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The ‘Pasha Bulker’ Storm – June 2007

Most people in Newcastle and the Hunter were looking forward to a relaxing long weekend, planning a few days off. As we now know it was anything but a relaxing long weekend.

The Newcastle and Hunter Region will never forget the weekend when storms and floods closed down the heart of Newcastle, the Pasha Bulker went aground on Nobbys Beach and the levee system around Maitland was pushed to its limit.

MV Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach 2007

On Thursday night, June 7, 2007, the Bureau of Meteorology warned of potential extreme weather conditions with a low pressure cell developing just north of Newcastle.

Over the next 12 hours this low generated gale force south easterlies that buffeted the city until midday on Friday, June 8, redeveloping in the middle of the afternoon as a line of thunderstorms that ceaselessly battered Newcastle throughout the evening, causing life-threatening flash flooding in low lying areas.

There was disastrous damage caused by the flooding but more was to come. At 2am on Saturday, June 9, a second low hit the city.

A family of four and a nephew were killed when a section of road collapsed under their car as they drove along the Pacific Highway at Somersby on the Central Coast. Two people died when their four-wheel drive was swept off a bridge by floodwaters at Clarence Town and a man died near Lambton when he was swept into a storm-water drain.

The following day, a man died when a tree fell onto his vehicle at Brunkerville. Another man died during a house fire that, it is believed, was started by a candle being used during the blackouts caused by the storm. The total death toll rose to ten.

The full ABC Newcastle documentary narrated by Carol Duncan can be viewed below.

Medical Journal of Australia – Mitigating the health impacts of a natural disaster.

CoastalWatch – Analysis of a storm

City Newcastle Flood Information

Header image | Murray McKean 2007

Leading Light or Beacon Towers

Leading Light or Beacon Towers

Newcastle has its very own castle turret on top of The Hill in the form of the Leading Light Tower or Beacon Tower. It was one of two built to assist captains in bringing their ships safely into the port. The coast around Newcastle is littered with hundreds of shipwrecks and the pair of towers built in 1865/1866 helped to increase the safety of vessels entering the Hunter River.

The Leading Light Tower (or Beacon Tower) on the corner of Tyrrell and Brown Streets on The Hill looks a little like an old shot tower, but it’s not. It’s one of the navigational towers that was built in Newcastle in the mid-19th century to allow safe navigation into what was then quite a treacherous harbour

“At that time transportation by sea was pretty much the only way you could get goods in and out of Newcastle so the beacon tower – originally one of a pair built in 1865 – was important to allow captains to bring their vessels into the port unaccompanied and to safely navigate the heads.”

Sarah Cameron – Heritage Strategist
Image | Hunter Photo Bank – “NMH 2.2.1951 p.5. Tower in Brown Street, Newcastle, behind Bishopscourt, / that was originally a lead-light into the harbour.”

In an era of satellite navigation, the tower is low-tech. “It really does look quite medieval but at the time it was pretty high tech. We were really starting to invest in the port. After many shipwrecks the NSW government recognised the importance of trying to protect goods coming in and out of the harbour and to facilitate the expansion of our coal export trade which was really starting to gain momentum.”

This one was built in 1865 but there were two. “The other one was down on Tyrrell St towards to beach so a ship would come around Nobbys head, line up the two towers and once they got them into a line they knew that they were clear of the reef. However, it was designed in Sydney, perhaps not designed by local maritime engineers and there were problems with its effectiveness.

After the loss of a number of ships on the notorious Oyster Bank, the lights became known by mariners as the ‘misleading lights’. Navigators argued that the towers were too close together so the margin of error was around 200 feet. In a big sea, that 200 feet could be crucial. In 1917 the government put in new towers in Church Street and the harbour foreshore where they remain to this day but they’ve been moved around and are now modern structures,” said Sarah.

Built in 1865, the Cawarra disaster happened just the year after the foundation stones for the Lead Light Towers were laid: “Yes, this tower was originally only seven metres tall. It was ineffective once the parsonage was built down on Tyrrell Street and obscured the view of this top tower from the heads. So James Barnet, who was the colonial architect of the time, rebuilt it on the same base but extended it to 20 metres.”

“Barnet was the government architect of the day and he’d have had a team working for him. He was responsible for many of the great buildings in NSW including Sydney’s Customs House, Darlinghurst Courthouse and the Australian Museum.” Sarah adds, “You can see his trademark in this tower in that it looks like a castle or chess piece. It’s quite whimsical and fitting for New-Castle! Architecturally it is quite a folly, you have to wonder why anyone would bother.”

The tower used to have a roof over it and a burner in the bottom of the tower which was lit at night so that when ships were entering the heads at night the slot windows would illuminate from within.

“This one has survived which is great for our city as it’s a real icon. The other one of the pair was demolished although the base is still in the front yard of a house down the hill so the archaeological resource remains. It was actually in the garden of the harbour master.”

The doorway to the tower has now been sealed so any maintenance by council engineers has to be done via a cherry picker, but the harbour master was responsible for ensuring that the towers were lit, and stayed lit.

Other navigation devices at the time included the obelisk on Obelisk Hill and Flagstaff Hill which is where Fort Scratchley stands.

“The lighthouse at Nobbys was built in 1854, so there was a whole series of navigational infrastructure put in by the colonial government in order to expand the port and make sure that our coal export trade was able to provide economic benefits to the nation.”

Further reading:

https://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/Explore/History-Heritage/Heritage-attractions/Lead-light-tower

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=2170279

Original article by Carol Duncan on ABC Newcastle 30 March 2012.

