Over the border: Civic

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Last year I decided it was time to meet the neighbours. I promised myself that once a year I’d leave my West End stomping ground and go north, south or east and go in search of the unexpected. In 2013 I went north, heading over to Wickham where I cycled arty back lanes, found emerging foodie businesses and even discovered a Tree of Knowledge right on the foreshore. Oh wonderful Wicko, how amazing you were! You can read all about it here: https://westendadventures.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/over-the-border-wickham/

Last week I put on my travelling shoes again and headed east to the Civic precinct. Now the city’s centre is a big place, too big to get a handle on in one blog, so I set myself some goals: I had to find beauty, books and a great building. To my surprise I didn’t have to go far. Heading up Hunter Street on the free bus – I love that free Newy bus! – I passed the bridal shop strip, its windows displaying a truly alarming level of sequins and froufrou, and then I saw… an intriguing bookshop.

Books: The Press Book House Café
The Press Book House Café at 462 Hunter Street is one of those dream book shops: superb coffee, a good lunch menu and second hand books plus, plus, plus. Books line the shelves all the way to the ceiling, spill out of tiered suitcases and are piled with effortless artiness on the mismatched tables. The café has that unique paper smell that the best bookshops have, the kind that makes you want to bury your nose in the pages and just inhale.

The café is individual, eccentric and utterly wonderful. I particularly loved the unapologetic, pull-no-punches signs at the coffee counter: ‘We will NOT put more than three sugars in your coffee’ and ‘There is a 50c surcharge if ordering whilst on your phone’. Suitably caffeinated (sans sugar of course) and with a tasty Vietnamese pork roll under my belt, I went all literary and bought two books of poetry. Lordy lord, I haven’t bought poetry for years, but it’s the kind of place which inspires you to do just that.

Beauty: the Civic Rose Garden
Unexpected beauty was next –always the best kind. It came in the form of roses. Newcastle has its own special rose, called (of course) the City of Newcastle rose. It’s a pure red hybrid tea rose which flowers abundantly throughout the year. It was specifically bred for the city’s bicentenary celebrations in 1997 and it even carries a stamp of horticultural approval from Newcastle City Council. Who knew? Dedicated flower lover and proprietor of the long established Civic Florist, Marrion Schofield, did; that’s who.

Marrion’s business faces the (now closed) Civic Station which in the way of many old railway properties once had its own public flower garden. The rose bed was a long way from its glory days and instead of presenting a lovely flowery display it was in a state of disrepair, weed-filled and forlorn. Marrion saw an opportunity to use her knowledge of roses to restore the garden to its former beauty and while she was the champion of its return it was pure team work which made it happen.

A coalition of the Civic Precinct Advisory Group, local businesses, residents and Newcastle NOW combined to oversee the garden’s renewal, with labour supplied by Jobfind and Newcastle City Council providing in-kind funding. Late last year the Civic Rose Garden was unveiled and now the romantic City of Newcastle roses bloom again, breathing ruby-coloured life back into this sweet garden.

A great building: the Civic Theatre
The rose garden faces one of Newcastle’s great buildings, the Civic Theatre, which opened in 1929 and despite being designed as a live theatre immediately (and curiously) was leased as a cinema. In 1941 Hoyts gained control and the Civic continued to show movies until 1973. Thank the theatre gods and goddesses that Newcastle City Council took the reins deciding in 1976 to move towards more live productions and so phasing out cinema operations.

In 1992 this grand lady closed for a multi-million dollar refurbishment and when she re-opened the following year the largely intact interior was revealed in all its Spanish/Moroccan Baroque magnificence. Its style is also described as Georgian Revival, but no matter in what architectural classification it sits the heritage listed building has outstanding historical, aesthetic and social significance to Newcastle.

It doesn’t matter if you will never go to a show there (but you should) pop inside to see the extraordinary fittings and decorations, visit the delightful loos and don’t miss my favourite part of the theatre, the two extraordinary oil paintings in the lobby. Simply titled ‘Industry’ and ‘Leisure’ these two gigantic canvases were commissioned by Tooth and Co. and created in 1938 by artist Herbert Gallop.

They were first hung in the foyer of the Great Northern Hotel and stayed there until 1983 when they disappeared into a private collection. When this collector offered them for sale in Melbourne in 1996 their value was recognised and a rescue syndicate was formed to buy them and bring them home. And where else to put these magnificent paintings, but in an equally grand setting? ‘Industry’ depicts cargo ships docking in Newcastle Harbour and ‘Leisure’ a summer’s day on Newcastle Beach. My one-liner does no justice to how inspiring these paintings are. They are splendid. Glorious. Go in and see them, you’ll be awed.

Kimberly O’Sullivan

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: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.

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7 responses to “Over the border: Civic

  1. Kimberly, another terrific post. I love your sense of adventure! Totally agree with you about The Press, and what a wonderful story about the redemption of the rose garden. When people care enough to start something, others follow and things change. Thanks for these.

    • Thanks Ruth! I love the rose garden project it seems to me the essence of great placemaking: small, local projects delivering quick wins but with a high impact.

    • Yay! And thanks. 😊 Seems we were at the same Newcastle Writers Festival event on Friday night. I’m loving having found The Press, it’s like a classic old school bookshop.

  2. Pingback: Friday night ride, good company and #nwf15 | this bicycle life·

  3. As always, a great read Kimberly. Reading your blog can often inspire me to want to visit and experience the places you mention.

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