Thursday, December 31, 2009

Newcastle, 5am

I thought I'd get up early this morning & do a pictorial on the last morning of 2009 in Newcastle. I'd envisioned sitting down on the coast & capturing a spectacular summer sunrise breaking over the horizon, slowly waking up the slumbering city. 

How wrong was I!

After getting myself out of bed at 4am, I checked the weather radar on the computer which showed some light showers off the coast, so I thought what the heck, I'm up now, so I may as well try my luck anyway. So arming myself with my old friend the Canon 400D & a cup of coffee, I headed into town, as sunrise wasn't due till 5.47am, I was confident.the weather would clear for me. 

I arrived at Nobbys 5am & was greeted by persistent showers, not only that, but the ENE wind was blowing quite steady around 24kp/h. Not cold, but not pleasant either. What was even worse, the dawn was breaking flat & grey, there was going to be no spectacular sunrise today. Even the seagulls looked disappointed as they looked forlornly out to sea!

At this point I nearly threw in the towel, but I decided to travel back into the CBD & have a poke around the deserted city centre & Foreshore precinct.

I'm always amazed by the early morning activity you can find in any city these days & Newcastle is no exception, especially as we are a 24hr working harbour. While I was walking around the nearly deserted streets I watched as the city awoke & prepared itself for the the last day of 2009. Newsagents were collecting the morning editions, council workers were tidying the streets, the crew on the Stockton ferry Hunter, were busy preparing for the first of many runs that it will make today & the buses & trains were also commencing their first commuter runs.

Sometimes it is well worth getting out of your comfort zone, grabbing your camera & seeing what is happening in dawns early light. You may be surprised!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Before The Drought

Sometimes it's hard to remember that there was was a time when Australia wasn't in drought, when rain fell at regular intervals & the country side around the Hunter Valley, could at times, rival the verdant lushness of the Emerald Isle.

I was reminded of this during last weekends trip to Tamworth, a trip that bought home the stark reality that a lot of country is once again gripped in another vicious drought. Instead of lush fields & full dams the countryside was brown, dry & the dams were just heat cracked depressions in lifeless paddocks. As you moved through coal fields north of Maitland the countryside looked worse, with enormous open cut coal mines scouring the once productive farmland & air hazy from the rising coal dust suspended in the rising heat.

So with this in mind I went back into my old collection of photographs & located a sample that highlights the beauty of the area when rainfall was sufficient enough keep the dams full & the fields lush. The views are from the Bulahdelah & Gresford districts & were taken around 2006 -07, before the current drought wreaked its terrible vengeance.

I do hope to get up into the country in the near future to secure a photographic record of how droughts can wreak terrible damage on our wonderful country. 


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch Breaks

I haven't been out with my Canon 400D for a while due to work & family commitments, however, I've still been taking pictures using my Nokia mobile phone with its 2 mega pixel camera. This little camera isn't ideal, but if that's all you have, well like I said in a previous post, sometimes you just have to work with the tools you 'got'.

Lately I've been photographing where I have my lunch & being a truck driver, those places can be many & varied. Depending on what duty I'm on, I can be down on the coast at Swansea, enjoying the vistas presented in the Cessnock vineyards, sitting by the lake at Warners Bay, lazing under a jacaranda tree at Walka, taking in the buzz at Maitland Mall, or even as I did yesterday, having my lunch in the dry dusty conditions in drought savaged Tamworth. I'm very appreciative of the opportunities I have at work of being able to get outside & have my lunch in some of NSW's best scenic locations & not stuck in an office eating a stale vegemite sandwich!

Just like the song -

Oh, give me land, lots of land under sunny skies,
Don't fence me in
Let me drive through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.

Yes I did play around with the lyrics to suit, but the song does suit my mood when I sit in a nice shady spot with my picnic lunch, a good book & of course, my camera.

Bon Appetite

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Any Given Sunday

Last Sunday we had the Maritime Festival, the week before that we had Mattara & this week we had a visit by the superliner, Sun Princess. Like I said in an earlier entry, there is always something happening on Newcastle Harbour.