Other images | City of Newcastle

City Administration Centre – The Roundhouse

City Administration Centre – The Roundhouse

Romberg & Wood – Illustration of Newcastle City Hall and City Administration Centre | Image Hunter Photo Bank

“It’s a dramatic building – it’s iconic!”

Brian Suters – Architect
Newcastle City Administration Centre under construction | Image City of Newcastle

As the Newcastle Council City Administration Centre enters its new life as a five-star luxury hotel, let’s take a quick look back at its development. Opened in 1977, the ’roundhouse’ was designed by Australian architects Romberg and Boyd in association with Wilson and Suters. Swiss-trained architect Frederick Romberg was also the foundation Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle.

Once home only to a row of tin sheds housing a sheet metal business, the site was earmarked as early as 1950 for development to ease the growing issue of overcrowding at City Hall.

As always, some people were excited by the bold new round design, others not so much.

Newcastle City Council purchased the Frederic Ask Ltd property in 1969 with part of the land to be used for the new administration centre with the aim of relieving cramped conditions for staff working in Newcastle City Hall.

“The City Hall was built in 1929 to house a council that served an area of four square miles and parts of two shires were included and the same building serves. It is a credit to the staff that it has worked efficiently in these conditions. It is time both the public and council employees were given good conditions.”

William Burges – Town Clerk 1969


Site excavation, which included digging several storeys down to create a basement car park, was complicated by the unusually high water table. It required construction of what amounted to an underground dam around its perimeter.

Having been known by many names including the ‘wedding cake, in 2021, Newcastle’s City Administration Centre becomes the Crystalbrook Kingsley hotel.

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Victoria Theatre and Nancy Tapp

Victoria Theatre and Nancy Tapp

“It’s not sad! This is the beginning of bringing the theatre back to what it will be.”

Nancy Tapp – performed at the Victoria Theatre in the 1950s
Nancy Tapp visits the Victoria Theatre in May 2021

One of the most-asked questions on Lost Newcastle is, “What’s happening with the Victoria Theatre?”

Opened in 1876, the state heritage-listed theatre was rebuilt during 1890-91 and is the oldest theatre still standing in NSW.

The extensive 1890 rebuild included a small first class hotel and the seating capacity of the theatre was increased to 1700 people across the three levels of the auditorium. Upgraded again in 1905, changes to liquor laws meant that the theatre had to close its hotel and the theatre was converted to host stage and cinema.

In 1921, the upper balcony and small hotel were removed and the dress circle was rebuilt to make the theatre more suitable for cinema screening. Hoyts took over the Victoria in 1942 and the theatre continued to show films until 1966 and the theatre itself was closed.

Eastham’s bought the building in 1966 and significant interior additions of false walls, floors and ceilings create a retail space that continue to operate until the early 1990s.

The Victoria Theatre remained shuttered for over a decade but the purchase of the theatre by Century Venues in 2015 means that a new life for this grand old dame is hopefully not too far away.

Heritage listed by the NSW State Government in 1999, the Victoria Theatre is the oldest theatre building still standing in NSW and has worked as a theatre screening silent films, vaudeville and theatre and remains virtually intact. The installation of the retail spaces covered the interior features of the theatre and, fortunately, ensured their preservation.

The City of Newcastle has approved the Development Application lodged by the new owner and work has already commenced to clean decades of rubbish and detritus from the building, and to remove the retails additions.

Further reading on the plans for The Vic from Century Venues: https://www.victoriatheatre.com.au/

Carol Duncan spoke with Nancy Tapp who performed at the Victoria as a young dancer in 1951’s ‘Bless The Bride’ and again in 1953 in ‘Oklahoma’.

Nancy Tapp who performed in the Victoria Theatre in the 1950s

Listen to Nancy in this interview talking about her memories of the Victoria and why she’s excited for its future.

Vera Deacon OAM | 1926 – 2021

Vera Deacon OAM | 1926 – 2021

Born in Mayfield in 1926 but raised on ‘the islands’ in the Hunter River – Dempsey and Mosquito (Moscheto) Islands, ultimately reclaimed to become the Kooragang Island industrial precinct. Vera’s love of the river, its people and its stories is evident in over 20 years she dedicated to restoring the biodiversity of Ash Island.

Vera Deacon receiving her OAM at Government House in 2020

In 2001, Vera began donating to the University of Newcastle’s archives to help ensure that regional history records could be acquired and conserved. The Vera Deacon Regional History Fund was established in 2008.

In 2020, Vera was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to community history and to conservation, and was additionally made a Freeman of the City of Newcastle. In typical Vera fashion, she insisted, “I can think of 100 other people who should have been ahead of me!”

In May 2021, Stories Of Our Town produced this short film on Vera for Newcastle Libraries. Vera was one of our last living links to the ‘Islanders’ – the families who made their lives and homes on a part of the Hunter River that has largely disappeared.

Vera’s book, ‘Singing Back The River’, is a collection of stories written over 60 years and was edited and published by her friend, Marilla North, “Vera’s stories need to be collected for posterity and brought into the 21st century so they can be widely disseminated.”

“She always said ‘we stand on the shoulders of others’ when referring to our pioneer ancestors and all Novocastrian feminists – pathfinders such as the late Mayor Joy Cummings – but especially she revered those working-class heroines of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley – the Lysaght’s Girls on the Owen Gun assembly line during WW11. Vera Deacon had respect for decent ordinary people. She has all of ours.”

Vera Deacon – left rear

Vera Deacon – feminist, historian, environmentalist, philanthropist – died at the age of 94 on 18 May 2021.