I was unprepared for the effect of seeing Newcastle again after ten years. The stories I’d been lead to believe are that it’s undergone steadily increasing growth during that time.
Situated on the Pacific Highway, Charlestown was the city’s boom suburb when I left, and rumours are flying that it’s still a hive of economic activity. However the corporate event I was participating in confined me to the older districts of Hunter Street and the Entertainment Centre at Broadmeadow. (Incidentally I erroneously described that earlier as an Annual General Meeting, but shortly before leaving Sydney learned that it was a Scheme of Arrangements).
Several of the staff described the area as a "ghost town." I wouldn’t have been able to disagree with them if I’d wanted to. Especially after arriving in the main street. What I saw there was eerie. The sight of closed shops with "To lease" signs is something I was well accustomed to, but not buildings that were boarded up, utterly derelict, graffiti smeared and disintegrating. At the same time there were numerous large buildings that looked brand new, towering above the city’s general skyline. The place had a feel as if it were in the process of reconstructing after a war. There were new multi-story motels all over the place. The old wharves had been converted into waterfront apartments, and one of the smart alecs in our group claimed that some of these were selling at $900,000 per property. Don’t ask me what was fuelling this growth; I haven’t a clue. One sight of the derelict buildings though reminded me that there was an undeniable gulf between rich and poor.
We arrived there around 6:30pm on Wednesday (yes, it’s taken me this long to resume my internet activities). The corporate dinner we shared was exquisite, although we waited well over an hour to be served, on the excuse that "the kitchen had received several large orders." As an easy demonstration of the ability for a herbivore to gorge himself I ordered TWO meals; roast pumpkin penne and a char grilled vegetarian pizza which despite being one of the last served I consumed long before anyone else had finished eating! Ha!
Some of us (myself included) had wondered how the client company was able to afford individual motel rooms for us. That was easily answered; they were minuscule and had poly-eurothane shower stalls.
We’d placed bets on the number of attendees for the S of A, with a predicted range of 150-900. The arrivals fell well short of my predicted 600, as we only had about 260 people arrive (I’m still waiting to hear the exact figure at work today). Mostly old fools with nothing better to do than gripe and whinge. The schedule included a Q & A session that was supposed to last no longer than 30 minutes. The grumblers extended this to 75 minutes.
All of my team was eager to leave, but none more so than I. The hope that I would not find Newcastle familiar any more proved untrue. Every direction I looked brought back various memories, mostly unpleasant. With the career strife I’ve endured I’d spent much time wondering if leaving the city of my childhood had been a wise idea. Now I have no qualms that it was the ONLY answer, and yet something in the back of my mind was trying to hypnotise me into wandering on autopilot into those old deserted streets.
Returning to the suburb I currently live everything seemed vague and less familiar than the places I’d not set foot in for the better part of a decade. I’m back in my regular routine now, and although it’s not ideal I’d rather be here than a city which doesn’t appear to know what its doing with itself.