The 77,000 tonne Sun Princess is one of Princess Cruises ships that are now doing the lucrative
Australian summer market & is making Newcastle one of their ports of call, supposedly injecting $500,000 into the local economy with each visit. Princess Cruises have penciled in another two
visits this season & from 2010 P&O Cruises will be basing one of their ships, the Pacific Sun, in Newcastle to tap into this market.

The Sun Princess is a modern superliner built in 1995 for around $400million, can carry around 2,000 passengers & has quite an impressive array of features & on board activities to enjoy. Try these out;
  • Over 400 staterooms include balconies
  • Wrap-round promenade deck
  • 24-hour buffet/bistro with 270-degree view over bow
  • Poolside hamburger grill and ice cream bar
  • Pizzeria and premium steakhouse
  • Wine and caviar bar
  • Patisserie
  • Four-storey atrium lobby with ocean views
  • Two show lounges
  • Spa with ocean-view gymnasium
  • Sports court and jogging track
  • Four swimming pools
  • Bay view listening library
  • Computerized golf centre
  • Lavish casino
  • Gallery of shops
  • Business centre
So these ships are virtually floating palaces & wherever they go they generate great media & public interest.

The Sun Princess only stayed for a day in Newcastle & visitors apparently spent a their time up in
wineries, or at the Darby Street Festival, enjoying some of the best food & wine that the Hunter has to offer.

So at 6pm the Sun Princess left from Dyke No1 & headed north to Brisbane, continuing its circumnavigation of Australia. Due to the 261 metre length of the Sun Princess, the ship had to perform a '3 point turn', between Queens Wharf & Stockton to leave the harbour. This was in itself was quite a spectacular operation, with the tugs &
the ship all working in unison.

Yep, Newcastle really does know how to put on a celebration for our visiting nautical tourists, from the perfect weather, 1,000's of well wishers waving goodbye from the foreshore & Fort Scratchley firing her guns in salute, it was a truly wonderful sight.

So when the Dawn Princess pays Newcastle a visit on the 10th December 2009, grab your camera & get down to the Foreshore & celebrate this unique occasion.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If You Ever Get The Chance, Come & See The Tugboats Dance

One thing that Newcastle does well & that is we put on events that showcase the fabulous harbour location. Whether it is New Years Eve, Australia Day, the Mattara Festival & even
Truck Awareness Day is held next to the glittering jewel that showcases all the beauty of this wonderful city.

This time it was the 2009 Maritime Festival, celebrating 210 years of Newcastle being Australia's 1st commercial port & although the weather was as co-operative as it could have been, the day was still spectacular.

There were skydivers, The RAAF Roulettes Flying Team, RAAF Hornets flyovers, stunts planes,heaps of stalls, free music & heaps more to see. Of course most of the action was centered around the harbour, where you could step aboard the HMAS Parramatta or the James Craig tall ship, watch the jet ski or wakeboard racing & watch the Newcastle Port Corporation tugboats perform their very special ballet routine.

Late in the afternoon the 292 mtr, 91,373 GRT (gross registered tonnage) bulk carrier Genco
London left port bound for Taiwan fully loaded with Hunter coal. This ship is one of the largest bulk carriers that visit Newcastle & can only leave on the highest tide due to the fact that she only has 1.5 mtrs clearance under her keel, which doesn't leave much room for error! If you look closely at the attached photo, you'll notice
the fisherman in the runabout trying desperately to start their engine to get out of the way of the wash from this huge vessel.

It was a really highly entertaining day & the best part part was that most activities were free. Yep, Newcastle really knows how to turn on a special day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When Cockies Come A Callin'

Each October the Sulphur - Crested Cockatoo, or Cacatua Galerita, as they are known in scientific circles, make an annual pilgrimage to Warabrook to feed on the pine nuts supplied by my next door neighbours trees.

The Sulphur - Crested Cockatoo, or as it is more commonly known the cockie, is one of the most iconic birds in the Australian bush and can be found through out Australia. The cockie, is a large white parrot, it has a dark grey-black bill, a distinctive sulphur-yellow crest and a yellow wash on the underside of the wings. The humble Cockie is one of the most identifiable and gregarious birds of the Australian bush. 

