An ideas piece by Panos.

Newcastle’s had it tough lately, people. Between the impending implosion of Nathan Tinkler’s empire (more on this later), a cataclysmic shortage of power, and a capital “F” FAIL for year one of Wayne Bennett era, it’s been a year to forget for our brothers north of the Hawkesbury River. And that’s to say nothing for the imposition of Our Julia’s mining tax.

Gillard 1, Barry Hall 0, Newcastle’s Economy -1000

Look, it’s tough out there. More concerning however was that during a recent Sunday visit to the township, there was a distinct feeling that something was missing. A certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, if you will. Suddenly, after passing block after block of closed stores and quiet streets the realisation struck like a bolt of static electricity on a windy day. There was nobody there.

The term “ghost town”, is something that has been looked at in great depth by one of Texas’ favourite sons, T. Lindsay Baker (aka Mr T.). In addition to his campaign to spread the love on one letter first names, Mr T. has spent a lifetime researching ghost towns and  in the books Ghost Towns of Texas and More Ghost Towns of Texas (aka ‘Ghost Towns of Texas 2: The Return!’), proposed that the following criteria be applied in all henceforth classifications of empty and vanished populations:

  1. The town’s reason for being, its raison d’etre,  must no longer exist; and
  2. There must be tangible remains of the town for visitors to see.

Nice list. Towns named after cities in the north of England, with a high proportion of heavy industry (and jobs) in the fossil fuel market, aren’t exactly considered en vogue. So lets skip point number 1. Delving into point two, I prudently decided to take a series of pictures to record the general lack of life, that was on offer. Lucky you.

Exhibit A

All roads lead to nobody around.

Exhibit B

Even the work sites don’t work.

Exhibit C

“Game of pool anyone? ANYONE?!”

If nothing else I think it’s fair to say that the case for a Ghost Town, at least according to the definition proposed by Mr T., is in play here. And, considering we are talking about what was once the second most populated area of NSW (288,732 souls, according to the 2006 census), its hardly the time to throw up our collective hands and move on. As a society, we may have reached the point where anything out of fashion is carelessly discarded to the wastebin. A society where a five cent piece carries as much value in your wallet as one of John Hopoate’s fingers. But lest we forget, this is the city at the heart of the Hunter River folks. Home to Australia’s favourite pill-popper, Andrew Johns, and that model that won the Miss Universe Pageant, Jennifer Hawkins. If nothing else, we must consider what possibilities are available for saving this once great city. Staying on the French theme that has discretely been snuck into this article, let’s explore:

Proposal Un – Formula Un

It’s a little known fact but croaky voiced ex-Premier of NSW, Neville Wran, toyed with the idea of a Formula One grand prix around Sydney’s historic Rocks district, in the early 1980’s. Wran lead the state government of NSW for ten years, to 1986, and the mere mention of his name in the presence of my dad produces a vitriolic condemnation that includes the terms ‘war criminal’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ for the state in which he left the State. But that’s a story for another day. Double Bay was also proposed as a GP venue, and what a delight that would’ve been. Essentially we’d have had our very own Monaco Grand Prix Down Under, only with the added bonus of having a whole bunch less French people milling around between events. Good times. Naturally, like all good proposals for the state of NSW, the idea was kiboshed once local residents realised the event might cause an iota of inconvenience or (God forbid!) change to their usual mundane existence. The ‘not in my back yard’ (NIMBY) crew had won out again. What a pity.

Fast forward a few decades and after the ‘boutique’ feel of the Adelaide Grand Prix, we are now into the 15th year of Melbourne hosting the race. Rather than list the many reasons that people have been taking a shot at the race in recent times, we can summarise the current mood as simply grand prix fatigue. They’re over it. It happens.

Recently, jeweller to the stars Edward Avedis, of Readers Fine Jewellery in Santa Monica, was heard to be snooping around Sydney and Newcastle for areas of potential investment.  A few snaps about town had social media buzzing, but the real reason for his visit is still shrouded in mystery.

With friends like these… Investment is coming to the Hunter.

A relative of ex-Sydney restaurant baron Eric Mirzayan and friend to rising star Sevag Sarkissian, one thing is known for sure: he is a lover of both fine wines and post modern architecture vis-a-vis cities with an industrial edge to their past.

Which brings us to the Hunter:

–        Lack of selfish NIMBY morons… Tick;

–        Harbourside feel synonymous with Monaco and failed Sydney GP idea… Tick;

–        Hardly any French people… Tick;

–        Melbourne ready to give up race hosting rights… Tick; and finally

–        Showcase event for empty city attracting billions in viewership and cash-ship…. Boom, tick.

And besides, as Abu Dhabi and Bahrain have shown, nothing says “Hey look at us! We’re developed and can host things and we’re a safe place to visit if you stick to the touristy areas and don’t go off the beaten track and don’t get stuck anywhere without air conditioning!’ quite like hosting a Formula One race in the modern world.

