Not only a place of beautiful beaches, Newcastle also offers plenty for the art lover, cultural enthusiast and anyone who enjoys a good show.
There’s something about Newcastle – NSW’s second-largest city – that inspires creativity. Perhaps it’s the blissful beaches; maybe the fascinating history; most definitely the unpolluted landscapes that range from forest to fields. It’s a setting that has bred talent for decades: applauded painter/sculptor William Dobell called Newcastle home, as did Tap Dogs creator and choreographer Dein Perry and world-famous rock band Silverchair. Here’s how to follow in their footsteps and take the city’s creative pulse.
Ponder works at the Newcastle Art Gallery
The Newcastle Art Gallery never fails to dazzle, packed with the second-largest collection of art in the state. Among the more than 7,000 works on permanent display include pieces by Brett Whitley, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and John Olsen. There’s no charge for entry, and free guided tours run on weekends at 11am.
Explore Cooks Hill
The Newcastle Art Gallery is located in the bohemian inner-city suburb of Cooks Hill, a magnet for creatives – walk the surrounding streets to discover an eclectic precinct celebrating diversity and culture in all forms. Here you’ll find the heritage-listed former police station, which today houses The Lock-Up, a cultural centre of art, music and ideas that offers a diverse program of exhibitions, events, installations and workshops. Other small art galleries to add to your itinerary include , Gallery 139 and CStudios.
Pick up a cultural souvenir
The main thoroughfare through Cooks Hill is leafy Darby Street, along which you’ll discover grand Victorian terraces and heritage timber cottages now home to achingly cool restaurants, boutiques and design stores. Like Abicus, which is stocked with a covetable range of fashion and footwear as well as hard-to-find vinyl and books on music. And Blackbird Corner, which represents a number of exclusive makers: pick up handmade stationery, framed art and obscure curios. Pappa Sven is likewise a shrine to design, but with a distinct Scandinavian twist, from limited-edition Nedre Foss ceramics to eye-popping Marimekko fabrics. Cooks Hill Books has been around since 1985, the establishment legendary in these parts for its floor-to-ceiling shelves weighed down with second-hand books and records spanning every topic and genre.
Step back in time at Newcastle Museum
For a slice of the past, stop at Newcastle Museum, which hosts dozens of eye-catching exhibitions (many of them interactive) including a gallery dedicated to the history of the city, from early Aboriginal life to times of war and recent pioneers who have gone on to make their mark around the world.
Appreciate alfresco art and architecture
Outside the Museum you’ll get a taste of the city’s dramatic architecture, from the distinctive EJE Architects-designed glass-and-timber building belonging to the University of Newcastle to the Honeysuckle Hotel, taking pride of place on a 1910 wharf originally built with cargo sheds for the port. A long foreshore promenade links the neighbourhood’s attractions and parkland, with plenty of public art along the way; be sure to check out the Matthew Harding sculpture outside the (now closed) Maritime Centre when it’s set aglow at dusk, as well as a larger-than life interactive mural by Trevor Dickinson.
Catch a show
The heritage-listed Civic Theatre is right in the centre of the city, and offers a regular program of concerts, theatre and comedy shows. Nearby is the heritage-listed Newcastle City Hall, built in 1929, which also hosts concerts and other cultural events. While here, look out for murals by famous painters. Newcastle local John Olsen’s 'Climbing Sun Over The Hunter' is the star artwork in the foyer.
Attend a festival or event
Check out Newcastle’s jam-packed events calendar to see what’s on. For avant-garde performances and shows, This is Not Art is held in October. And in August, you can catch performances across the city as part of the Newcastle Music Festival and Newcastle Jazz Festival – the organisers of the latter also host monthly jazz concerts around town. Meanwhile, edgy and diverse shows steal the scene at the March Newcastle Fringe Festival, which never fails to dazzle with its impressive roster of events.
Head to market
Newcastle locals are a creative bunch, and if you’re here on the first Saturday of the month, you’ll have the chance to peruse their talents at the epic Olive Tree Market. This is not your usual community gathering of stalls – you won’t find any lavender pouches or white-bread sausage-sizzles here. Everything has been carefully curated to highlight the city’s (and country’s) standout makers, whether emerging and established artists, designers, ceramicists or artisan producers.
Pay homage to history
Among Newcastle’s most significant historic sites is Fort Scratchley, the city’s first line of defence for almost 100 years. It’s now home to a fascinating museum where you can explore a network of underground tunnels and grab a photo with the fort’s cannons, still standing guard. Don’t miss the striking steel silhouettes of soldiers along the Newcastle Memorial Walk, engraved with the names of people from the region who served in WWI.