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Port Adelaide: No such thing as hopeless

Monday, 11 February 2013
Author: Daniel Bennett, Indaily

OVER in New South Wales, Sydneysiders once chastised and mocked their Novocastrian counterparts.

It was a steel city, largely working-class, dirty, lacking sophistication, almost all fibro housing. When I was a kid, Newcastle was a place to drive past on the way to the north coast. All I can remember is the smog, semi-trailers, fumes and "ugliness" of Hexham, on the outskirts of the place. Even the Sydney-to-Newcastle expressway (one of Australia's busiest interconnecting roads) finishes outside the steel city, aiming towards the north coast.

How things change in less than a generation.

I try to visit Newcastle at least once a year now, to see the richness and beauty of its city centre, and to see what lessons we might apply to the Port. It has suffered in recent years as BHP Billiton closed the steel smelters, and as the heartbeat of industrial NSW moved elsewhere.

The beautifully located centre at the end of a long peninsula - with the Tasman Sea and the coastal cliffs on one side, and the various reaches of the mighty Hunter River on the other side - begs exploring. Nobbys Lighthouse, located on the bluff at the end of Newcastle's city centre, peers over the CBD and provides a beacon for the big coal ships entering and leaving the harbour. It is a stunning location for a major city.

Newcastle is Port Adelaide. Or, it's that version of Port Adelaide we all imagine. The Port, rebuilt, resuscitated, re-enlivened. A place realising its potential.

The Hunter River waterfront has been somewhat redeveloped over 20 years after a concerted effort by the former Honeysuckle Corporation (a former NSW Government agency), with some lessons for Port Adelaide. Established in 1992, the organisation was responsible for one of Australia's (then) largest urban renewal projects. It is still redeveloping portions of the 50ha site, including derelict land and buildings along Newcastle Harbour adjacent to the CBD. It led a process of investment in the public domain, coupled with partnerships to develop parcels of land with the private sector. The precinct is pleasant, has a good pedestrian scale, and has focused on the riverfront access.

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