

 Men working on the railway bridge across the Hawkesbury River made sure train travellers got the message. 

On each of the bridge spans they chalked “Japan Surrenders” and “War Over.”

 People poured out of shops which closed their doors and remained closed for days. Industries closed with their workers heading for the city.

Women in Hunter Street got out flags out to celebrate the end of World War II.

Women in Hunter Street got out flags out to celebrate the end of World War II.

 After the announcement – made by Prime Minister Ben Chifley and relayed to Hunter St – Radio 2KO began playing dance music and in a flash Hunter St, between Bolton and Newcomen streets, turned into a huge outdoor dance hall, where one of the lasting images of VP-Day is the news photograph of Phyllis Mook and Flo Dillon doing a celebratory dance. 

Mook, a well-known dancer in Newcastle remembered for her performances at the Palaise Royale, died in 2009, but her daughter, Teresa Purnell, told The Herald some time ago that her mother had been at her grandfather’s fruit shop at Swansea when news of the war’s end broke.

 “They drove to town in the table-top truck, with mum on the  back waving the Chinese flag,” she said. “The town went mad and mum danced all afternoon.”

 Trains, buses and trams in and out of the city were packed, with many people walking into town. Men played football in and out of the city crowds using a kerosene tin for a football, flags and bunting appeared on shops, buildings and ships in the harbour, while confetti rained from office windows on a victory parade. 

A parade in Hunter St on Armistice Day, 1918.

A parade in Hunter St on Armistice Day, 1918.

Thousands attended a special service in King Edward Park, many going on to an evening of sports and entertainment at Newcastle Sports Ground. 

Milkmen concerned about interruption to deliveries by revellers asked the army to provide them with a military escort, and by nightfall Newcastle was ringed with bonfi res on the hills at Merewether, New Lambton and Waratah. 

The Newcastle Morning Herald report the next day had one of the largest headings ever used by the newspaper at that time: “JAPAN ORDERED TO CEASE FIRE, MacArthur Calls Envoy To Manila.” 

“Manila, August 15. General Douglas MacArthur, who is to receive the Japanese surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers, has directed the Tokio authorities to order an immediate cessation of hostilities by Japanese forces.

 “He fixed the date and hour of cessation, said that Allied forces would be directed to stop fighting when this had been done.

 A war bonds march in Hunter St during the war.

A war bonds march in Hunter St during the war.

 “Tokio Radio at 4pm (Tokio time) said an Imperial order to cease fire was expected soon, but that Allied warships should stay clear of Japanese home waters until then in order to avoid any untoward incident. 

It announced to Japanese troops on the fighting fronts that Japan had surrendered.

 “The Japanese Government has been instructed to send an envoy, with service advisers, to Manila to receive instructions on the carrying into effect of the surrender terms. 

“On his arrival, the Japanese representative must present a document, authenticated by the Emperor, providing him with the power to receive in the name of the Emperor, the Japanese Government, and Imperial Headquarters the Allied requirements.” The front page also had a small panel with the headline: 

THE SIX YEARS’ WAR “WORLD WAR I. (August 4, 1914 – November 11, 1918) lasted four years and 99 days. 

“World War II. (September 3, 1939 – August 14, 1945) lasted 20 days short of six years. 

“The date of commencement in each case is based on Great Britain’s declaration of a state of war.” 

It was on page two that readers were told that the day before thousands of people had taken to the streets of Newcastle. 

“News yesterday morning of Japan’s surrender sent Newcastle into a fever of excitement.

 “The outburst of genuine feeling and joy was far more spontaneous than that which greeted the news of Germany’s surrender a few months ago. “It was estimated that 100,000 people were in the city at one stage during the day. Last night’s procession filled the steets again.

 “Crowds of young people danced in the Hunter street between Wolfe and Perkin streets. Police were in the vicinity but did not interfere. 

“Trumpets, tin cans, rattlers, oil drums dragged behind motor cars, small whistles, motor horns, train and steamer whistles added to the noise.

 “During the afternoon two flights of Beaufighters and two flights of Mosquito planes flew almost at rooftop over the city.

 “Thousands attended a service at King Edward Park; and at night thousands more followed bands to sport and entertainment at the Sports Ground.   

“Crowds remained about the streets until late at night. “While the sirens were sounding yesterday morning, crews of ships and tugs brought out all their flags from their lockers, and by the time the first joy-riders in the home-made peace procession were skirting the dockside for variety in their celebrations, the ships looked gay and their flags gave an answering wave to gesticulating figures beyond the railway gates.

 “Newcastle people heard the news in different ways, and differently they responded to it. Few thought of anything but the wonderful news . . .” 

It was actually Newcastle’s second celebration of the “end” of World War II, the first for V-Day (victory in Europe) and the second for VP-Day (victory in the Pacific). 

V-Day was a muted affair compared with VP-Day, when residents of the Hunter really let their hair down. 

It was late at night, around 11pm on May 8, when news that the war in Europe was over broke in Newcastle, amidst noise from ships, trains and cars and the ringing bells of Christ Church Cathedral. 

By midnight about 500 people had gathered outside Newcastle Post Office and began an impromptu dance, using their singing to keep the dance beat. 

There were more celebrations the next day, and men charged with drunkenness all gave the same excuse: “Was celebrating V-Day”, and all were discharged with the same verdict: “Admonished and discharged.”    


Shortly after eight o’clock at night on Monday, November 11, 1918, the bulletin board outside the offices of the Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate in Bolton St displayed a cable message announcing an armistice had been signed – World War I had ended. 

The next day The Herald told of how “the news was quickly telephoned to all the places of amusement and to various suburbs, and as it spread steam whistles, hooters and bells announced that the period of tension was over and that the terms of the Allies had been accepted.”

 “An enormous crowd quickly gathered in front of The Herald office, and the singing of God Save the King was the first united thanksgiving of the citizens of Newcastle for the victory in the winning of which so many district men have fought and laid down their lives,” the report said.

 At the Strand Theatre patrons, on hearing the news, rose and sang all the patriotic songs they could think of. At the Victoria Theatre, the company and orchestra assembled in front of the theatre and began to entertain the crowd. In accordance with church tradition a peace bell rang at Christ Church Cathedral for an hour. The celebrations continued until the early morning and began again as people went to work, surprisingly the first band appearing on the streets to lead the growing and excited crowd was the Newcastle Chinese band, which gathered at the Ocean Baths and marched into the city.

 Men, women and children seized anything that would make a noise. Impromptu processions formed, one made up of girls who, with the aid of tin cans, trumpets and whistles, produced what was said to be “an indescribable medley of sound”.

 Tram whistles screeched on all the routes into the city and railway workers from Honeysuckle marched in a body to the memorial statue in front of Newcastle Post Office. Workers from the Walsh Island dockyard formed a similar procession while Hustler’s employees formed their own procession, marching up and back along Hunter St, where a bulldog draped in an Australian flag and the Union Jack wandered. At Newcastle Court, a handful of drunks who celebrated too much the previous evening were all told to leave the court and rejoin the celebrations.

 Various organisations – councils, church groups, unions, schools and so on – put together an official procession and church services. A procession along Hunter St included many of the organisations that had done so much during the war years, including Stockton Junior Red Cross Sunbeam Circle, Stockton Hearts of Oak, Dinkum Girls, Broadmeadow Coo-ee Girls, Cardiff Busy Bees, Merewether Voluntary Workers, Carrington Southern Cross League, Waratah Patriotic League, New Lambton Girls’ Patriotic League and many others. 

Rail lines on the harbour in 1860.

Rail lines on the harbour in 1860.

 Australia’s first railway opens: December, 1831 

Railway in Australia was born in Newcastle on December 10, 1831, when the Australian Agricultural Company opened a line from its pit on The Hill to a wharf on the harbour. 

An “inclined plane railway”, on tracks made with iron rails from England, one-ton wagons of coal were rolled down the hill, connected by rope to empty wagons which were dragged up the hill as the loaded wagons descended. 

The Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association points out the historical significance – Australia’s first private coal company sending its first coal along Australia’s first railway to its first coal loader to be loaded into the Sophia Jane, one of Australia’s first steam-powered ships. No evidence remains of the railway but in 2006 investigations verified the location of the pit and rail line, and a plaque was unveiled on the site where the coal loader stood. The plaque says the first coal was loaded onto the Sophia Jane “amid hearty cheers from all those present”. 

It was a more torturous road to the connection of passenger rail to the Hunter and the opening of Newcastle Railway Station in 1878. 

To steal trade from Hunter River steamers, a rail line linking Newcastle to Maitland was first proposed in 1853, when Maitland was the much larger settlement, and the private Hunter River Railway Company was founded, only to fail and have the rail construction taken over by the state government. 

Honeysuckle station looking across the harbour circa 1890.

Honeysuckle station looking across the harbour circa 1890.

The line opened in 1857 between Honeysuckle Point (near present-day Civic Station) and East Maitland, and by 1858 the Newcastle end had been extended to the port and the East Maitland end to the township of Maitland. Over the next few years the line extended towards Brisbane, reaching Singleton in 1863, Muswellbrook in 1869 and Scone in 1871, before finally reaching the Queeensland border at Wallangara in 1888. 

By this time the original Honeysuckle station was gone after John Whitton, the engineer-in-chief of NSW Government Railways, insisted on its relocation to the present Newcastle site to be closer to the CBD.

Newcastle Railway Station circa 1890.

Newcastle Railway Station circa 1890.

 Under Whitton’s supervision Newcastle station was built, the original building constructed in 1878 and first used in December that year, a two-storey building with single-storey pavilions at either end that forms the basis of the station as it exists today. 

 Newcastle’s railway goods yard in 1906.

Newcastle’s railway goods yard in 1906.

From the station Newcastle goods yards fanned out, dominating the harbour site. Because of the “rail block” of the Hawkesbury River, Newcastle was actually connected by rail to Queensland before Sydney. 

The line between Sydney and the southern bank of the Hawkesbury was opened in 1887, with the line between Newcastle and the northern bank opening in 1888. The line was only completed between the two cities with the opening of the Hawkesbury River Bridge in 1889. 

 “Newcastle was actually connected by rail to Queensland before Sydney.” 


Silverchair, 2007

Silverchair, 2007

When a band made up of three 15-year-old kids from Newcastle released their first record in August, 1994 – a song called Tomorrow, originally recorded in little more than a tin shed at the dead end of a lane in the backstreets of Cardiff - no one could have known that the Hunter’s greatest musical success story was being born.

 Silverchair’s song went on to spend six weeks at No 1 on the Australian singles charts and 20 weeks in the top 10.

 In 1995 it became the most played song of the year on US modern rock radio and set the band on the way to 21 ARIA awards – more than any other artist in history - fi ve studio albums that all made it to No 1 in Australia, the sale of more than six million albums worldwide and concerts such as Rock in Rio on January 21, 2001, before 250,000 people - the biggest show of their lives. 

Singer/guitarist Daniel Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou were all born in Merewether in 1979 and got their big break in 1994, winning a national demo competition conducted by SBS TV show Nomad and Triple J. 

After Tomorrow’s success they released their debut album Frogstomp, which went on to become the first Australian album since INXS to hit the US top 10. 

Then came the albums Freak Show (1997), Neon Ballroom (1999), Diorama (2002) and Young Modern (2007), the fifth consecutive album of the band to top the charts, eclipsing Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil, who each had four Australian number ones, while ACDC, INXS and Crowded House had three each.   


In one of the greatest shocks in Wimbledon history, Newcastle tennis player Peter Doohan knocked the two-time defending champion, Boris Becker, out of The Championships in 1987.

 “I kept telling myself he is not a Lendl or a Leconte,” Becker said after the second-round match. “He can’t keep volleying like this. He’ll crack just once, and then it will be easy.” 

But Doohan didn’t crack, winning 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. He went on to beat Leif Shiras in five sets and then lost to Slobodan Zivojinovic 6-2, 6-4, 7-6. Pat Cash won the title that year, beating Ivan Lendl 7-6, 6-2, 7-5. 

Doohan is still the only player from the Hunter Valley to represent Australia in Davis Cup and was a member of the 1986 winning team.

 On the ATP tour, he reached a career-high world rank of 43 in singles and 13 in doubles, winning six ATP titles. 

Although most famous for his defeat of Becker, Doohan also claimed the scalps of players such as Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic in singles and John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in doubles. He now coaches at the Nelson Bay Tennis Club.


Patrons at the 1977 Golden Slipper, the world’s richest race for two-year-old racehorses, saw one of the greatest performances in the race’s history when the champion Newcastle colt Luskin Star, showing brilliant speed, won by seven lengths taking 1.7 seconds off the race record. 

Luskin Star won the NSW triple crown of juvenile racing that year, taking the Slipper, AJC Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes. 

Bred at Luskintyre and trained by Max Lees, Luskin Star had 17 starts in all for 13 wins and was unplaced only once, in the Cox Plate. 

After a career at stud, the champion died aged 28 in 2002.   


Newcastle Airport extensions 1975.

Newcastle Airport extensions 1975.

For many years early last century there was plenty of talk about an airport for Newcastle, but very little happened. Broadmeadow was discarded as a site, a plan for a sea plane was scrapped, reclaiming Hexham swampland was suggested and abandoned, as were sites at Sandgate and Boolaroo.

 Then RAAF Williamtown opened on February 15, 1941, and in 1947 a civilian charter flight fi rst landed, followed by scheduled seven-day-a-week TAA DC3 flights on February 20, 1948.

 The airport, operated by Newcastle and Port Stephens councils, now serves more than one million passengers a year, with seven airlines and about 150 domestic flights a week. 


Tom Curren, winner of the inaugural Surfest, 1985.

Tom Curren, winner of the inaugural Surfest, 1985.

When Tom Curren won the first Surfest title in 1985 – then the BHP Steel International – an estimated 40,000-strong crowd watched proceedings, possibly still the largest crowd ever attracted to a Newcastle sporting event. 

At the time Surfest was the richest surfing contest in the world, and became the first event in the history of surfing to offer more than $100,000 in money and prizes.

 Curren beat South African Shaun Tomson in that first final, with Wendy Botha beating Pam Burridge in the women’s event. 

Surfest is now the longest-running surfi ng contest in NSW and has provided many diamonds over the years, particularly in 2000 when 12 world champions were in the water together – Pete Townend, Tom Curren, Barton Lynch, Shaun Tomson, Wayne Bartholomew, Mark Richards, Tom Carroll, Damien Hardman, Mark Occhilupo, Derek Ho, Martin Potter and Kelly Slater – a feat never before achieved. 

 Newcastle belts Great Britain: June, 1962

In one of Newcastle rugby league’s “coming of age” moments, Newcastle staged a 23-18 boilover against the Great Britain touring side in front of 22,750 jubilant fans at No 1 Sportsground in 1962. 

The British beat Australia 2-1 in the rugby league Test series that tour, but could not overcome Newcastle, with the game also remembered for two Great Britain players being sent off and a spectator running onto the field to attack one of the British forwards. With the game almost over, Newcastle’s halfback Neville Hannah was flattened in a tackle by British prop Jack Wilkinson, who was eventually sent off.

 A spectator ran more than 50 metres onto the field to attack Wilkinson and, while other Great Britain players retaliated against the spectator – who turned out to be Hannah’s jockey-size brother – other onlookers, mostly children and the Newcastle bench, ran into the melee. 

Years later Neville Hannah recalled the incident: “I was knocked out and they were asking me if I was all right. I sat up, looked at this bloke getting hit and kicked on the ground and said ‘I think so, but I mustn’t be . . . that looks like my brother’.” 

It wasn’t a bad Newcastle side: Fullback L Johns; three-quarters R Horne, B Dunlop, K Odgers, D Adams; halves N Wilkinson, N Hannah; forwards J Sattler, W Owens, D Schofield, J Richards, D Williams, R Heaney; reserves C Ireland, J Daly. Newcastle’s winning margin could have been greater as future Australian star, 19-year-old Les Johns, kicked only four goals from 15 attempts. 

Lock John Sattler, future Australian captain and prop, was also 19 at the time. 

   Newcastle Song tops the charts: March, 1975 

“Don’t you ever let a chance go by, O Lord, Don’t you ever let a chance go by. Yes, up in Newcastle they have very strange mating habits . . .”. 

Who can forget Normie and the words to Bob Hudson’s The Newcastle Song, which carried the city’s name to the top of the Australian pop music charts in 1975. The story of Normie, who goes out with his mates to pick up women in Hunter St in their hot FJ Holden and finds a young lady and her Hells Angel date outside the Parthenon Milk Bar, topped the charts for four weeks.

 It did better in New Zealand where it was number one for six weeks. 

It was the third biggest-selling record for an Australian artist that year, finishing behind Sherbert’s Summer Love and Skyhooks' Horror Movie.

 “All the young men of Newcastle drive down Hunter St in their hot FJ Holdens with chrome-plated grease nipples and double-reverse overhead twin-cam door handles, sitting eight abreast in the front seat, and they lean out of the window and say real cool things to the sheilas on the footpath, like ‘Aah g’day’. 

And every now and then, of course, one of the young ladies thinks to herself . . . Ummmm”. Unforgettable.   

 William Dobell’s knighthood: September, 1966 

The knighthood of William Dobell, born in Cooks Hill in 1899 as the seventh child of a bricklayer, and a resident of Wangi Wangi for much of his life, was recognition of his position as possibly the nation’s finest portrait painter.

 Dobell was a threetime winner of the Archibald Prize – in 1943, 1948 and 1959 – and won the Wynne Prize for his painting Storm Approaching Wangi in 1948. 

His 1943 Archibald win, a portrait of Joshua Smith, unleashed a storm of protest when the conservatives of the Sydney art world dubbed it a caricature and challenged the victory in court. 

Although the case was thrown out, the stress left Dobell seriously ill and he did not paint for a year. Dobell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1965 and knighted in Canberra by the Governor General, Lord Casey, on September 23, 1966, the day before his 67th birthday.

 He said he accepted his knighthood “only to get quits with the snobs”.

 Dobell died in 1970 at Wangi Wangi, with the sole beneficiary of his estate the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation. 

Another Newcastle-born artist, John Olson, brought fame to the city by winning the Archibald Prize in 2005, the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985, and the Sulman Prize in 1989. 

Newcastle University Great Hall opens: November, 1973

 The first mutterings for the establishment of a university in Newcastle began more than 150 years ago, and a long, determined campaign by Hunter residents led, in the early 1950s, to the establishment of Newcastle University College on a technical college site at Tighes Hill. 

Only five full-time students were enrolled when classes began, and study concentrated on science, mathematics and engineering. Although the growing university finally gained autonomy on January 1, 1965, it had to wait until November 28, 1973, for its first real glory day - the opening of its Great Hall, funded by an appeal to the people of the Hunter, standing as a monument of the link between gown and town.

 In 1966 the late Ald Frank Purdue led a Newcastle Lord Mayoral appeal to raise the $600,000 needed to build the hall. 

The money was raised through a “buy-a-brick” campaign, which gave people the chance to buy a single brick for the building. 

By May 28, 1971, the money had been raised and more than 500 people, most of them “brick holders”, witnessed the laying of the foundation stone. The then Deputy Chancellor, Dr G Edwards, told the crowd that the money raised was the largest amount for any similar project undertaken in Australia.

 In 1964 when work began on the university buildings it was planned to cater to 10,000 full-time students by 2004. 

Who knew then what the university would become, now home to almost 33,000 students plus another 2710 internationals offshore, and by 2020 forecast to have more than 40,000 students in an expanded university with a city centre campus accommodating business, law and creative arts as well as education, humanities and social sciences. 

The university had projected total revenue of $540 million last year, had 970 academic and 1447 non-academic staff and had spread its wings with campuses in Newcastle, Central Coast, Singapore, Port Macquarie and Sydney. 

The strong community links remains - in 2010 the community gave more than $4 million in donations to the university while in the last decade donations and bequests have topped $30 million.

Newcastle wins league’s State Cup: August, 1964 

Until the Knights won the title in 1997, there was little doubt what Newcastle rugby league’s greatest glory day was - the David and Goliath 5-3 victory over the mighty St George in the State Cup semi-final in 1964, then going on to finish the job by beating Parramatta 14-7 in the final. 

It was the classic story of the underdogs taking on the best in the world . . . and beating them. St George were midway through the ninth of their record 11 consecutive premierships and were considered possibly the greatest club side ever, but at No.1 Sports Ground the home team stunned the city boys in what is considered Newcastle’s defining moment as a rugby league region.

 The victory has become part of Newcastle folklore as the virtual no-names of the north took on a Dragons side that included internationals Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Brian “Poppa” Clay, Eddie Lumsden, Johnny King and Elton Rasmussen. Newcastle defeated North Coast, Southern Division and Western Division to take the country title that year, then downed South Sydney 29-14 in the first State Cup match, following that with a 6-0 win over North Sydney to set up the salivating semi-final with St George.

 In front of 20,000 fans, Newcastle’s forwards led the way and soon led 5-3, but the crowd was waiting for the floodgates to open.

 It never happened. Newcastle never took a step backwards and at the end it was still 5-3. 

That set up the final against Sydney’s minor premiers, Parramatta, again at No. 1 Sports Ground, this time before a crowd of more than 22,000. The home side was never headed, winning 14-7. 

The victory was part of a golden era for Newcastle, with its representative side winning 15 matches straight from 1963 to 1965, including victories over South Africa and France, plus three country championships and the State Cup.

 The victorious starting team in the final was Johnny McLaughlin, Bob Horne, Dave Brown (c), Bob Moses, Jim Perry, Gerry Edser, Billy Giles, Terry Pannowitz, Brian Carlin, Allan Thomson, Bob Heaney, Allan Buman and Jim Morgan. 

Christine O'Neill 1979

Christine O'Neill 1979

 Newcastle tennis player Christine O’Neil wins Australian Open: January, 1979

 Newcastle-born tennis player Christine O’Neil created a piece of tennis history when she became the first unseeded woman to win the Australian Open title in the open era, beating American Betsy Nagelsen 6-3, 7-5 in the final at Kooyong. Her feat would go unmatched until Serena Williams, unseeded and ranked world No. 81, won the 2007 Australian Open. O’Neil is also one of a handful of players to have won both the Australian Junior Open (1973) and the senior title.

The open was O’Neil’s only singles career title, but that didn’t matter on January 3, 1979, when the 111th ranked player in the world became the queen of the court, crushing the eighth-seeded Nagelsen and not ashamed to shed a few tears after her $6000 win.

 O’Neil, from Boolaroo, was 22 at the time, but was only 14 when she won her first Newcastle women’s open title in 1970, a title she won twice more before taking off around the world to play the professional circuit. 

In 2007 she and her two brothers, Keith and William, took over a tennis school in Morisset, but she has since moved on and now operates the O’Neil School of Tennis in conjunction with the Cessnock Tennis Centre.

 Newcastle Jets win A-League premiership: February, 2008  

The sign at Wallsend read “The last one out, turn off the lights”, as Novocastrians lined the streets for a glimpse of their football heroes on February 24, 2008. 

Thousands of supporters made the trip down the F3 to the Sydney Football Stadium for the 2007/08 A-League decider, the ultimate F3 derby: The Newcastle Jets versus the Central Coast Mariners. The grand final attracted a crowd of 33,354 and a 64th-minute howler from Jets striker Mark Bridge sealed the game for the Novocastrians.

 “It’s every boy’s dream to score the winning goal in a grand final . . . it’s an amazing feeling,” Bridge said after the match. The journey to the grand final was a tumultuous one for Newcastle.