If you can't see this bird in it's natural habitat you certainly will not miss its wonderful birdsong. This recording is courtesy of the Australian Museum.

Other interesting facts about our Australian birds can be found at

Ok, it' not quite tuneful, wonderful or melodic as some other bird species, however, it is unmistakable and is one of the real sounds of the Australian outback

The much maligned cockatoo is really considered a pest in some quarters because of it destructive habits such as chewing decking, window frames ect., however, I do think it is the most majestic birds of the Australian bush.

So along with kangaroos, Aussie Rules football, meat pies, Vegemite and Holden cars, the humble cockie is part of our landscape, a part of Australia that I never want to lose.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Sandhurst (Bendigo, 3550 )

It was a chance discovery of a payable quantity of a precious metal that is ductile, malleable & found in quartz, commonly known as GOLD in 1851, that built the modern rural city of Bendigo. A city that is still growing to this very day.

Of course if you are going to have a vibrant growing city, you are going to need a growing vibrant Post Office!

Now prior to 1851, Bendigo was known as Bendigo Creek (named for an employee on a local property who was nicknamed 'Bendigo' after the famous Pommy prizefighter William Bendigo
Thompson), however, when the town was declared the name Sandhurst was chosen (named after a town in England) as much more proper & fitting moniker. The story of how this city changed its name back to Bendigo to reflect its original heritage is, in itself, a story of change that is woven into the rich tapestry of this thriving regional city. The timeline of the Sandhurst/Bendigo Post Office is probably unique, in so much as how it reflects the events & the fortunes that have shaped the destiny of this city from a quiet Victorian sheep grazing property to one of Australia's premier historical districts.

Along with the continually changing cityscape came the changing of the Post Office to reflect not only the needs of the community, but also to reflect the prosperity of the city & the pride felt by the community as it continued to thrive.

With those changes, there have been four major Post Office buildings, each one more grandiose than the previous & reflected the communities confidence. That was up until 1995 however, when Australia Posts property portfolio was reduced by one historically significant building & they then leased one nondescript property that looks as though it was a former cinema.

The first Post Office began operations 1853 & operated basically only for the receipt & distribution

of letters around the goldfields. With the arrival of the telegraph in 1858, a more specific building was required to suit the new age of communication & so a more substantial structure was built. These new premises were once described " .... something like a bad style of bush public house, but not nearly so convenient". This building lasted until 1869, when increasing patronage again required another major improvement. The third Post Office was then constructed in View St & is a two storeyed rendered brick building designed by William Wilkinson Wardell. This wonderful old building is still in use today & is now occupied by Sandhurst Trustees, who bought the building in 1891.

The prosperity & population growth of the Bendigo goldfields once again played a part in the construction of the forth Post Office, at the time, the most extravagant building constructed outside Melbourne. Designed by Government Archetect Major George Watson & costing around £50,000 it was opened on the 30th September 1887.

This was no ordinary Post Office, constructed using the architectural style known as the French Second Empire & had scalloped slate roof tiles, intricate iron work, cast iron lion heads, classic Corinthian columns, beautiful interior timber carvings which gave the Post Office a real feel of the regions wealth. It was also a centre for other government services, such as the Government Surveyor, Water Board & various other instrumentalities. It also had quite palatial accommodation for the Postmaster & his family on the upper floors. The most striking feature of this building is of course the 43 metre clock tower & its 5 bell carillon, making this building a true architectural masterpiece.

When Australia Post vacated the building in 1995, luckily, the building was not lost to the citizens of Bendigo & it was reborn as the the Bendigo Tourist Information Centre. Not only is this the grandest Tourist Information Centre in the country, but it also
houses one the best Postal/Telegraph museums in Australia & is well worth a visit.

So while the current Post Office stands on the cnr Williamson & Hargreaves St, like some hussy trolling for clients, the former Post Office building stands stately in Pall Mall, remaining as dignified as she has done for the last 122 years & will continue to stand for many years to come.

Authors note: Although every effort was used to verify the information, I found historical dates varied from source to source & if further verifiable information becomes available I'll update the blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When The Country Comes To The Coast

A severe weather phenomena swept over NSW today, bringing winds that were gusting at over 100 kph, whipping up dust clouds from central Australia & dumping around a 1,000 million of tonnes of topsoil all over the NSW coastal regions, giving the skies an eerie, almost martian orange glow.

