Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Nobbys Redevelopment : The Issues

In the Public Interest
To the Councillors of the Newcastle City Council

Dear Councillors,

Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba) and Nobbys Lighthouse (1857) at the entrance to the River, Newcastle NSW.

1. I apologise for not sending this material to you earlier and for not sending it to you individually. (It is the holidays and I have family commitments).

2. I am trying to let you know the issues regarding the Nobbys Lighthouse and the significance of the Coal River Precinct birth Site of Newcastle.

3. The previous Council behaved badly regarding this matter and allowed the proposal to slip through as a Crown Development using S.116C EP&A Act without transparent assessment.

4. The proponents were also in breach of Commonwealth law and the Port Corporation ultimately widened the roadway without development consent.

5. The Conservation Movement of NSW will have to start campaigning in the New Year to have the Headland transferred to the Parks Service or a Community Trust so that it can be opened to the public without further delay. (The Headland should be open to the public now)

6. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is inviting public comment on the latest proposal by the 8th January 2008. Documents are below. (Reference Number: 2008/4672)

Title of Referral: Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd/Tourism and recreation/adjacent to Nobbys Lighthouse, Newcastle/NSW/Nobbys Headland Redevelopment
Date Received: 22 Dec 2008 Reference Number: 2008/4672
Notification from EPBC Act Date of Notice Documents
  • Invitation for Public Comment on Referral
22 Dec 2008 Referral Attachment A Attachment B Attachment F Attachment D Attachment E Attachment C

Doug L.


1. Nobbys Headland should be a National Park and freely open to the public as are other lighthouse sites in New South Wales.

2. It is of National significance and could be administered by the Parks Service or a Community Trust but must not be privatised.

3. The recently built brick garage against the lighthouse should be removed and no new houses built.

4. It is the most widely recognised symbol of the City of Newcastle and an Aboriginal Dreaming Place of great significance.

5. Nobbys headland (Whibayganba) is Newcastle’s unique heritage landmark:

5.1 Nobbys was formerly an island.

5.2 It was connected to the mainland by a convict built breakwater Macquarie Pier (1818 -1846) and is an integral part of the Heritage Listed Coal River Precinct (SHR1647).

5.3 Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct is a cultural landscape of national significance and has Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba) at its focal point.

5.4 Its landform, heritage places, relics, and buildings symbolise major events in Australia’s journey to nationhood:

5.4.1 The discovery of winnable coal, the first coalmine in the southern hemisphere and Australia’s first export industry. The founding of Newcastle and the transition from convictism to free labour and from government industry to private enterprise.

5.4.2 The establishment of the first coal fired beacon on the Australian coast and its replacement by the still operational Nobbys Lighthouse.

5.4.3 The protection of the port with the construction of Macquarie Pier 1818 and the building of the fortifications at Fort Scratchley 1882.

Nobbys or Whibayganba 1828

Nobbys or Whibayganba from Sir Thomas Mitchell's 1828 Fieldbook

Newcastle from the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) (1828)

Below is a copy of a letter sent to the former Premier of NSW the Hon Morris Iemma MP on the 30th May 2008:

Dear Premier,

Nobbys and Newcastle's Coal River Precinct: Birthplace of a City

Parks and Playgrounds Movement is pleased to report the decision, of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment , Heritage and the Arts, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, to reject the development that would have adversely affected Newcastle’s unique Nobbys Lighthouse.

I feel sure you would agree that we must all take care that the historic Nobbys Lighthouse continues to stand proud and free as shown in the historic photograph below in any future adaptive reuse of the signalman’s cottages.

1902 view of Nobbys Lighthouse Newcastle NSW
(State Library of NSW)

We had been perturbed by the shelf company, Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd proposing to alienate the lighthouse in breach of commonwealth legislation and that the private development was incorrectly assessed as a Crown Development Application.

Nobbys and Nobbys Lighthouse are the cultural symbols of Newcastle and should not have been dealt with in this way. The Lighthouse is an important aid to navigation and is the successor to the first light on the Australian coast which was a beacon fuelled by coal mined by convict coalminers at Colliers Point beneath what is now Fort Scratchley.

The lighthouse is of particular significance to Newcastle and is seen in the old and the new city Coat of Arms and in the Newcastle City Hall clock tower which is a representation of the ancient Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement have a continuing interest in this notable place dating from 1969 when we first proposed the statutory recognition of the area as a historic site. The proposal including Nobbys, the convict breakwater and the convict coal mines, Fort Scratchley and Shortland’s camp location.

In 1999 we prepared a Prospectus for the Coal River Historic Site and a ten point plan for the Newcastle Lord Mayor, John Tate, to take to Canberra but were disappointed when the funding gained was not used to prepare the Masterplan as envisaged.

The lighthouse controversy and the intervention of the Commonwealth Minister has saved Nobbys lighthouse and given the Coal River Precinct the national focus it deserves and has highlighted the need for a guiding overall conservation plan.

We appeal to your Government to look with new clarity at Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct which is the birth place of our city and has made an immense contribution to the history and heritage of Australia.

Furthermore we particularly ask that your Government favourably endorse the Department of Planning and the Newcastle City Council’s draft Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan for the precinct.

We trust also that the redevelopment of the Port Corporation’s valuable waterfront land around the Pilot Station and Cornish Dock area will be coordinated and professionally managed as an integral part of the whole precinct and that public access be made to the Nobbys headland without further delay.

Yours Sincerely,

Doug Lithgow,
Freeman of the City of Newcastle and
President, Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Escutcheon attached to Nobbys Lighthouse
Lighthouses Act 1911
(Photo taken 2008)

Crown Plans of Nobbys Headland showing military works
and Lighthouse Station

Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba)
Photo taken in 1984.

Chambers for the blowing up of Nobbys with gunpowder were dug by convicts at the base of Nobbys under the direction of Colonel Barney in 1854. Public protest halted the plan to blow up the headland but its height was reduced from 62 metres to 28 metres for the erection of the Nobbys Lighthouse.

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