The saying ‘good fences make good neighbours’ is a truism which is now 100 years old, first appearing in Robert Frost’s 1914 poem ‘Mending Wall’. But when does a neighbourhood have so many fences that it starts to appear physically fenced in?
One of the gateways into the West End is the Stewart Avenue/Parry Street intersection, which has long been a shabby mish-mash: a car wash, abandoned warehouses and big empty blocks. It’s an unattractive welcome to the quirky West End. Further down Stewart Avenue, on the corner of Hunter Street, it doesn’t get any better, with the block surely claiming a Newcastle double negative of the longest building site fence, which has also been there for the longest time.
Way back in early 2012 receivers for businessman Con Constantine’s Almona Pty Ltd., which owned the S & W Miller warehouse on the corner of Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue and the heritage brewery in Wood Street, sold those two properties.
At the end of September last year, to the universal relief of all who passed it regularly, the abandoned S & W Miller warehouse was finally demolished. It was an undisputed eyesore, tatty and rundown and no-one mourned its passing. In July 2013 Newcastle Council granted a development approval for the site including adaptive re-use of the heritage brewery, which would see it turned into 47 apartments.
The receivers see the two sites as working together and have proposed and promoted it as, in their words, a massive ‘gateway development’. A very large fence takes in most of the block, only broken by the quirky antique shop which sits right in the middle of the two development sites and whose future will certainly be interesting indeed.
The Council’s approval allows some of the brewery’s secondary buildings to be ‘partially demolished’ although how something is ‘partially’ demolished is an interesting building conundrum, demolition seems to be a rather final state which allows for little ambiguity.
It’s a year since the Council’s approval and I’ve been sniffing around this part of the West End regularly waiting for something to happen. I suppose something so ‘massive’ takes a while, so I’ve been patient. Well, well, well, looky here – things are stirring.
At the back of the old brewery a new and large concrete slab has been poured, piles of building debris have appeared and a lifting machine of some kind is currently parked near the former entrance in Hunter Street. Sadly the S & W Miller site is still an unsavoury wasteland, complete with abandoned shopping trolleys, weeds and chopped up concrete slabs.
The empty sites continue across the road, on the corner of Stewart Avenue and a branch of King Street, where the former Holden car yard has gone and a huge 900 square metre site is sitting unoccupied and awaiting a new owner.
Even Birdwood Park has gone fence mad. An ugly brick building which used to sit on the park’s western corner has gone – hooray! – and around the spot it used to occupy is…a fence! I’m hoping that soon the grass will do its thing and spread its green runners across this spot and the fence can be dismantled. Leafy Birdwood Park with its big shade trees is a special spot, which is under appreciated; indeed it is the West End’s best gateway.
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