So making sure that I didn't miss out on this unique event, I grabbed the trusty Canon 400D & headed out into the wind to photograph this rare weather event, concentrating my efforts around the Newcastle Foreshore precinct.

To be honest I have never seen anything like this before & even from Queens Wharf you couldn't see the Stockton ferry wharf, a distance of only 700 mtrs, due to the dust! The wind & lack of visibility was making life a miserable experience for anyone that was forced to work outside & away from a sheltered environment. The conditions were even bad enough to close Newcastle Port to shipping, however, our intrepid Stockton ferry kept of ploughing through the wind & the muck, thanks to its excellent radar systems & the skill of the ferry captains & crew. Takes more than a bit of wind, to to deter a tough Novocastrian!

I also went down to Nobbys Beach to check out the conditions on the coast & was met by the same terrible conditions, Nobbys was totally obscured by the dust & Fort Scratchley was only just visible
from the beach. Not a good day to be power walking along the beach front!

The whole of Newcastle was blanketed by this enormous dust storm & although the pictures do look like they were shot through a red filter, or manipulated through colour saturation, what I've downloaded is the actual view. I did sharpen & straighten a few of the shots, but basically this is what I was looking at.

Yes, today the country really did come to the coast & was driven by some of the worst weather conditions to hit Newcastle since the 2007 Pasha Bulker storm. Luckily I was there to capture the moment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Newcastle (2300)

It was a day that was eagerly anticipated by the citizens of Newcastle, the 2nd biggest city in NSW and it was perhaps the biggest day since the 5th September 1859 when Newcastle was declared a city, although there would have been other major civil celebrations, like when the first council meeting for the Borough of Newcastle was held. However, the day in question was the opening of the Newcastle Post Office, on the 8th August 1903.

Never before had the citizens seen such an occasion, the streets were full of red white and blue

bunting, various bands played non-stop throughout the day, children whooped it up along Hunter Street, while ladies and gentlemen in all their finery paraded & met each other with all the courtesy that is usually only afforded to royalty. The highlight of the day was of course the official opening ceremony which was performed by the then Postmaster General Senator James Drake.

Now this wasn't Newcastle's first Post Office, but the third, the first one began operating in 1828 (which makes it even older than Melbourne's first PO by 9 years!) and then the second more substantial Post Office was was built on the corner of Watt and Hunter St. in 1872. It remained here until the good citizens of Newcastle demanded a better and more serviceable building to suit the growing needs of the community.

With the grand opening in 1903, Newcastle at last had a Post Office that was the pride of, not only the city of Newcastle and the Hunter Region, but also of NSW.

The Post Office was designed by the NSW Government Architect, Walter Vernon and is one of the finest examples of Edwardian Classical architecture seen in Australia. With its ground-floor arcade, first-floor colonnade, parapet and cupolas, Vernon apparently based the design of Newcastle Post Office on Palladio's Basilica at Vicenza. The Post Office was completed in just over 3 years and cost an estimated £40,000 (which would be about $6 million in today's figures), which was proof that the Post Office considered this building as a real investment for future generations of Novocastrians!

But time eventually moves on and during the late 1990's, Australia Post embarked on a complete re-structure of its property portfolio. High maintenance buildings were earmarked for closure and with that came the inevitable decision to sell Newcastle's grand lady. Newcastle wasn't left without a Post Office, the new Post Office, located in Market Street, is a soulless modern affair that is now hidden away next to a pedestrian overpass and is easily passed by.

In 2001, Australia Post finally sold off this wonderful heritage building for $2million, making it the worst commercial sale in Newcastle's history, Australia Post managed to lose approximately $4 million on a property that had owed for 98 years!

We didn't even get to celebrate the centenary of this wonderful Newcastle icon, there was no
colourful bunting along Hunter St, no kids running joyously between the honey coloured sandstone archways, no music being played from the balconies and no long winded speeches from the assembled dignitaries. The 8th August 2008 was just another uneventful Newcastle Monday and heralded nothing special, just the wind whipping up the rubbish like confetti that was left fluttering around behind the stark security fencing. Hardly the sort of centenary celebration that should have been built around this Newcastle icon.

