The Newcastle metropolitan area is the second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales and includes most of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas. It is the hub of the Greater Newcastle area which includes most parts of the local government areas of City of Newcastle, City of Lake Macquarie, City of Cessnock, City of Maitland and Port Stephens Council.
162 kilometres (101 mi) NNE of Sydney, at the mouth of the Hunter River, it is the predominant city within the Hunter Region. Famous for its coal, Newcastle is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world, exporting over 97 Mt of coal in 2009–10 with plans to expand annual capacity to 180 Mt by 2013. Beyond the city, the Hunter Region possesses large coal deposits. Geologically, the area is located in the central-eastern part of the Sydney basin.
Central Newcastle in 2007, viewed from Stockton, across the harbour.
In September 1797 Lieutenant John Shortland became the first European to explore the area. His discovery of the area was largely accidental; as he had been sent in search of a number of convicts who had seized HMS Cumberland as she was sailing from Sydney Cove.
While returning, Lt. Shortland entered what he later described as "a very fine river", which he named after New South Wales' Governor John Hunter. He returned with reports of the deep-water port and the area's abundant coal. Over the next two years, coal mined from the area was the New South Wales colony's first export.
Newcastle gained a reputation as a "hellhole" as it was a place where the most dangerous convicts were sent to dig in the coal mines as harsh punishment for their crimes.
By the start of the 19th century the mouth of the Hunter River was being visited by diverse groups of men, including coal diggers, timber-cutters, and more escaped convicts. Philip Gidley King, the Governor of New South Wales from 1800, decided on a more positive approach to exploit the now obvious natural resources of the Hunter Valley,
In 1801, a convict camp called King's Town (named after Governor King) was established to mine coal and cut timber. In the same year, the first shipment of coal was dispatched to Sydney. This settlement closed less than a year later.
A settlement was again attempted in 1804, as a place of secondary punishment for unruly convicts. The settlement was named Coal River, also Kingstown and then renamed Newcastle, after England's famous coal port. The name first appeared by the commission issued by Governor King on 15 March 1804 to Lieutenant Charles Menzies of the marine detachment on HMS Calcutta, then at Port Jackson, appointing him superintendent of the new settlement.
The new settlement, comprising convicts and a military guard, arrived at the Hunter River on 27 March 1804 in three ships:HMS Lady Nelson, the Resource and the James. The convicts were rebels from the 1804 Castle Hill convict rebellion.
The link with Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, its namesake and also whence many of the 19th century coal miners came, is still obvious in some of the place-names – such as Jesmond, Hexham, Wickham, Wallsend and Gateshead. Morpeth New South Wales is a similar distance north of Newcastle as Morpeth, Northumberland is north of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Under Captain James Wallis, commandant from 1815 to 1818, the convicts' conditions improved, and a building boom began. Captain Wallis laid out the streets of the town, built the first church of the site of the present Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, erected the old gaol on the seashore, and began work on the breakwater which now joins Nobbys Head to the mainland. The quality of these first buildings was poor, and only (a much reinforced) breakwater survives. During this period, in 1816, the oldest public school in Australia was built in Newcastle East.
Newcastle remained a penal settlement until 1822, when the settlement was opened up to farming. As a penal colony, the military rule was harsh, especially at Limeburners' Bay, on the inner side of Stockton peninsula. There, convicts were sent to burn oyster shells for making lime.
Military rule in Newcastle ended in 1823. Prisoner numbers were reduced to 100 (most of these were employed on the building of the breakwater), and the remaining 900 were sent to Port Macquarie.
After removal of the last convicts in 1823, the town was freed from the infamous influence of the penal law. It began to acquire the aspect of a typical Australian pioneer settlement, and a steady flow of free settlers poured into the hinterland.
The formation during the nineteenth century of the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company saw the establishment of regular steamship services from Morpeth and Newcastle with Sydney. The company had a fleet of freighters as well as several fast passenger vessels, including the PS Newcastleand the PS Namoi. The Namoi had first-class cabins with the latest facilities.
Because of the coal supply, small ships plied between Newcastle and Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, carrying coal to gas works and bunkers for shipping, and railways. These were commonly known as "sixty-milers", referring to the nautical journey between Newcastle and Sydney. These ships continued in service until recent times.
During the Second World War, Newcastle was an important industrial centre for the Australian war effort. Consequently, it was considered to be a potential Japanese target during the Second World War.
In the early hours of 8 June 1942, the Japanese submarine I-21 briefly shelled Newcastle. Among the areas hit within the city were dockyards, the steel works, Parnell Place in the city's now affluent East End, the breakwall and Art Deco ocean baths. There were no casualties in the attack and damage was minimal.