The first major semi-final leg against the Mariners was at EnergyAustralia Stadium in front of 22,960 fans, the Jets prevailing after the Griffiths brothers scored a goal apiece for a 2-0 lead to take to the second leg, where the Jets were on Mariners’ turf. A 37th-minute goal to Adam Kwasnik gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the second leg, and when Mariner Sasho Petrovski scored in the 74th minute the aggregate score was 2-all. 

Captain Jade North holds aloft the trophy.

Captain Jade North holds aloft the trophy.

In front of 19,112 fans at Blue Tongue Stadium, the teams slogged it out in extra time until Petrovski broke the hearts of Jets fans with a second goal in the 95th minute – Mariners 3-2 on aggregate and through to the grand final. 

To get a second shot at the Mariners, the Jets had to overcome the Roar at EnergyAustralia Stadium, and at the end of regulation time the teams were locked 1-all. It was more extra time, but with a penalty shoot out looming, Joel Griffiths slotted home a penalty in the 104th minute, and the 16,000-strong crowd went into a frenzy when fan favourite Tarek Elrich scored a 111th minute goal to give the Jets a 3-1 lead. 

A 118th-minute penalty by Reinaldo wasn’t enough for the Roar, and the Jets booked their spot in the grand final with a 3-2 win.

 A week later at Sydney Football Stadium, coach Gary Van Egmond’s Jets, the youngest squad in the league, ran out to a rapturous reception from an army of fans and achieved the unlikely - they beat a team that had pounded them 3-0 just two weeks earlier. Bridge’s lone goal presented them the title. The Sydney Football Stadium erupted. Newcastle were the champions. 

Players laughed, cried, cheered, and hugged supporters. Jets defender Andrew Durante was awarded the Joe Marston Medal for player of the match, and captain Jade North lifted the trophy for the coach, players and fans. 

Fifty-five busloads of fans and a cavalcade of cars headed back to Newcastle, 3000 fans congregated at Adamstown Oval and when the team bus pulled in around midnight, the party began. “It’s unbelievable the way Newcastle has embraced soccer,” said Joel Griffiths. Van Egmond and then owner Con Constantine thanked supporters, lord mayor John Tate called for a ticker-tape parade and messages of congratulations came in from around the world. 

Fans celebrate at the Jets' victory rally.

Fans celebrate at the Jets' victory rally.

“They’ve made us all proud,” was the message from expatriate Novocastrian and former Liverpool star Craig Johnston. 

The celebrations continued into the week, when the Jets swept the A-League awards with Van Egmond named Coach of the Year, Joel Griffiths taking the Reebok Golden Boot award and the team the Fair Play Award.  – Heather Williams   

Robert Holland 1985

Robert Holland 1985

Robert “Dutchy” Holland bowls Australia to victory: January, 1985 

Clive Lloyd’s West Indies cricketers were the juggernaut of the 1980s, crushing Australia in two consecutive series and having the Frank Worrell Trophy safe in their keeping on their 1984/85 tour of Australia with a 3-0 lead going into the final Test in Sydney. 

But they were no match for a 38-year-old leg-spinner from Toronto, Robert “Dutchy” Holland, who took 6-54 and 4-90 to inspire an Australian victory by an innings and 55 runs, Australia’s only Test victory of the summer. Holland became a national hero with his 10-wicket haul in his third Test, bringing undone a team that had set a new record for most Test wins in succession, was unbeaten in its last 27 Tests and had gone 112 Tests without losing by an innings. 

Holland had made his debut in the first Test of the series, but after taking only four wickets in the first two Tests was dropped, to be recalled for the Sydney match. Australia amassed 9/471 in its first innings (Holland didn’t get to bat, for which he said he was thankful) and the West Indies were all out for 163, Holland’s wickets including Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Larry Gomes and captain Clive Lloyd. Forced to follow on, they fell for 253.

Holland was named man of the match. 

“It’s been terrific knocking them over,” Holland said afterwards. “It’s easy to say the wicket was turning, but you’ve still got to get them out.” Recalling his performance two decades afterwards, Holland told The Herald: “I didn’t really expect to play Test cricket at the age of 38, but it was a fantastic time, and I have some great memories, especially of that Sydney Test.” 

The Southern Lakes leg spinner played 11 Tests for Australia, taking 34 wickets at 39.76 and scoring 35 runs at 3.18, including five successive ducks.  

Craig Johnston scores in FA Cup final: May, 1986

When a long-haired Lake Macquarie junior soccer player, Craig Johnston, arrived at Middlesbrough in England as a 15-year-old trialist in 1975, his teammates regarded him pretty much a laughing stock because of their technical superiority. 

The Middlesbrough manager, Jack Charlton, told him to go back to Australia. Almost a decade later, Johnston had the last laugh.

 On May 10, 1986, in front of more than 98,000 people at Wembley, he tapped in a Jan Molby cross to score one of the most iconic goals in Australian soccer history to help Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 in the FA Cup final. 

He became the first Australian to make a major impact on the English game and by his retirement his trophy cabinet held five English league championships, an FA Cup and a European Cup winner’s medal, making him Australia’s most decorated footballer. 

Born in South Africa to Australian parents, Johnston grew up in Lake Macquarie and at six had to overcome osteomyelities (doctors had suggested amputating his leg) before even having a chance to make a future in football. 

He made his first team debut for Middlesbrough at 17 and, after making a name for himself, was bought by Liverpool in 1981 for a then record 570,000 pounds. 

He played there until his retirement at just 27, one of the most popular players - nicknamed Skippy - in what was then considered the best team in the world. In retirement Johnston designed the Predator and Pig football boots, the Traxion sole for football boots and a hotel software program called Butler, as well as creating the TV show The Main Event. 

He now lives in the US with a career as a photographer.   

Nicky Wood wins Bells Beach: April, 1987 

At Bells Beach on Monday, April 20, 1987, a young Novocastrian, Nicky Wood, did the seemingly impossible. 

The Merewether 16-year-old, who only turned professional on the eve of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells, defeated a legendary field to claim one of the most prized possessions in surfing - a Bells Beach trophy. 

On his way he eliminated world champion Tom Curren and Barton Lynch before triumphing in the final against Richard Marsh, becoming the first pro surfer to win an event on debut. 

He was the youngest person in history to win a world tour event, a record that stood until 2009 when broken by 15-year-old Gabriel Medina in Brazil. Surfing legend Mark Richards’ godson, the natural footer was touted as the “next big thing” in surfing but after seven years competing he famously self-destructed. 

Tracks magazine says of his 1987 victory that it was obvious he had the gift . . . “and at Bells in 1987 that gift was on display for all to see, his timeless performance capped off by a giant-lip-line-copingride, on a crunching four-foot shore break, that he rode for a mile, before free falling backwoods towards the flats - amazingly he nailed it with an effortless ease that defied the exploding plumes of heavy Bells water around him.”   

Captain Paul Harragon holds aloft the trophy.

Captain Paul Harragon holds aloft the trophy.


It was Newcastle’s 200th birthday, but it wasn’t the string of events organised throughout the year that would burn 1997 into the minds of Novocastrians. It wasn’t even the justannounced closure of BHP, the industry that had been the backbone of the region for the best part of a century.

 It was the efforts of 17 battered, bruised and bloodied young men, who took up the cudgels for every man, woman and child in the Hunter and gave the region the birthday party it deserved.

 It was the day the Newcastle Knights won their fi rst ARL premiership. At Sydney Football Stadium where the Knights beat Manly in a fairytale victory, grown men cried, strangers hugged and danced and an hour after the game the stadium still rang with cheers. Tens of thousands of people had lined the streets and freeway in a guard of honour as the Knights bus headed to Sydney, but it was nothing compared to their arrival back home - one of the most spontaneous outbursts of emotion the city has ever seen.

 Fans spilled onto the streets and cheered home the coach carrying the players, and outside Newcastle Workers Club fans gathered in their thousands to see the Optus Cup arrive, the start of a magical, unbelievable week of celebrations. Two days later, a victory march through Newcastle brought 100,000 people onto the streets for a ticker-tape parade. 

People began queueing at 8am for a glimpse of their heroes, the parade kicking off at Jesmond and continuing to Civic Park under a stream of shredded paper cascading from buildings. 

Workers abandoned their offices to celebrate even though an attempt to have the day declared a public holiday had failed. 

Crowds 10-deep in Beaumont St, Hamilton, totalled 20,000, and when the cavalcade reached Civic Park 80,000 people were cheering. “They say there is no such thing as a perfect day,” Knights captain Paul Harragon told the masses, “But I think Sunday was a perfect day. Today is also a perfect day . . . a once-in-alifetime experience.”

 “It is more unbelievable than you can ever, ever imagine,” foundation Knights’ player Stephen Crowe said.

 “This day will stay in my mind until I die.” Even the Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, was swept up in the euphoria: 

“We salute you, we extoll you and on this memorable day in Newcastle’s history, we congratulate and commemorate you.” 

The celebrations came at the end of a tumultuous year for rugby league, with the game split by Super League. 

Who would have thought the Newcastle Knights, involved in their own bitter turf war with the Super League Mariners for the hearts and souls of Hunter league fans, would become the saviours of the sport with the grand fi nal labelled “the game that saved rugby league”. 

The Knights, made up of mostly local players, had never won a premiership. Manly was full of Test players coached by league legend Bob Fulton. 

They had thumped the Knights on 11 straight occasions, including a 27-12 victory just two weeks earlier in semi fi nal two, which left Manly to play Sydney City for their place in the grand final while Newcastle had to bounce back against North Sydney. 

The Knights had struggled to beat Parramatta 28-20 in the first semi final after being down 18-nil after 18 minutes, followed by their loss to Manly in a spiteful game. 

The screams of delight from fans at the Newcastle Workers Club.

The screams of delight from fans at the Newcastle Workers Club.

The following week against Norths it was 12-all with one minute and 50 seconds to go when a Matthew Johns drop goal tipped the match in Newcastle’s favour, before Owen Craigie crossed after the bell to give Newcastle a 17-12 win, all coming after a memorable Darren Albert chase and tackle from the opposite wing of a runaway Matt Seers. 

So Newcastle was through. The next day Manly toppled Sydney City 17-16 to set up the grand final everyone wanted.

 But as if all the drama leading into the last Sunday in September wasn’t enough, the Knights general, Andrew Johns, aggrevated damaged ribs in the win over Norths and punctured a lung, which needed to be surgically re-inflated in the week before the game. 

He was in hospital until the Wednesday, did not train until the Thursday and was under a cloud until game day. 

He did – fatefully – get onto the field. Early in the match it looked like Manly would stretch its winning run over Newcastle to 12 when they led 10-nil after 25 minutes, 16-8 at half-time and 16-10 with less than 10 minutes to go, despite the kamikaze efforts of Newcastle captain Paul Harragon, inspired by coach Malcolm Reilly’s whispered words “You don’t get sent off in grand finals”. 

Harragon terrorised Manly in the opening 20 minutes and left them spent towards the end as the Knights climbed on an emotional tidal wave that dragged them to 16-all when man-of-the-match Robbie O’Davis stretched out to score in the 74th minute and Johns converted. 

As time ran down three field goal attempts by the Knights missed their mark, but as the third was charged down, Mark Hughes regathered to give the Knights one last chance. 

Everyone alive in Newcastle and the Hunter at the time knows what happened next, but Neil Jameson captured  “The gap could have been as wide as Sydney Heads. People watched, mouths agape in disbelief . . .”  the moment in the Newcastle Herald magazine Joey: The Andrew Johns Story, published in May, 2001, to mark Johns’ retirement from the game. 

“The clock clicked into the 79th minute as Matty Johns positioned himself in centre field mentally rehearsing what would be his next shot at field goal and Newcastle’s last chance in normal time. But, wait, what was his brother doing racing in to dummy half as Darren Albert stood to play the ball on the last tackle? Only Joey knew. 

He tapped the winger on the back and said, ‘Stay alive!’ Everybody at the Sydney Football Stadium – from the ball boys to the bar staff – knew that the ball had to go left to Matty. Instead, Andrew came out of a crouch, holding the pill in front of him, and darted right down the blind side.

 “What the hell is he doing?” chorused 40,000 fans inside the ground and millions watching on television.

The crowd at Civic Park for the victory parade.

The crowd at Civic Park for the victory parade.

 “Manly’s exhausted left-side defenders had been as certain as everyone else that the ball was heading infield. They had knocked off for the afternoon. Andrew had read it in their body language and now he was running where they least expected. He dummied once to the outside to commit a defender and then looked back inside. 

Albert had heeded the ‘stay alive’ command and was on his toes trailing the halfback. The pass travelled the brief distance to the winger’s safe grasp. “The gap could have been as wide as Sydney Heads. 

People watched, mouths agape in disbelief, as the fairhaired bloke in red and blue slammed the ball down and leapt in jubilation.

 “Six seconds remained on the clock.” Johns kicked the conversion. Newcastle 22, Manly 16. It wasn’t until a few days after the victory that Johns revealed he had played the grand final with three broken ribs.

Darren Albert after scoring the winning try.

Darren Albert after scoring the winning try.

“If I get killed tomorrow, I’ll die a happy man,” two-try hero and Clive Churchill Medallist Robbie O’Davis told a national television audience glued to their screens at game’s end.

 “So many circumstances made that grand final something very, very special,” Harragon said years later, reminiscing about the victory. “It was the 200-year bicentenary of the town. We were against a team we hadn’t beaten in years. They’d flogged us. There was another team in Newcastle, the Hunter Mariners with Super League, and that had a lot of people arguing. 

“The BHP was shut, jobs were gone, but all of a sudden we made the grand final and people were up. There was this massive surge of energy and all this momentum behind us because an entire city was behind us.

 “The emotion was something I’ll never forget. Just the looks in the eyes of all these people. It was quite an amazing, uplifting experience. People in Newcastle can still tell you where they were and what they were doing when we got up”. 

Prop Tony Butterfield years later told reporter Will Swanton that Albert’s try encapsulated the promise held by grand finals. One moment that will never be forgotten.

 “You can get a split second which can make history,” he said. “It was a seminal moment for Newcastle and for rugby league.” Newcastle won the premiership again in 2001, beating Parramatta 30-24 after leading 24-nil at halftime, but there’s never another time like the first time.

MEMORIES OF VICTORY   The team: Robbie O’Davis, Darren Albert, Mark Hughes, Owen Craigie, Adam MacDougall, Matthew Johns, Andrew Johns, Marc Glanville, Adam Muir, Wayne Richards, Paul Harragon (C), Bill Peden, Tony Butterfield. Res: Troy Fletcher, S Conley, Stephen Crowe, L Jackson. The coach: Malcolm Reilly. The result: Newcastle 22 (R O’Davis 2, D Albert tries; A Johns 5 goals) d Manly 16 (J Hopoate, C Innes, S Nevin tries; S Nevin 2 goals). The crowd: 42,482. The referee: David Manson. Clive Churchill Medal winner: Robbie O’Davis.

MEMORIES OF VICTORY The team: Robbie O’Davis, Darren Albert, Mark Hughes, Owen Craigie, Adam MacDougall, Matthew Johns, Andrew Johns, Marc Glanville, Adam Muir, Wayne Richards, Paul Harragon (C), Bill Peden, Tony Butterfield. Res: Troy Fletcher, S Conley, Stephen Crowe, L Jackson. The coach: Malcolm Reilly. The result: Newcastle 22 (R O’Davis 2, D Albert tries; A Johns 5 goals) d Manly 16 (J Hopoate, C Innes, S Nevin tries; S Nevin 2 goals). The crowd: 42,482. The referee: David Manson. Clive Churchill Medal winner: Robbie O’Davis.

MEMORIES OF VICTORY:  The team: Robbie O’Davis, Darren Albert, Mark Hughes, Owen Craigie, Adam MacDougall, Matthew Johns, Andrew Johns, Marc Glanville, Adam Muir, Wayne Richards, Paul Harragon (C), Bill Peden, Tony Butterfield. Res: Troy Fletcher, S Conley, Stephen Crowe, L Jackson. The coach: Malcolm Reilly. The result: Newcastle 22 (R O’Davis 2, D Albert tries; A Johns 5 goals) d Manly 16 (J Hopoate, C Innes, S Nevin tries; S Nevin 2 goals). The crowd: 42,482. The referee: David Manson. Clive Churchill Medal winner: Robbie O’Davis. 


Chad Reed, 2010.

Chad Reed, 2010.

When Neil Jameson interviewed Kurri Kurri supercross superstar Chad Reed a few years ago he listed 2004 as the best year of his life.

 “I won a lot of races, won the championship and got married (to Kurri childhood sweetheart Ellie Brady),” the motorcycle daredevil said. 

Although Reed was little known in his native Australia in 2004, after going to Europe to forge his career at just 18, that breakthrough title helped him to a $6.5 million income for the year, placing him fourth behind Greg Norman, Harry Kewell and Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian sportsmen’s annual rich list. 

His second world title, in 2008, helped him earn $8.7 million that year, and cemented his position as the most consistent supercross/motocross racer in the 2000-2009 decade. Since he began notching wins in motorcross and supercross titles 15 years ago, he has accumulated millions in prizemoney, sponsorship and advertising deals. 

Reed turned 30 in March and has competed in the gruelling US circuit for the past 10 years. He missed out by just four points for the supercross world crown last year, but forged a new path by creating his own team, TwoTwo Motorsports, and notched up number five place on the Hunter’s biggest earners with $8.5 million. This year brought bad luck, when he was involved in a devastating crash at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas in the American Supercross Series. 

The crash ripped the anterior cruciate ligament off Reed’s left leg, caused multiple fractures to the leg, broke two ribs and cracked a vertebra.

 Among Reed’s biggest career wins are 1997 Australian Junior Motocross Champion, 1999 Australian Supercross Champion, 2000 Australian Supercross Champion, 2003 US Open Champion, 2003 FIM World Supercross Champion, 2004 US Open Champion, 2004 AMA Supercross Champion, 2008 AMA/FIM World Supercross Champion, 2009 Monster Energy Triple Crown MX Champion, 2009 AMA National Motocross Champion and 2009 AMA Athlete of the Year. On June 13, 2011, Reed was named a Member of the Order of Australia for services to motorsports.

Swansea Bridge 1920s.

Swansea Bridge 1920s.


It took more than a century to move from the first Swansea Bridge to the present double-span construction, a vital lifeline on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie spanning the entrance to the lake and connecting Little Pelican to Swansea. 

The original Swansea Bridge, built in 1881 by A&R Amos, had a swing-type opening span to allow boats to and from the lake, and two unusual, derrick-like towers. It was designed to carry a locomotive that moved stones across the channel to build the breakwall on the northern side. 

Parts of the bridge, including its lifting span, came from one built in 1871 at Black Wattle Bay, Sydney. Timber for the bridge was cut on the western side of the lake and hauled to the channel via Adamstown by bullock train.

 When the breakwall was complete the rail tracks were removed and the bridge was opened to public traffic in 1895. 

The initial bridge was replaced in 1909 with another opening-span bridge, build by Peter Callan and Sons of Newcastle, incorporating a road. The bridge, which cost 6180 pounds, again used parts from Black Wattle Bay.

It was dismantled in 1956 after being replaced by the channel’s third opening bridge on December 14, 1955. The third bridge carried both north and south-bound traffic and was duplicated in 1989 by a bridge built by Transfield. 

This set up the present structure with the old bridge carrying north-bound traffic and the newer bridge south-bound traffic. It was a rainy day when the bridge was officially opened by Peter Morris and Robert Webster, but the umbrella-carrying crowds still turned out. Now more than 27,000 vehicles use the bridge each day, along with its pedestrian and cycleway paths. 

The bridge opens about 2000 times a year allowing up to 4500 boats to pass through. 


It is hard to put a birth date on the Hunter wine industry, but it seems probable that George Wyndham, at his Dalwood property on the banks of the Hunter near Branxton, was the fi rst grower to produce wine in the valley. 

Whenever the birth was, the Hunter’s wines have been bringing glory to the region ever since, from gracing Emperor Napoleon’s table at the Paris Exhibition in 1855 to being named best semillon in the world at the 2011 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London – almost 180 years of excellence. 

Wyndham established his vineyard on the river in 1831 and made his fi rst wine in 1835, although he admitted it was not much good and promised to “make good vinegar”. The next year James King’s Irrawang vineyard on the Williams River at Raymond Terrace produced its maiden vintage.

 The other important date in the history of Hunter wine is October 16, 1832, the day James Busby, lauded as the father of the Australian wine industry, arrived in Sydney carrying cuttings of 543 vine varieties he had collected from France and Spain. 

A set of the cuttings was donated to Sydney’s botanic gardens, and a duplicate set was planted at Kirkton, a property Busby owned between Singleton and Branxton run by his brother in law, William Kelman. 

These plantings literally sowed the seeds of the Australian wine industry and are regarded as its wellspring. The fi rst plantings at the Hunter’s most famous wine-producing area, Pokolbin, came in March, 1866, courtesy of William Wilkinson at his Oakdale vineyard, now named after one of his sons, Audrey Wilkinson. 

From these early plantings Australia’s oldest wine region has grown to produce more than 39 million litres of wine annually, packaged and sold to more than 50 countries. 

There are about 125 wineries and more than 6000 hectares of vineyards in the valley, and more than 2.8 million tourists visit each year, estimated to generate more than $560 million in business. 

The tourists are catered to by 75 cellar doors, 55 restaurants, three major golf courses, 3000 beds and masses of infrastructure.

 George Wyndham had no idea what he was starting.   

Mountain Maid mine.

Mountain Maid mine.


There was one constant in the pioneering days of Australia – if you wanted a population explosion, have yourself a gold rush. 

Copeland, near Gloucester, is now a village of about 300 people, but at the height of a goldrush in 1879 it had about 3000 people, a thriving town with eight pubs. There were some 51 mines operating in the area, which produced about 11 tons of gold, equating to about $400 million in today’s terms. 

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, gold was discovered near Copeland at Back Creek in July, 1876, although this may be a little after the fact. It was found by cedar getters the Saxby brothers (Henry, Robert, Edward and John) and George Bartlett, whose son, Robert, wrote in the Gloucester Advocate in the 1920s suggesting the discovery was actually made in 1874/75 but kept secret.

 He wrote that the first “colour” was washed out in the creek by John Saxby, and the find kept secret until the group found out the government was offering a 500 pound reward for new goldfields. 

They broke the news of the find in July, 1876, and afterwards the government delayed the reward because of the delay in making the discovery known, although one was paid after 1880. Once word of the discovery got out miners flooded the area and the population increased to 1100, of whom 800 were miners. 

The first mining was alluvial, then reef mining. 

The first gold lease was applied for on November 25, 1876, with the reefs being worked in 1877 including Rainbow, Centennial, Mountain Maid, Hidden Treasure, Lady Lizzie, Mechanics, Morning Star, Star of the South, Rose and Thistle and Lord of the North. In 1879 the industry was at its peak, but by 1880 the miners were off to a new strike at Temora. By 1887 mining had almost ceased. 

The last mine and one of the biggest, Mountain Maid, closed in 1878, and is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as a tourist attraction and education facility as part of Copeland Tops State Conservation Area. 


When Newcastle trainer Paul Perry’s four-year-old colt Choisir, at 40-1, charged down the straight to win the King’s Stand Stakes in June, 2003, he became the first Australian-trained horse to win at England’s Royal Ascot track. 

Days later, when the colt fended off the best sprinters in Europe to lead all the way in the group one Golden Jubilee Stakes, in record time on the same hallowed turf, he became the first horse to win two races at a Royal Ascot carnival since Stanerra in 1983, the first horse to claim the King’s Stand-Golden Jubilee double and had Perry shaking the hand of the Queen. 

“After the race we got to meet the Queen,” Perry told racing writer Craig Young at the time. 