Today, Newcastle's grand old lady is now just a neglected shell of its former beauty, home now to flocks of pigeons & subject to the inevitable vandal attack. The cenotaph, which is still located out the front of the former jewel in Australia Post crown, is perhaps symbolic of the way we all now look at this former magnificent building, standing with our backs to the building and our gaze averted.

Friday, August 28, 2009

When the big ships come to town

There is really something special about standing at Fort Scratchley & watching the big ships glide into our magnificent harbour.

Today was one of those days.

The weather was an absolutely perfect example of late winters morning in Newcastle, the day heralded a brilliant cloudless sky, the breeze was from the north-west, cool, but not cold & it was able to bring life to the signal flags that gaily signalled the arrival of the HMAS Newcastle, our ship of the Royal Australian Navy.

To celebrate this special occasion the Fort (& the City of Newcastle) welcomed the ship, the Commanding Officer (Commander Justin Jones), the 184 other Officers & crew with a 4 volley salute from our No.2 Mk.VII 6" gun. This is the same gun (along with No.1 gun) that fired on & repelled the Japanese submarine, I - 21, during WWII.

The HMAS Newcastle (Pennant No. FFG06), is a 42,000 tonne 'Adelaide' class frigate, was commissioned in 1993 & has been deployed in support of peacekeeping operations in East Timor
and the Solomon Islands and Operation Catalyst in the Persian Gulf. Today, however, they were here to launch a campaign to raise $50,000 towards the Hunter Orthapaedic School, by aiming to run, swim, row and walk the distance between Newcastle Australia and Newcastle England.

The HMAS Newcastle is the first Royal Australian Naval vessel to be named after our wonderful city & we certainly hope that this is the start of a tradition that will continue for many years to come.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Long Road Home

One of the worst things about holidays is sooner or later they have to end & so on the day that we turned the car for home it absolutely poured rain in Victoria, something that the drought effected region really needed. It was if the weather was sensing our mood as we we packed the car & headed north into NSW via Shepparton, Tocumwal, then onto the Newell Highway.

We pushed hard with only a lunch break in the Riverina town of Finley, to break the drive. Now poor
old Finley, isn't blessed with any great tourist ventures, no gold was discovered in the area & even the Kelly Gang gave the town a wide berth when they were on their way to Jerilderie to cause havoc. However, Finley is the home to the 3 piece thrash pop band, Spiderbait, but more importantly, it is home to the best Chinese feed this side of Proserpine. The Hong Lock Chinese Restaurant, situated on the main drag, has one the best value for money lunch deals in rural NSW. So if you are passing through Finley, besides cranking up your Spiderbait on the car stereo, make sure you stop for lunch & grab yourself a beaut Chinese feed for under $10.00, beats Macca's!

But our destination was not Finley, but Forbes. Located on the Newell Highway & sitting beside the beautiful Lachlan River, Forbes is now one NSW's major pastoral districts, but it's financial roots were not founded on sheep & canola, but once again, it was gold.

In 1861, Forbes (or Black Ridge as it was known), grew to over 28,000 people in six months & that was the initial stake that built this wonderful city. Over 9,000kgs of the the precious ore was extracted during the first 2 years of alluvial mining & when the easy pickings finished in Forbes, many miners stayed & built substantial houses on the the now cleared rich farming land. So Forbes was able to escape the fate of many early Australian mining towns of becoming a 'ghost' town & grew on its rich pastoral holdings, despite the depletion of the precious metal.

One interesting fact is how tightly the Post Office is intertwined with the history of Forbes, this is
kindly reprinted courtesy of the Forbes Shire Council website

"The area at the time of the gold rush was known as Black ridge and it was under the application was first made for postal facilities for the mining settlement. The postmasters ant Bundaburra and Lambing Flat (Young) first presented the need for postal facilities at Black ridge diggings.

