The cutting of the train line into the heart of Newcastle’s CBD has been a vexed issue for Novocastrians. It’s pitted business owner against business owner and resident against resident, passionately dividing the city’s inhabitants. The terminated rail line is either seen as symbolic of everything which is wrong-headed for real urban renewal, or alternatively, as the beginning of a visionary look at the Newcastle of the future.
For our little corner of town it means no more home station of Wickham, which I so wanted renamed Newcastle West – a much more accurate description of its location. How good would it have been to have our own station name? After all it is right in the centre of the West End (not Wickham) and a perfect get off point for some of our most eclectic delights: quality coffee and pastry in the cool courtyard at Bank Corner Cafe, a fabulous exhibition at cStudios, zip across the road for extraordinarily good Afghani takeaway at A1 Foods and pop in next door to try on a classic 60s safari jacket, or rock a retro frock, at West End Vintage. Man-oh-man…why would you ever need to go down town?
One of my favourite corners of the West End used to be the junction of Bellevue and Beresford Streets at Wickham Station. Visiting here was a real delight and I often made it my place to rendezvous with friends. Commuters came down rainbow-coloured stairs from the station and the first thing they would see, immediately upon setting foot in the West End, was a bright yellow bench decorated with daisies. It still provides a handy spot to sit and I especially love the stylised mat painted on the bitumen, in front of the seat, which is adorned with the words ‘Good morning sunshine’. There couldn’t be a warmer welcome to the West End. Cut out metal artworks were attached to the station’s fence and nearby a lovely garden had been created complete with a photo board detailing Wickham Station’s history in images. The garden even had its own sign ‘Beresford Community Garden’.
This mini-green/art space was no accident, but a testament to community activism. Put your hands together for: Don Barker, Annette Lynch, Helen Stronach and Mark Alyward. Don and Annette are pioneer urban gardeners who created the station garden and Helen and Mark were the driving force behind the bench, artworks, pop-up tree, mat and rainbow stairs. If Don and Annette are unknown to you here’s their cheer-worthy story: https://westendadventures.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/planting the seeds of change/
Don’t know the story of the rainbow stairs and Wickham station? https://westendadventures.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/somewhere-over-the-rainbow-bridge/
But, West Enders, all is not as it was. On a recent visit I sat on the yellow bench and felt an overwhelming melancholy. The bench itself is still there, as is its mat, but so much has changed for the worse. The pop up tree has been sawn off at the base and its container is now full of weeds, while the photo board in the Beresford Community Garden is gone. Helen and Mark have moved out of the neighbourhood and the deserted station sits eerily empty behind its high security fence. The rainbow stairs have seen better days and that whole vibrant corner now has a shabby, unloved feel.
Across the road the high-rise building The Huxley Apartments is currently under construction by the Thirdi Group and the Australasian Property Group whose logo, ‘Opportunity Growth Wealth’, seems so out of step with this particular spot and its history of grassroots urban activism. But something made me smile, even in my sadness. A cheeky wag has altered the company’s website address, which is printed in large letters on the hoarding around the construction site. It’s been changed from http://www.thirdigroup.com.au to ‘.con.au’.
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 or 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.