Mike Scanlon recalled reading a council report that pointed out if you stuck a spade into the ground in Newcastle, there was a good chance of finding a historical artefact buried just below the surface.
"If you dig enough, there's always something there," he said.
Which is what the journalist and storyteller has been doing for more than half a century.
But what Mike Scanlon uses to dig is not a shovel but an insatiable curiosity and a gift with words, bringing to light gems and shards of local history in his weekly column in the Newcastle Herald.
"Over the past 20 years I've done about 1000 stories," Mr Scanlon said. "But the stories get lost."
However, 44 of those stories have been unearthed once more and compiled by Mike Scanlon in his new book, titled The Hidden Hunter.
"I'm trying to interest people who are not interested in history just to have a go and say, 'Crikey, I didn't know that!'," he explained.
The Hidden Hunter holds plenty of "I didn't know that!" moments.
Some stories were found in suburban yards, such as an old "Chinese church" that was moved from Newcastle to Kotara, or even under yards, notably the 19th-century reservoir beneath a Merewether home.
Indeed, Mr Scanlon has spent quite a bit of time exploring underground or underwater in search of tales, from an abandoned railway tunnel and old mine shafts to a colonial-era cistern below James Fletcher Hospital.
In The Hidden Hunter, Mike Scanlon also burrows through the layers of time, reminding the reader of what has been lost.
Those pieces of the past long gone include icons of the author's own youth, such as suburban animal parks and airfields, the city's Beach Hotel, home to a cast of sideshow performers marooned during World War Two, and the "House of Stoush", Newcastle Stadium, which hosted not just boxing matches but concerts by internationally famous artists.
"I knew about the stadium, because I was there as a kid, on my father's shoulders when Abbott and Costello were there," Mr Scanlon recalled.
And there are the stories of those touchstones of history almost lost but saved.
"This could've been turned into scrap," said Mr Scanlon, as he touched a cannon outside Fort Scratchley.
Four cannons, which had been previously at the dockyard, were rescued from a local scrap metal yard.
"They were actually lined up to go into the furnace and someone gave the Herald a call and said, 'These things are here, they might be historic', so they saved them."
In a way, that's what Mike Scanlon has been doing ever since he was a young journalist in the 1960s and heard from old-timers at Stockton about the notorious practice of shanghaiing, grabbing crew members for ships in Newcastle harbour.
"I thought, 'I'll record some of these stories before they disappear'."
And he has been recording ever since, ensuring the Hunter's past doesn't remain hidden.
"It's a great thrill," Mr Scanlon said. "It's probably the only reason I keep doing it, because I keep finding things.
"I just found a lost airfield. Wait till you hear more about that!"
IN THE NEWS:
- Daniel and Jacob Saifiti re-sign with Newcastle Knights
- 97 cases in Sydney outbreak include 29 people infectious in the community
- Bureau of Meteorology storm warning for Newcastle, Hunter coast
- Musician Daniel "Jimmy" Hanson jailed for sexually assaulting 14 girls
- Toohey's News Podcast: Mark O'Meley
- Virus test puts de Minaur out of Olympics
- Mitchell Street seawall dropping and falling forward as beach undermined by surf
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: