AS a historian and having researched the Newcastle Domain for more than 10 years, I was truly shocked to see the destruction of the historic parade ground that I believed had heritage protection.
The James Fletcher Hospital, known as Newcastle Government Domain, has a rich history; it is Newcastle’s heritage heart.
The Domain was listed on the State Heritage Register in 2011; the nomination was submitted by National Trust of Australia (NSW) and supported by the Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust and University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party.
The nomination supported listing the entire precinct because of the significance of the landscape, particularly the grounds, quarried wall that provides the northern boundary and the reshaping of the entire land to form a platform for the military buildings and parade ground to be created.
The Domain is also of national heritage significance. The National Trust (NSW) and Coal River Working Party support the Domain’s inclusion on Australia’s National Heritage List; numerous national nominations have been submitted. It is now extremely upsetting to see a large area of the former parade ground diminished.
The excavation is 20 to 30metres away from the Wallis Shaft (the earliest working coal shaft in the southern hemisphere) and my concern was for archaeology there.
The construction of a car park introduces a new use in that area of the Domain and seriously diminishes the heritage character.
Furthermore, these works also affect future interpretation of the military aspects of the Domain.
As far as I know, there has been no community discussion about future plans for the site.
Reflecting on recent issues in front of the Newcastle inquiry, it would seem to me that some plans and decision-making about important public infrastructure in Newcastle are being made at an arm’s length in Sydney, away from people here in Newcastle.
The community deserves better.
In any future plans for the historically significant James Fletcher site, I hope there will be robust public discussion and consultation about this culturally valuable place that belongs to the people of NSW, a place that should continue in public use.
So let’s begin a conversation now about the Newcastle Domain. Let’s learn about heritage there, its government use over two centuries, its continued adaptation and history of accidental uses guided by public need.
If the Domain was to have a new use, how could it be used? A community arts space, university campus or cultural centre?
There is so much history associated with the Domain for artists to interpret, from the earliest working coal shaft in the southern hemisphere, to Aboriginal corroborees, Governor Macquarie’s visits to Government House, the military barracks complex, the Industrial Girls School and the first government ‘‘asylum’’ in Australia for the intellectually disabled.
Ann Hardy is a historian and heritage advocate
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