BOOKS. How quaint they be, with all their swanky learnin’ words and pictures and stuff.
Books about our city are particularly treasured on these February and March nights when it’s too hot to sleep and I’m wide awake at 3am. The only sounds of the sleeping city are an occasional fruit bat squeal or the quintessential Newcastle sound of horn blasts from coal ships snaking their way along the Hunter river. Books – both word and picture – that feature or describe recognisable locations, winds, smells and the sounds of Newcastle make insomnia bearable.
The nostalgic series of photographic books by Greg and Sylvia Ray that depict scenes from Newcastle and the Hunter are among my very favourite books about the region. Just beautiful. Photos of Old Newcastle by John Turner with photographs by Jack Sullivan is a classic of the genre. That 1979 publication features a cover photo of gentleman cyclists standing next to their penny farthings on the site of the old court house which stood on the site of the old Newcastle Post Office until 1900.
Page 36 of Photos of Old Newcastle features an engraving of Newcastle Railway Station, built in the years between 1872 and 1878. The Newcastle Directory and Almanac described it as “a handsome and noble structure. . . in the modern Italian style of architecture (and) believed to be the most perfect building of its kind in New South Wales.”
This station is classified by the National Trust as an essential part of the Australian Heritage.
And what an awesome location the renamed Newcastle Railway Station – now rebranded as “The Station” at what possibly might have been a roundtable session of Utopia scriptwriters – provided for the launching of the book Wrong Track by Christine Everingham and Therese Doyle. The book explores in detail the circumstances that saw Supercars arrive in Newcastle and the creation of a racing circuit through our much-loved heritage streetscape and historic East End.
It’s an important book for many reasons. And not everyone likes important books that methodically peer beyond the curtains of bureaucratic obfuscation and vague promises of widespread benefits. The book examines and analyses the tiresome rhetoric of Novocastrians being “excited” that their previous exclusion by conspiracist cartographers to keep the joint off “the map” would at last be addressed by “showcasing” their city to the world. Stand back, open ye pockets and let the riches flow.
Wrong Track lifts the lid on how a profit-driven organisation – in cahoots with a state government – anticipating opposition can utilise legislative guile through a special act of parliament to shut down all avenues of dissent. The Motor Racing (Sydney and Newcastle) Act 2008 legislation allows Supercars to practically do whatever it wants with the help of a compliant Newcastle Council, whose role was reduced to handmaiden for a private-for-profit organisation that drags millions of dollars out of the joint via media rights and other sales, while ratepayers foot an unknown amount of recurring costs and liabilities. There’s a lack of a governance framework with clear lines of accountability. No transparency on cost, no clear lines of accountability.
But it’s way more than a book about Newcastle and Supercars. It’s a book about copping a public relations onslaught and media strategy, as well as fostering and stimulating community division where little previously existed. The “elite” East Ender NIMBYs v the hard-working folk from the ‘burbs who just wanted to see car racing and who saw the event as being great for Newcastle because… because those pictures of our beautiful harbour would translate into massive visitor numbers and tremendous benefits to local businesses.
Woven through all of this was the legacy narrative – the idea that a major event brings forward a “was gonna do it anyway” accelerated works program to justify high expenditure via a yarn woven into renewal and reconstruction.
The book thematically explores people, power and protest, and as David Shoebridge points out in the Foreword, it is a “quintessentially NSW story, exposing the corrupting role of power and the determination of the NSW government to ride roughshod over local communities, the environment and public space…Supercars was moved from Olympic Park at Homebush in circumstances where it was clearly known it was an economic drain on the local precinct.”
Wrong Track makes a significant contribution to better understanding how NSW Inc. benefits mates at the expense of the public, but hey, we’re on “the map”. Yay “the map”.
The great big map of mugs and soft touches.