13 March 2014
Every city is different, characterised by its own unique history and quirks. Some have more obvious features than others, boasting iconic landmarks or attractions; other towns have stories beneath the surface. I often find myself with a penchant for cities that expose themselves after a bit of digging. Just up the coast from Sydney, Newcastle uncovered itself in an exciting way.
Established as an industrial zone and the largest coal exporting harbour in the world, ports, factories and warehouses dominated the landscape of the city for years. As time has progressed, the industrial side of things settled down and left Newcastle as a post-industrial city with amazingly beautiful beaches and full of people well equipped with trade skills. Because of that, the spirit of crafting is instilled deep in its roots and may be its most fun and endearing quality. Everywhere you look, there are hallmarks of craft.
One of my first stops was to Jimmy Figgs Bare-knuckle Barber, a traditional, mens-only barber shop that employs the use of old-fashioned straight razors, hot towels, and Brylcreem (a mens hair styling product first created in 1928). Specialising in gentleman’s cuts, a Jimmy Figgs shave and haircut will have you looking like you’ve stepped out of a 1950’s magazine. I found myself nearly falling asleep with steaming hot towels, hot oil and warm shaving cream on my face – I woke up a new man, hardly recognising my own smooth face in the mirror!
Jimmy Figgs owner, Kris Leck, is also a board member of the not-for-profit company Renew Newcastle. The organisation finds old industrial sites, cleans and renovates them, and then offers the space to cultural projects or community groups. This gives new life to old buildings, new opportunities for aspiring businesses and often results in a commercial sale of the renovated property. Projects like Renew Newcastle have turned Newcastle into a hotspot for emerging startups, art and architecture. With the collaboration of so many skilled people, big ideas have repeatedly turned into success stories.
Newcastle Craft Beer Week kicked off as I was in town and a handful of different local brewers took over the tap handles at The Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe to celebrate. Each tap handle represented a different company philosophy and process, with results you could see and taste. Not subject to weather in the way that winemaking is, brewing beer maintains itself as a prime example of craftiness and dedication. The camaraderie in the room was visible as people celebrated their products. Later in the week, The Albion Hotel hosted Lachlan McBean, owner and master brewer of Grainfed Brewing Company, to brew on site with enthusiasts and fans. It was clear to me that Newcastle is home to many passionate individuals in various fields from food and beverage to sport and surfing.
Some of the best surfers in the world find their way into Newcastle every year for Surfest. This year, on Mereweather Beach, low-key vibes from onlookers were juxtaposed with the fierce competition in the water. Though the surfing was intense, hellos, hugs and smiles were constant between each heat. I was lucky enough to get my own private surfing lesson with Aussie legend, Nathan Hedge, who treated me like he did all the pros in the water – despite me being far from one! Just up the coast, the beach remained completely available to relax on and provided amazing scenery like this.
Newcastle is a place full of easy-going, yet passionate people who are dedicated to their craft. You’ll see that everywhere you look in Newcastle, whether it’s the food, beverage, sport, or business culture. Rather than keeping exclusive, the locals are looking for every opportunity to share what they’ve created: authenticity.