Saturday, December 26, 2009

Newcastle - 20 Years after the Earthquake

When: MONDAY 28th DECEMBER, 10.00 am

Where: National Park, Cnr. Union Street & Parkway Avenue

Everyone is welcome to attend this event.

To-morrow, on 28 December at 10 am on the 20th anniversary of the Newcastle Earthquake, some of the citizens who met 3 days after the quake will meet at National Park, on the corner of Union Street and Parkway Avenue, Cooks Hill.

The almost 200 people who turned up at the meeting 20 years ago told of homes, businesses, hospitals, hotels, schools and churches being demolished or being threatened with demolition or part demolition without proper assessment, right across the city.

As a result of this meeting, the Citizens Earthquake Action Group (CEAG) was formed to monitor and publicise what was happening across the city in the wake of the quake.

The 20th anniversary presents an opportunity to review how Newcastle has fared since the earthquake.

Immediately after the earthquake, comparatively modern buildings, like the extensions to the Newcastle Workers’ Club and Hamilton businesses, where awnings had been removed, collapsed with a tragic loss of life.

Older buildings, notably the George Hotel, Carrington Chambers, King’s Hall (former Newcastle RSL) and the Century Theatre, while damaged, were demolished immediately after the quake, without proper assessment. Many historic buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral and the Customs House were threatened with partial demolition.

The repair of homes and public buildings took years; some still await repair and restoration . While Hamilton’s commercial centre recovered and flourishes, the Newcastle CBD has never recovered. This is more the result of opportunistic developers and neglectful governments at all levels - federal, state and local. Their actions and inaction have caused further damage to the city and its economy.

Since the earthquake, three wings of Royal Newcastle Hospital have been demolished; its services and personnel relocated to difficult- to- access John Hunter Hospital. The once thriving hospital has been replaced by a partly occupied building, a private public partnership, which includes a community health centre. The effect of the loss of the city-based hospital has been immeasurable.

High-rise luxury units on the former hospital site and on the beachfront have transformed Newcastle Beach coastline into a Gold Coast look- alike. The State Government is now proposing the privatising and commercialising of coastal Crown land reserves, like Empire and Tramway Parks.

The State Government is threatening to relocate the historic Court House and its facilities from the inner city, against the wishes of the legal community and residents. The threat to cut the rail line into the city remains in spite of 20 years of community opposition. These moves would compound the damage to the economy of the city caused by the abandonment of the hospital.

The local council and the State Government’s part 3A legislation have ignored the height limits, which gave a human scale to the city. As developers pick off buildings, they are replaced by huge out -of -scale buildings.

Many iconic buildings like the Empire Palais and the Star Hotel were demolished or partially demolished years after the quake. Some, including two of the most historic theatres in Australia, the Victoria and the Royal remain derelict; some sites, notably at the Civic, are still empty 20 years after the earthquake.

The State Government's Honeysuckle (Hunter) Development Corporation has contributed to the gutting of the ailing CBD, as commercial and government enterprises have been encouraged to relocate out of the inner city on to its land. Its high-rise luxury apartments and office blocks have cut off the city from its harbour. The HDC and the development lobby campaign relentlessly to cut the rail line into the city to gain access to their properties.

The past 20 years have seen much of the remainder of the city’s unique heritage and character demolished by neglect – including the historic Post Office and the inter- war Great Northern Hotel. The fate of historic former James Fletcher Hospital, Nobbys light – house, the city’s former Museum and unique Merewether Surf House hang in the balance.

Newcastle, with the Hunter Valley, a lynch pin of the Australian economy, has been dealt a poor deal by governments and the development industry. The city still bears scars of the Newcastle Earthquake of 1989 – but the scars of greed and neglect are much more obvious 20 years later.

Margaret Henry

Bye-Bye Bogey Hole

The Herald identified the Lands Department’s real agenda for Crown Land Reserves when it stated that “authorities would be unwilling to spend money on repairs (at the Bogey Hole) with no prospect of financial return” (H, 24/12).

The Department uses spin and PR terms like “tourism, revitalise, attract investment,” but it’s all part of a strategy for a massive sell-off across the State that’s been occurring since the Carr Government days and it has accelerated since the 2007 election.

Ironically only about a week ago a Sydney newspaper magazine featured the Bogey Hole as one of the State’s iconic ocean pools and a tourist attraction.

The selloff ranges from high conservation value natural areas to playing fields and urban parks; and including Coffs Harbour, Wollongong (Killalea State park), Leichhardt, Port Macquarie and many other places. Commitments to add land to national parks have also been reneged on.

The coastal plan for Newcastle includes high rise apartments on Tramway Reserve, a pocket park and breathing space between high rise and the Ocean Baths in historic Newcastle East(what’s that got to do with tourism?); and the commercialisation of part of Empire Park. Public open space areas are soft targets.

Since the last election, Lands Minister Kelly has reneged on his commitment to consolidate Merewether Surf House’s (MSH) land tiles to offer a long term lease with a heritage agreement. Now this sensitive site is targeted for a massive commercial redevelopment.

The Bowling Club site adjacent to King Edward Park is to have a restaurant/reception centre on land Newcastle Council asked to be returned to parkland in 2002. They were ignored.

The Lands Department claims any income will be used to fund other Crown land management/improvements in the region. I’ll wager, however, that none will be used to help maintain King Edward Park or the Bogey Hole.

In essence, this State Government is flogging off to private developers, land that the community values and uses for social, cultural, recreational, environmental reasons. What a disgrace!