AN historic plaque commemorating the opening of the Newcastle steelworks in 1915 has been returned to the walls of the BHP administration building at Mayfield.
The return of the plaque culminates almost a year of behind-the-scenes negotiations after the plaque was found to be hanging on the wall of the Victoria Hotel at Hinton.
The hotel now has a high-quality replica of the plaque to replace its loss, and the former BHP workers who tracked it down and lobbied for its return say they are thrilled that the plaque is back in the building it came from.
Former steelworks employee and Newcastle councillor, Bob Cook, said that he and a handful of members of the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association had been invited by the state government agency Property NSW to be at the administration building on Thursday morning when a team arrived to fix the plaque back on the wall. Mr Cook said there was security monitoring to ensure it stayed in its spot on the wall, half-way up the stairs to the first floor.
Aubrey Brooks, the former steelworks employee who received the tip-off in October last year that the plaque was in Hinton, said it was “terrific” to know it was back and he thanked everyone involved in its return.
Mr Brooks said that because the administration building was empty and barricaded behind a wire fence, he believed the plaque should have gone to Newcastle Museum, where it would be seen by far more people as part of the museum’s permanent steelworks exhibit.
Mr Cook said: “In the meantime, Aub is right, no-one is going to see while the building is fenced off , but it did come from that building and we all believe it will be opened again one day.”
The state government has owned the building since soon after the steelworks closed and Property NSW says the plaque was probably taken just before the building was shut and fenced off for remediation in March last year.
Mr Brooks and Mr Cook said they were asked to stay quiet after the plaque was found at Hinton in October, to allow the authorities to do their investigations. But by April this year, when nothing appeared to have happened, the heritage association held a rally outside the administration building to call for the plaque’s return.
Lobbying continued, and Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp raised the issue in parliament last week.
Victoria Hotel publican Craig Thorley was unavailable on Thursday but he has previously said he bought the plaque in good faith from an antique dealer for $1000.
He had asked Property NSW to authenticate the plaque, and said he was happy to return it in exchange for a replica.
Finance Minister Victor Dominello, who was questioned by Mr Crakanthorp over the time it took to return the plaque, said it was “a great outcome for the community”.
“I promised the Government would work with the community and I’m pleased we have a found a solution,” Mr Dominello said.
“The plaque is of heritage significance and an enduring reminder of the profound role of steelmaking in Newcastle’s social and economic history.”
HOW IT UNFOLDED
While you’re with us, did you know The Herald is now offering breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up-to-date with all the local news - sign up here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.