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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.

Palo Alto – Hamilton

Palo Alto – Hamilton

 

Hamilton’s Palo Alto is a piece of Art Deco bliss built for Mr William Herbert of Silsoe Street, Hamilton, in 1935. On the market for the first time since 1961, the building is a pure Art Deco time capsule.

This 1935 description of the Herbert’s new home paints quite a picture of luxury and the use of advanced finishes often used in theatres. Unsurprising given William Herbert’s many years of operating theatres in Australia. Having emigrated from the US, Herbert’s first theatres travelled Australia showing silent movies until he settled in Newcastle in 1907.

William Herbert died in Newcastle in 1947 at the age of 80. 

Article | Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 9 March 1935.

MODERN HOME

Many Unique Features

W. HERBERT’S NEW RESIDENCE

The new residence just completed at a cost of £2800 for Mr. W. Herbert, an interior illustration of which appears on this page, is situated on a corner position in the Garden Suburb, with a frontage of 130ft. to Kemp-street and 90ft. to Silsoe-street, Hamilton. During the erection period this building attracted numerous visitors, whose interest was centred on some of its novel features, showing that it has been the designer’s desire to originate rather than imitate.

An interior view of the lounge room at the newly-erected residence of Mr. W. Herbert, at Hamilton. The doors open on to the vestibule. The fixture shown on the wall is the modern, type of electric light fitting used In the home. Image: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 9 March 1935.

 

The exterior of the building presents a restful yet commanding appearance, with spacious entrance loggia and front verandah enclosed by massive stone piers and stone balustrading. These form a pleasing contrast to the chocolate coloured bricks as a background, and the dark tiled roof, with large overhanging eaves and nicely proportioned roof lines. A special feature is the introduction of Gosford white stone, which was brought from the quarries in large slabs and worked up into building blocks on the site. The entrance loggia, 14ft. by 11ft., and the front verandah, 19ft. by lift., are built entirely in rustic stonework, set with inverted black joints. The foundation around the building and the bay window bases are also built of stone. The stone fence built out to both frontages is a striking example of stonework treatment, and, with the distinctive iron gates, enhances the quality of the home.

The layout of the house is unique with straightforward and convenient access to any room, yet lending itself to good separation of the different functions of the house. Sleeping quarters are completely isolated from the living portion a pair of glass swing doors, hung midway down the hall.

SOFT TEXTURED WALLS.

On entering the vestibule from the tiled loggia, one is struck by the soft textured walls, which are decorated on acoustic boarding in an ashbar pattern suggestive of a stonework interior. The 5ft. wide hall is of similar treatment to the vestibule, with built-in cloak cupboards on either side, equipped with hat racks, and enclosed with maple sliding doors. From the vestibule a pair of sliding glass doors of a distinctive futuristic design open into the lounge room. This room is 18ft. by 16ft., with a large bay window, stucco dome ceiling, white stone fireplace, and built-in bookcase; the soft textured walls are set in panels, of a tiled pattern celotex framed in maple mouldings.

The dining room, 19ft. by 15ft., is connected to the lounge room by a pair of large sliding glass doors, which, when open, together with the double verandah doors, will form a large area for entertainment purposes. This room, finished in an ivory tint, forms a pleasing background to the Tudor arch fireplace, with stepped mantel shelves diminishing to built-in maple china cabinets on each side.

The four large bedrooms and the bathroom are grouped in the western portion of the house, each being equipped with spacious built-in wardrobes fitted with bevelled plate glass mirrors. In the lobby central to this group of rooms a large double built-in linen press is erected, with suitcase cupboards overhead, and with medicine and electric cleaner cabinets. The decorating scheme of this portion of the house shows artistic forethought and originality, being a departure from any standard practice. The walls, which are stepped, in keeping with the modern desire for horizontal lines, are brought down in soft delicate tints of greens, blues, and creams, with gold lines cut in on the steppings, the colour, of course, being varied in each room in accordance with its location. The doors, windows, architraves, and skirtings are flat finished in delicate two-tone greens or blues, with the mouldings brought out in gold.