“She shook our hand, presented the cup to us. I thought I’d only be there for 30 seconds but she really knows her racing, loves her racing, we discussed our horses and the race. “We also spoke about her grandson William’s 21st birthday party that night. It was fancy dress.” 

After possibly the biggest breakthrough for Australian horses going to Europe, the horse Perry bought with long-time client Terry Wallace for $55,000 was spoken of as having a price tag of $10 million. 

Choisir had one more start in the UK, finishing second in the July Cup, before being purchased by Coolmore Stud Australia for a career as a shuttle stallion. In his racing career Choisir had 20 Australian starts for five wins, four seconds and six thirds, including a victory in the group one VRC Lightning at Flemington, and three Great Britain starts for two wins and a second, and was Australia’s International Horse of the Year in 2003. 

At stud he is the sire of more than 700 starters for more than 400 winners including 33 stakes winners that have earned more than $33 million.

Anthony Stuart, 1997.

Anthony Stuart, 1997.


A few years earlier, Newcastle-born Anthony Stuart was working as a bank teller and playing second-grade cricket for Charlestown, but at Melbourne Cricket Ground in January, 1997, the rightarm seamer marked his third – and last – one-day international for Australia with a hat-trick and 5-27 against Pakistan, helping Australia to victory with three balls to spare. 

Stuart played three one-day internationals in the 1996/97 triangular series between Australia, Pakistan and the West Indies, taking eight wickets at 13.62, before a form slump resulted in him losing his place for Australia and NSW before moving to the Canberra Comets and into coaching. 

But that day in Melbourne the 27-year-old was on the top of the cricket world, recording Australia’s second one-day hat-trick after Bruce Reid’s triple against New Zealand 11 years previously. 

His wickets prompted the crowd to chant “Stuart should have been a Victorian”. His three victims were all top-order players – Ijaz Ahmed, who edged behind, Mohammad Wasim, who fell to the same fate, and Moin Khan, caught by Mark Taylor at first slip

Mark Richards won his first world surfing title in 1979.

Mark Richards won his first world surfing title in 1979.


When Mark Richards set off for Hawaii in October, 1979, chasing the world surfing title, his hopes had pretty much been dashed by the elimination of one of the three major contests in the islands. 

That left the Wounded Seagull – nicknamed because of his tall physique, wing-like arms and upturned hands – standing fourth in the world ratings, 1000 points behind Australian Wayne Bartholomew, then Cheyne Horan and Hawaiian Dane Kealoha, with only two events, the Pipeline Masters and the World Cup, to peg back the lead. It seemed impossible. 

Richards had been about 2000 points ahead of his rivals after the Australian and Japanese legs of the world tour, but decided not to surf the South African and US legs and was caught, then passed. Richards fi nished fourth at Pipeline, but Kealoha finished ahead of him and was title favourite in the run up to the Duke Kahanamoku Classic and World Cup. 

But Richards was unstoppable. After winning the classic he beat fellow Australian Peter Townend in the man-on-man final of the World Cup at Haleiwa Beach, and as his major competitors fell by the wayside he found himself the 1979 world surfing champion. Richards had been defacto champion in 1975/76 when he won the Smirnoff World Pro/Am Surfi ng Championship – the implied world title at the time – at Waimea and the World Cup at Sunset, earning $9000, a sum unheard of for surfers at that time. 

Richards went on to win the title again in 1980, the first man to win back-to-back titles, and again in ‘81 and ‘82, although before the start of the 1982 season he put the vacancy sign on the title, saying three times in a row was enough and the “magical number” for him.

 To win in 1981 he had to travel the entire circuit which included Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and Hawaii, whereas in previous years he had only travelled to countries and events he liked. He felt it necessary to do the entire circuit in 1981 to increase his chances of winning. “When I won the title in 1979, I had never really set out to win it,” he said. “I surfed in the contests that I wanted to surf in and there was not much travelling involved.

 “This year (1982) I am going to do the same thing. I will only surf in the Australian and Hawaiian events and I will spend more time in Newcastle shaping and developing surfboards.” 

But in December, 1982, he won his fourth title anyway, when he finished second to Tom Carroll in the Sunkist Cup, the final event on the Hawaii pro tour.

 “There is a time in your life when you’ve got to stop,” he said after that victory. “It’s easy to go surfing, but to push yourself continually is hard. I don’t feel I can do the whole circuit. I can’t handle it anymore.

 “Chasing a world crown requires 100 per cent dedication and lots of sacrifices. I would have to go on a really intensive training program. I don’t want to do that – I’m lazy.” 

Shortly after winning his fourth title Richards went into semi-retirement, caused by increasing back problems and his disenchantment with the travelling lifestyle. At the time he was considered the greatest surfer of all time, regarded with awe at beaches around the planet. 

MR in his early surfing days

MR in his early surfing days

As well as his world titles he won events such as the 1976 2SM/Coca Cola Surfabout – at the time the richest event on the surfing tour – four Bells Beach titles (three in succession, 1978-1980), the 1979 Stubbies Classic and Rip Curl Classic, the 1980 Gunston 500 and Pipeline Masters. In all he won more than 20 major professional and more than 15 grand prix titles.

In semi-retirement he won the 1985 and ‘86 Billabong Pros in Hawaii, the latter when giant 10-metre waves smashed Waimea Bay and some surfers refused to even paddle out, and in 2001 he returned to claim victory in the World Masters Championships over-40 division in Ireland. 

The boy who was surfing at age six at his local Merewether Beach has collected three Newcastle Sportsman of the Year awards, life membership of Merewether Board Club, been installed in the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, Australian Surfing Hall of Fame and Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame, been voted surfer of the year three times in succession by readers of Surfer magazine, been the first surfer to star in the “I feel like a Tooheys” commercials, been awarded an OAM for services to surfing, received an Australian Sport Medal and an honourary doctorate from the University of Newcastle.  

Nick Flanaghan in 2003.

Nick Flanaghan in 2003.


When Belmont teenager Nick Flanagan holed a 30cm putt at the US Amateur Golf Championship at Oakmont in Pittsburg on August 25, 2003, his life changed forever. 

With that putt the 19-year-old, who took up golf only six years previously, became the fi rst Australian in 100 years to win the US Amateur Championship, joining such stellar names as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods - who won three times from 1994 to 1996 - as champion of the world’s most prestigious non-professional tournament. 

It was the end of three months doing it tough on the US amateur golf circuit, sometimes sleeping on the fl oor of cheap hotel rooms, to suddenly being invited to play the US Masters and US and British opens. Flanagan led US teenager Casey Wittenberg for 35 holes of the 36-hole man-on-man final, and was four up after 18 holes, but tightened down the stretch and dropped a shot on the last to allow Wittenberg to tie.

 “I was pretty nervy over the last couple of holes,” Flanagan admitted. “I started realising I was pretty close to winning the US amateur. It kind of hit me all of a sudden.” 

On the first hole of the playoff, Flanagan held his nerve and dropped the 30cm putt to win, making him the first Australian to take the title since Walter Travis exactly 100 years previously.

 “I honesty don’t know how I won, but I definitely won’t give it back,” he said after the victory. “I’m living it up.” 

Back home in Lake Macquarie his mother Jenny was listening to the final via mobile phone.

 “I heard the crowd erupt, then we erupted and the whole street erupted,” she said at the time. His father Wayne, a mine worker, missed the magic moment as a tree had fallen on their house during a storm the previous night and he was outside helping remove it from their roof.

 As well as Palmer, Woods and Nicklaus, Flanagan joined players such as Lanny Wadkins, Craig Stadler, Jerry Pate, Mark O’Meara, Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson, all major winners, on the champions list.

 Flanagan turned professional in 2004 and registered his first win in the 2005 Queensland Masters. 

In 2007 he won three times on the US Nationwide Tour to earn a “battlefield promotion” to the PGA tour, but lost his tour card after two years and is now back on the Nationwide Tour. 

He has amassed more than $1 million in prizemoney.  


It’s not everybody’s backyard that is considered an “irreplaceable source of life and inspiration”, but the Hunter’s backyard - aka the Barrington Tops - is, and it was listed as a World Heritage site in November, 1986. 

World Heritage is bestowed on places of such value that the international community agrees they must be conserved for all time, and the tops has been listed as part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, a series of more than 40 rainforest national parks and reserves stretching from Barrington Tops to south-east Queensland. 

There are fewer than 1000 properties worldwide on the World Heritage list, and only 183 in recognition of their outstanding universal natural significance.

 Rainforests once covered the supercontinent Gondwana – which began breaking up about 80 million years ago to form Australia, India, South America, Antarctica and Africa - and these forests remain the most ancient vegetation in Australia.

 Few places on earth contain so many plants and animals relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record, plus have spectacular landforms that give insight into the prehistoric world. 

The rainforests contain habitats for both threatened plants and animals - more than 200 of the plant species are rare or threatened with extinction and there are more than 80 rare or threatened animal species. 

The rainforests were included on the National Heritage List on May 21, 2007. Barrington Tops National Park covers more than 95,000 hectares of unspoilt wilderness and has an almost mystical reputation with mountain streams, waterfalls and lush rainforest canopies.  


It was September 21, 1948, when Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, the fifth son of a Maitland publican, was elected president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, where he presided over the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. 

The declaration, one of the major achievements of the United Nations, was described by Eleanor Roosevelt as “the international Magna Carta for all mankind.”

 Evatt played an important part in the formation of the United Nations and the foundation of post-World War II international order, with the declaration the culmination of his work. 

Born in Maitland on April 30, 1894 - his father, John, had the Hunter River Hotel and later the Bank Hotel in East Maitland - Evatt was a remarkable man, one of Labor’s most influential leaders who played a major role in shaping Australia’s foreign policies. 

He authored books on Australian history, was a patron of the arts, a Justice of the High Court, a member of both NSW and Commonwealth parliaments, Federal Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs, leader of the opposition for nine years and, at the end of his career, Chief Justice of the High Court. He died in 1965.


   Just after 6.30pm on Tuesday, September 9, 1890, the mayoress of Lambton, Mrs W Dent, stood on the hill overlooking the township and flipped a switch that turned on the first electric lights in the Hunter Valley, “illuminating in a brilliant manner . . . 160 street lights, in addition to a large number of hotels, stores and dwellings.” 

An hour earlier Amy Palmer and Thursa Payne, daughters of two of the town’s aldermen, had smashed bottles of champagne over two engines imported from England that were supplying the power from a building in a quarry between Young and High streets.

 “Yesterday was a red-letter day in the history of Lambton, and one to be remembered by both young and old in that neat little town for the rest of their lifetime,” The Newcastle Morning Herald reported next day. 

With the coming of light came celebrations, with The Herald reporting that there were “youngsters parading through the town with banners blazoning Advance Australia Fair much in evidence, the parade ending in a picnic in the park where a mountain of sandwiches, fruit and lollies restored about 1500 children’s energies – not forgetting at the same picnic a wagon heavily laden with casks of free beer to whip up or tone down adult enthusiasm.”

 The contractor who installed the lights described them as “the most perfect in the colony” and added “the electric lights of Lambton vie with the stars in the heavens.” The Herald said that where Lambton led “all other local bodies could only follow.”

 Follow Newcastle did, and at 8.45pm on New Year’s Eve, 1890, Jessie Christie, daughter of then mayor of Newcastle Ald Colin Christie, threw a switch in Newcastle’s first power station, at the corner of Darby and Sydney (now Tyrrell) streets, and 240 lights burst into life as far as The Junction and in Hunter St.

 Before the valley’s lights, Tamworth had celebrated the centenary of European settlement by switching on the country’s first streetlights in 1888, while Sydney didn’t follow until 1904.   


  In Freeport in the Bahamas in late 1980, Grant Long became the first Australian to win a world board sailing title when he defeated 66 competitors from 20 different countries in the heavyweight division. 

Long, who won two Australian windsurfing championships and was placed in two others between 1978 and 1983, had previously competed in world titles in Mexico in 1978 (25th), Greece in 1979 (8th) and Japan in 1981 (10th). 

Long sailed boats on Lake Macquarie from the age of six, but switched to sailboards when he began studying mechanical engineering at Newcastle University and quickly became captain of the Belmont Bay Windsurfing Fleet. 

He was inducted into the Hunter Region Sporting Hall of Fame in 1993, but sadly died in 2008 at 47 after a decade-long fight with cancer. 

Adam Quinn, born in Newcastle and growing up on the shores of Lake Macquarie, started sail boarding just a few years after Long won his first title, and in 1989 won the junior world championship. In 1993 he won the heavyweight world title, which he held continuously until 1997.   

Rick Duncan, 1975

Rick Duncan, 1975


 The year 1988 was a big one for Newcastle hang glider Rick Duncan – he was the Newcastle champion, NSW champion, Australian champion and world champion at the same time. 

As well as taking out the main world cross-country title at Mount Buffalo, Victoria, in February, 1988, against 160-odd competitors from 30 countries, he was also a winner in the four-man world team event for Australia, after taking out the world freestyle championship at Stanwell Park, NSW, the previous month.

Over his competitive career he was a three-time Newcastle champion, five-time NSW champion and three-time national champion, as well as winning several international events. 

He began competing in international competition at just 14, five years younger than any other competitor, and later he and his family were among the pioneers of foot-launched hang gliding in Australia.

Duncan is still flying, after he and his brothers founded Airborne Windsports at Redhead in 1983, exporting to more than 30 countries. 

The opening day of Stockton Bridge, 1971.

The opening day of Stockton Bridge, 1971.


“A party of workmen from South Wallsend and a team of sightseers from Maryville were the first members of the public to drive on to Stockton Bridge . . .”. That’s the first sentence from The Newcastle Herald’s frontpage report of Tuesday, November 2, 1971, recording the opening of the $6.5 million Stockton Bridge by the NSW Premier, Robert Askin, who cut a blue ribbon and unveiled a plaque in front of about 600 invited guests and 300 members of the public. 

The “graceful lightness” of Stockton Bridge.

The “graceful lightness” of Stockton Bridge.

Designed to have an appearance of “graceful lightness”, according to the specifi cations of the Department of Main Roads, the historic bridge opening had been a long time coming for Newcastle as numerous attempts to get state governments interested in a harbour bridge had fallen on deaf ears.

That was until the 1955 Hunter floods silted the harbour and stopped the vehicular ferries for more than three months, leaving the only road link between Newcastle and Stockton the 48km drive via Hexham. 

Described at its opening as having “simple yet pleasing lines” and “not having a heavy looking arch like that of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, nor thick stone pylons like those supporting the Hawkesbury rail bridge”, the bridge was “a welcome contrast to the monotony of the flat, reclaimed mudfl ats on the Kooragang side and the low, scrub-covered sandhills of the Stockton peninsula.”

 Surprisingly, the coming of the bridge was opposed by many people in Stockton, who thought it might be the death of the town, while others forecast it would lead to a major land boom north of the harbour. 

After the ribbon was cut at the opening a parade of nine offi cial cars made a slow crossing while many of the offi cial gathering walked to the centre of the 3358 ft bridge (at the time the second-longest bridge in NSW behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge) to take in the view. 

At a marquee set up under the bridge, girls employed by the Department of Main Roads handed guests fi ve-inch (12.7cm) sections of the cut blue ribbon inscribed in gold lettering “Stockton Bridge over the North Channel of the Hunter River – Offi cial Opening, Monday, 1st November, 1971.” 

The last car to leave the Koondooloo, the vehicle ferry.

The last car to leave the Koondooloo, the vehicle ferry.

In an example of nothing much changes, Askin told guests there had been “one or two uninformed suggestions” that the state government had neglected Newcastle, but said “Newcastle is the strong right arm of NSW. 

No government in its right senses would do anything to weaken that arm through lack of attention”. He cited the bridge as an example of the government’s concern and said it was an impressive symbol of the growth of the region. 

The Lurgurena crosses the harbour in 1960.

The Lurgurena crosses the harbour in 1960.

Arthur Wade, MLA, said he was sorry a westerly wind wasn’t blowing during the ceremony “as it would have shown all the offi cials present, particularly those from the state government, what a pollution nuisance is caused at Stockton, one of the best residential areas in Newcastle.” The long road to the bridge began after the ‘55 fl oods when the then Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Ald Frank Purdue, called a meeting on May 12 where the Newcastle Harbour Crossing Committee was formed. Various bridge proposals were looked at, including one from Hunter St to Stockton. A harbour tunnel was another suggestion. 

A third was a bridge across the harbour entrance, from Nobbys to Stockton. All were rejected for “insurmountable difficulties”. 

It was the islands reclaimation project (now Kooragang Island) that provided the answer. The first plan called for a bridge from Stockton to North Carrington, but there were objections because this would interfere with shipping. The alternative site was off Tourle St, Mayfield. 

The harbour committee took this plan to the state government in July, 1955, and in early 1956 came acceptance. The Department of Main Roads initially looked at a Kooragang-Stockton link by a two-lane bridge with a centre lifting span, but the final design was for four lanes with a clearance above the shipping lane of 100 ft (30.4m).

 Tenders were called for the Tourle St crossing in August, 1960, and the Tourle St Bridge opened in early 1965, but another three years passed before tenders were called for the Stockton Bridge. In the months leading up to its opening the name of the bridge became an issue. Newcastle Council was asked for a recommendation and consideration was given to Endeavour – an early favourite because the previous year had been the bicentenary of Captain Cook’s arrival – Shortland, Kooragang, Harold Hawkins (an MLA for Newcastle for 33 years) and Stockton.

 The council finally recommended Stockton in April, 1971, because it was the name already in common use, and it was made official on May 27 that year. When the bridge finally opened more than 100 cars drove across from the Stockton side.

 By the time the eastbound lanes opened (about a quarter of an hour later because barricades from the opening ceremony had to be cleared) there were some 500 cars queued up. 

Mr L Worley, of McMichael St, Maryville, had driven his family to the Stockton side of the bridge by way of Hexham to be part of the historic opening, while the front car in the other lane was driven by Mr J Fitzsimmons, of Croudace St, South Wallsend, with three workmates.

 On opening, the bridge was forecast to become one of the night sights of Newcastle’s skyline because it was lit by the largest battery of high-pressure sodium lights in NSW. The Herald reported the 179 lamps would give off a “golden glow” twice as bright as conventional street lights, and General Electric, which supplied the lamps, said the bridge could become known as “the golden bridge”. As the bridge opened, the DMR vehicular ferries Koondooloo and Lurgurena made their last runs across the harbour. 

The last car to leave the Koondooloo was a 15-year-old grey Rover 90 driven by Tony Earp, of Church St, Newcastle, who made the trip “just because it was the last”. 


 One era began with the opening of Stockton Bridge, but another ended with the last voyages of Newcastle’s famous punts. 

The last crossing of the harbour was left to the Lurgurena at 3.45 pm, but the flagship of the vehicular ferries, Koondooloo, made a last sentimental journey sailing up the harbour and under the new bridge. 

On board were Stockton residents paying their last respects, schoolchildren streaming toilet rolls from the top deck, camera enthusiasts and old-time punt men, among them Jim Ireland, then 86 and the first master of the ferry when she arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1924, Joe Matterson, then 73, who was the first skipper of the harbour’s third ferry, the Koorangabba, and Ted Hush, then 74, who had skippered them all. 

The water route between Newcastle and Stockton had been the only one available since a passenger rowboat service began in 1853, followed by small paddlewheelers in 1869 and a cargo punt in the late 1880s. According to The Car Punts Of Newcastle, a cyber book by Bill Bottomley ( the purpose-built vehicular ferry Mildred, the first vessel built at the state dockyard on Walsh Island, took over in 1916, followed by the Kooroongaba in 1932 and the Lurgurena in 1945. 

When Koondooloo joined the fleet in 1952, it and Lurgurena ran the circuit while Kooroongaba was the relief ferry, and that is how it stayed until the runs ended with the opening of the bridge. In 1970 the average daily flow on the punts was 4060 vehicles, and in 1971 on peak days nearly 5000 vehicles used the service, about 208 an hour, around the clock.

The tale of the punts ended sadly, as they were sold and, joined by the Sydney Harbour showboat Sydney Queen, they were towed out of Newcastle on New Year’s Day, 1972, to go to the Philippines

. The Kooroongaba, however, sank in heavy seas off Crowdy Head while the others ran aground near South West Rocks and were never salvaged.  


At the bridge opening the secretary of the former Newcastle Harbour Crossing Committee said the committee still had $11 to $12 in its bank balance. It was decided it should be donated to the Stockton Olympic Pool fund. 


When Hunter television screens flickered into life with television station NBN’s first hazy broadcast at 6pm on Sunday, March 4, 1962, probably no one realised the effect television would have on Australian lives.

NBN Telethon, 1987.

NBN Telethon, 1987.

 Television arrived in the Hunter six years after TCN Channel Nine began broadcasting in Australia, on September 16, 1956, and although Sydney television wasn’t intended to be seen in the Hunter, giant TV masts sprang up to eavesdrop on the metropolitan stations.

 By the time NBN began there were around 60,500 TV sets in its viewing area to tune in to NSW’s first country station. 

Now there would scarcely be a home that doesn’t have several sets scattered about. The first images broadcast 50 years ago were of NBN’s production manager, Matt Tapp, who took viewers on a half-hour pre-recorded tour of the Mosbri Cresent studios.

 Following the tour was a half-hour live presentation of news, read by Murray Finlay. That night at 7.30 the fledgling channel showed its first movie, the 1937 Errol Flynn feature The Green Light.

 The new station promised its viewers a 56-hour feast of programs each week, including two movies, as it broadcast from 2.30pm to 10.30pm weekdays. 

It boasted that “no less than 10 hours a week are devoted to the presentation of features emanating from the NBN studios in Newcastle”, with the first locally made shows including the women’s program Home At Three, hosted by Ken Eady; The Three Cheers Show, a children’s program hosted by Murray Finlay who played straight man to a clown; Focus, a weekend public affairs program moderated by Professor Cyril Renwick, the director of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation; and Tempo, a music show and talent quest “for the teenagers and the young at heart” hosted by 2KO deejay Allan Lappan. 

National and international programs shown in the first week included The Phil Silver’s Show, Whirlybirds, Hopalong Cassidy, Rescue 8, The Gale Storm Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, Dan Raven, Gunslinger, The Tab Hunter Show, Amos and Andy, Colt 45, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot and The Honeymooners. 

NBN’s market now stretches from the Central Coast to the Gold Coast, and in the north and west to Moree and Narrabri. It serves a population of 1.9 million people, the fourth-largest television market in Australia behind Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  


 Travel bible Lonely Planet picked up the vibe surrounding post-BHP Newcastle when it named the city the ninth best place in the world to visit in its Best in Travel 2011 book.

 The guide’s Asia-Pacific travel editor, Shawn Low, said that having Newcastle as the only Australian city in the top 10 was controversial, but “the whole idea is to challenge people to get off the beaten track and visit places like Newcastle that have been flying under the radar.”

 On the world stage, Newcastle rated after New York, Tangier, Tel Aviv, Wellington, Valencia, Iquitos, Ghent and Delhi. Lonely Planet editors said a diverse array of assets such as surf beaches, dining, nightlife, arts and “a unique blend of imagination and sophistication” justified the city’s top-10 ranking. 

It’s not the first time Lonely Planet has taken note of Newcastle. 

In its NSW guide in 2004, it said Newcastle had battled for most of its life with a perception by Sydneysiders that it was an industrial nightmare.

“Luckily for visitors to Newcastle, that is no longer the case,” it said.

 “Industrial pursuits have given way to a relaxed, artistic surf culture that breeds lazy days on the beach together with groovy cafe culture and a happening nightlife. “Since BHP ceased its steelworks operation in 1999, the town has undergone a facelift, taking on a stylish, fashionable image. 