Proposal Deux – Hollywood meets the Hunter (aka H²)

With all due respect to Sydney’s Fox Studios, a slew of semi hit movies that includes Kangaroo Jack, Superman Returns and (yawn) Australia, hardly cuts the mustard. Indeed after the introduction of a tax credit incentive (Canada) and off the back of film adaptations of  epic high fantasy novels (New Zealand), Australia has found herself sitting still while fellow Commonwealth nations replace her in the pecking order of the international  film making industry. That’s right, something else for New Zealand to beat the Aussies at apart from Rugby.  It shouldn’t have to be so. In Newcastle film makers could have what they’ve always wanted. Real sets, life sized props, and the freedom to create without restriction.  A blank canvas if ever there was one.

Frankly, Strictly Ballroom should no longer be Australia’s best contribution to the world of cinema.

 Proposal Trois – Field Day Revisited

Ever been to a music festival and thought, ‘I love that I get to celebrate something I enjoy with tens of thousands of other party lovers and it’s great feeling a collective ‘one-ness’ with your closest friends and a whole heap of strangers but holy fuck its killing me waiting 45 minutes to take a wizz and I felt like a drink about 20 minutes before I got to this makeshift bar to queue up and overpay for something warm in a plastic cup but now all I feel is old and why are my legs so sore and where are my friends again and MAN I JUST NEED A FUCKING DRINK DAMMIT OR I MIGHT PUNCH THAT IDIOT THAT KEEPS STEPPING ON THE BACK OF MY SHOE INTO THE OUTER REACHES OF THE EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE IF HE DOES IT AGAIN HOLY SHIT HE JUST DID IT AGAIN THAT’S IT!’? Me neither. But all things considered, a deserted city of some 1,103km² probably affords more space for people to move around and enjoy a festival without developing a hyper vigilance disorder that may or may not include the seedlings of lifetime agrophobia. Warrants mentioning.

And you thought Ibiza’s We Love Sundays @ Space parties was as good as it could get.

Proposal Quatre – Nauru Down Under

Australia. Lucky Country. Haven for migrants and refugees. Assylum seekers heaven. Detention centres over-capacity to the extent they have been called factories for producing mental illness. Do I really need to continue? Between the city’s large working port and Sunday emptiness, its amazing this option hasn’t been explored already. For one day a week, our less fortunate brothers and sisters from the ends of the world could be shipped in, and allowed to stretch their legs, so to speak. Not only would it give them a chance to get a feel for their soon to be adopted country, but with the use of strategically placed CCTV cameras, it’d afford the Immigration Department the perfect opportunity to take a look at how well certain visa candidates perform over others. A sort of Big Brother meets The Hunger Games as residency hopefuls are observed in a life sized metropolitan habit, even if only for one day a week. Looks, its better than making them go crazy.

Proposal Cinq – The Manhattan Project

Finally, to our most explosive proposal (pun intended). Recent defence cuts have left Australia hopelessly exposed to external threats in a neighbourhood that is in the early throws of a major arms race. Quick tangent but not like you can blame the government for the cuts either. There was little choice but to find extra funds after the way they have hopelessly mismanaged the nation’s economy and squandered the biggest resources boom in the country’s history. The $80bn being spent on the already-out-of-date copper wiring being rolled out country-wide has to be paid for somehow. But I digress.

With all due respect to the men and women risking their lives for their country, the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) have about as much chance of protecting the country as Labor does of winning another election in our lifetimes. Where does this leave us?

Perhaps it is time to consider the nuclear option. Not nuclear power – a proposal so efficient and sustainable from the point of view of the environment that it just makes too much sense – but nuclear weapons.

George ‘nucular’ Bush, also a favourite son of Texas.

Have a think about it for a sec. Testing could be done on a weekly basis, rather than once a year here and there as our North Korean brothers have done. Not to mention that it could be done on land, rather than risking the destruction of pristine coral atolls, as the aforementioned French tried either.

Great Barrier Reef: “Hey France, thanks for not blowing us to smithereens like you did to Moruroa Attol!”

And while we’re on France, who do you see messing around with them these days?  They haven’t won a war on their merits in two or three hundred years, yet once nuclear-armed, boom! Not even their German paymasters have dared speak against them. And that’s in spite of a national debt that makes Greece look like a tear drop in the Pacific Ocean. We wouldn’t even need to confirm that we actually had the weapons. A selective test one Sunday here, another random test on a Sunday there, and the mere suspicion that we’d developed the means of mass destruction would negate the need for any further spending on defence. This kills one stone with two birds, fixing the gap in defence capabilities and Labors gap in economic competence at the same time. Win, win. Further to this, should Nathan Tinkler turn his attention from coal mining to uranium extraction, the fallout period of approximately 300 years will dovetail nicely with the amount of time it will take him to rebuild his lost fortune.

Hang in there, Nathan.

In summary, the vast untapped potential that exists every Sunday in the city of Newcastle is like a great big puppy, just waiting to get cupped. Cupped into the embrace of a nation that says we can make use of your deserted streets by turning them into a harbour-side GP a la Monte Carlo. We can lift you up from the horrors of loneliness (by replacing them with the horrors of a nuclear winter). In short, stay ghostly for now Newcastle but change could be coming sooner than you think. Boatloads of refugees and clubbers are counting on it and so is Paul Mercurio’s agent. In the mean time, do what you gotta do.

At The Rogue Couch we can only show you the door. It is up to you, to walk through it.