“I hope you like inbreds”.
This was hardly the kind of tourist information I had hoped to get as I left a pleasant hostel in Noosa Heads, Queensland, but it seemed it was the only thing the young Australian girl behind the desk knew about Newcastle as we discussed my intended ports of call. Of course, in this instance we were talking about Newcastle, New South Wales, which was to be the last major stop my friends and I would make on our way back to Sydney having driven the east coast of Australia in a camper van.
Not being the type to quickly judge, and having never knowingly met someone who is ‘inbred’ before, I thought it best to answer, “I suppose we’ll find out” and keep my mind open.
You mention you're visiting Airlie Beach and people will tell you with some gusto about the beauty of Whitsundays. You tell someone you're going to make some stops on the Sunshine Coast, and they say going to Fraser Island is a must. Why when you mention Newcastle is Oedipal love the only thing worth mentioning?
The whole idea of going to Newcastle in the first place was based on one juvenile dream – to be photographed next to street signs bearing the names of places that can also be found in our native Newcastle upon Tyne, England. I realise this is a dismal reason for visiting anywhere. If it’s any kind of defence, the idea came about whilst we piled through a carton of Victoria Bitter, having earlier emptied the plastic bladder of two or three boxes of goon. With our judgement sufficiently impaired, we thought that taking photos of street signs printed with names like Jesmond, Hexham, Wickham and Wallsend would be a hilarious anecdote to tell our friends about when we got home. Admittedly at that point, we weren’t aware of the alleged incest.
Whilst we didn’t see any signs of inter-family union first hand, I can’t say my trip to Newcastle was one to look back on with too many fond memories. Yes, taking the aforementioned pictures wiled away a good thirty minutes, but as we tired of this we began to run very dry of ways to pass the time. A quick trip to a nearby hostel wasn’t much help either. In the lobby, on a chalkboard placed prestigiously above a grand fireplace was a list detailing the ‘Top 5 Things to do in Newcastle’. Propping up the anything-but-exhaustive list at number 5, was ‘visit some of the funky cafes’. Sensing the author of this esteemed list had decided to start slow and crescendo, I skipped right to the top for some inspiration. At number one on the ‘Top 5 Things to do in Newcastle’ was take the twenty-minute walk to Nobby’s Lighthouse. I began to feel like this list may have been better titled ‘The Only 5 Things to do in Newcastle’. Again though, in the interests of not judging things too quickly, we took the walk. After breathing in the atmosphere, and pouring over the gate that stopped us getting within 200 feet of the actual lighthouse, we decided to turn around and head back to the van for a game of cards and carton of Carlton Dry.
I don’t know what I expected to find in Newcastle. I guess in some capacity, given that a lot of the locals are fourth or fifth generation Geordie coal minors, I expected to see some of the things that are synonymous with back home. That’s not to say I thought I’d bump into the type of oafish caricatures of Geordies presented on the likes of Geordie Shore, but unlike Newcastle in New South Wales,Newcastle upon Tyne has a very discernible identity. In the New South Wales variation you could be in any industrial city, anywhere in the world.
Of course, there is some unashamed bias at work here, but even that in itself is worth noting. I, like most Geordie folk am exceptionally and outwardly proud of our little city and everything that is great about it: our quirky accent, our world famous nightlife, our instantly recognisable monuments and architecture, our perpetually underachieving football team, and the optimistic, plucky and friendly Geordie disposition. I would be highly surprised and disappointed if anyone visiting the city centre didn’t identify one of the above within their first fifteen minutes of being there. In stark contrast, Newcastle, NSW, was devoid of anything remotely befitting of a city that celebrates its heritage, its culture or its identity.
For me, if it were Newcastle upon Tyne versus Newcastle, NSW – a ‘Newcastle Off’ if you will – there could be only one winner. It saddens me to think that the Geordie custom has been so quickly forgotten on Australia’s east coast. However, such is my love of the Toon, you could pit Newcastle against any of the world’s ‘great’ cities and as ridiculous as it sounds, I’d happily tell you why Newcastle is better. I see your Venetian canals, I see your Parisian boulevards, your Florentine palaces and your Praguian spires. I see them all, and I raise you unrivalled Geordie charm and pride!