“Home to some magnificent surf beaches, historic architecture and a live-music scene that sends tingles along your backbone, this is an ideal place to soak up the coastal way of life.” Praise was not confined to Newcastle, as the guide’s Hunter section said “wine making and horse breeding combine to give the Hunter Valley an ambience of romance and excitement, and are the ingredients that make the valley a playground for the rich and famous.

 “These pursuits, together with the area’s longstanding mining industry, make the Hunter Valley a benchmark in measuring the success of modern Australian agricultural pursuits.

 “Much is concentrated in this small region, such as vineyards and magnificent wineries, milliondollar foals at imposing horse studs, elite golf courses, long stretches of white sand beachfront, a rugged bushland filled with interesting walking trails and an equally intriguing wildlife.

 “Newcastle, the region’s major city, is an absolute surprise and delight; reaping the rewards of an urban renewal program, it’s become downright pretty, with surf beaches that have some of the best breaks on the coast.”


Pic: Darren Pateman

Pic: Darren Pateman

It surprised people outside the city, but not those who lived there, when popular finance magazine Australian Business Monthly in 1992 named Newcastle the best of Australia’s 24 major cities in which to live. 

Rating the nation’s 24 cities with populations of more than 50,000, the magazine put Newcastle on top over Canberra.

 Maitland finished third, Lake Macquarie 11th and the Central Coast 17th. Sydney could just manage fifth, Adelaide and Brisbane equal ninth and Melbourne 12th.

 There were 17 judging criteria including environment, level of state taxes, natural disasters, employment, education, housing affordability, climate, pollution and hospitals. 

The magazine said “Australia’s ideal city, the best city in which to live . . . has a near perfect climate . . . is on the water with good, clean beaches, a harbour and lakes to the south for sailing and other water sports . . . is also well located close to other major cities but with five national parks . . . and vast metropolitan green areas.

 “That city is Newcastle”. The magazine, however, seemed to offer its bouquets grudgingly: “To say it was the surprise winner of our survey is an understatement.

 Newcastle does take some getting used to.

 In visiting the city for this story, ABM’s overwhelming thought was that it could have been really good if only the industry had been developed elsewhere.” 

They should take a look at it now.   


Jennifer Hawkins wins Miss Universe in 2004.

Jennifer Hawkins wins Miss Universe in 2004.

 It was a crowning glory like no other; a 20-year-old Novocastrian with an easy going and sunny nature catapulted into the strathosphere as the most beautiful girl, not just in the world, but the universe . . . probably a slight exaggeration, but heady stuff for a girl from Holmsville who had never previously left the country.

 Everything Australians held dear seemed to be summed up in Jennifer Hawkins’ personality the day she was named Miss Universe in Quito, Ecuador, on June 1, 2004.

 Hawkins, a former Knights cheerleader, won that night in a 10-year-old borrowed dress in front of 800 million people viewing the extravaganza on television and a capacity crowd at the event - not to mention a thrilled audience in her home town.

 Hawkins later described the immediate time after her win as “a complete blur” and the years since “like a whirlwind”.

Jennifer Hawkins as a Knights cheerleader.

Jennifer Hawkins as a Knights cheerleader.

 Not 24 hours after her crowning, Hawkins packed her bags and moved to her new home, a luxury Trump Place apartment in New York City, and began travelling the globe as an ambassador for organizations focusing on HIV and AIDS awareness.

 Within weeks of being crowned she spoke to a crowd of more than 18,000 when she appeared onstage with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Hollywood actor and activist Richard Gere at the 2004 World AIDS Summit in Bangkok. She seemed to have it all, and subsequent years have confirmed that as she has scaled the heights of modelling and celebrity. During her reign she signed on as host of the popular television travel program The Great Outdoors and with Pepsi as spokesperson for their products in Australia.

 After crowning her successor on May 30, 2005, Hawkins returned to Australia to be snapped up by the international brand Lux as its face for Australia and New Zealand, following in the footsteps of Sarah Jessica Parker, Gisele Bundchen and Linda Evangelista, an arrangement that finished in 2007.

Jennifer Hawkins talking to Richard Gere.

Jennifer Hawkins talking to Richard Gere.

 In 2006 she signed with underwear brand Lovable, which included her involvement in design, being the face of their television and print campaigns as well as many public appearances, including one at Westfield Parramatta before more than 3500 screaming fans.

 She became the first Australian face of international cosmetics brand Covergirl, and her television talents were acknowledged when she was nominated for Most Popular New Female talent at the 2006 Logie awards.

 The emergence of Hawkins the businesswoman was revealed in 2007 when she became the face of Australia’s biggest retailer Myer, a multi-million-dollar deal that set a record for the biggest modeling deal ever done for an Australian-based model. The deal included equity in Myer, making her not only the marketing face of the company but also a shareholder. 

That year she approached Myer about broadening their relationship to include her own brand of swimwear, and eight months later Cozi by Jennifer Hawkins was launched to much fanfare.

 Hawkins has graced the covers of magazines everywhere, including the Australian Women’s Weekly, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Cleo and fashion bible Harpers Bazaar, as well as men’s magazines Men’s Style, Maxim and FHM. Overseas, Hawkins is the ambassador for Marie Claire Paris.

Hawkins visting an HIV-positive Indonesian child after she was crowned Miss Universe.

Hawkins visting an HIV-positive Indonesian child after she was crowned Miss Universe.

 She has donated her time and personal items for auction for charities including Sydney Cancer Foundation, The Sydney Children’s Hospital, Canteen and Make-a-Wish Foundation, as well as being a patron of the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation.

Dual Melbourne Cup winner Peter Pan.

Dual Melbourne Cup winner Peter Pan.


When Shocking swooped up on the outside of British invader Crime Scene to win the 2009 Melbourne Cup, those in the know recognised it as a glory day for the Hunter as the champion stayer had been born and bred at George and Felicity Frazer’s Ilala Stud, two kilometres south of Scone on the New England Highway.

Shocking wins the Melbourne Cup in 2009.

Shocking wins the Melbourne Cup in 2009.

 Few, however, would have realised it was just one of more than 20 glory days that linked the Hunter to the race that stops the nation. 

It could be argued that the Hunter has made a greater contribution to the great race than any other area of the world.

 The Hunter’s links to the cup go back almost to the beginning (Archer won the fi rst cup in 1861, and returned to win again in 1862), but it was only a few years later, in 1867, that the Hunter-bred horse Tim Whiffl er, from Tocal on the Paterson River, put his name on the cup as winner. Tim Whiffler was owned and trained by Etienne de Mestre, who also owned and trained Archer.

Tim Whiffl er’s Melbourne Cup was purchased last year by the National Museum of Australia and is now on display along with Phar Lap’s heart and the 1934 Melbourne Cup, unsurprisingly won by another Hunter horse, Peter Pan.

 The year after Tim Whiffl er, Glencoe won the cup, owned and trained by Richard Dines, who built his sandstone mansion Hambledon Hill near Singleton and developed a private racecourse where he held a racing carnival in 1865.

 Research by veteran racing writer Brian Russell, of Bloodstock Media Service at Muswellbrook, shows that Tocal, owned by Charles Reynolds, was one of Australia’s leading studs at the time and one of its sires, New Warrior, who had earlier stood at The Horse and Jockey Inn at Jerrys Plains, was a major infl uence on the early years of the cup.

 New Warrior sired the cup winners Warrior (1869), The Pearl (1871) and Arsenal (1886). Other cup winners that cemented the Hunter Valley’s position as a breeding ground of champions included Lord Cardigan (1903), Poseidon (1906), Lord Nolan (1908), Prince Foote (1909), Piastre (1912), Night Watch (1918) and Poitrel (1920).

 Piastre was bred and raced by coal magnate William Brown, who at one stage owned Segenhoe Stud. His elder brother John, the coal king known as Baron Brown, had earlier won the cup with Prince Foote, bred on his stud at Wills Gully, Singleton.

 Lord Cardigan and Lord Nolan were three-quarter brothers who were raised at Widden Stud for their owner John Mayo, of Rutherford. They were sired by Positano, who stood at the Dangar family’s Neotsfi eld Stud near Singleton and also sired Poseidon and Piastre.

 Mayo could have had a third cup winner in 1904, when bookmaker and gambler Humphrey Oxenham lost his horse Acrasia to Mayo in a high-stakes card game, but Mayo kindly offered to sell the horse back to him on Caulfi eld Cup day for 2000 pounds. 

Two weeks later Acrasia fought off the challenge from Mayo’s Lord Cardigan, having his second crack at the cup, to claim victory.

 The Dangars went on in the late 1920s to breed and race Peter Pan, which won the cup in 1932 and 1934. The dual winner went on to stand at stud on the property and is buried there.

 Last century Scone’s Kia Ora Stud put its stamp on cup history with Windbag (1925), Delta (1951), Evening Peal (1956) and Baystone (1958).

 Another Scone alumni to take the cup is Wakefield Stud’s Subzero (1992), which revelled in the rain-affected going to defeat the favourite Veandercross. It was Subzero’s last win, but the near-white gelding became the clerk of the course’s horse and made many appearances on television, at charity functions and at schools. In July, 2008, he was fully retired as he developed arthritis.

 The Hunter has also been connected to the great race through the success of a number of jockeys, including Wayne Harris, who rode Jeune to victory in 1994, Albert Shanahan, victorious on Posinatus in 1913 and Piastre in 1912, and Jim Pike, The Junction-born jockey who steered home the immortal Phar Lap in 1930. 


Posinatus and trainer Jim Chambers

Posinatus and trainer Jim Chambers

It was the toss of a coin that landed Maitland racehorse Posinatus and Newcastle jockey Albert Shanahan the Melbourne Cup in 1913, and put plenty of money into the pockets of Hunter punters.

 Newcastle Regional Museum’s Sporting Hall of Fame tells the tale that Shanahan was in Melbourne having ridden Offa in the Caufi eld Cup with no success, when Morpeth trainer Jim Chambers sent a telegram offering him the ride on Posinatus, a rank outsider in the cup at 100-1.

 Posinatus was stabled in a shed in the backyard of Chambers’ Morpeth cottage, and did his training on an old track that encircled Maitland Golf Course. Shanahan, who had ridden Piastre to victory the previous year, didn’t think Posinatus had any hope so decided to toss a coin - heads he would stay and ride the horse, tails he would go home. The penny came down heads.

 When word got back to the Hunter that the local champion jockey was riding the local hope the money went on. Shanahan’s grandmother even had her fi rst bet - a shilling on her grandson to win.

 The odds dropped to 16-1. Posinatus was a leader, and never expected to stay the 3200 metres (then two miles) of the cup, so Shanahan decided to just let him run to the front and see how long he could stay. He was never headed, the fi rst cup winner to lead all the way, taking out the greatest prize in Australian racing and giving Shanahan consecutive cup wins.

 The Posinatus victory has often been associated with strange stories of omens after punters won based on predictions and dreams. A Melbourne businessman, Albert Coppel, had a friend who dreamt that saddle cloth fi ve would win the Caulfi eld Cup and saddle cloth eight would win the Melbourne Cup. Coppel put 60 pounds on the double. Aurifer, number five, won the Caulfi eld Cup. Posinatus, number eight, won the Melbourne Cup. Coppel took home 60,000 pounds, the equivalent of several million dollars today.

 Posinatus’s cup is also remembered for being the fi rst cup fi lmed from start to finish, and it was the first time at the track that cars outnumbered carriages as transport.

 The Posinatus cup came to the fore again in 1998 when it was sold by Christie’s in Melbourne for $68,000 to an unknown buyer. The present-day three-handled Melbourne Cup began being presented in 1919, but Posinatus’s pure silver trophy, made in 1866, is a classic. It has birds, cherubs, smiling masks, tassels and at its base three splendid ladies in strapless evening gowns representing good fortune, wisdom and health.

 On his retirement Posinatus was given to the local priest to ride around his Morpeth parish, and the par four eighth hole at Maitland Golf Course, where he once trained, is named after him.  


Clive Churchill, 1954

Clive Churchill, 1954

 Rugby league’s “Little Master”, Merewetherborn Clive Churchill, had numerous glory days in his illustrious career, but on August 13, 1955, he displayed extraordinary ability and courage in a semi-final for South Sydney against Manly.

 Arguably the most inspiring figure in Australian rugby league and considered by many the greatest player the code has produced, Churchill played virtually the entire match with a broken arm, winning the game with a sideline conversion after the bell with his smashed arm wrapped in cardboard and dangling at his side, so bad he needed someone else to set up the kick for him. Souths went on to win the grand final, although Churchill was unable to play.

 That was just one memorable moment in the career of Churchill, a graduate of St Joseph’s, Merewether, and Marist Brothers, Hamilton, whose career was so outstanding both the Clive Churchill Stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Clive Churchill Medal for best player in the rugby league grand fi nal are named after him. Churchill revolutionised the role of fullback, fi rst for Central Charlestown, then South Sydney, NSW and Australia.

 He played with Central from 1945 until moving to South Sydney in 1947, making his Test debut in 1948 against New Zealand before being picked for the 1948/49 Kangaroo tour of Britain and France. In 1950, aged just 23, he led Australia to its fi rst Ashes win against Britain since 1920, one of his 24 matches as Australian captain. In all he went on four Kangaroo tours, including 1959/60 as coach, making his fi nal Test appearance against England on the 1956/57 tour.

 With Souths he won premierships in 1950, ’51, ’53, ’54 and ’55. After captain/coaching Souths in 1958 he went to Queensland where he captaincoached Norths to the 1959 premiership and coached and played for Queensland.

 In 1961 he was back in NSW coaching the state and Moree, moving to Canterbury in 1962. He coached Australia again before returning to Souths in 1966 for 10 seasons as coach, winning premierships in 1967, ’68, ’70 and ’71, before retiring in 1975.

 Churchill died on August 9, 1985, shortly after being honoured with an Order of Australia for his services to sport and the community.

 He was named one of the four initial Immortals of League, in 2002 was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame, has been named in the South Sydney team of the last century, in 2008 was named among Australia’s 100 greatest players and named as fullback in the ARL’s team of the century.


The real glory day for the true-blue Aussie cattle dog was more than 170 years ago in 1840 when it was bred by Thomas Hall on his Dartbrook property some five kilometres north of Aberdeen, but the birth of the Australian icon was celebrated in Muswellbrook in 2001 when a two-metre statue was erected in the main street.

 Hall bred the blue heeler through a cross between a dingo and a Northumberland blue merle drover’s dog, and initially they were called Hall’s Heelers.

 Despite protests from Aberdeen, which pulled out the history books to show the breed came from Aberdeen rather than Muswellbrook, Muswellbrook claimed the title “blue-heeler country” when it erected the statue and used a blue heeler logo on council letterheads to give the town a greater regional identity and help attract tourism.

 Aberdeen’s critics said the new statue “looked like Basil Brush”, but it still stands proudly at the corner of Hill and Bridge streets, named Hunter the Heeler after a school competition to give it a name.   


The Fairstar arrives, 1949

The Fairstar arrives, 1949

No one really knew what a momentous day the arrival of the migrant ship Fairsea was when it docked at Lee Wharf on August 19, 1949. Looking back it can be seen that the arrival from Naples, Italy, positively changed the dynamic of the Hunter forever by refashioning its social mix. 

It helped shape not only the Hunter but modern Australia. The 1896 migrants on board - more than the 1014 First Fleet settlers in 1788 - were the first refugees from war-torn Europe allowed to disembark at a port other than Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Fremantle, and were among the first of millions of post-war migrants. 

They were the biggest single load of settlers ever to the Hunter and included the 50,000th displaced person to arrive from Europe. 

The new arrivals were taken by train to Greta and were the first to settle at its migrant camp, which eventually took in more than 100,000 migrants from 1949 to 1961, the second-largest migrant camp in Australia’s post-war period. Some 14 nationalities settled at Greta, including Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, Serbians, Ukrainians, Russians and Germans. 

Many had to work for two years to pay off their passage, providing the labour for Newcastle’s steel mills, Queensland’s cane fi elds and schemes such as the Snowy Mountains Authority. 

The Fairsea made several journeys to Australia under contract to the International Refugee Organisation from 1949 to 1951, carrying displaced persons, and when the contract ended the company, Sitmar, offered paid passage. In 1955, the Fairsea was chartered by the Australian Government to transport assisted immigrants from Britain, which she continued to do until an extensive refi t in late 1957. 

The Fairsea made 81 voyages to and from Australia between 1949 and 1969, but in 1969, west of Panama, a fi re broke out and damaged its engine room. It was uneconomical to repair, and on July 9, 1969, the Fairsea took its last journey to a shipbreakers at La Spezia, Italy.   


Joy Cummings, 1973.

Joy Cummings, 1973.

Joy Cummings was a trail blazer for women in Australia, not the least of which when she was elected lord mayor of Newcastle on September 30, 1974, becoming the first female lord mayor in the nation.

There were few women in Australian politics through the 1960s to ‘80s, and Cummings served as a strong role model, not only being the first female lord mayor but the first woman elected to the Hunter Conservation Trust and Hunter Water Board, the first woman to enter and address the Newcastle Businessmen’s Club and the Newcastle Club, and in 1976 appointed founding chairperson of the NSW Women’s Advisory Council. 

Elected to Newcastle City Council in 1968, she became lord mayor in 1974 and again in 1975, returning for two three-year terms from 1977 and a four-year term from 1983. Along the way she was awarded the Order of Australia, was a director of the National Bicentennial Authority and vicechairperson of the NSW Bicentennial Authority, was a member of the NSW Planning and Environment Authority, a member of the state advisory committee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and made a life member of the Australian Labor Party. Among gifts to the city she served so well she had a hand in the preservation of Blackbutt Reserve, the establishment of Shortland Wetlands and Glenrock State Preservation Areas, preserving heritage buildings and the redevelopment of the harbour foreshore. 

It was after turning the first sod on the foreshore park on April 13, 1984, that Cummings suffered a stroke that forced her retirement from local government, but before her death in 2003 she did see the Queen open the park during the 1988 Bicentenary celebrations. 

Gary Gilmour, 1975

Gary Gilmour, 1975


Newcastle cricketer Gary Gilmour never  completely cemented his place in the Australian cricket team of the 1970s - playing 15 Tests and fi ve one-day internationals between 1973 and 1977 - but on one day at Headingley, England, the cricket world lay at his feet. 

It was June 18, 1975. The inaugural World Cup. Although Gilmour didn’t play in the early stages of the tournament, the 23-year-old swing bowler was picked for the semi-fi nal against England, on a day expected to suit his bowling. 

He opened the attack with Dennis Lillee, and 12 unchanged overs later he stood with the fi gures of 6-14, taking England’s first six wickets with unplayable inswingers. England stumbled to 93. 

It was the first time a bowler had taken six wickets in a one-day international. But the conditions that helped dismantle England didn’t go away, and by the time Gilmour had his turn with the bat, Australia was facing defeat at 6-39.

 Gilmour threw the bat for a thrashing, run-a-ball 28 not out, steering Australia into the final. 

It was not hard to pick the man of the match. 

Three days later, Gilmour took 5-48 in the fi nal against the West Indies, but it was not good enough to get Australia to victory.

 Six months later at Adelaide, Australia gained revenge with a one-off ODI victory, but that match proved to be Gilmour’s fi fth and fi nal game. Gilmour’s other glory day for Australia came on a tour of New Zealand in 1977, where he hit his only Test century in the first Test at Christchurch, 101 in 146 balls, combining with Doug Walters for an Australian record seventh-wicket partnership of 217.

 Gilmour’s last Test for Australia was the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977. He finished with a Test batting average of 23 and 54 wickets at 26.03.


It was only a trial match, they said, a meaningless game for the league premiers, Manly, to warm up for the 1988 season against Allan McMahon’s team of nobody Knights yet to play their first match in top-grade rugby league. 

The challenge cup had been played since 1983, with the league premiers playing a Newcastle representative team - and beating them every year - until the Knights formed to step into the heat of battle. 

The star-studded Sea Eagles of February 28, 1988, included Paul Vautin, Cliff Lyons, Dale Shearer, Michael O’Connor, Noel Cleal and Des Hasler, and they didn’t seem concerned about coming up against a team of virtual no-names made up of a few occasional Sydney first graders and boys from the bush, led by a New Zealand Test forward in Sam Stewart.

 They were probably surprised when they ran onto the International Sports Centre to the boos of 21,460 Novocastrians who turned up for the “trial”, and bemused when the fl edgling Knights ran to the eastern hill and applauded their new fans, greeted by a rousing ovation. That moment was when the Knights ethos was made clear: It’s our town, our team, our turf. Herald sports reporter Jack Farrell described what happened next in the introduction to his front-page report the next day: 

“The drawbridge came down with a crash heard throughout Sydney and the rampaging Newcastle Knights emerged to ride roughshod over reigning Winfield Cup rugby league premiers Manly”. 

The Knights confounded predictions to belt the Sea Eagles 24-12, planting the seeds of the fierce rivalry that has existed since between the “silvertail” superstars and the red-and-blue army. 

The foundation stone of the Knights was laid that day. Tony Townsend, Glenn Frendo and Glenn Miller scored tries for Newcastle, and five-eighth Rob Tew kicked six goals, with coach McMahon nominating hooker Townsend as the best player on the park.

 The Knights run-on team for the match was Glenn Frendo, Brian Quinton, Gavin Hanrahan, Glenn Miller, Rod Whitaker, Robbie Tew, Steve Walters, Tony Butterfield, Tony Townsend, Richard Clarke, Michael McKiernan, Sam Stewart (c), David Boyd, and coach Allan McMahon.   

Crowds brave the rain at the 1954 royal visit.

Crowds brave the rain at the 1954 royal visit.


“Queen Enchants Newcastle”, said the headline of The Newcastle Morning Herald on February 10, 1954. “Streets Echo To Cheers Of Huge Crowds”, it added, in case anyone missed the initial point.

It was the first visit of a reigning sovereign to the city and the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were given a tumultuous reception.

“The streets echoed with the cheers of welcome,” the front page of The Herald reported on the previous day’s events. “Despite drizzling rain most of the day, the greatest crowds in Newcastle’s history gave the Queen and Duke a warmhearted, spontaneous reception.” Crowds during the day were estimated at 250,000.

There have been many royal visits to Newcastle and the Hunter over the years, but none matched the excitement and fervour of that 1954 visit, just a year after Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.

The Queen in Newcastle in 1977.

The Queen in Newcastle in 1977.

Four-year-old Annabelle Trail meets the Queen in Civic Park in 1977.

Four-year-old Annabelle Trail meets the Queen in Civic Park in 1977.

About 500 people camped overnight in Civic Park, despite rain, with many othera on footpaths along the route of the royal procession, the first squatters staking their  claims at 1pm, 24 hours before the Queen was due to arrive.

Thousands poured into the city during the evening to see the lights and decorations in what was described as “a fairyland Hunter St of multi-coloured lights and fl -ying fl ags and bunting”. 

At Newcastle Beach thousands attended a concert that was amplifi ed through the streets of the city.

Crowds at the Newcastle visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901.

Crowds at the Newcastle visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901.

The Queen and Duke only visited Newcastle for three-and-a-half hours, with the highlights a procession from Newcastle Railway Station to the city hall for a civic reception, an assembly of 10,000 ex-servicemen at No. 1 Sports Gound, an assembly of 40,000 schoolchildren at Broadmeadow Showground and a 50-minute inspection of BHP steelworks.

Thousands attended each stop, with The Herald reporting that “during the 16 memorable, cheer-filled minutes of the royal progress through the city, Newcastle fell in love with its young and beautiful Queen”.

Another 5000 people or more were waiting at Williamtown to see the royals leave after the visit.