Newcastle as a traditional area of heavy industry was not immune from the effects of economic downturns since the 1970s. These downturns were particularly hard hitting for heavy industry which was particularly prevalent in Newcastle. The early 1990s recession caused significant job losses across Australia and the Newcastle LGA experienced a peak unemployment rate of 17% in February 1993, compared to 12.1% in NSW and 11.9% across Australia. As Australia recovered from the early 1990s recession, the economy of Newcastle did too and the jobless rate rapidly fell. However, it consistently remained above that of NSW.
In 1999, the steelworks closed after 84 years operation and had employed about 50,000 in its existence, many for decades. The closure of the BHP steelworks occurred at a time of strong economic expansion in Australia. At the time of the closure and since the closure Newcastle experienced a significant amount of economic diversification which has strengthened the local economy. Despite this, the closure caused a deterioration of the employment situation in Newcastle where the unemployment rate rose rapidly to almost 12% from under 9% at the previous trough just prior to the closure.
Since 2003, Australia experienced the effects of the 2000s commodities boom as commodities prices for majorexport good such as coal and iron ore rose significantly. This provided a large incentive for investment in the Newcastle and Hunter region due to its status as a major coal mining and export hub to Asian markets. Large projects related to the coal industry helped to propel the Newcastle unemployment rate to 20 year lows and allow the Newcastle region to weather the effects of the late 2000s recession better than NSW as a whole.
As of 2009 the two largest single employers are the Hunter New England Area Health Service and the University of Newcastle. (formerly Newcastle Stock Exchange) is based in the city.
The Port of Newcastle remains the economic and trade centre for the resource rich Hunter Valley and for much of the north and northwest of New South Wales. Newcastle is the world's largest coal export port and Australia's oldest and second largest tonnage throughput port, with over 3,000 shipping movements handling cargo of 95.8 Mt per annum, of which coal exports represented 90.8 Mt in 2008–09. The volume of coal exported, and attempts to increase coal exports, are opposed by environmental groups.
Newcastle has a small shipbuilding industry, which has declined since the 1970s. In recent years the only major ship-construction contract awarded to the area was the construction of the Huon class minehunters.
The era of extensive heavy industry passed when the steel works closed in 1999. Many of the remaining manufacturing industries have located themselves well away from the city itself.
Newcastle has one of the oldest theatre districts in Australia. Victoria Theatre on Perkins St is the oldest purpose-built theatre in the country. The theatre district that occupied the area around what is now the Hunter St Mall vanished during the 1940s.
The old city centre has seen some new apartments and hotels built in recent years, but the rate of commercial and retail occupation remains low while alternate suburban centres have become more important. The CBD itself is shifting to the west, towards the major urban renewal area known as "Honeysuckle". This renewal, to run for another 10 years, is a major part of arresting the shift of business and residents to the suburbs.
Commercial renewal has been accompanied by cultural renaissance. There is a vibrant arts scene in the city including a highly regarded art gallery, and an active Hunter Writers' Centre. Recent fictional representations (for example Antoinette Eklund's 'Steel River' present a new vision of the city, using the city's historic past as a backdrop for contemporary fiction.
The old central business district, located at Newcastle's eastern end, still has a considerable number of historic buildings, dominated by Christ Church Cathedral, seat of the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle. Other noteworthy buildings include Fort Scratchley, the Ocean Baths, the old Customs House, the 1920s City Hall, the 1890s Longworth Institute (once regarded as the finest building in the colony) and the 1930s art deco University House (formerly NESCA House, seen in the film Superman Returns).
A heritage area to the east of the Central Business District, centred on Christ Church Cathedral, has many Victorian terrace houses.
The oldest state school in the area is Newcastle East Public School, a primary school established in 1816. Newcastle East Public School is the oldest continuously operating school in Australia, and will celebrate its bicentenary in 2016. Newcastle High School, which was formed by the merger of three schools, traces its lineage to a secondary school section initially founded on the grounds of Newcastle East Public School. There are three selective state schools in the area. Hunter School Of Performing Arts is a fully selective K-12 school and only takes students by audition. Merewether High School is a fully selective high school in the suburb of Broadmeadow. Hunter Sports High School is a partially selective sporting high school. The school accepts around half its students from the local area and around half by audition.
The city's main provider of tertiary education is the The University of Newcastle. It was established in 1951 as a satellite campus of the University of Newcastle and obtained autonomy in 1965. The University now offers over 150 undergraduate and graduate courses to a student population of more than 32,000, including 7,300 international students from more than 80 countries. The main campus is in the suburb of Callaghan approximately 12 km (7 mi) from the CBD.
There are three campuses of the Hunter Institute TAFE NSW, one located in the Newcastle CBD, one in the suburb of Hamilton Eastand the other located in the suburb of Tighes Hill The Tighes Hill campus is the network's largest campus and offers courses in business, hospitality and various trades.