Their request went the authorities in October 1861. They were supported by the mayor and councillors of Orange Municipal council who petitioned the postmaster General requesting that mail be dispatched to Black Ridge three times a week. Postmaster Buchart of Lambing Flat, actually provide a mail service and had opened Black Ridge Post Office had been officially recognised. Before the official postmarking stamp for Black Ridge could have be provided,
the name “Forbes appeared in a memorandum dated November 27, 1861 in which was asked whether the fact the post office would be known as Black Ridge or Forbes."

As you wander around the town, you just have to admire the outstanding architecture that abounds in such a quiet rural area, from the Post Office, the Courthouse, the memorial to the Boer War, the Town Hall & many, many more buildings of note. There are just so many photographic opportunities available to the keen photographer, make sure you keep your camera handy & fully charged

As you head off past the historic city of Parkes (named after the NSW Premier & statesman in 1873), you pass through verdant fields of crops & sheep herds, then rising up in the distance you'll notice the CSIRO's 64 metre radio telescope rising through the fields of canola. It was from this telescope that Neil Armstrong's steps were sent to from the moon (although the Honeysuckle telescope took the first vision) remained 'on line' during the 2 1/2 hour broadcast, quite a feat considering this was in 1969!

After that, it was straight back home to Newcastle via Dubbo, our travels completed for another year. A holiday that took us from an island paradise, to an Australian bushranging icon, into Australia's cities built from gold, past our the first bloody steps towards an Australian democracy & then finally to sharing in Australia's scientific future (built in a sheep paddock).

All up in just over 3 weeks I managed to take just on 1,000 photo's of this great land & write just over 4,000 words on our adventures, but you know the best way to find out about Australia is to just get out there yourself.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bendigo - "La Ville-Lumière"

Who would have thought that when Margaret Kennedy and Julia Farrell found gold in Bendigo Creek in late spring 1851, that it would help found one of Victoria's & quite possibly the country's, finest rural cities.

After the burst of the initial gold rush & the exploitation of the alluvial deposits fell away, Bendigo's
city forebears quickly embarked on the creation of a city that would not look out of place in any
European country. When the first town plan was drawn up, the name of the city was originally known as Sandhurst, but then in 1891 the citizens, after a plebecite, decided to rename the city Bendigo, after the creek where the city's fortune was originally found. The creek was named Bendigo Creek after a English prize fighter William Abednego Thompson, or 'Bendigo' Thompson,as he was better known.

In k
eeping with the English/European feel, places of significance were given names such as Pall Mall, Charing Cross, Sandhurst, Ascot & also the most of the city's prominent ornate buildings were built in a late Victorian colonial style, contributing to a picturesque "French" cityscape. Many buildings are on the Victorian Heritage Register & registered by the National Trust of Australia.Prominent buildings include the Bendigo Town Hall (1859), 1883-85), Post Office, Law Courts (1892-96), Shamrock Hotel (1897), Institute of Technology & the Memorial Military Museum (1921).

Not only do the buildings add that European feel, but also because Bendigo still has it's trams that
continue to trundle along the city streets, that creates this wonderful feeling that you have stepped into one the the great cities of Europe. However, these trams are not part of the cities public transport system, but they now only run as a unique tourist venture that takes the sightseer on a 20 minute 'talking tour' between the Central Deborah Gold Mine & the Chinese Joss House (the oldest one in Australia built in the 1860's), with plenty of opportunities to disembark & explore the other unique sites at your leisure.

One of the great things about Bendigo is how they cater for the tourist, you can buy a a 'Bendigo Experience Pass' for $45.00 & that one ticket allows you to take The 'Talking' Tram Tour, go on the Central Deborah Gold Mine Tour, entry into the Golden Dragon Museum & entry to the Bendigo Pottery Interpretive Museum. Plus you don't have to cram it all into one day, the ticket is valid for up to 3months!

The highlight of my trip to Bendigo, besides visiting all the wonderful museums & cultural centres, was just walking around the city at night, every building of significance is lit up, giving the city a golden glow, since given that the city was founded on gold, perhaps it is deliberate!

So if you are visiting Bendigo make sure you have more than a couple of days to explore this wonderful region, but more importantly, make sure you take your camera & embrace those photographic opportunities that abound in Bendigo - The City of Light