In her speech at the civic reception the Queen said “You have made wonderful progress since Lieutenant Shortland discovered your Hunter River only a little over 150 years ago and you have played a worthy part in the development of your country.

“I am very glad that so many men, women and children from the whole rich Hunter River Valley, from farther inland, and from places north and south along the coastal belt of NSW have come into the city today. I only wish I could visit them in their own homes.”

Meeting the schoolchildren at the showground, the Queen said: “You are the boys and girls today who will soon be grown-up men and women, and then it will be your proud responsibility to protect and govern this great country of Australia.

“I want you to know that as your Queen I believe that you will do it well, and that you will be good Australians in every way.”

COMPARISON:  Prince Charles and Lady Diana at the International Sports Centre in 1993,

COMPARISON: Prince Charles and Lady Diana at the International Sports Centre in 1993,

The Herald editorial on the day waxed lyrical about the royal visit, saying Newcastle was a richer city for it: “Whenever those adults and children who saw her yesterday join in the national anthem again, they will remember the slight girl in the  light blue dress, with her husband and companion at her side, and their prayer that she shall be blessed, which is the message of the anthem, will no longer be conventional.

The crowd welcoming the Prince of Wales to Maitland in 1920.

The crowd welcoming the Prince of Wales to Maitland in 1920.

“It was fully the memorable day that had long been awaited.”

The first visit by a member of the royal family to Newcastle was in May, 1868, when the Duke of Edinburgh arrived on the steamship Morpeth. The Newcastle Chronicle reported that he was greeted by “between 8000 and 10,000 persons”.

Shortly after the 1901 death of Queen Victoria, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York arrived in Australia to open the first federal parliament in Melbourne, and managed a quick visit to Newcastle on May 25, 1901. 

They saw very little and departed in 30 minutes, although as it was the Duchess’s birthday the next day she was presented with a bouquet and a gold holder with her monogram worked in opals, and attached to the holder were streamers and the words: “From the women of Newcastle NSW. Many happy returns of the day.”

One of the couple’s sons, Edward, later King Edward VIII before becoming the Duke of Windsor, visited Newcastle in 1920 and also managed to get to Maitland, where 40,000 people turned out to greet him, and Lake Macquarie, where he stayed overnight at Craig Royston, the Toronto home of a mine manager.

In April, 1927, there was a Newcastle visit by the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, better known as the Queen Mother).

After their visit in 1954, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Newcastle in 1970, 1977, and 1988.

In 1970 the Queen opened the International Sports Centre before leaving on the royal yacht Britannia from Newcastle Harbour, where a cheering and singing crowd burst through the barricade.

On March 11, 1977, the Queen and Prince Philip flew into  Newcastle as part of the Royal Silver Jubilee tour, greeted by about 2000 people at Williamtown Airport and a further 4000 in Civic Park, where the Queen opened Newcastle Art Gallery.

During Australia’s bicentennial in 1988, the Queen and Prince made a six-hour trip to Newcastle to open the Newcastle Regional Museum and The Foreshore park, where they were greeted by a crowd of about 40,000. Another memorable royal visit was that of the Prince and Princess of Wales in late March, 1983, where at Newcastle’s International Sports Centre the couple was greeted by 43,000 schoolchildren, who Prince Charles told “my ears are ringing with the noise you made” . 

At Maitland 30,000 people lined High St for the couple’s visit. Prince Charles acknowledged the problems facing the Hunter Valley’s coal and steel industry at the time.

 “We know that it isn’t an easy time for Newcastle at the moment, but if it is any consolation it isn’t any easier in the United Kingdom either. We know that this region is based on coal and steelmaking industries, both of which are suffering considerable contraction and difficulties at this particular time.” The Prince added:

 “But of course the main resource above all else is the region’s people. And the region’s people have given us the most stupendous welcome here today, for which we are both grateful.” “The main resource above all else is the region’s people. And the region’s people have given us the most stupendous welcome . . .”   

Mel Gibson’s screen debut: December, 1977

Not too many places can say they kicked off a  career that led to the Academy Awards, but the tiny Lake Macquarie village of Catherine Hill Bay can - Mel Gibson filmed his first movie, Summer City, there in 1977.

 He was paid $400 for four weeks shooting, so things have changed a little since then. By the time of The Patriot in 2000 his pay was $25 million, while in 2004 he made a reported $210 million from The Passion Of The Christ.

 Merewether-born filmmaker Phil Avalon was writer, producer, one of the stars, caterer and sang the title song of the ridiculously low-budget film, which also starred newcomer Steve Bisley, born just around the corner from Catherine Hill Bay at Lake Munmorah, as well as John Jarratt, television siren Abigail and James Elliott.

Only two years later Gibson and Bisley starred in a more famous film, Mad Max, that launched Gibson to international stardom. Stories about the making of Summer City, where a number of locals worked as extras, abound around Catherine Hill Bay. 

The film was so low budget Gibson and Bisley climbed down a cliff to syphon petrol from a wrecked car to get to the town, where the crew both worked and slept in the RSL hall where, after being temporarily evicted for a pre-booked wedding, Bisley and Gibson “mooned” the wedding party to try and get them out. On another occasion the crew helped fight a raging bushfire.

 Gibson has gone on to win Oscars for best director and best film for Braveheart and numerous other awards.

 Gibson is not the Hunter’s only connection to the Academy Awards. Oscar winner Heath Ledger had his first prominent film role in Blackrock, filmed around Newcastle and Stockton, while Blackrock’s writer, Maitland-born Nick Enright, was nominated for an Oscar as co-writer of the film Lorenzo’s Oil.   

Jim Pike and Phar Lap win Melbourne Cup: November, 1930

Jim Pike, born at The Junction in 1892 to a Newcastle butcher, was a champion jockey, but on November 4, 1930, he and a nag he was riding became legendary - on a big red horse called Phar Lap, Pike won the Melbourne Cup. Pike first threw his leg over Australia’s most famous racehorse in the 1929 Victoria Derby, which they won in record time. 

It was the start of a remarkable connection between the two, racing together 30 times for 27 wins and becoming the darlings of Australia’s small punters during the Great Depression.

Both Phar Lap and Pike had to go into hiding before the 1930 cup after a gunman tried to kill the horse in the street, but even that couldn’t stop them. “We were never in doubt,” Pike said afterwards. 

“We won as we liked.” Pike refused to ride the horse when he went to the US to his untimely death. 

A jockey since he was 12 - twice banned for being under age - Pike rode many champions, including The Hawke, Strephon, Chatham and Peter Pan, and was famous for his dislike of using the whip.

 He retired in 1936 with 129 wins in principal events, but was unsuccessful as a trainer and fell victim to his compulsive gambling, dying in poverty in 1969.   

 Earthquake concert, 1990

Earthquake concert, 1990

Earthquake concert raises $900,000: February, 1990

An earthquake that devastates a city, kills 13 people and hospitalises another 160, can never be looked on as a glory day, despite the feats of gallantry and countless heroes that accompany it.

 But the coming together of a group of people to show concern for the city and raise money to help it, certainly is.

 In Newcastle’s case the tragedy came with the 1989 earthquake. The glory came less than two months later - February 18, 1990 - when a virtual who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll in Australia came together at the International Sports Centre to draw a massive crowd of 42,000 and raise $900,000 for the Lord Mayor’s Earthquake Relief Appeal.

 Few there could forget the Angels Doc Neeson climbing the stage’s scaffolding, microphone shoved down his pants, to stand on a stack of speakers waving a Newcastle Knights flag while belting out Let The Night Roll On. Spy v Spy, the Party Boys with guest singers Ross Wilson and Marc Hunter, Johnny Diesel and the Injectors with Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss, Noiseworks, Crowded House, the Angels, Split Ends and Midnight Oil - they were all there in what concert organiser Michael Chugg said was “probably one of the first times the industry said ‘let’s do something like this’.”

 “Everyone just got together and said let’s do it,” he said.

 “It was the start of all the other fund-raising concerts that have happened since”. It was the biggest and most impressive Australian rock concert ever staged at that time, a reflection of the remarkable esteem Newcastle was held in rock ‘n’ roll circles. Newcastle promoter Peter Anderson had got Chugg together with the lord mayor to arrange the concert and Chugg said there was no problem getting the bands because they were all behind it.

 “This is the rock industy at its best,” Peter Garrett said at the time. Another 11,000 people attended an earthquake relief concert in Sydney where performers included Olivia Newton John, Peter Allen, Max Bygraves, Su Cruickshank, Normie Rowe and The Seekers, and yet another jazz concert in Sydney’s Domain attracted 50,000 people.


It is not often a defeat can be considered a glory day, but that was the case when Maitland boxer Les Darcy, Australia’s first sporting hero, fought for the world welterweight championship against American Jeff Smith in 1915.

 Darcy’s seconds refused to let him fi ght on after being hit by a foul blow unseen by the referee, and the resulting sensation enhanced his fame to almost legendary, a job completed by his later flight to America and untimely death.

 Born at Stradbroke, Maitland, in 1895, Darcy was boxing at 14 and was already a local hero when he had his first fight at the Sydney Stadium in July, 1914, against American Fritz Holland.

 Two special trains from Maitland carried supporters to the bout, and when he lost on points there was a riot. 

Darcy went on to become the stadium’s biggest drawcard, and the defeat by Smith was his last – from then until September, 1916, he won 22 consecutive fights. But like the nation’s other iconic, doomed figures – Ned Kelly, Phar Lap, Breaker Morant, Burke and Wills; even Gallipoli – it seems tragedy is needed to become a true Aussie legend. 

The tragedy of Les Darcy began to unfold in 1915, when he wanted to go to America to fi ght for enough money to make his family secure. On October 7, 1916, the day before a referendum which, if carried, would have meant he could have been conscripted to fight in World War I, he stowed away on a tramp steamer from Newcastle to the US. Labelled a shirker and coward, his fights were banned in the US and he was reduced to vaudeville exhibitions, before taking out US citizenship and volunteering for the US army. 

But on April 27, 1917, he collapsed with septicaema and endocarditis, developed pneumonia and died on May 24. The controversy of his fl ight and lonely death gave Darcy an air of martyrdom. 

His transformation to legend was complete. When his body returned to Australia all was forgiven, and reports say up to 700,000 people lined Sydney’s streets as his coffin was driven past, and 60,000 turned out for his funeral in Maitland. Darcy is buried in East Maitland Cemetery, and this year an $80,000 restoration of his tomb was unveiled. 

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral


It was almost two centuries in the making, but it was worth it when Christ Church Cathedral was consecrated on November 25, 1983, standing tall, proud and dominating the skyline of the city it serves.

 The tower of the wondrous cathedral with its 160 windows, 72 of which are filled with stained glass, stands 77.5 metres above sea level, making it probably the most imposing building in the Hunter. 

The first church built on the commanding site was a small slab hut in 1812, but in 1816 Governor Macquarie ordered a proper church be built and the foundation stone was laid in 1817, with Governor Macquarie himself naming the building Christ Church at an opening service on August 2 the following year, a glory day in itself as 10 marriages and 30 baptisms were performed that day alone. 

Despite being structurally questionable, the church survived to become a cathedral when Newcastle became a city in 1847. In 1868 a building committee was formed to build a more suitable cathedral but the project was beset by problems and became a stop-start affair with fi nancial diffi culties, rejected plans and law suits, so although the foundation stone was laid in 1892, the site was derelict by the end of the century. 

In 1900 the project revived, but it took until 1979 for the fi nal addition of the great tower and bells, and until 1983 for the consecration that saw the completion of one of the great cathedrals of Australia. 

Then came the earthquake of 1989 which badly damaged the cathedral, and restoration work was not completed until 1997.   

Dein Perry, of Tap Dogs.

Dein Perry, of Tap Dogs.


Everyone is familiar with the concept of coals  from Newcastle, but who would have thought the city would corner the market on tap dancers. From a garage behind his house in Newcastle, choreographer Dein Perry took his idea of a tap-dancing show themed around his industrial experiences in Newcastle – he worked as a fi tter and turner at BHP – and took the world by storm. 

Tap Dogs was an instant hit when it had its world premiere at the Sydney Festival in 1995 and has since gone on to gross millions globally, play to more than 11 million people in 330 cities in 37 countries, and win about a dozen international awards, including an Obie in New York and a Pegasus at the Spoleta Festival in Italy, while Perry won a British Olivier Award for his choreography.

 And it’s still going strong, with a company in Bahrain and Taiwan earlier this year, new companies forming in the US and Europe in September and planning underway for a tour of Australia.

Not bad for a boy who began learning tap dancing at the age of four with his brother and sister in Les Griffith’s backyard studio in New Lambton.

After leaving school at 16, Perry worked at BHP and drove trucks for his father, before moving to Sydney to try his luck at a dancing career, getting his break with a role in 42nd Street.

When it closed, with the help of a government grant, he contacted some of his old dancing mates from Newcastle to form Tap Brothers, an early incarnation of Tap Dogs, which led in turn to an offer to choreograph Hot Shoe Shuffle in London’s West End, where Perry won his first Olivier Award in 1995. 

Tap Dogs were born after an offer from the Sydney Theatre Company evolved into a collaboration with designer and director Nigel Triffitt and composer Andrew Wilkie.

The show was quickly up and tapping – a hit in Sydney, the Edinburgh Festival, Sadler’s Wells, London’s West End and New York, before returning to Australia in 2000 for the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

It led to the film Bootmen, directed by Perry and filmed in Newcastle in 2000, which won five AFI awards, helped launch the career of Adam Garcia and was the first film of Sam Worthington, who went on to star in Avatar, the most successful box-office movie ever made.

The Victoria crew and the rescued men of the Adolphe.

The Victoria crew and the rescued men of the Adolphe.

The Adolphe aground with the tug Victoria in the foreground and the lifeboat Victoria at its left.

The Adolphe aground with the tug Victoria in the foreground and the lifeboat Victoria at its left.


The rescue of 33 sailors from the wreck of the French four-masted barque Adolphe at the entrance to Newcastle Harbour on September 30, 1904, is one of the most remarkable in the Hunter’s maritime history and, more than 100 years later, is still looked on as miraculous and one of the proudest moments in the history of the harbour.

It’s the story of the courage and skill of the crew of the lifeboat Victoria II, who saved every life on board even though the barque was being hammered by waves, swept by seas from stern to bow with tonnes of water pouring into the lower decks.

It is just one example of the amazing bravery of the 330 men who served in the Newcastle Lifeboat Service, which saved hundreds of lives in the 108 years from its inception in 1838 to its end in 1946.

The Adolphe, under the command of Captain Joseph Layec, was inward bound from Antwerp when it was picked up by the tugs Hero and Victoria and a pilot placed on board.

In the teeth of a gale, buffeted by howling wind and huge waves, the Victoria’s hawser snapped and giant rollers lifted the Adolphe towards the infamous Oyster Bank, dumping her on top of wrecks already there.

The Adolphe was stranded sideways with he hull pierced, being smashed by roaring seas, when the signal guns were fired and the lifeboat launched.

“They had a perilous task before them to rescue the crew,” The Newcastle Morning Herald reported. “The barque presented a magnificent though terrible spectacle. The splendid but utterly helpless vessel stood perfectly upright, with her bows heading to the harbour, resolutely resisting the thunderous shocks of the sea”.

With thousands of spectators watching, both from Nobbys and the partially completed Stockton breakwater, the lifeboat and its 14-man crew under  coxswain Allen McKinnon made her way to the wreck and attempted to go around its stern, but after breaking four oars in many attempts this was abandoned. The rescuers were beaten back by the sea.

But McKinnon was finally able to manoeuvre between the previous wrecks of the Wendouree and Undus to get a line onto the Adolphe, then anchor the lifeboat. Down this line the Adolphe seamen slipped one by one.  

The Adolphe struck at 10.25am, and by 12 o’clock the last of the ship’s company (Captain Layec, who left his ship with great reluctance) slid down the line to safety.

With 47 men on board, the overloaded lifeboat made the dangerous return trip to Newcastle Harbour.

So grateful was the French government for the rescue that within a week the Consul-General of France made the journey to Newcastle to present a purse of sovereigns to the lifeboat crew.

Heroics and the lifeboat men were no strangers, and two crew members, Antonia Costa and Vito Loscocco, had previously been awarded the first gold medals for bravery in NSW for their actions in rescuing passengers of the steam ship New England when it was stranded at the entrance to the Clarence River.

Years later, in 1909, they were also part of the night rescue of the Alpena, an American schooner in distress six nautical miles off Nobbys, that led to the US President, William Taft, awarding the lifeboat crew gold medals. 

Over the years more than 200 ships were wrecked entering or leaving Newcastle Harbour, many on the Oyster Bank, but the Adolphe was the sandbar’s last, and biggest, victim. Stockton breakwater was extended to the wreck in 1906 and it was incorporated into the construction, and when the rock wall was completed in 1912 the deadly sandbar was gone forever.  

Coal's "Baron" Brown born: December 1850

John “Baron” Brown, born in Newcastle 1850

John “Baron” Brown, born in Newcastle 1850

No one would have had any idea what it would mean for the Australian coal industry when an elderly Scottish couple, Alexander and Mary Brown, both 60, arrived in Australia in 1842 with their seven children to settle in Stockton.

By 1844 the family had moved from the seaside suburb and established a crude mine at Four Mile Creek near Maitland – the start of what is today recognised as one of the Hunter Valley’s leading coal producers, Coal & Allied.

Although they got off to a good start, the government took the Browns to court over breeching an AAA monopoly on coal mining, and by 1847 they were ordered to cease mining. Following extensive court cases and the government’s desire to extend mining, the legislation was changed in 1850 due to their persistence and determination, and Browns became “the heroes of Four Mile Creek”.

The family developed and acquired mines closer to Newcastle, including a valuable lease around Minmi, and it is fair to say they spearheaded the industrial and transport revolution in Australia. They were at the forefront of industrial steam and rail technology, and made the Minmi mines the most modern in the colony.

In 1874, in one of the most understated events in Australian history, Alexander and Mary’s grandson,

John “Baron” Brown, secured agreements with London shipping companies to establish a regular and extensive trade agreement between Newcastle and London, with Newcastle selected as the major supply point for the Pacific shipping routes of British steamships. The agreements made Newcastle the heavy industry, fuel, engineering and resource processing engine room of the Australian economy.

The Browns continued to open up the coalfields, and in 1912 were the first to introduce breathing apparatus into Australian mines, along with introducing electricity into mines and surrounding communities.

Diversification was clearly a focus for “Baron” Brown, and besides ploughing money back into the latest mining plant, rolling stock, a shipping point and engineering works, his company controlled two-thirds of the towing in Sydney Harbour, undertook ocean salvage off Sydney and Newcastle, controlled the Newcastle pilot system until the government took it over, and had a fl eet of tugs operating in Sydney and Newcastle.

Brown died childless at his unpretentious home in Wolfe St, Newcastle, on March 5, 1930, and was buried in the family vault in the Presbyterian cemetery, East Maitland.

Minmi Colliery

Minmi Colliery

Today Coal & Allied is managed by Rio Tinto Coal Australia and is a key part of the Rio Tinto Group which has a presence in more than 40 countries around the world.

Coal & Allied manages three Hunter open-cut mines – Mount Thorley, Warkworth, Hunter Valley Operations and Bengalla – and in 2011 produced more than 21 million tonnes of thermal coal and more than 4.3 million tonnes of coking coal.

In 2011 its Hunter operations employed more than 2500 people and 1000 contractors, and spent more than $1.7 billion with more than 1300 businesses across NSW. Its community development funds have invested more than $11 million in 100 NSW community projects and partnerships, of which $3.6 million was directed towards education. It contributes to such things as Singleton High School, the Healthy Dads Healthy Kids program, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Cancer Council NSW and Aboriginal heritage conservation areas.

In a remarkable set of achievements, the Hunter is not only home to such a success story as Coal & Allied, but also business giants Arnott’s Biscuits, Brambles Industries, Toll Group and Soul Pattinson.

The 1880s building in Hunter St that was the first Newcastle shop of Walter Bramble.

The 1880s building in Hunter St that was the first Newcastle shop of Walter Bramble.

William Arnott was born in Scotland and sailed to Australia in 1847 where he became a baker at Maitland before trying his luck – unsucessfully – as a gold miner. He returned to Maitland and baking in 1853 but continued flooding of his bakery forced a move to Newcastle, where he established himself in Hunter St by

The Arnott biscuit factory around 1870/1880.

The Arnott biscuit factory around 1870/1880.

September, 1865, and began building his business.

Success came quickly, as did expansion, and from 1882 his biscuits were being sent to Sydney by ship.

He eventually opened a Sydney factory in 1894, between the Sydney and Newcastle factories employing almost 800 people.

Arnott died in 1901 but the company he founded today employs more than 2800 Australians as well as thousands of people overseas, and exports Australian-made biscuits to more than 40 countries.

Brambles Industries, which operates in more than 54 countries, is named after Walter Bramble, who grew up in Hinton after arriving as a child with his English family.

At 15, he and his brothers became Hunter river traders and at 18 he became a “cut-up-and-deliver” butcher, transporting meat to customers by boat or horse and cart. After moving to Newcastle around 1877 he expanded the transport part of his business, and from that seed Brambles Industries has grown.

Brambles moved its head office from Newcastle to Sydney in 1959, and it now employs more than 17,000 people in 54 countries with sales revenue of $US4.7 billion in the year ended June, 2011.

The Toll group of companies sprang from Albert Toll hauling coal around Newcastle with a horse and cart in 1888. Toll was born in England and came to Newcastle in 1886, going on to be mayor of Wickham four times and owning the land where Valentine now stands.

He died in 1960 at the age of 95, with the company he began becoming Australia’s largest transport and logistics provider with 1200 offices in 55 countries, 45,000 employees and annual revenue of $8.2 billion.

Caleb Soul was a druggist and chemist born in London in 1817 who came to NSW about 1863 and managed a store at Morpeth with his son Washington.

He helped establish the first building society in Australia before moving to Sydney, where he opened a pharmacy that amalgamated with Pattinson and Co to become Soul Pattinson.

All in all, not bad for a few country boys. 

Hunter’s first radio station broadcast: January, 1925

Radio 2HD began broadcasting on January 27, 1925, just one day after Sydney’s 2UE began, and so lays claim to being Australia’s second-oldest existing radio station.

The HD in the station’s call sign are the initials of the founder, Harry Douglas, not Hunter District as commonly believed.

Over the years the station has changed location and owners several times, and it was struck by controversy during World War II when it was claimed it was sending covert messages over the airwaves. It closed in 1941 under National Security Regulations and was silent until January 15, 1945, when it was purchased by the Australian Labor Party.

HD has had many notable personalities during its lifetime, including Uncle Rex Sinclair, Twink Storey, Stuart Dibbley and ‘‘good guys’’ Art Ryan, Tom Delaney, Mal Lamonte, Allan McGirvan, Mike Jeffries and Malcolm Elliott, then Pat Barton and Warwick Teece, David Collins and Tanya Wilks.

ABC Newcastle was the national broadcaster’s first regional station when it went live-to-air for the first time on December 19, 1930, broadcasting the Newcastle Symphony Orchestra playing the William Tell Overture from Newcastle City Hall.

Among other stations 2KO joined the airwaves in 1931, broadcast from the backyard of a Kotara home, and in 1937 came 2NX, whose history traces back to Singleton’s 2HR (its call sign changed to 2NX in the 1950s).  

Arthur Morris hits his highest Test score: January, 1951

Arthur Morris, Australia’s oldest living Test cricketer at 90, is possibly most famous as being the batsman at the other end when Don Bradman scored his final Test duck, but amid a mountain of career highlights he scored his lone Test double century - 206 - against England at Adelaide in January, 1951.