The bathroom, situated centrally in the bedroom group, is modern and spacious in design. Special attention has been paid to the window scheme in order to provide correct lighting and ventilation. A double light bay window has been introduced, throwing natural light on each side of the person in front of the built-in shaving cabinet mirror. The built-in Roman type bath is set back in a tiled alcove on a raised black tiled platform, the ceiling of which encloses the shower in a chrome-plated panel. Hot water is supplied to bath shower, bath and basin, from an automatic electric beater installed above the ceiling. The walls are oyster coloured mottled tile, treated with black and orange tiles, and finished above in ivory tints to the domed ceiling. The floor is finished in terrazo, with margins and centre set out on brass inlay.

MODERN AND PRACTICAL

The sunroom, with its large window seat, is situated on the north-eastern corner of the house, and the walls are finished in celotex. The kitchen, 13ft. by 11ft., situated at a central point of the house, is planned on modern and practical lines. The Monel metal sink, with double drainers, is situated centrally in front of the broad triple box frame window.

‘There is a liberal supply of built-in cabinets and drawers. The cabinets are finished in pale green enamel, with black facings, to the same tone as the wall tiles. There is a modern electric stove, double electric refrigerator; automatic electric sink heater, and electric iron cabinet. The laundry, situated near the rear porch, is equipped with porcelain enamel pedestal type washtubs, and electric copper.

The lighting scheme throughout is modern, planned for correct and harmonious lighting to each individual room. A number of the fittings were specially made for this installation. A number of the rooms are equipped with flush type built-in ceiling boxes of novel design, with the addition of modern wall brackets, and a pair of special two-tone built-in flush type arch clarks illuminate the vestibule and hall, in addition to a pair of distinctive wall brackets. 

A number of flush fittings are concealed in the overhung eaves operated by two-way switches for illuminating the exterior of the building, in addition to the lantern type verandah lamps.

A large brick, tiled roof double garage, with double six-leaf sliding doors, and roofed pagoda front, erected on massive stone piers, is a fitting adjunct to the main building, with concrete drive approach, trellises, and lawns.

The principal contractor for the building was Mr L. W. Sowerby.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 9 March 1935.

2021 photos | Walkom Real Estate

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The Sea Nymph

The Sea Nymph

The Sea Nymph | Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate – 15 December 1939.

“This little siren has an unaffected charm as she paddles in the “ocean” at the World Map pool near Newcastle Baths.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to identify this ‘sea nymph’ who – if still alive – would perhaps be in her 80s.

 

Newcastle Rocket Brigade

Newcastle Rocket Brigade

Newcastle has a long maritime history, but sadly part of that history includes a coastline that is now littered with numerous shipwrecks that cost many lives. But sometimes, the hardworking lifeboat crews and rocket brigades were able to save the lives of passengers and crew of ships wrecked on our coast.


The Newcastle Rocket Brigades were in operation from 1866 until 1974, often working alongside the lifeboat crews, and were a crucial part of trying to save the lives of those on board vessels that foundered along our coast.

The job of the Rocket Brigade was to attach a line from the beach to a distressed vessel in order to enable a ‘breeches buoy’ or other device to be hauled to the ship and return passengers and crew safely to the shore.

“If the ships were too close to the shore, the lifeboats wouldn’t be able to get to them. So if a ship was beached but there was still so much water raging around them, people couldn’t get off safely.”

The Newcastle Lifeboat Service operated from 1838 until 1946, but the Rocket Brigade was still in service until 1974 and was last used on the Sygna. Indeed, one of my volunteers was trained around 1965.”

Deb Mastello says Newcastle was an incredibly difficult port, “It was so dangerous to come in here, especially before the breakwater was built. Ships that tried to come in between Nobbys and the mainland – that was just craziness.”

There are over 200 shipwrecks that are known of around our part of the coast and Deb assumes there are more, “They’re just the ones we know of. Who knows how many left and were never seen again. We have records of some of those.”

Many of our local beaches gained their names from shipwrecks, Susan Gilmore Beach at the northern end of Bar Beach is just one.

