Mike Scanlon writes: Let’s talk of some other skeletons of the past. But, this time, it doesn’t concern human remains | Newcastle Herald

news, history, history, Scanlon, streets, stories, Newcastle

NOT many places would have a skeleton buried in the front yard. But that was the discovery many, many decades ago up on a historic Newcastle property on The Hill when the site’s land use suddenly changed. The land had recently been sold, and the grim find was publicly reported more out of curiosity that anything else, it seems. This was probably in the early 1930s. Workers had begun excavating the hilly site to erect apartments there to take advantage of sweeping views over a developing waterfront city. But, as far as the skeleton was concerned, police believed no crime had apparently been committed. The unrecorded gravesite was believed to be that of an Aboriginal man, but it could easily have been an early white settler, or even a convict. No one knew. No action was taken, except for a swift reburial elsewhere. In the early 1800s in the raw, penal outpost of Coal Town (later Newcastle), Europeans and others who died were often buried in an empty paddock close by and, over time, everyone forgot who was lying where. Just off the present Hunter Street Mall, for example, long before Hunter Street as we know it really existed, residents reported there was a small unknown graveyard on what became the site of shops and later the now long-gone Strand Theatre at the top of Market Street. Old-timers also claimed there was a primitive, sealed-up, 19th century coal mine there much earlier. And about 30 years ago, before the present high-rise development boom in the inner-city, the town seemed to have stagnated. With the exception of a few notable projects, Newcastle missed the major building booms of the 1960s and 1970s. Newcastle City Council officers commented that if someone dug into an undisturbed plot of suitable land to develop in the old, inner-city core, there was about an 87 per cent chance of finding historical artefacts in situ, compared with, say, either Sydney or Melbourne. Let’s talk of some other skeletons of the past. But, this time, it doesn’t concern human remains, but rather the surviving traces of interesting bygone days when Newcastle was still a lusty infant of a growing town. A former news editor of mine was always fond of saying: “Down every street is a good story – go and find it.” So, let’s focus briefly on just one historic street, this time Church Street, on The Hill, above the old CBD. It’s always been an important, if overlooked, roadway. Its eastern end, until fairly recently, hosted Newcastle Courthouse (now being rebuilt as a new university site) plus the brutal architecture of Newcastle police station alongside and next to Watt Street, Newcastle’s first street in convict days. (Not forgetting, of course, two churches including Christ Church Cathedral and a now demolished third church in Brown Street nearby). It’s an interesting street, with the grammar school also being there and the famous late Australian artist Margaret Olley living at several locations in the same street overlooking the harbour years ago. Church Street, before being renamed by surveyor Henry Dangar in 1823, was called Elizabeth Street. And back in 1831 the later powerful A.A. Company opened its historic ‘A’ pit a little below western Church Street, off Brown Street. Its success led to many other coal shafts being sunk, pit towns (i.e Cooks Hill and Hamilton) rapidly appeared and, from this wealth of ‘black diamonds’, modern Newcastle was created. This private colliery (an Australian first) also was the site of Australia’s first railway in the form of a continuous gravitational skip line down the steep hill to the harbour. Not so far away, in western Church Street, once stood the Alcron Restaurant, which pioneered European-style cuisine in an era of meat-and-three-veg meals. Alongside was an unusual, steep, stepped lane to help horses walk to stables down the back where the resident coachman is said to have befriended (and shared a few ales with) a lonely, homesick future poet called Henry Lawson. A little while away is a block of flats built from the proceeds of the Star Hotel back in the 1930s. A near neighbour later on was art dealer, philanthropist and private hospital operator William Bowmore. He had an art collection here estimated to be worth a staggering $30million in an outwardly ordinary suburban house. It was an open secret, but no one dared tell outsiders in case he was robbed. Far below the rear of these far western Church Street homes today hides a secret. Here, on a grey concrete embankment – just above King Street – a coal steam railway (pictured) once rattled its way to Newcastle waterfront through what much later became the (now closed) Tower Cinema’s first floor and then down Crown Street and over a (demolished) Hunter Street bridge to the wharves. The A.A. Company hauled its coal wagons from the Sea Pit along Darby Street and also from its ‘D’ and ‘E’ mines at Pit Town (present Hamilton). Who would guess today that coal railways used to run through Civic Park until the 1950s? Just above this special, but now closed, inner-city coal railway today stands a metal tower, a port navigational light lining up with towers on the harbour foreshore. This hilly beacon has been there in one form or another since 1917. They replaced a pair of rendered brick towers. One was above the other off Church Street and both built in 1865-66. In an era of shipwrecks, these original “leading light” towers though proved ineffective. One historic tower (pictured) was next to St Mary’s Star of the Sea, the first Roman Catholic Church in Newcastle (opened 1866). The base of this Perkins Street beacon is still in the front yard of the building there that was once occupied by the harbour master. The surviving tower, bleached of paint and missing its slot window turret, remains higher up, on the corner of Tyrrell and Brown streets, opposite Newcastle East School. Despite access being long sealed off for safety, this remaining beacon is still occasionally mistaken for a cousin of Hobart’s 58 metre tall Shot Tower. But some Church Street mysteries remain. For example, were the wooden terraces of nearby Lee Terrace originally built by coal baron John Brown solely to make sure his tugboat captains were always handy and on call to tow 19th century windjammers into harbour? Stories also persist that there is an undiscovered tunnel under Church Street, but nobody knows for sure. IN THE NEWS: Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:


Mike Scanlon writes: Let’s talk of some other skeletons of the past. But, this time, it doesn’t concern human remains | Newcastle Herald Source link Mike Scanlon writes: Let’s talk of some other skeletons of the past. But, this time, it doesn’t concern human remains | Newcastle Herald

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