Bradman described the innings as ‘‘faultless - a terrific Test double hundred’’.

It was just one of the batting highlights of an elegant cricket genius who started his first-class career for NSW at 18 with the then unprecedented feat of a century in each innings.

Morris, who lived for periods of his young life in Dungog and Newcastle and for a substantial part of his later life in Cessnock, lost many of his prime run-getting years to World War II, but still finished his 46 Tests with more than 3500 runs at an average of 46.48.

An opener regarded as one of Australia’s greatest left-handed batsmen, he was best known for his key role in Bradman’s Invincibles which made an undefeated tour of England in 1948. He was the leading scorer in the Tests on the tour with three centuries, outscoring Bradman, and his efforts in the Fourth Test at Headingley helped Australia reach a world-record victory target of 404 on the final day.

When Bradman was famously dismissed for a duck in his last Test, Morris kept his cool and went on to score 196 to steer Australia to victory.

Bradman named Morris as opening batsman in his selection of the greatest team in Test history, describing him as the ‘‘best left-hand option to open an innings’’ and characterising his temperament as ‘‘ideal’’.

Morris was awarded an MBE in 1974, was named in the Australian Cricket Board’s Team of the Century in 2000 and inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2001.  

Phil Hawthorne becomes dual international: June, 1970

Phil Hawthorne, born in Newcastle in 1943, was raised only three doors from Learmonth Park, Hamilton South, so it was probably natural for him to get out and kick a football around, which he did to great effect on June 6, 1970, when selected to play league for Australia against Great Britain in Brisbane, becoming a football dual international.

Hawthorne had already represented the Wallabies in 21 Tests and went on to play for the Kangaroos in three, captaining the side in the third Test of the 1970 Ashes series.

Hawthorne played for Newcastle’s Wanderers from 1961, and was only 18 when he was picked for the Wallabies at fly half, becoming a consistent selection in the team. 

He moved to Randwick in 1967 and the next year accepted a record $30,000 to switch codes to join St George, where he played for four seasons before moving to Eastern Suburbs for one season in 1972. His playing career finished in 1974 after a stint as captain/coach at Coffs Harbour.

Hawthorne was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991 and died in 1994.  

Civic Theatre, 1957.

Civic Theatre, 1957.

Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre opens: December, 1929

More than 150,000 candles were placed around the Civic Theatre to mark its opening on December 12, 1929, and ever since the majestic building, one of Australia’s great theatres, has stood as a beacon for culture and recreation in the Hunter.

More than eight decades after its opening, a visit to the 1520-seat theatre built in the art deco style of the 1920s enhanced by Moroccan influences, with its grand marble foyer and staircase, terrazzo balcony, backlit parapets enveloping statues and royal boxes, is a stunning experience.

The theatre has fought the ravages of time, legal wrangles, financial problems, rodent infestation, an earthquake and threats of redevelopment and demolition since opening in Civic Week, 1929, which also saw the opening of Newcastle City Hall and Wheeler Place.

The theatre was to be opened by the then Premier of NSW, Thomas Bavin, but he was unable to attend so at the last minute the mayor, Ald Wheeler, led the ceremony.

Since opening the theatre has been the home of films and stage shows and hosted everyone from Debbie Reynolds, Dame Joan Sutherland and Sir Harry Secombe to bad-boy rockers Oasis, John Cleese, Eddie Vedder and Peter Ustinov.

The Civic beat the opening of the city hall, by NSW Governor Sir Dudley de Chair, by two days. That ceremony began with the unveiling of two electric lamps - in memory of Ald Morris Light, the mayor who commissioned the building in 1925 - at the front steps, where both lamps still stand.

A week of celebrations ran in conjunction with the openings, including a re-enactment of Shortland’s landing at the mouth of the Hunter, a harbour regatta, boxing at Newcastle Stadium, a surf and swimming carnival and a fireworks display.

The first concert at the city hall was the Monday after the opening by the Newcastle Choral Society and the Steel Works Band, with admission a shilling or two shillings, the same as the following week’s performance of Revue Revels of 1929.

The only things missing at the time were the dials of the city hall clock, which did not arrive until later.  

Ken Warby sets world water speed record: October, 1978

Ken Warby

Ken Warby

On October 8, 1978, Newcastle’s Ken Warby set what is now one  of the oldest records in the annals of sport - he went to Blowering Dam, near Tumut in NSW, in his home-made boat Spirit of Australia and became the first man to average more than 500 km/h on water. 

Warby flashed both ways over a measured kilometre at an average 511.1 km/h, a touch over 317 mph, a record that two men have died trying to match. Warby had already become the world’s fastest man on water in 1977 when, behind the wheel of his hydroplane powered by two second-hand Westinghouse J-34 jet engines, he set an average speed of 464 km/h on the dam. 

Warby is the only man to drive, design and build a boat to a water speed record. He now lives in the US while Spirit of Australia is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum.  

Newcastle Entertainment Centre opens: June, 1992

“John Denver,” The Newcastle Herald said in its preview of the Newcastle Entertainment Centre official opening on June 20, 1992, “sings the kind of songs that send chills up and down the spine.” 

Denver was “spine-chilling” that night before 250 specially invited guests in a capacity crowd of 5200 as the centre officially opened its doors. 

Denver had planned to tour Australia late in 1992, but put his tour forward to do the official opening. 

Tickets for the show sold out in three days, with 2500 tickets going in the first two-and-ahalf hours. 

Although the Denver concert was the official opening of the centre, it had already been “blooded”, in use for the Newcastle Show, six home games of the Newcastle Falcons and the first music show at the venue, a George Thorogood concert that attracted 4300 fans. 

Since opening the venue has hosted concerts by the likes of Cher, Fleetwood Mac, Pearl Jam, Usher, Pink, John Farnham, Katy Perry, The Highwaymen, the Grease spectacular, circuses, ice shows, school spectaculars, basketball, tennis, boxing, gymnastics, indoor motorcross, exhibitions, conventions and functions. 

Doug Walters century on Test debut: December, 1965

Doug Waters in 1965.

Doug Waters in 1965.

Doug Walters is looked on almost mythically as an Australian  cricketer, a man of the people revered almost as much for his legendary drinking, cigarette smoking, card playing and humour as his enormous cricketing ability.

 But it was his cricketing prowess that was to the fore when, just before his 20th birthday, he made his Test debut for Australia in Brisbane against Mike Smith’s England side in 1965. The laconic Walters, raised on a Dungog dairy farm and selected from the bush for NSW when only 17, belted 155, and if that wasn’t enough to make his mark, smacked another 115 in his next Test in Melbourne. 

His sparkling Test debut was upstaged the following year when he was conscripted for two years’ national service in the Australian Army and missed a tour of South Africa, not returning to the Test arena until 1968 against India, when he averaged 127. 

Later that year he missed the first Test against the touring West Indians but in the remaining Tests scored four centuries, including 242 and 103 in one Test, becoming the first batsman to score a century and a double century in a single Test. Walters played 74 Tests for Australia scoring 5357 runs at 48.26, and taking 49 wickets at 29.08.

 Dennis Lillee described him as “the coolest man in cricket”.

Andrew Johns runs on for Knights: April, 1993

EARLY DAYS:   Andrew Johns, 1993

EARLY DAYS: Andrew Johns, 1993

It was a wet and wild Saturday night on April 17, 1993, with the Newcastle Knights playing Gold Coast at Tweed Heads, when coach David Waite threw the switch on one of rugby league’s most illustrious careers.

Injured fullback Robbie O’Davis had to come off at half time and the coach turned to reserve Andrew Johns and asked him if he had ever played fullback.

 “Yeah, heaps of times,” he said. He had never played fullback in his life. 

That was the start for Johns, who went on to captain the Knights, NSW and Australia, become the youngest and first two-time winner of the Golden Boot award for the world’s greatest rugby league player (1999 and 2001), was picked as halfback in the NRL’s team of the century, won the Dally M award as league’s best in 1998, 1999 and 2002, was voted MVP in the 1995 World Cup final at Wembley and played in two Newcastle premiership-winning sides, in 1997 and 2001, the latter when he was captain and won the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the park.

 Any other accolades league had to offer during his career, he probably picked up as well. After three appearances as a run-on reserve in 1993 he had his first full start with the Knights the next year against South Sydney - leaving no doubt about his future with a man-of-the-match performance and a record points tally of 23 for a player on debut.

 Point-scoring records, State of Origin heroism, grand-final glory, virtually every award and honour his sport had to offer . . . it all came to Johns before a neck injury against Canberra ended his 249th and last game for Newcastle, one short of being the first Newcastle player to reach 250 first-grade games. On Tuesday, April 10, 2007, after scans on his injured neck, he announced his retirement and on Sunday, April 22, a crowd of 25,524 farewelled him at a Newcastle-Broncos match at EnergyAustralia Stadium, and the eastern grandstand was named in his honour.  

John HIpwell, 1975.

John HIpwell, 1975.

John Hipwell debuts for Australia: June, 1968

When the great Australian rugby union scrum half Ken Catchpole suffered a career-ending injury against New Zealand in 1968, the man who stepped into the breach was the son of a carpenter, born in Mayfield and educated at Waratah and Wallsend. 

An explosive runner and aggressive tackler, John Hipwell, a product of Waratah Rugby Union Club where he was coached by another great Newcastle footballer, Cyril Burke, went on to make the Australian scrum half position his own, touring the UK in 1968, South Africa in 1969, France in 1971 and England and Wales in 1973, where he took over the captaincy for the match against England at Twickenham. 

He went on to captain Australia nine times in an international career that spanned 14 seasons. His longevity was particularly stunning as he was badly injured in a Test against Wales in 1975. 

There were doubts he would return to the international game, but three years later he was back, playing three Tests against New Zealand. 

His final international call-up was a further three years away, when selected for the 1981/82 tour of Britain and Ireland, playing three Tests before finishing against England in January, 1982, at 33 years of age with 36 Australian caps.

 Hipwell was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1982 and in 2006 was among the second set of inductees into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame.

Robert Thompson rides winner 3323: July, 2008

When Cessnock jockey Robert Thompson steered Promised to victory at Port Macquarie on July 28, 2008, he broke the record for the most winners ever ridden by a jockey in Australia.

After breaking the 3322 mark set by Jack Thompson, Thompson was called into the steward’s room. 

“I had no idea what for,” he said at the time, “but the chief stipe Bill Fanning said ‘I should fine you for not giving a wave after that win’.”

The record victory was a long time coming for Thompson, who left school at 14 and became apprenticed to his grandfather, Normie Collins Snr, and scored his first win on It’s Regal at Wyong on March 8, 1973, at just his eighth race ride.

 It was more than 20,000 rides later that he notched his record win.      

Yahoo Serious as Young Einstein, 1988.

Yahoo Serious as Young Einstein, 1988.

Release of Young Einstein: December, 1988

There is no doubt Young Einstein is the most  successful movie ever primarily filmed in the Hunter, with estimates of more than $100 million in boxoffice takings world wide.

 It starred Cardiff’s Yahoo Serious - he changed his name from Greg Pead by deed poll in Newcastle in 1980 - who also directed, co-wrote and co-produced the film about a man who split the beer atom (to give it bubbles) and invented rock ‘n’ roll and surfing. 

The film’s takings of more than $13 million in Australia still see it sitting at number 15 among the nation’s all-time successes, coincidentally one spot behind another movie mostly filmed in the Hunter, Tomorrow When The War Began. But while Tomorrow made about $3 million outside Australia, Young Einstein made more than $11 million in the US alone, and made number one in countries including Britain, taking images of Wollombi valley, Fort Scratchley, Newcastle City Hall and Newcastle Post Office around the world.

Ken Tubman wins first Redex Trial: September, 1953

It is hard to imagine now how completely Redex  Trial fever gripped Australia back in 1953 - 187 cars trying to conquer 10,500 km of murderous Australian outback, at the time the second-longest trial ever staged in the world. 

Australians hung on every word of newspaper and radio reports over 14 days as cars driven by such luminaries as “Gelignite” Jack Murray, Jack Brabham and radio star Jack Davey, crashed, rolled, blew up engines, got lost, broke axles, hit kangaroos, crossed flooded creeks and had crew members go mad through dust and heat. At the end of it all the triumphant driver was a pharmacist from Maitland, Ken Tubman, with navigator John Marshall, who he had met over a few beers at Maitland Golf Club, and their Peugeot 203. 

Amazingly, they won by just 25 seconds after 10,500 kilometres of mayhem. A sign of the interest in the rally was the crowd of 50,000 at Sydney Showground to see the cars off on August 30, with a further 150,00 lining the streets to Hornsby. By the time Tubman finished the race at 11.05 pm on September 12, it had entered the mythology of automotive history in Australia. 

The victory caused a sales rush on Peugeots, and every new model in Australia was sold within a week. 

Tubman went on to become one of the best known rally drivers on the world stage, in 1970 winning the second Special World Cup Rally from London to Munich. Tubman was a pharmacist in Kurri Kurri before moving to Maitland in 1952 where he became a partner in a pharmacy in High St, remaining there until his retirement in 1982. 

He died in 1993. Maitland City Council named Ken Tubman Drive in his honour in 1988. 


The Beatles weren’t the only ones to know a little bit about long and winding  roads. 

The saga of the Sydney to Newcastle freeway is an amazing story, taking 35 years to complete and coming together like a giant, multi-million dollar jigsaw puzzle.

 Planning for the 127km freeway that links the state’s two major cities began in the 1950s after the first direct link between the two areas - the Pacifi c Highway – opened in 1930. In 1960 the NSW government called for offers to build a tollway between the cities and three were received, but all were unacceptable, so the government adopted a route proposed by the then Department of Main Roads.

 It ran from Wahroonga over the Hawkesbury and east of Wyong and Lake Macquarie to Newcastle, later changed to run west of Wyong and Lake Macquarie with link roads to Doyalson and Newcastle. 

Work began in April, 1963, on a seven-kilometre section north from the Hawkesbury River, the start of a project that would involve overcoming considerable engineering hurdles cutting through some of the most unforgiving terrain in NSW, removing millions upon millions of cubic metres of rock, soil and sand, dozens and dozens of road cuttings up to 50-metres deep, construction of 137 bridges – including the $19.5 million Mooney Mooney Bridge with a deck higher than Sydney Harbour Bridge and the six-lane, $5.5 million Hawkesbury River Bridge with piles sunk as deep as 85 metres below water level – fi lling in disused coal mines and massive replanting and landscaping projects.

 By October, 1966, the first section of freeway had reached Calga, a distance of 15km that cost $6 million. In 1966 work switched to the Sydney side of the Hawkesbury on the nine kilometres between the river and Berowra, which opened in December, 1968. The Somersby to Wallarah Creek section opened in December, 1983, costing $47 million and bypassing Wyong. 

Three years later the 15km Calga - Somersby section opened at a cost of $80 million, which included the Mooney Mooney Bridge and cut 14km off the old route. From the Central Coast the freeway headed west of Lake Macquarie to the Freeman’s interchange, a 26km stretch costing $79 million that opened in two stages, the first in September, 1987, and the second to the interchange in 1988. By December, 1990, the short stretch to Palmers Rd, west of Toronto, was in use.

 While all this was going on at the northern end, work started on the Sydney link to Wahroonga in February, 1984, which bypassed the Hornsby bottleneck and took fi ve years and $100 million to complete. 

Back north, the 19km stretch from Palmers Rd to Lenaghans Drive alone required 18 road cuttings as much as 50-metres deep and 23 bridges. It sliced through inland of Lake Macquarie and through the foothills of Mount Sugarloaf, taking fi ve years to complete at a cost of $175 million. West of Newcastle the road passed over several disused coal mines, some less than six metres below the surface, which had to be filled in. 

With the freeway reaching Lenaghans Drive a seven-kilometre link road was run to Wallsend and, more than three decades after work began, motorists could drive the freeway Newcastle to Sydney. 

Along the way builders tried to reduce the impact on the environment, collecting seeds from the path of the road, and west of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie alone more than 60,000 native trees were propogated and planted. 

Initially some sections of the road carried tolls, including the Hawkesbury Bridge, but these were removed in 1990 when the federal government decreed that all national highways should be toll free. The freeway is now used by about 75,000 vehicles every day. 

   Caption:   THREE PHOTOS:   The Mooney Mooney Bridge, far left, and the Hawkesbury Bridge under construction and, above, t

The Mooney Mooney Bridge  under construction.

The Mooney Mooney Bridge under construction.

The completed bridge over the Hawkesbury River.

The completed bridge over the Hawkesbury River.

The  Hawkesbury Bridge under construction.

The Hawkesbury Bridge under construction.

First black marlin caught by rod and reel in the world: February, 1913

Dr Mark Lidwill is famous for inventing the first  artificial pacemaker, used to resuscitate a newborn baby at Sydney’s Crown St Women’s Hospital in 1926, but around Port Stephens he has another claim to fame.  

In the early 1900s game fishing was a relatively new sport and in search of good fishing, enthusiasts travelled the NSW coastline. 

The Sydney doctor was one such pioneer, in 1913 travelling to Seal Rocks and then Port Stephens, where he landed some Spanish mackerel and what he thought was a swordfish. 

Wanting to confirm the identity of the 70-pounder, it was sent on the paddle boat Karuah to the Australian Museum, where it was identified as a makaira indica - a black marlin. 

The skeleton of the marlin was put on display at the museum’s skeleton gallery but its origin was mislaid, and it wasn’t until 1988 that its significance was realised - it was the one caught in 1913, the first black marlin taken anywhere in the world on rod and reel. The same fishing grounds where Dr Lidwill found success now hosts one of the biggest annual game-fishing tournaments in the world, still searching for that elusive black marlin. Dr Lidwell finally became more famous for his invention than his fishing, although he did not patent the pacemaker and remained anonymous for many years to avoid public controversy. 

BHP opening, 1915

BHP opening, 1915

 BHP Steelworks opens: June, 1915

The soul of Newcastle was forged by its steel mill, the industry that gave the town its nickname - Steel City. Planning of the steelworks began around 1912, and after mud flats were filled at the edge of Newcastle Harbour, construction began in 1913.  

On June 2, 1915, the steelworks was officially opened by the Australian Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, and The Newcastle Morning Herald reported “there came flashing along the rollers, within the immense 950 ft building, a square mass of hot metal”.

 It was turned to a steel rail as guests watched, and later sliced up for souvenirs. “These works are the crowning achievement of a great undertaking, with ramifications in many states of the Commonwealth,” Sir Ronald said in declaring the works open.

 “It is an enterprise in which all Australia is interested . . . the vastness of the installation we have visited testifies to the mineral resources of Australia, and to the confidence felt by men of business and capital in the stability of the country, and in its prospects of development.”

The steelworks was the birthplace of large-scale steel making in Australia and its smokestacks dominated Newcastle and its harbour for 84 years.

 It was the biggest integrated steel-making plant in the British Empire, played a crucial role in World War II and employed generations of Hunter workers, its workforce peaking around 12,000 in 1964.

When the steelworks closed on September 30, 1999, beaten by competition and ageing technology, there were fears it could be the death of the city, but now, more than a decade on, it appears to have given Newcastle the impetous to enter a new era.  

Walsh Island State Dockyard opens: November, 1914

In the early 1920s Walsh Island, a mile-long spit of mud and sand reclaimed at the junction of the north and south arms of the Hunter River, was the busy centre of Newcastle’s shipping and engineering industry.   

Opened by the NSW Minister for Public Works, Arthur Griffin, on November 17, 1914, as a replacement for Sydney’s Cockatoo Island Dockyard which had been taken over by the Commonwealth, the fledgling yard almost closed during World War I, but by 1920 had a workforce of 2500 and produced not only ships but buses, pipes, bridges, weapons, rail carriages and trucks. 

The dockyard did not survive the Great Depression and was abandoned in 1933, having produced 47 vessels from small wooden punts to ferries, pilot boats, 6000-ton steamers and a 15,000-ton floating dock. 

The SS Mildred, Newcastle’s first large vehicular ferry, was launched there. Abandonment was not the end for the dockyard however, as between 1938 and 1941 most of its buildings and machinery were relocated to the Dyke End, Carrington, becoming part of a new state dockyard which opened in 1942. 

The new dockyard became an invaluable war asset, and by 1945 had built 24 vessels for the Australian and US navies and repaired 600 more, with the old floating dock from Walsh Island towed down the river to help with the repairs. The dock survived until 1977 when it was cut up for scrap.

The second dockyard also eventually failed, closing with great bitterness on March 6, 1987, with losses of $37 million. In total 98 ships were built at the second dockyard between 1943 and 1983, the last launched the Sydney Harbour ferry Queenscliff in 1983, although the site did make a brief return to shipbuilding 12 years later when the $5 million, 500-passenger paddleboat Sydney Showboat II was built there.    

America's Cup, 1983

America's Cup, 1983

Australia II ends 132-year US winning streak: September, 1983 

When Australia II broke the longest winning streak in the history of sport in 1983, beating the US yacht Liberty to take the America’s Cup off Newport, Rhode Island, the genesis of the victory was in the mind of Australia II designer Ben Lexcen, nurtured by his Newcastle upbringing. 

With skipper John Bertrand at the helm of the Alan Bondbacked challenger, Australia II stormed back after losing the first two races in the best-of-seven series to square up three-all with Dennis Conner’s Liberty, the first time the result would depend on the last race. 

The two yachts parted in the final leg of the race, and when they came back together Australia II was in front. It was over, Australia the first challenger to wrest the cup from the US since it began in 1870. 

The nation erupted and Lexcen was famous as his wingedkeel design helped lift Australia to victory.

 It was all a long way from mucking about in boats on Throsby Creek and sailing model yachts in the map pool next to Newcastle Ocean Baths. 

Born Bob Miller – he changed his name in the ‘70s after a commercial dispute – Lexcen was abandoned by his soldier father at the age of five and moved to Newcastle in 1941 to live with his grandparents. His schooling left a lot to be desired. Newcastle East Public School records show he enrolled in July, 1941, but “disappeared” in late December and didn’t re-enroll until 1943. 

His stay at Newcastle Junior Boys High School lasted only 18 months. 

But he obviously had fond memories of his life in the city as he told Mark Rothfield in a 1983 interview.

 “It was a good life for a kid with no money. The city was like a big playground for us. We used to hang around the wharves and go for rides on the tugs. Later I built model yachts and we would take them on the steam train out to Belmont and sail them on the lake.”

 Lexcen left Newcastle at 18 and moved to Brisbane, where he broke into yacht design. He was awarded the Order of Australia for his work on Australia II, and in 1988 the Toyota Lexcen was named in his honour.

 He died suddenly of a heart attack in May, 1988, at 52 years of age. 

 Mark Donaldson wins Victoria Cross: September, 2008

 Newcastle-born soldier Mark Donaldson was travelling in a coalition convoy in Afghanistan on September 2, 2008, when it was ambushed by enemy forces. In the chaos that followed he ran across nearly 100 metres of exposed ground under heavy machine-gun fire to rescue a wounded interpreter.

 Donaldson had already deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire to draw attention away from wounded soldiers, and his bravery saw him awarded the nation’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross. 

It was the first awarding of the medal to an Australian for 40 years, and the first Victoria Cross for Australia, which was established in 1991 to replace the Imperial VC. Named the Young Australian of the Year in 2010, Donaldson was born in Waratah and trained at Singleton after enlisting in 1996.

 The only Australian to win the Victoria Cross since Donaldson, SAS Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, honoured for single-handedly tackling Taliban machine-gun positions in Afghanistan in 2010, also trained at Singleton Army Base after enlisting in 1996.

