SOMETIMES I like to take a walk by myself in the evening and stroll by all the pretty houses, sneaking looks up their hallways in summer or admiring the amber glow of cosiness in their frosted windows in winter.
Its nice to continue those walks long into the night to suburbs other than my own: to the recently gentrified streets of miners cottages and service stations with forever waiting women below moth-swarmed street lights.
Further still, if the night is young, my feet take me beyond the fringe dwelling homes, to the industrial districts where I can poke around and see the way things really tick.
I kid you not, theres a place, closer than you think, where robot arms plait wire into steel rope as thick as a car. Ive stood there hypnotised by the movement of those arms; Mothers arms plaiting my sisters hair in front of the heater on a cold school morning. Theres warmth in factories, warehouses and houses alike.
The borderlands are marked by the last McDonalds in town. Production line food to fuel the production lines, but most of the production has dried up. Drive-Thru patrons unaware that to their left, across the road and through the trees, exists one of the grandest buildings to grace our town.
The administration building of the former BHP Steel Works sits in a sea of cracked and decaying asphalt. Floodlit for no one but the ghosts of past employees, its an oasis in the middle of an industrial wasteland.
Excited by the discovery, I continued on until a barbed wire fence cut off my path. Through the wire I could see three buildings: the Medical Centre, the Pattern Store and the Master Mechanics Office. Of course, I didnt know that at the time, I was yet to get through the fence.
The locker room was intact, as if workers would return in the morning. The lockers themselves adorned with surf brands and rugby league stickers on the outside, the inside with centrefolds from picture magazines.
You can count on one of two people, or both, having been to any abandoned industrial site before you get there; graffiti artists and copper wire thieves. I walked the perimeter of the fence line until I found a hole that had been made by one or the other and slipped in.
Surprisingly there was no graffiti, but the Pattern Store and Mechanics office had been stripped bare of copper. The wirings insulation lay tangled on the concrete floor like the shedded skins of a thousand snakes.
The Medical Centre was boarded up, which surprised me, so I used a steel pipe to lever the sheet of plywood away from the front door.
The door itself was still locked. In movies when people kick in doors, they try to bust the whole door down. In reality, the best thing to do is lay a flatfooted stomp right over the lock.
Mould spores filled the air so I pulled the neck of my t-shirt over my mouth and nose as a makeshift gas mask and explored by the light of the torch on my phone. Water leaked somewhere in the building and the carpet squelched beneath my feet. All that remained was chipboard office furniture that had started to swell as it absorbed the water from the carpet like a sponge.
The windows of the second floor hadnt been boarded up, and from the shower room I could see the lights of the coal loaders sparkling across the harbour.
The locker room was intact, as if workers would return in the morning. The lockers themselves adorned with surf brands and rugby league stickers on the outside, the inside with centrefolds from picture magazines. Earplugs and safety glasses littered the floors of most.
The last locker I opened simply said Dean on its door. Inside Deans locker, on the top shelf, was a gold ring. A lions head adorned its front and from what I could tell, it was real gold. I took a shoelace from inside the neighbouring locker, threaded it through the ring and tied it around my neck for good luck.
Just the other day, I took a bike ride back to the same spot. The administration building is still there of course heritage laws its saving grace. Beyond the fence line, where the three buildings had been, is nothing more than a stretch of scorched earth that runs to meet the harbour. There was a man on his hands and knees frantically digging amongst the gravel and ground-up brick where the medical centre had stood. I called him over to the fence. He had tears in his eyes as he approached.
Are you okay? I asked.
I left something here 20 years ago, it was given to me by someone very special, he said, half laughing, half sobbing. I came back to find it, but everythings gone, just like her.
Whats your name? I asked. Dean, he replied.
I untied the ring from around my neck and handed it to him through the fence.
The old man shook as he slipped the ring onto his finger and held it up to his face in disbelief.
Who are you? He asked.
A ghost, I answered. Im just a ghost.
When people say nothing ever happens in Newcastle, I imagine Deans life with his special someone. These are the towns that we live and die in and the passing of time itself is something happening.