Thursday, January 31, 2008

Whybaygamba Aboriginal Dreaming Place

Aboriginal Heritage

Aboriginal stories about the region remain as oral tradition among Aboriginal communities. The following story about Nobbys was published in the Christian Herald February 1855.

At the entrance of Newcastle there is a small high island, called by the English Nobbys Island. The blacks have a tradition that it is the abode of an immensely large Kangaroo which resides within the centre of the high rock, that occasionally he shakes himself, which causes the Island to tremble and large pieces to fall down, as any one can perceive has been, and still continues to be the case, on the eastern side of the Island. It is evident on the slightest inspection, that at some early period the Island formed part of the main land, the strata correspond with the similar ones of coal, sand, and other stone to those on the opposite shore, nothing but a general convulsion of nature could have affected such a change. Manual labour is now employed to fill up the space betwixt the Island and the main land so as to form a breakwater for the protection of the harbour at Newcastle, and a great part of the top of Nobbys Island has been taken down without reaching the monster kangaroo said to dwell within the rock!

Letter to the Hon Peter Garrett iconic heritage headland decision needed

The Honourable Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment,

Heritage and the Arts

House of Representatives

Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

An opportunity to preserve the iconic Nobby’s Headland from adverse development for the enjoyment of future generations of Australians

Dear Minister Garrett, congratulations on your appointment to head this important ministry which is focussed on protecting Australia’s environmental and cultural heritage values. I am sure that you are aware of the proposal to re-develop the Nobby’s Headland at the mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle. The Nobbys Headland is an enduring and ubiquitous icon in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter Region, relentlessly appearing in logos, letterheads, tee-shirts, and advertisements. Nobbys is the signature landmark of Newcastle - a part of our psyche.

Before you make your determination concerning the Nobby’s re-development proposal, please consider the following issues, summarised as:

· