CITY WITHOUT MEMORIES
A lone, old, stressed fig tree stands proud on the corner of Hunter and Worth, seemingly taller than all other trees. Its trunk, shooting up about 30 feet, is dotted with the scars of lost branches. The life of this beautiful tree is possibly the oldest remnant of the street. With nearly half of its canopy gone, unevenly hacked to make room for drooping power lines, it still stands, however imperfect.
The old buildings that once hugged this beautiful tree have not been so fortunate, having made way for glistening and soulless apartments. They cry and demand our attention, flirting with our consciousness with seemingly a better life in the offering. Further on, I find myself taking a shortcut through the Honeysuckle Square to get to the water’s edge. The large apartments cast a shadow over me, and the desolate square is empty, cold and characterless. I breathe a sign of relief as the working dock comes into view and I see others enjoying the water’s edge.
Despite their inherent shortcomings, all is not lost. Newcastle has a rich and diverse array of buildings, all with their own stories and histories to reveal. As the second oldest city in Australia, one could experience this heritage and the multitude of architectural styles within a twenty-four hour period. Imagine waking up to a beautiful sunrise in a Victorian house, dropping the children off in an ‘Arts & Crafts’ school, and meeting old friends for breakfast in a rustic Regency Style coffee house. Breakfast turns to lunch, which turns to drinks, which turns to a night in a Neo-Classical bar. A brawl breaks out and the rush from the Brutalist police station relaxes the scene. You call it a night after watching a local band in an Art Deco Hotel and finally, fall gently to sleep in a Modernist white box whilst peering through your bedroom window at an elegantly lit ‘Gothic’ Cathedral.
One of the reasons old buildings are deemed attractive to us, might simply be that they’re old and irreplaceable. Old things are commonly nurtured in Newcastle, hence the many antiques shops. The historical buildings are no exception. These buildings speak to us of another time, of particular events, of old crafts, of quality, and even of particular historical characters. Perhaps they’re the product of a nostalgia for an idealised past. It has been said that a city without old buildings is like a person without memory. It might be said then, that a city that doesn’t appreciate its old buildings is like someone whose memories are disconnected from the story of their lives.
Therefore, we must not lose this inherent stubbornness as Novocastrians. We demand our own identity, and it’s a trait we pride ourselves on. Why lose it? Must we become a slave to a ‘throw away’ culture? To have a city skyline that reeks of the new and latest trends, or should we take what we already have, and make it better – “Less but Better”?
Few people realise buildings are in fact works of art. They help to create a sense of place, an underlining quality that shapes a city. People give soul to the city, but buildings present the stage in which these souls can perform. Let’s not forget these buildings.