 The duo join just 96 Australians who have won the Victoria Cross, including a number with Hunter connections. William Curry, born in Wallsend, won his VC at Peronne, France, in September, 1918, when single-handed he rushed and captured machine-gun posts before being gassed. On his return to Australia in 1919 he was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly where he served until his death in 1948.

 Clarence Jeffries, also born in Wallsend, was awarded his VC posthumously after being killed in action in France on October 12, 1917, after capturing a number of machine-gun dug-outs. William Jackson, Australia’s youngest VC winner at 18, was recognised for his bravery in France in 1916 when he had his arm blown off while rescuing wounded from no-man’s land, returning to look for comrades even after being wounded. Jackson lived at Merriwa on his return from the war before moving to Wollongong. 


The arrival of a newspaper in a town has always been a recogniton of an area’s growth and prosperity, a sign that a settlement is growing up. So it was in the Hunter in the mid-1800s. 

The Maitland Mercury is Australia’s oldest regional newspaper, first issued on January 7, 1843, just 12 years after the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s oldest continuously published paper.

 Originally published as a weekly, the Mercury still serves the Maitland area five days a week. Maitland was a much larger settlement than Newcastle in its early days, beating Newcastle to the newspaper punch as its first paper is believed to have been The Newcastle Telegraph, which appeared in 1855, printed in Maitland but distributed from an office in Bolton St.

 The Telegraph was a short-lived enterprise and the first Newcastle newspaper with staying power was the Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter District News, which appeared on August 28, 1858, four pages with a sixpenny cover price.

 The Chronicle published until 1876 when it merged with the Miners’ Advocate and Northumberland Recorder, which had been launched from Wallsend on February 21, 1873.

 It moved to Newcastle in 1876 to become a daily - and the parent of the present-day Newcastle Herald. The first Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate appeared on April 3, 1876, its editorial stating the paper would “sound the loud note of defiance to all who impugn the geographical and political advantages of Newcastle”. 

Within three months the Chronicle merged with The Herald as the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (incorporating Newcastle Chronicle). It has been bringing the region its daily news ever since.  


Equestrian gold medal, 2000

Equestrian gold medal, 2000

 Lochinvar rider Matt Ryan became the Hunter’s most successful Olympian when he won his third equestrian gold medal on September 19, 2000, at the Sydney Olympics - and it should have been his fourth. 

After being a reserve rider at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Ryan took two gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for the equestrian three-day team event and three-day individual event, a heroic effort as in the last round of the showjumping he could afford only one mistake to secure both golds. He cleared the first 11 jumps before stumbling at the last, good enough to seal victory. Back to defend his titles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he was devastated when both his mounts went lame.

 He missed goldmedal glory as his team went on to win, but redemption came at Sydney in 2000 when he was again a member of the victorious three-day team. Ryan’s Olympic career ended as reserve rider at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and he is now based in the United Kingdom and still competing. 

Two more Olympic golds the Hunter has some claim to came in the same event as Ryan’s, when Laurie Morgan captained the three-day team to victory at the 1960 Rome games and also won the individual.

 Morgan came from Victoria and played Aussie Rules for Fitzroy - he is believed to be the only VFL/AFL player to have won Olympic gold - but bought the Hunter Valley thoroughbred stud Red Bank near Scone in 1940 and lived there until 1953 when he moved to Condobolin.

 He bred the AJC Derby winner Valiant Crown (1947) and Golden Slipper winner Royal Parma (1968), and among other sporting achievements was a champion boxer, rower, polo player and rode steeplechase races in England, including a placegetter in the 1963 Grand National at Aintree. The equestrians are part of an elite band of Hunter Olympic gold-medal winners, including hockey’s Julie Towers, who collected gold at Sydney in 2000, and Shelley Andrews, who did likewise at Atlanta in 1996. Swimmer Angie Bainbridge collected gold at Beijing when she swam in a heat of the 4x200 relay but watched from the stands as her relay teammates caused one of the biggest boilovers in Olympic swimming history by upstaging the US to win the final in world-record time.


 Without absolute certainty, it is believed Maitlandborn Harry Hay was the Hunter’s first Olympian when he swam at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics and was the Australian flagbearer. Hay was living in Sydney and swimming at Manly Swimming Club at the time of his selection, but was born in Maitland - his full name was Harry Maitland Hay - in 1893. 

Part of only a six-person Australian team at the games, where there were only 10 swimming events, Hay won a silver medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay, defeated by the US which was led by Duke Kahanamoku. Hay went on to coach Andrew “Boy” Charlton to Olympic gold and continued coaching until his death in 1952.

 According to a list of more than 100 Hunter region Olympians prepared by the Australian Olympic Federation, the area’s first born-and-bred Olympian selected from the area was Singleton swimmer Kevin Hallett, at the first post-war games in London in 1948. 

Kevin Hallett, 1994

Kevin Hallett, 1994

Hallett was unsuccessful in the 200-metre breaststroke, but his participation was already a fairytale as the Australian Olympic Committee had funds for four swimmers only, and others had to provide $1000 to be part of the team. The Singleton community raised $1124 to get Hallett to London. 

Hallett’s team was the first to fly to an Olympic Games, but things were a bit different in 1948 - the  plane had to land at Darwin to refuel, overnight at Singapore, refuel at Calcutta, overnight at Karachi, overnight at Cairo and refuel at Tripoli. 

The trip took four days. Hallett, now 82, still lives in Singleton. Both these sportsmen were nearly upstaged as the Hunter’s first Olympian - and gold-medal winner - at the 1908 London games when a Sydney doctor doing a year’s residency in Newcastle, Dr Herbert “Paddy” Moran, was picked to captain the Wallabies on their first overseas tour in 1908/09. 

 While touring the British Isles the Wallabies played in the Olympics (Australia and Great Britain, represented by Cornwall, were the only two teams, and so the only match was the gold-medal decider which Australia won 32-3) but Moran was injured in an earlier tour match and did not take part.


A transport and industrial revolution began in Australia on October 22, 1831, when the first coastal steamer wholly built in Australia, William the Fourth, was launched.

The colony of NSW was just 44 years old when the vessel began 30 years of coastal trade that made it a legend of Australia’s maritime history.

Built at the Deptford yards of William Lowe and James Marshall at Clarence Town on the Williams River, the ship operated on the Hunter until the end of 1835, with occasional trips to Port Stephens, Carrington and Brisbane Waters.

It went on to provide a service to Port Macquarie in 1836 and operated on the South Coast to Jervis Bay in the 1840s, before ending up in China in the river trade in 1862, and then being sold to Japan.  

Eddie Charlton, 1960s.

Eddie Charlton, 1960s.


Eddie Charlton was ranked number three snooker player in the world for five consecutive years from 1976/77; was runner up three times in the world championships; in 1972, ’73 and ’80 was the BBC Pot Black winner and recorded the first century break in that competition; and in 1964 became Australian professional champion which he held, with one exception, for the next 20 years.

 But in his opinion his most outstanding achievement came at Kempsey/Cresent Head Country Club in 1967.

 On tour for the Royal NSW Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, he had to play two opponents a game each. He broke in the first frame, made a red and cleared the table for a break of 137. 

The next opponent came to the table, the referee re-racked the balls and he potted a red and cleared the table a second time for a break of 135, making a worldrecord running break of 272. 

Neither opponent had a shot. Even for a player of Charlton’s ability it was an amazing effort. Born in Merewether, Charlton learned to play at his grandfather’s billiards club at Swansea.

 At 11 he played an exhibition match against the legendary Walter Lindrum to help the war effort. Charlton wasn’t only a snooker (and billiards) player. He played first-grade soccer and rugby, was sweep of the Swansea/Belmont surfboat crew that won an Australian championship, was a boxer who fought a three-round exhibition with Dave Sands and played first-grade cricket.

 He turned to professional snooker in 1963, becoming Australia’s “Mr Snooker” from his high profile derived through the BBC’s Pot Black TV series. He formed the Australian Professional Players Association and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1980. Charlton died in November, 2004.  


Reg Date

Reg Date

Probably Australia’s greatest-ever goal-scoring footballer, Reg Date only captained Australia once, against South Africa on May 31, 1947, at Sydney Showground.  

Not surprisingly, he scored two goals. In the five matches Australia played against South Africa that tour, the Wallsend wonder scored eight goals. 

Date was a big, powerful centre forward widely accepted as Australia’s most prolific striker and one of the greatest footballers the country has produced, with the consensus being that had he accepted one of the many offers he had to try his luck in England he would have been an international star. 

Between 1937 and 1953, Date scored 664 goals in competition games, including nine in one match, seven twice and six three times. 

He played for Wallsend before three years at Canterbury-Bankstown from 1945 to 1947, breaking the club’s goal-scoring records for three consecutive seasons and creating an Australian record by scoring 73 goals in 1947. 

He returned to Wallsend to finish his career. Amazingly, he did it all with a piece of steel floating in his knee, an injury he received as a youngster working in a Newcastle foundry to build himself up. 

Told an operation might end his career, he kept it secret and played on. Date began playing with Plattsburgh Primary School and scored 94 goals for the school in 1933 alone, in one match scoring 18 goals and in another as a junior 21 goals. Date retired in 1953 and died in 1995, well known throughout Newcastle as the publican of the Albion Hotel. 

His freakish goalscoring ability was recognised in 2000 when he was given the number 10 jersey in the Australian team of the century.


England’s Arsenal Football Club is one of the most famous in the world - who would believe their captain in their inaugural first division season in 1903/04 would have learnt his soccer at Hamilton Academical and Adamstown Rosebuds in Newcastle.  

James “Jimmy” Jackson was born in Scotland in 1875, but his family emigrated to Australia when he was two and he grew up and learned his football in Newcastle before returning to Scotland at 18.

 He signed for Rangers in 1894, moved to Newcastle in 1897 and then to what was Woolwich Arsenal in 1899, making his debut for the club on September 2 that year.

 He was a regular for the next six years, playing 204 matches, and was captain of the club when it won promotion to fi rst division. 

He played and managed other clubs after leaving Arsenal in 1905, among them his old club Rangers, before retiring to become a blacksmith. His son, James Jnr, became club captain of Liverpool, while his nephew, Archie Jackson, became a Test cricketer for Australia.  


 When a group of sailors decided to have a little boat race from Sydney to Hobart in 1945, nine yachts lined up to face the starter’s gun.

 One of the babies of the field was a double-ended 35-foot cutter called Rani, designed by Arthur Barber and built by Les Steel at Speers Point.

A few days later the little boat, skippered by the Royal Navy’s John Illingworth, was lost. 

With a gale blowing in Bass Strait, Rani went missing and the decision to let it race was labelled a blunder. Then, suddenly, after being given up by race organisers, Rani appeared in the Derwent River.

 It went on to take the fi rst of what has become one of the most gruelling yacht races in the world, the 630-nautical mile Sydney to Hobart. 

Rani won both line honours and handicap that year, but her race record – it was the first, after all – of six days, 14 hours and 22 minutes, has since been lowered to one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds. 

Rani Close at Lake Macquarie is named in honour of the yacht. After Rani’s success Steel also built the Struen Marie, the handicap winner in 1951, and Rival, the 37-foot sloop that was handicap winner in 1961.

 Another Lake Macquarie yacht, Picollo, took the blue water classic’s handicap honours in 1976.   

Heath Francis, Beijing, 2008.

Heath Francis, Beijing, 2008.


Heath Francis describes his 400-metre, gold-medal winning performance at the 2008 Beijing Games as the greatest race he’s ever had. 

It was probably something he wouldn’t have dreamed of when he lost his arm at the age of seven, caught in a meat grinder on his family farm at Booral.

 Francis never let his accident hold him back, going on to race at three paralympics - Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, as well as taking gold at world championships and Commonwealth Games. 

In Sydney 2000 he won gold in the 400 metres and two relays, adding silver for the 200 metres. 

In Athens he added three silver and two bronze medals, before striking gold again in Beijing in the 100, 200 and 400 metres and taking a bronze in the 4x100 metre relay.

 Along the way he broke two world records, one of which had stood for 16 years. Francis is just one of the Hunter’s golden paralympians, including Joseph Walker who competed in nine swimming events at the 1992 games in Spain to win nine gold medals and set two world records. He went on to represent Australia in basketball. 

Wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley has three paralympic golds from Athens and Beijing, plus fi ve silver and a bronze, and has achieved amazing success in marathons around the world including multiple successes in New York, Chicago, Seoul, Paris, London and Sydney, as well as crawling the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea in 2009. All three athletes have been awarded the OAM.


“Thursday, 10 May, 1770: Gentle breezes and clear weather,” says the private log of Lt James Cook on board the Endeavour.

 “A small clump of an island lying close inshore S. 82 deg. West”. 

That is how Captain Cook recorded the first European sighting of what is now Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, that “small clump of an island” now known as Nobbys. Cook sailed on that day more than 200 years ago, not venturing closer to fi nd the harbour that lay beyond, leaving the “honour” of being the first Europeans to set foot in the Hunter almost certainly to convicts escaping from Port Jackson in the early 1790s. 

However, as history now decrees, credit for the European discovery of the Hunter River falls to Lt John Shortland, of the Royal Navy. 

In September, 1797, Shortland set off from Port Jackson chasing a group of convicts who had stolen the grain boat Cumberland from Pittwater and headed north. 

He reached Port Stephens before giving up and heading home, and on the way back on September 9, he pulled in around that “small clump of island” and found the harbour. Shortland had a quick look around, but reported “we had rain which prevented my doing so much as I otherwise should”.

 He sent a letter to his father a year later saying his discovery would “in a little time . . . be a great acquisition to the settlement”. 

When he arrived back in Sydney on September 19 and told of his discovery, traders quickly followed his footsteps north seeking coal and cedar. The glorious days of the Hunter Valley had begun. 


In 1828 a writer in the Sydney Gazette described Newcastle as “the future Brighton of NSW” – as if that cold English seaside town could compare to the warmth of the Hunter - but at the time they probably thought they were being complimentary to the fledgling city.

 Newcastle’s iconic ocean baths.

Newcastle’s iconic ocean baths.

 Early bathers in Newcastle were warned to stick to the harbour rather than the dangerous surf, but that began to change with the constuction of ocean pools, culminating in the opening of Newcastle’s landmark ocean baths, the art deco gem now not only popular with bathers but with artists and photographers.

 The baths were officially opened on November 25, 1922, in front of what the Newcastle Morning Herald described as “a large and representative gathering”, with the report going on to say that with its additions “the baths are probably the fi nest in the Commonwealth”. 

But the road to the baths was not a smooth one, costs blowing out from 4002 pounds when it was proposed in 1907 to 16,400 pounds by its opening in 1922, its construction once described by a Newcastle councillor as “a bungle from start to finish”.

 The pool was a nightmare to build. On a rocky tidal shelf, workers had to shelter behind 10-metre sandbag barricades battling high tides as they jackhammered rocks to be carried away by a small rail line and draught horses.

 Planning of the pool began in 1907 and construction started in 1910, and although it was used unofficially from 1912 – Duke Kahanamoku performed an exhibition there in 1915 – it was not officially opened until 1922 when the pavilion was built.

The long-lost world pool.

The long-lost world pool.

 A Young Mariners Pool for children was added adjacent to the baths in 1937 – containing the famed map of the world on the pool bottom that was removed in the late 1960s – and then a canoe pool began construction in 1939, finished a year or two later.

 The distinctive art deco flourishes were added to the pavilion in 1927. The present baths were not the first in the area, however, as “soldiers baths” – named because of their proximity to Fort Scratchley - were built in 1883 by piling rocks on a reef to build a sea wall. 

The baths were between the present pool and Nobbys, and remnants of the rocks that made up the pool can still be seen from the Bathers Way walk. Australia’s oldest ocean baths, the Bogey Hole at the bottom of King Edward Park, was carved from the rock platform by convicts around 1820 for the personal use of the Commandant of Newcastle at the time, James Morisset. Further south the Merewether Ocean Baths, often labelled the largest ocean baths complex in the southern hemisphere, were built in 1934/35 as a depression relief scheme. 

The early days of Merewether pool.

The early days of Merewether pool.

Rock was blasted with dynamite and the rubble carted away by horse and sled, and tales are still told of a horse that cut its leg and was attacked by a shark, with the workers throwing rocks at it until it let go and headed back to sea. 

Like Newcastle, the present pools are not the first in the area as the original Merewether baths were cut from the same rock platform in 1926 and can be seen just north of the present pools. 

The Merewether pools were opened in November, 1935, and once had diving boards, pontoons, a slippery dip and water wheel, but they were destroyed by storms.

Caption:   Coal loading, Newcastle

Caption: Coal loading, Newcastle


It is generally accepted that the vessel The Hunter carried Australia’s first export - 50 tonnes of coal - to Bengal from Newcastle in 1799.

Although there’s a line of thought that the first export may have been aboard the Earl Cornwallis in 1800, as Governor King wrote “I believe this is the first return ever made from NSW”, most accept a letter from surgeon John Thomson as proof that the first export was aboard in The Hunter.

Thomson wrote of the ship, which sailed for Bengal on October 7, 1799, that: “We have also some hopes that the coals with which the country abounds will be of much Colonial advantage. A ship lately returned to Bengal loaded with coals, and it gave no small satisfaction to every person interested in the prosperity of the colony to see this first export of it: and I am hopeful from these advantages that New South Wales, however contemptible it may at present appear in the list of our colonies, may yet become an acquisition of value to the mother country”.

Insulting to NSW, perhaps, but the start of something great for the Hunter.

 Between 1799 and 1829, Newcastle shipped 50,000 tonnes of coal, loaded into ships using wheelbarrows, a little different to today.

 From those humble beginnings, Newcastle has grown to be the greatest coal export port in the world. 

A total of 114.1 million tonnes of coal was exported in the 2011 calendar year for a new record while December, 2011, saw a new monthly export record of 11.6 million tonnes.

 Exports have grown from 91.4 million tonnes in 2008; 92.8 million tonnes in 2009; 102.5 million tonnes in 2010 to last year’s record. 


Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have been vital to the development of the Australian mining industry since its birth, and the region remains a key player today.  

Newcastle is, in fact, the site of the first coal mines in Australia, now buried under Fort Scratchley. 

The first European discovery of coal at Newcastle came in 1791 through escaping convicts, then officially in 1797 when Lt John Shortland collected coal on his first trip to the harbour. 

After Shortland returned to Sydney with his news, Lt Col William Paterson led a party to survey the river and its resources in June, 1801, leaving miner John Platt and others behind to work the coal they had discovered at Colliers Point (Fort Scratchley). 

They were the first miners to work coal in the colony’s first mines. By October, 1801, they were removing three tonnes of coal per day.

 The mines prompted Governor King to set up a penal settlement in Newcastle in 1802 to better work the mines, and by November, 1802, there were four small mines producing nine tonnes of coal a day.

 The first settlement failed, however, and closed at the end of 1802, although some miners remained. In May, 1803, the Sydney Gazette reported “a new mine has been found at Hunter’s River, which is likely to yield an abundance of the finest coal that has ever been witnessed”.

 In 1804 Newcastle was resettled, this time successfully and permanently, and the city, the region and its coal industry was up and away.


Newcastle is famous for its industry, that’s for sure. And its sports people. No argument.   But its financial institutions?

 Last December, with hardly anyone noticing, the Newcastle Permanent became the biggest mutual building society in Australia. 

Part of the Hunter landscape since 1903, the Perm now has 325,000 members, assets of $7.5 billion, total loans of $6.1 billion and more than 900 staff.

 It makes a $1 million annual investment in community sponsorships. Another Newcastle society, The Greater, is number three in the Abacus (the industry association for Australian credit unions and building societies) list with assets of $4.6 billion, while the Hunter’s oldest society, Maitland Mutual, operating since 1888, has assets of $500 million.

 The Hunter’s largest credit union is Hunter United, which started life in 1963 as BHP (Newcastle) Employees Credit Union and has more than $283 million in assets.   


It was a big day for Newcastle when the most expensive Australian feature film to that time, For the Term of His Natural Life, had its world premier at the city’s Theatre Royal on June 20, 1927.   

The silent film was initially planned as a 15,000 pound production but ballooned to a reputed 60,000 pounds, with its world premier held in Newcastle because some of it was filmed on the harbour and Stockton.

 The film was set in convict era Port Arthur, Tasmania, and Stockton’s ballast ground doubled for a wharf in Tasmania where convicts disembarked from a windjammer. Newcastle was selected for filming because it was the end of the sailing era and Newcastle was the last port where convincing “convict transport” could be found. 

The 101-minute film, directed by American Norman Dawn and starring George Fisher, is considered one of Australia’s greatest silent movies as well as the most ambitious, expensive and advanced, introducing special effects to the Australian film industry. 


When a new, $4 million Commercial Fishermen’s Co-op opened its doors at Wickham on March 27, 1998, it was a reasonable occasion, nothing to get too excited about unless you were a commercial fisherman.

 But it wasn’t just a fishermen’s co-op, rather a quite historic building - the first designed, developed and functioning as a business on the Honeysuckle site, the area that has changed the face and perception of Newcastle. 

The Honeysuckle Development Corporation (now Hunter Development Corporation) was established in 1992 by the NSW government to organise one of Australia’s largest urban renewal projects - redeveloping 50 hectares of derelict land and buildings along Newcastle Harbour.

 For years nothing much seemed to happen, but once the co-op got things started the harbour blossomed, now home to cafes, restaurants and hotels, museums, public spaces, boardwalks, residential apartments and townhouses, a marina and office blocks. 

The most recent figures show that since 1992 the Honeysuckle project has generated an estimated $2.05 billion in the regional economy with $267.7 million in public sector spending attracting $767.7 million in private sector funds with $1016 million in flow-on investment.

 There’s now 13 hectares of quality public open space and since the opening of the co-operative more than 1900 residents have come to call the area home and 2500 people have it as their workplace. 

Skyline drive-in opens: December, 1956

The pairing of two great icons of the 20th century - cars and movies. What could be more glorious.

Perhaps more for “social interaction” behind steamed-up windows than the movies, theheyday of drive-in movies in the 1960s and ’70s is remembered fondly by all those who were there.

The Skyline drive-in at Lambton opened for business on December 17, 1956, narrowly beaten as the first drive-in in NSW by Bass Hill, which opened a month earlier.

With its first film Three Coins In The Fountain, the Lambton drive-in cost $200,000 and had a capacity of 722 cars with a holding area for another 420 waiting for the next session.

It was almost joined by another drive-in the same year when one was approved for Park Ave, Adamstown, but nothing came of it.

Three more were planned for Lake Macquarie in 1957, at Gateshead, between Gateshead and Belmont North and at Caves Beach, but only the Metro at Gateshead came to fruition, opening in February, 1958.

The Skyline closed on June, 1985, and by the end of the 1980s Gateshead was also gone. The Westside drive in at Rutherford came and went, and the only remaining valley drive-in - one of just a few in NSW - is the Heddon Greta drive-in which opened in 1967. 

First baby born at John Hunter Hospital, 1991

First baby born at John Hunter Hospital, 1991


“With the official opening today of the new John Hunter Hospital,” The Newcastle Herald said in its editorial of January 30, 1991, “the Hunter region is entering a new era of medical care. The $250 million, 496-bed hospital will provide the best and most modern public health facilities seen in Newcastle for decades”. 

The opening of the hospital was a great day for the health of the Hunter after 500 workers had toiled from 1985 on the Rankin Park site, among other things pouring 63,000 tonnes of cement, installing 12,000 ceiling lights and 380 toilets. 

With 1000 nurses employed, 9229 patients were admitted during the hospital’s first six months and 2269 operations were undertaken.

