One of my dear Canberran friends is contemplating a move to Newcastle. In the depths of her decision making she called me for a sales pitch on this regional coastal city of mine.
So why do you love Newcastle? Her eager tone made it clear our conversation was going to be the tipping point to whether she stayed in the Nation’s sunny capital or not. Pressure.
When I paused for a moment to contemplate my answer, it dawned on me that my reasons for living in Newcastle have changed substantially over time. As a born and bred Novocastrian, the things that I loved about this city as a kid, teen and University student are certainly quite different to what draws me to this place as a now mum of two.
As a kid, I loved building sandcastles by the rock pool at Merewether beach and swimming far away from the scary waves in the safe cement confines of the Ocean Baths. I loved playing ‘tag’ and ‘kick the A’ with our neighbours up and down the road of our quiet suburban street. I loved that the city was big enough to be able to offer up any sport you wanted to play. For my sisters and I, this just so happened to be ballet and Newcastle has quite the offer of highly commended ballet schools.
As a teen, I loved that I could hang out with my friends all day at Bar Beach (and then The Cliff as we grew older and became, questionably, too cool to be around beach crowds). When the weather was bad, we got dolled up in our platform thongs to go shopping at one of the two major shopping centres where we would spend more time in the passport photo booths taking the 90’s version of selfies than we did in the actual shops.
Then as the post-school era came around, we luckily didn’t have to venture far to go to University. Not only did this mean we could stay at home and enjoy our parents’ meals and free board, we could also get those extra four ATAR points awarded for attending your local regional University. This was a lifeline for some of us, our ticket to the piece of paper that would open up doors to our dream careers – or at least what we thought our dream careers would be then. University and post-school life in Newcastle was great. The cost of living was lower for students in Newcastle than those in the major cities, which meant we could spend all those hours that we should have been studying actually self-funding beverage purchases at Customs or the Great Northern. The café culture had just enough to keep you interested in food and give your dating life some substance. At that time in Newcastle, everyone knew the true test of dating a ‘keeper’ was if you were willing to hold their hand down Darby Street.
Inevitably, as student life came to an end, Newcastle still had a lot to offer the ‘now-I-have-to-adult’ stage of my life. Housing in Newcastle was very much affordable then and is still much better than other Australian cities. Dinners on Beaumont St were soon substituted for dinner parties in our very own homes where we got to say – ‘just bring a salad or wine’ – and feel very cool and sophisticated.
Then, as this new adult life morphed into serious-adult-life and we started bringing little humans into the world, Newcastle became loved for its practicality, convenience and family friendly nature. It is a little miracle that you can pretty much drive yourself anywhere in Newcastle in an average of 15 minutes, bumper-to-bumper-free. This becomes a God-send when you’re trying to venture to the shops and doctors’ appointments in your 1.5 hour window between feeds and baby nap times. As a parent, you grow to love another side of Newcastle you haven’t seen before – the variety of beautiful parks and play equipment, the ‘mums and bubs’ fitness groups by the beach, the wide and smooth scooter friendly beach paths, the parking friendly shopping centres and the rise in craft brewery’s with kid menus, high chairs and ‘Dad with Prams’ beer varieties (thank you, Foghorn Brewhouse). Then as you bear witness to the other end of the age spectrum, you thank the heavens that Newcastle has amazing home-care services and that it doesn’t take long to get your older relatives into residential care when its desperately needed. Newcastle has certainly delivered as a family friendly place to live.
However, my Canberran friend is at a very different stage of her life to me. She is single, a free-nomad at heart and absolutely full of love and life. She often indulges in fine art, fine dining and fine cocktails. This was something we once shared, but now with a baby and toddler at hand my outings typically include adventures to the local park and picnic baskets full of cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks and veggie purees. Obviously, raving on about the amazing new play equipment at Blackbutt Reserve or the easy parking at my favourite pram-friendly restaurants wasn’t exactly going to sell my free-spirited friend on Newcastle as a city to live. Nor would my out-dated tips on clubbing at the now closed Great Northern Hotel.
Her question really got me thinking that the place you decide to live, albeit for the short or long term, really needs to accommodate the life stage you’re at. And the thing that makes Newcastle really special is it’s the perfect combination of relaxed-suburban-house-life, inner-city-Russell-hustle and cool-but-calm-coastal-swag to tick all the boxes for all the life stages.
You can play with your kids on the sand, dive into the water yourself for a dip, surf or paddle and if you’re not the type to enjoy sand between your toes, you can admire water views of both the beach and harbour while sipping expensive wine or chowing down on a hot chip roll from any one of the culture rich pubs, cafes and restaurants that line our beaches and foreshore. You can visit our prestigious art galleries while sipping on your turmeric spiced latte or you can take your punting shoes off to the races for a Saturday morning fuelled by XXXX Gold and a gamble here and there.
Newcastle also delivers on major shopping centres with everything you need, made easy to get to with steady flowing traffic and stress free parking (for the most part). We have great schools and a fantastic University and the population is big enough that employment opportunities can be found in most industries – and if not, Sydney is near enough that you can still get your Newcastle fix on weekends if you have to move for work.
So, why do I love Newcastle? No matter where you’re at in life, it’s a place you can always call home.