In my last blog entry 'The Ghosts of Post Offices Past' I covered the Post Offices that were situated in and around the former Wickam Municipality. As I was doing my research I performed a walk around the area armed with my compact S1275 Sanyo to track down and photograph the former Post Office sites. As I decided to walk the route, instead of drive, it enable to to get a different perspective of the area and the more I walked, the more I liked what I saw.
Now to be honest the former Wickham Municipality, comprising the towns of Wickham, Islington, Tighes Hill and Maryville are presented as run down urban grunge by the media, reinforcing an unfair stereotype by those Novocastrians who live outside this wonderful urban gem. Once you move past the sterotypes, you'll be astounded by some wonderful late 19th century archtecture, such as the wonderfully restored Tighes Hill School of Arts, magnificent civic parks, historic bridges and some wonderful street architecture that reflect Newcastles evolving social history.
The area also boosted some of the richest Aboriginal sites in the Newcastle area, with a well documented Corroboree site located on the cnr of Church & Hannell Streets (formerly the St James Anglican Church, now Blackwoods), with the last Corroboree performed in 1830 (Wickham PS Centenary 1878 -1978). In addition to the Corroboree site there were many other sites that evidenced Aboriginal life in the area, with reports that fish traps were set in the tidal mangroves & extensive middens along the sandy shores and clear waters of Throsby Creek. Evidence of the middens can be found if you look closely at the concrete pourings on the Grahame Bridge at Lewis Street, you can still see the shell grit that were taken from the ancient middens during the construction!
With Newcastle expanding with free settlers after the end of the convict era in 1823, more land was sought as the fledgling settlement of Newcastle spread west. When the railway arrived at Honeysuckle Point (Wickham) in 1857, land situated to the north of the railway was an obvious choice as it was flat fertile land, plentiful food from the numerous creeks and freshwater springs (Islington & Smedmore), the area must've seemed like paradise to the early settlers However, with the settlers came the industry and without todays environmental controls, the original beauty of the area was raped in the push for development .
The were slaughterhouses set up (near the present day Marina), a Soap & Candle factory on the site of Wickham PS), coal mines (Caltex & Tighes Hill PS), a tannery (Tighes Hill TAFE), copper smelting (Port Waratah) and unbridled housing development all contributed to the degradation of the once pristine, sandy banks of Throsby and Styx Creeks.
As more people were attracted to this working class area they bought their stories, leaving their imprint on the suburbs where they lived and then, as their children grew up, they added more stories to the new tapestry that was being woven. One of the fascinating stories is that in 1885 a young Henry Lawson (18 at the time), came to work at Hudson Bros at Wickham as an apprentice coach painter and spent a lot of evenings and weekends at the the new Wickham School of Arts to continue his studies for matriculation. His time in Newcastle wasn't a happy one due to workplace bullying and perhaps homesickness, so he returned to Sydney after a few months, becoming one of Australia favourite poets .
But time moves on and the former Wickham Municipality is slowly recovering from almost a century of unbridled industrial carnage, leaving a landscape that has been changed forever from those heady days in the 1820's when area was known as Whytes Paddock. But with that urbanisation came some beautiful 19th century architecture, expansive parks framed by magnificent fig trees, fascinating streetscapes and stories from people who have generations invested in the area.
Yes the area has it blemishes, that you can't deny, but I'd rather choose to live in an area with a past, than in a suburb without a soul.