It is important not to become too parochial; so I decided it was time to go visit the neighbours. Our northern neighbour is Wickham, a suburb which has often been painted with the same 3-‘d’ brush as the West End: dirty, dodgy and down-at-heel. Just as this perception of our beloved West End is out of date, so it is with Wickham. In Newcastle’s colonial era Wickham was renowned for its many fine homes and was originally the most fashionable residential area of the city.
Our shared railway station is the West End-Wickham boundary and so seemed a natural place to start a Wickham wander. Take the station’s back entrance and go by foot, or bike, via Hannell Street into Lee Wharf Road, then cut back into Hannell Street at the Tree of Knowledge. This enormous fig couldn’t be a better introduction to Wicko and is located near the corner of Dickson and Hannell Streets.
The sprawling tree is believed to be the sole survivor of nine originally planted by Mary Hannell around 1870. She was truly a community garden pioneer, planting the trees in order to provide shade for the public and a mantle of green relief from the summer heat. Go Mary! You’ll be pleased to know that she was justly rewarded with the suburb of Maryville named in her honour.
Her husband was no slouch either; James Hannell was the first Mayor of Wickham, had two stints as a State politician, was a publican, auctioneer and blacksmith and President of the Newcastle Jockey Club. As a wealthy land owner he did his bit for the area’s children, financing the first school in Wickham and in recognition his name is remembered in the suburb’s main thoroughfare.
The eastern boundary of Wickham is the lovely waterfront, where Throsby Creek runs into the Hunter River. It’s an enchanting stretch along which walkers, joggers, dog walkers and cyclists happily co-exist and belies the image of the suburb as primarily gritty and grimy.
It’s never too early to eat so I turned down Throsby Street, passing the Albion Hotel whose bistro claims to have the best pub food in Newcastle. It will have to wait; I was on my way to the Wickham Motorcycle Café with its retro garage ambience, in-store rockabilly clothing shop and authentic 1950s memorabilia. The café has rusted motorbikes mounted on the wall and its water bottles look like Valvoline oil decanters, but it’s more than just a hardcore former bike shop. The cafe sells its own range of gourmet condiments and their kindness is displayed at the front counter, where every month the entire contents of their tip jar is donated to a local charity.
Well-fuelled I headed to Greenway Street, keen to see the famed industrial heartland of the suburb and some classic Wickham warehouses, but also to experience the legendary coffee from Dark Horse Espresso. If nothing else it has Newcastle’s coolest café front door, a roller shutter spray painted with tattoo-like horse. How good is the coffee? Locals queue here in the morning to get their daily caffeine eye-opener. But DHE have done more than fuel local coffee aficionados, they have transformed this stretch of the street creating a loyal micro-community.
From here it’s just a quick walk up Railway Street to Albert Street where Wickham’s first Council Chambers still stands, a delightful 1889 Victorian building adjoining Wickham Park. Wickham has the honour of being the first Newcastle suburb to have a municipal council, it was incorporated as a Council way back in 1871.
The suburb’s big green patch, Wickham Park, is a natural counterpoint to its rows of warehouses and provides a tranquil territory much loved by residents. How intriguing is it that Wickham’s industrial heart is hugged on either side by nature – water on its eastern border and an extensive park on its western one?
One of the two corridors which directly connect the West End with Wickham is Railway Street, specifically the crossing near the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, a wonderfully idiosyncratic watering hole. The hotel is affectionately known as The Lass and is the self-styled ‘cradle of Newcastle’s original music’. There are no cover bands at this pub which owners Ian and Sharon Lobb are proud to say supports local artists playing original material from Wednesday through to Sunday afternoon.
I’m back at the West End boundary and it’s time to go, pedalling over the railway crossing I feel full of neighbourly love: I’m on Team Wickham.
Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, 14 Railway Street www.lassogowriehotel.com.au Phone: 4962 1248. Wickham Motorcycle Café, 3 Throsby Street 3 Throsby St wickhammotorcycles.com Phone: 4969 6525. Dark Horse Espresso, 20-24 Greenway Street Phone: 0449 540 463. Wickham is named (and slightly misspelled) after Whickham, a town across the river from Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. Its meaning is ‘village by the creek’.
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.