The first surgery actually snuck in a few weeks before the official opening, when four elective surgery patients - Susan Pearsall, Louise Hope, Denis Tait and Marvin Mendonca - were admitted on January 15 for surgery including the removal of tonsils and polyps. The first baby born at the hospital was Cameron Michael Crabb, who booked his place in the hospital’s history (and received a $500 account from Newcastle Permanent) when he weighed in at 4.3 kg at 4.26pm on the official opening day, the first child of Jenni and Michael Crabb, of Warners Bay. 

Since that auspicious first day, John Hunter has grown and prospered. It is the region’s largest hospital with 550 adult beds and another 113 paediatric beds in the John Hunter Children’s Hospital, one of just three designated children’s hospitals in NSW. 

The Royal Newcastle Centre (formerly Royal Newcastle Hospital, which provided Newcastle’s main health services from 1817 until it closed in 2006) opened next to the John Hunter in April, 2006, providing another 144 beds. 

John Hunter is the principal referral centre and community hospital for Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and northern NSW; the main teaching hospital of the University of Newcastle; has the only trauma centre in NSW outside Sydney; has the busiest emergency department in the state; and about 4000 babies are born there each year.

 As a sign of its growth, in 1991 it had 32,141 admissions, 3947 births and 7432 operations. In 2011 it had 74,873 admissions, 4252 births and 18,844 0perations.

Wayne Harris after winning the 1994 Melbourne Cup on Jeune.

Wayne Harris after winning the 1994 Melbourne Cup on Jeune.

Wayne Harris wins the Melbourne Cup: November, 1994

When Muswellbrook jockey Wayne Harris climbed on board Jeune for the 1994

Melbourne Cup, none of the portents seemed favourable.

Harris was making a comeback after being out through injury and illness, and

only clinched the ride at the barrier draw following the final race on Derby Day,

after trainer David Hayes had offered the ride to several other prominent jockeys, including Shane Dye, who had made it clear that Jeune would not run out the gruelling 3200 metres.   

When the heavens opened before the race it was thought to be the final nail in Jeune’s coffin, as he was supposedly a duffer in the wet.

But Harris was used to overcoming obstacles. His career began in a blaze of glory - in 1979 he won the Golden Slipper on Century Miss at just age 18, the first apprentice to win Sydney’s blue ribbon race, and he notched an Australian record number of wins as an apprentice - but at 22 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, after surgery, was told it was unlikely he would ride again.

But comeback he did, only to be struck down by another tumour which he again beat. Add to that a list of injuries and Harris spent almost as much time in hospital beds as on horses.

But on November 1, 1994, he teamed with the chestnut stallion Jeune to achieve every jockey’s ambition. He won the Melbourne Cup.

In 2006, Harris told the Illawarra Mercury how it all came about.

“Throughout the week I had driven Hayes mad for a ride and Jeune was the only one that had my weight, so it was a godsend to hear David tell the media I would be the pilot.

“In the two days before the cup I studied the form and speed maps. I even memorised all the colours and silks of rival jockeys.

“My weight preparation was pretty standard – starving, sweating and hours of walking. I must have worn a track walking around Flemington. I was obsessed.

“Everything on cup day appeared to be going too smoothly; even my tie was done perfect at first attempt and the trip to the track, normally a nightmare, went off without a hitch.

“Jeune was a very headstrong horse and although I’d never ridden him before I knew that while racing in Europe he was taught to miss the start to help the jockeys hold him, a habit that isn’t encouraged here.

“Hayes’s instructions were to just try and settle Jeune the best I could. It’s impossible to win a 3200-metre race if you over-race or are made to cover extra ground. My intention was to try and relax Jeune mid-field and ride the race as it unfolded.

“But Jeune was slow into stride and I had to make a decision to back myself and push forward a little to hold a spot. The first few hundred metres are important, as there is a fair bit of jostling until positions are sorted. I remember it was very tight

and I was onto the heels of the runners in front of me. But I couldn’t afford to give up my prime position.

“Luckily the pace was reasonable and I had been able to follow top jockeys Darren Beadman and Jim Cassidy, although I had to dodge a Pommie horse that wasn’t coping at the 1200 metres. Other than Jeune racing a little keenly, everything was going nicely.

“The field bunched coming to the home turn, the weaker runners were starting to get a stitch and it was then that a gap appeared in front of me. I had to make a quick decision - try for the run or get caught up with the backmarkers who were starting to converge. I squeezed through the narrow gap and suddenly there I was with only one horse in front of me.

“My heart skipped a beat. It was too far from home to be hitting the front!

“So much was going through my mind. Right, I’ve saved ground and nursed him, surely he’ll find something for me when I ask for an effort.

“You’re always told, ‘don’t go until the clock tower’, which is around 250 metres from the finish. I could feel the field around me and from the corner of my eye I could see plenty of challengers emerging. I needed to keep my cool and wait. To Jeune’s credit, when I finally urged him to go he simply exploded.

“I crouched down and tried to help him without being punishing and as we got to the line we had a length to spare. Unbelievable. We’d won the bloody Melbourne Cup!

“As I pulled up, one of the first to greet me was my good mate Damien Oliver, who had finished second on the favourite Paris Lane. Damien almost got me in a headlock and I copped a few choice expletives, but he was genuinely excited for me.

“I remember saying to him, tongue in cheek: ‘Mate, you watched the perfect ride, just copy it next year.’ And he did, winning it on Doriemus.”  

Merewether, 1922

Merewether, 1922

Merewether first surf lifesaver: December 1907

Kurri Kurri coalminer Edward Nolan almost certainly wished the “honour” hadn’t fallen to him, but he was the man responsible for the setting up of the Hunter’s first surf life saving club, Merewether. 

Nolan was swimming in the area known as “Ladies” when he was attacked by a shark in October, 1907, and although he survived he had his arm torn off.

 The attack provided the impetus for the setting up of Merewether on December 16, 1907, quickly followed by Newcastle in January, 1908, five days later Stockton, then Newcastle South, renamed Cooks Hill in 1911.

 These four clubs were the foundation members of the Northern District Surf Bathing Association when it was formed in 1918, now the Hunter Branch of the SLSA, which has 13 clubs stretching from Tea Gardens-Hawks Nest in the north to Catherine Hill Bay in the south.

 It has been estimated that since 1907 more than 30,000 people owe their lives to Hunter district life savers. 

Surf life saving in the Hunter is also responsible for another service that has grown into a Hunter icon, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

 The service began in 1975 as part of the life-saving movement dedicated solely to surf rescue and coastal observation during summer months, but by 1981 it had begun 24-hour-a-day, yearround operations, and separated from surf life saving in 1991. 

It is now a world-class aeromedical search and rescue operation that operates four aircraft, undertaking more than 1400 missions each year across the Hunter, New England, North West, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast regions.

 The area covers approximately 132,000 square kilometers and includes 1.2 million people, and on the back of community support, no-one has ever had to pay to be airlifted from an emergency.      

Bruce Cockburn named legend of his sport: March, 2011 

The winner of Australia’s first individual gold medal at a world trick water-ski championship, at Copenhagen in 1969, Charlestown’s Bruce Cockburn was inducted into the Australian Water Ski and Wakeboard Federation Hall of Fame in March last year - and named an official legend of the sport. 

Cockburn dominated Australian water skiing in the 1970s and represented Australia at world championships from 1968 to 1977, adding two silver medals to his gold. 

He won the NSW and Australian men’s opens from 1969 to 1976, with injury breaking his run in 1977, and won the tricks eight times, the jump seven times and the slalom four times at the Australian titles from 1967 to 1979. 

With water skiing one of two demonstration sports at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Cockburn competed to be seventh in men’s slalom, fourth in figure skiing and fifth in the jump. 

He was inducted into the Australian Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and in 1996 the International Water Skiing Hall of Fame. 

At the same ceremony where Cockburn was named a legend, Garry Barton was inducted into the hall of fame. The Hunter barefoot skier was an Australian and world pioneer of his sport and from 1967 to 1972 was recognised as number one in the world. He was the Australian overall barefoot champion in 1969 and 1970 to 1972 and has been an international coach for countries including USA, Canada, Italy and Sweden. He was Australian team coach in 1985. 

Lake Macquarie’s Peter Wellham is another bare-foot skier who won the world jump title in Canberra in 1984, during the 1980s held four world records and was rated in the top 10 in the world from 1982 to 1994.    


Wangi sailor Nathan Outteridge was on his way to the top. The winner of three consecutive junior world sailing titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004, it was obvious he was going to be one of the world’s best.

 Then, in January, 2005, the 19-year-old was driving to Melbourne to race when his car hit a tree near Albury.

His back was broken. There were doubts he would ever walk again, let alone sail. There was a nine-hour operation, a month in bed, a body brace from hip to shoulder for three months, then learning to walk again.

 It took the best part of a year to get back on a skiff. Two years later, in 2008, he won his first 49er class world sailing title. 

Next year he won it again. And again in 2011, the same year he won the world title in the Moth class. 

And again this year, becoming the first person to win four 49er world crowns. Five world titles. Rarely has a comback been so complete, so glorious. But the fates can be cruel as well as kind.

 Wedged between his world titles was the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he and crewmate Ben Austin were racing their 49er for gold, and just 300 metres from the finish of the last race they capsized, the gold ripped from their grasp.

 Outteridge will get the chance to atone for that catastrophe when he and new crew Iain Jensen start as strong favourites in the 49er class at next month’s London Olympics. 

While world champions are usually something of a rarity, at Lake Maquarie there seems to be one hanging off every mooring. 

The Australian Yachtsman of the Year in 1993/94, Chris Nicholson is another remarkable success story. 

He has won three 49er world titles (1997, ’98, ’99), plus three 505 world championships, as well as being a two-time Olympian and skipper of around the world racing yachts. 

Other sailing world champions from the Hunter include Outteridge’s 49er crew Ben Austin, Chris Nicholson’s brother Darren, Jacqueline Ellis, Dean Blatchford, Gary Bruniges, Glenn Coulton and Doug Reid.


Its official name may have been the Newcastle and Suburban Co-operative Society Ltd, but to generations of Hunter people, it was simply “The Store”. 

The Store, 1903

The Store, 1903

First opened on August 13, 1898, in rented premises with two employees, The Store became the largest retail co-operative in the southern hemisphere, saw the Hunter through two world wars and the Great Depression and had a stranglehold on Newcastle retail until the 1960s. 

At its peak in the 1970s it had almost 100,000 members - an estimated one in four Hunter families were represented - 1450 employees, 15 retail outlets and 11 service stations. 

Its Christmas window displays and procession floats were legendary, and at “divvy” times - it paid a dividend back to its members in April and October each year - police had to be called to direct traffic around its Hunter St West headquarters as 10,000 to 12,000 people would go through the store in a day. The Store was a huge concern.

 It sold food, clothing, hardware, furniture, home-delivered groceries, fruit and vegetables, bread and milk - in early days by horse and cart, having a stable of 150 horses at one stage - owned what was at one time the biggest bakery in Australia, had a catering service, lottery offices, barber shop, travel service, hospital, medical and funeral funds, insurance company and credit union, service stations, ran social clubs, sporting clubs, held an annual ball and its Store on Stage theatrical group raised big money for Hunter charities. With the rise of suburban supermarkets and a drop in interest in the co-operative ethos, the 83-year-old enterprise closed on Friday, April 10, 1981.   


An immediate personality because of his calling, Fr John Cootes became the first Roman Catholic priest to play international rugby league when he was selected for Australia’s tour of New Zealand in 1969, making his Test debut against the Kiwis on June 1 and scoring a try in Australia’s 20-10 victory. 

Selected for Australia from Western Suburbs, Newcastle, he went on to play seven Tests in 1969 and ’70, scoring six tries.

John Cootes, 1970.

John Cootes, 1970.

His last match for Australia was the final of the 1970 World Cup, considered one of the most violent matches in league history, where he scored a try in Australia’s 12-7 victory over Great Britain. 

Maitland-born and Newcastle educated, Cootes played rugby union for Lazio in Italy in 1966 while he was studying theology in Rome. 

On his return to Newcastle he began playing league for Wests in 1967, scoring three tries in their 1970 grand final win over Maitland. 

By the time he finished playing in 1973 he had represented Newcastle, NSW Country, NSW and Australia and won Country Player of the Year in 1969.

 Eventually Cootes left the priesthood, opened a chain of furniture stores and became a sports commentator, in 1979 replacing John Singleton as host of Channel 10’s Saturday Night Live program. 

He is still managing director of John Cootes Furniture Warehouses and lives in Newcastle.   


Agricultural shows have always been a big social occasion in the Hunter, and in the mid 1800s when Maitland was the major settlement in the region, agriculture was of prime importance.  

In 1843 the Hunter River Agricultural Association was formed and its first livestock and agriculture show was at West Maitland’s Albion Inn in May, 1844, with a schedule that included wine, tobacco, wheat, cattle, sheep and pigs.

 Shows were held annually until 1847 when the association folded, and it wasn’t until 1859 that the Hunter River Agricultural and Horticultural Association was reconstituted, believed to be the oldest continuing regional agricultural association on mainland Australia. 

Compared to Maitland, Newcastle’s show is a newcomer, debuting on May 17, 1902.

 The Newcastle Morning Herald of the day headlined the show as “a splendid success” and said “the attendance was very large, the exhibits varied and interesting and the display of live stock excellent”.   


“From Kurri Kurri to King of the World” was the headline emblazoned across The Newcastle Herald on Monday, September 24, 2007, the day after Casey Stoner, a kid from the coalfields, took out his first MotoGP world title.

The 21-year-old Stoner told the world he had “dreamed about this since I was a kid watching the races on TV”, and former world MotoGP champ and fellow Australian Mick Doohan said it was like “a 21-year-old Aussie kid beating Tiger Woods at golf or Roger Federer at tennis”.

The Herald dedicated four pages and a poster to the “fairytale” of the Japanese Grand Prix win in Motegi where Stoner was crowned winner, saying he and his Ducati “overcame rain, a chaotic mid-race pit stop and the challenge of the great Valentino Rossi”.

The win gave Stoner fame and fortune - last year he was named fourth on the Hunter’s big earners with a cool $9.5 million for the year’s work.

Stoner’s love of motor bikes began as a toddler in a bike-mad family. By age three he had already graduated from pushing his older sister, Kelly, around the yard on a 50cc Peewee to taking his fi rst ride on his own. At four he competed in his first race in an under-nine category. By the age of six he had won his fi rst Australian title.

By 14 he had raced all over Australia, notching 41 Australian dirt and long-track titles and more than 70 state titles, riding up to fi ve bikes at a meeting in different engine capacity categories.

His biography tells how as a 12-year-old he raced the Australian Long Track Titles on the NSW Central Coast in five different categories with seven rounds in each; a total of 35 races over one weekend. He won 32 out of 35 and took all five Australian titles.

Just after his 14th birthday Stoner and his parents headed to England to start his road-racing career, as he could not legally road race in Australia until he was 16. This decision ultimately put him on the world stage and within reach of the crown.

Last year he claimed his second MotoGP title, this time on a Honda, winning it at his home round at Phillip Island, Australia, on his 26th birthday, his ninth race win of the season from his 11th pole.

His Australian MotoGP victory was his fifth in succession at his home race, making rider to have won at Phillip Island during the 800cc era of MotoGP.

Stoner stunned everyone in MotoGP last month when, at the age of 26, he announced he would be retiring at the end of the season for “family reasons”. At the time of the announcment he had won 35 MotoGP races in his career and led the 2012 standings after winning two of the season’s three events.

“After a long period of thought and numerous discussions with my wife and family, I have decided to stop competing at the end of the season,” he said. “After so many years taking part in this sport that I love, and with all the sacrifi ces that I have had to make, I no longer have the passion to continue and I think that it is best to stop.”  


Europa, 2003

Europa, 2003

When one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships, Europa, sailed into Newcastle Harbour on January 24, 2003, it wasn’t just bringing 160 or so German tourists for a day in the valley - it was opening the gates that have seen more than 50 cruise ships sail through the harbour heads so far, with passenger numbers heading towards the 100,000 mark.

 Cruise ships had visited Newcastle previously, but following feasibility studies in 2001, the Cruise Hunter project was set up in 2002 to evaluate the possibility of Newcastle and the Hunter becoming a destination for visiting cruise and naval vessels, and the six-star Europa was its first visitor. 

Newcastle City Council managed Cruise Hunter until it was taken over by Newcastle Port Corporation in late 2007, setting landmarks in 2009 when Celebrity Cruises Millenium became the largest cruise ship to enter the port, with more than 2000 passengers, and again in 2010 when P&O’s Pacific Sun announced Newcastle as its home port.

In 2011 the corporation announced a $2.55 million investment to recommission the harbour’s Channel Berth for use by visiting vessels. 

Since the Europa’s arrival visiting ships have included The World, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper and Silver Cloud, Pacific Princess, Pacific Star, Pacific Pearl and Pacific Sun, Mercury, Rhapsody of the Seas, Saga Ruby, Discovery, Crystal Serenity and Spirit of Adventure. 

It is estimated that each cruise visit generates up to $1million in the port-of-call’s economy.   


Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, gave the first policy speech by a Prime Minister on January 17, 1901, at Maitland Town Hall, in the lead up to the first federal election in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the town hall was “crowded to the doors” to hear the address, and when Barton rose to speak he was “greeted with enthusiastic cheers”. The town had been “placarded with announcements that ladies would not be admitted to the hall” before the speech, so no women were present.

The Newcastle Morning Herald reported that Barton “had been quite assured before he left Sydney that he should receive a very hearty welcome in West Maitland.” The paper said “it had been his good fortune to address them several times in Maitland, and his additional good fortune to make many pleasant visits to the town.”

Barton was accompanied by ministers Sir William Lyne and Alfred Deakin, and The Herald said “they were a young ministery yet, although some might not think so by the colour of their hair”.

Barton’s speech favoured moderate tariff  protection, declared for a white Australia and favoured old-age pensions.

Barton had formed a “caretaker” ministry in December, 1900, before the proclamation of the Commonwealth on January 1, 1901, with his main task to organise the fi rst federal election in March, where he was elected unopposed to the seat of Hunter (although he never lived in the electorate) and his Protectionist Party won enough seats to form a government with the support of the Labor Party.

Australian-born Barton had previously been a member of the NSW parliament and the acknowledged leader of the federal movement in Australia, labelled “Australia’s noblest son”. 

He was connected to the Hunter before his speech, visiting Newcastle in 1870, and saying in his diary afterward that “Jeannie Ross is beautiful, and sings like a bird, and is a dear.” They were engaged in 1872 and married at the Watt St Presbyterian manse in 1877. 

Barton was not the only Australian Commonwealth “founding father” to be connected to the Hunter. 

The “father of federation”, Sir Henry Parkes, five-time premier of NSW and possibly the most commanding figure in Australian politics, had a branch of his mercantile business in Maitland in the 1840s and tried unsuccessfully for the seat of East Maitland in 1863, also making many visits to Newcastle and reputedly working as a customs clerk in the city, as well as granting the land for the former Western Suburbs Hospital at Waratah in 1888 when Colonial Secretary. 

Sir Samuel Griffith, credited with drafting the bulk of Australia’s Constitution, was educated in Maitland in the late 1850s when his father was a Congregational church minister in the town. 


Mattara 1961

Mattara 1961

The first Mattara festival was so well received in 1961 that, although it was supposed to run from September 7 to 17, it was extended to run to September 23. 

The official Mattara program listed 150 events over the 16 days, including sports, balls, church services, exhibitions, dog shows, fi lms, marches, flowers shows, stage shows and a princess pageant. About 15,000 people attended the festival’s official opening at Civic Park, while about 1300 people took part in the procession which drew a crowd of around 40,000 onto the city streets.

 The first Mattara Princess, 16-year-old Norma Hewlett, of Mayfield West, was chosen in a “Cinderella” competition in Civic Park, where the Lord Mayor, Ald Purdue, tried a glove on 13 candidates to see if it fitted. It fitted them all. Hewlett was chosen on personality, charm, deportment, general ability, interests and attainments. 

The name Mattara was chosen from the Awabakal dialect, meaning “hand”, and the festival is one of a number celebrated around the Hunter each year.

 Maitland’s first Steamfest was held in 1986 to recall the days of steam, three years after the last steam locos ran on South Maitland Railways. It has attracted up to 70,000 people annually. 

Lake Macquarie’s annual Boatfest attracts about 5000 visitors. There’s country music festivals in both Cessnock and Port Stephens, Merriwa’s Festival of the Fleeces has sheep in red socks running down the town’s main street and Scone’s Horse Festival has a 17-day program each May.   


Some of the greatest entertainers in the world have taken the stage in Hunter Valley vineyard concerts in recent years, including Tom Jones, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Diamond, The Who, Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, Lionel Richie, James Taylor, Carole King . . . the list rolls on.

The concerts have been massive, with weekend crowds of up to 20,000 injecting millions of dollars into the local economy. And, if the memory of vigneron Brian McGuigan is correct, it all began with the band The Dingoes in 1973, playing on the banks of the Hunter River at Wyndham Estate.

Wyndham is considered the pioneer of outdoor concerts in the Hunter - its Opera in the Vineyards series has brought more than 65,000 visitors to the region since it started in 1996, while it is credited with bringing out the first of the big international acts, Shirley Bassey, in 1999 - and when The Dingoes played it was in conjuction with the Hunter Valley Vintage Festival of 1973, the same year the band’s big hit, Way Out West, was released, and they drew a crowd of about 5000. 

It was four years later, in 1977, that the full force of a concert  drawcard was shown when Marcia Hines, then the reigning  Australian Queen of Pop, played at Wyndham Estate, this time  floating on a pontoon in the Hunter River. A staggering 20,000 people turned up, in McGuigan’s estimation, and traffic was blocked from the vineyard back through Branxton. Entry back then, of course, was achievable at $2. 

Since then the vineyards have not only seen Opera In the Vineyards but Jazz in the Vines and the Day on the Green series, plus a wide range of continuing concerts and festivals.   


Dame Nellie Melba, 1927

Dame Nellie Melba, 1927

Famed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, the fi rst Australian to find international fame as a classical musician and whose image is on the Australian $100 note, sang with Caruso and at the great opera houses of the world: Covent Garden, New York Metropolitan, Paris,Milan, Berlin and Vienna . . . and the Central Theatre, Newcastle.

During one of her famous farewell tours in May, 1927, just a month after she appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Dame Nellie twice played Newcastle’s Central Theatre, which began life as the Central Methodist Mission and was later the Mission Theatre, now one of Newcastle’s highest-rated restaurants, Bacchus, in King St.

The day after her first concert The Newcastle Morning Herald was raptuous in its praise of “the queen of song”, saying “the glorious voice that has charmed millions of listeners in various parts of the world was heard in all its wondrous beauty and the audience that crowded the hall was captivated by its magic spell.

Dame Nellie Melba’s visit to this city must be regarded as an event of musically historic importance.”

At the end of her fi rst number “the audience, enchanted by the golden quality of her voice, and transported by her superb artistry, gave vent to an unrestrained outburst of enthusiasm.”

Her second show - reserved tickets were 11/6 - was recorded as “another triumph” that concluded with a little speech: “I want to thank you from the bottom of my eart for your wonderful reception. We hope you have enjoyed the singing. I personally am very sorry that this will be my last time in Newcastle because I have enjoyed my time here so much, and I sincerely think you have really liked me a little bit. Farewell is always a sad word, but I am not going to be sad. I am a very happy woman, and I will not go away from you with sad thoughts of my leaving you, but with a smiling face, and wishing you all goodnight. Goodbye, and God bless you.”

The program of Dame Nellie’s Newcastle concert is now held by the National Library of Australia.

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