Over the past few years Newcastles Hunter Street Mall has fallen on hard times as major retailers left the CBD to go seek their fortunes in the glitzy suburban mega malls that are become part of the urban landscape. As each retailer departed the CBD it left another vacant shop along what was once reputed to have been one of the longest main streets in the southern hemisphere. This was especially evident in the Hunter Mall area, where shop fronts had all the ambience of a gapped tooth smile and also being closed off to traffic, also made it look lifeless.
While some in the community stood around pointing fingers and looking for culprits to lay blame on, the Newcastle City Council (NCC) and some of the more civic minded citizens buckled down to come up with some workable solutions. One of the most controversial decisions made by the NCC was to spend $330,000 to reopen the Hunter Mall to vehicular traffic, which had been closed since 1981. Another step was the establishment of the Renew Newcastle group to reopen vacated shops by finding artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain these buildings until they become commercially viable or were redeveloped. The third part of the revitalisation process was involving Newcastle Live Sites (a partnership between NCC, Hunter Development Corp. & Arts NSW) in bringing live entertainment into the Mall during the Xmas build up.
|free puppet show for the kids|
As result for the past two years the Hunter Mall and Newcastle itself is being transformed into a vibrant arts orientated centre.with one of the main focal events being the Red Lantern Markets which are generally held late November through till mid December. While there are a lot of food, art and craft orientated speciality stalls to choose from, (over 70 this year alone!) some of the more savvy boutique shops in the Mall are also open to take advantage of the passing trade, making it a unique shopping experience. Another advantage is that you can usually talk to the person that made the item and find out some background to that special gift, something you can't do at K-Mart or Toys 'R' Us!
The Red Lantern Markets are also an urban photographers dream with so much colour, people and movement around, sometimes it hard to know when to frame a shot, but it is a vast landscape to choose from!
There are very few places on earth where you can drive down to the city (or catch a train, ferry or utilise the excellent bus service) have lunch at a 5 star restaurant (Honeysuckle or Darby St), walk to beach to have an afternoon swim (Newcastle, Nobbys or Newcastle Baths), then do your all christmas shopping in a relaxed market style atmosphere and then if the mood takes you, go and watch a latest release movie at the King Street theatre, all this within an easy half hour walk of the Newcastle CBD.
No wonder Lonely Planet Guide recently listed Newcastle in its top 10 of places to visit in 2011!