“The Susan Gilmore was coming north on the 4th of July in 1884. She ran into a bit of trouble and they tried to tow her in but the seas were too rough and it came ashore.”

“A couple of our steam tugs attempted to pull the Susan Gilmore off the beach but couldn’t do it, so the Rocket Brigade was called in to action.”

“Depending on which beach, they would have to pick up all of their equipment – it wasn’t just the rocket, it was stands, tripods and ropes – and they’d have to carry it all to the beach. If they were lucky they might have a cart they could use to load up and have the equipment horse-drawn to the beach, but they were probably exhausted by the time they got there.”

“They would have to find the shipwreck on a dark and stormy night, because these things never seem to happen in the middle of the day, and they would have to fire a rocket to the vessel.”

“Attached to the rocket was a light piece of rope and they’d have to fire it over the ship – bearing in mind they were dealing with storms and perhaps 100km per hour winds. All being well, the light rope would be secured to the ship and a heavier rope would be pulled from the beach up to the ship.”

“Then, a pulley would be pulled up and attached to that would be a ‘breeches buoy’ which was large lifering with a big canvas bag in it and two holes in the bottom for your legs. So you got into it and it was a sort of flying fox arrangement, in a storm in the middle of the night to the beach.”

“The wife of the Captain of the Susan Gilmore actually got dunked a couple of times but all people on board were rescued including two dogs, a cat and a canary.”

The rocket that Deb Mastello brought in from the Newcastle Maritime Centre collection came from the southern Rocket Brigade, there was another Rocket Brigade on Stockton, “Our rocket cart was also used down at Catherine Hill Bay.”

Some of the vessels attended by the rocket brigade

Susan Gilmore

At 11pm on 4th July, 1884, the Susan Gilmore struck a short stretch of sand beyond a ring of rocks – Bar Beach. The seas were too rough for the lifeboat to venture near so the Rocket Brigade fired a line over the wreck, and with a breaches buoy hauled in the Captain’s wife and son, the some of the crew. All were saved.

1888 Wreck of the Berbice on Stockton Beach. Photo. UoN Cultural Collections.

Berbice

On the night of 5th June, 1888, the weather was bad, seas enormous. The Berbice, heavily loaded, foundered near the present Stockton Surf Clubhouse. With seas pounding and waves sweeping over her, the Rocket Brigade went to assist. The first 2 rockets that were fired from the Rocket Cart missed the ship; a third went over the rigging where the crew sheltered. The rescue task was extremely perilous but all the crew was brought ashore in a breeches buoy, dragging each man through the raging surf to the safety of the beach.

Durisdeer

Early in the morning of 27th December, 1895, the Barque Durisdeer, was wrecked off Stockton Beach. The tug’s towline parted near the heads and it is believed that the line fouled on one of the many wrecks in the area. In the early hours of the morning the brigades fired a line over the wreck and, despite all odds were successful in bringing all 18 crew members ashore. Captain Webster was the last to leave.

Wallarah – Catherine Hill Bay, 16 April 1914.

Wallarah

The collier Wallarah was wrecked in Catherine Hill Bay April, 1914. The Rocket Cart, drawn by four horses, left Stockton with eleven men to travel the twenty six miles through the bush of Charlestown and the rough country to the south. Upon arrival eleven men were already ashore, but the remaining six were rescued by rocket apparatus in less than half an hour. The Government employees were docked a day’s pay for being absent from work although they received sevenpence for brigade duty.

Uralla

In June, 1928, the coastal steamer Uralla was caught in a storm damaging her steering. She ended up wrecked on Stockton Beach. The Rocket Brigade was called, but the crew was already safe.



The Star Hotel

The Star Hotel

Star Hotel

Everyone in Newcastle reckons they know someone who was at the Star Hotel on the night of 19 September 1979 – so far that means some 200,000 people claim to have been there.

Newcastle’s Star Hotel is perhaps best known for the riot of 19 September 1979 and the song of the same name by Cold Chisel.

The Star Hotel had never been pretty and by the late 1970s, the owners of the pub – Tooth & Co – had pretty much had enough of trying to improve the reputation of a pub which catered for the seafaring drinkers at the Hunter Street bar, the live music punters at the King Street bar, and Newcastle’s LGBTQI community somewhere in the middle.

In September, the hotel was given one week’s notice of its closure. That didn’t go so well. But there’s more to the Star Hotel than the riot.

The Star Hotel site is a large complex running through from Hunter to King Street but the site is also one of Newcastle’s earliest large commercial complexes with a built history dating back to the 1850s.

Carol Duncan spoke with Sarah Cameron, former Newcastle City Council heritage strategist, about the broader history of the Star Hotel in 2013.

“We seem to think there was an event in the 1970s (the 1979 riot) and that’s about the be all and end all, but the Star Hotel has a really interesting history that runs right back to the early development of Newcastle West back in 1855.”

“I think there’s actually about eight separate buildings that have been joined together and make up this Star Hotel complex, it’s got a really long history, too.”

“The Cameron family built the Star Hotel in 1855 with the coming of the railway line. The Honeysuckle Point railway station was just across the road behind where the TAFE is now.”

“There was a big demand for accommodation for travellers coming off the train and railway workers, construction workers. Ewan Cameron built the Star Hotel realising there was money to be made. He’d made his money on the goldfields in Queensland then came back and started farming at Hexham, became associated with other businessmen in Newcastle and built the Star.”

It’s a group of buildings from the pub, to the family buildings to the accommodation – it’s immense.

“Ewan’s son, Hugh, took over the license in the 1880s. He had a series of stables built so it’s quite possible that some of these buildings could be agglomerations of the stables that were here.”

That would explain network of laneways that run along the side and through the middle of the complex.

“Ewan had previously had wooden cottages here which were all lived in by members of the Cameron clan. The extended family lived on this site originally in not much more than humpies and still spoke Gaelic amongst the family. They came here after being kicked off their highland properties during the Scottish clearances.”

“Hugh Cameron lived until 1921 and had the hotel with one of his daughters, Lena, who also owned the Centennial Hotel up the other end of town.”

“The family had strong links with the Newcastle Jockey Club, a lot of the racehorses would be stabled here at the hotel and the Cameron Handicap is named after them.”

“In the 1880s, the Star was very prosperous because of the Honeysuckle workshops being established, and lots of new businesses in this end of town so the hotel was sort of a dormitory for a lot of construction workers.”

Sarah adds that the hotel also had some very interesting clientele, “Yes, Professor Godfrey and his monkey circus! He came here annually until his monkeys decided to burn down the stables and he was never heard from again.”

The Star Stables were quite notable and they had handlers to take care of the horses. The Cameron’s family hotel on Steel and Hunter Streets was the ‘brother’ of this hotel.

The Newcastle Trades Hall was on the northern side of Hunter Street and many of its members, after the 1890s, would frequent the Star Hotel.

The Camerons had a reputation for being very generous and helping people in need.

“In the coal strike in 1909 the executive of the miners union withdrew all of the funds from the bank because they feared that the government would seize those assets and they wouldn’t be able to pay their miners. So the money was withdrawn, given to the Camerons here at the Star Hotel who basically then had the job of paying miners and miners families during that year-long strike.”

“All of the histories you read of this site describe it as a rabbit warren of rooms. Even when it was still operating as hotel in the 1930s and 1940s there were still dozens of accommodation rooms.”

“Lena Campbell, Hugh Cameron’s daughter, also ran the Centennial Hotel up in Scott Street – which was one of the largest hotels in the southern hemisphere – she owned it for a period of time, kept the freehold title but she leased the hotel to Tooth & Co. Just before her father died she purchased the whole thing outright.”

Listen to Carol Duncan’s 2013 interview with Sarah Cameron – former City of Newcastle Heritage Strategist.

40th Anniversary Star Hotel Riot video by Chit Chat von Loopin Stab. Thanks to the numerous members of Lost Newcastle who contributed their stories and photos to make this possible.

40 years on from the 1979 riot, the band, the publican, the staff, the police, the media and the punters share their stories.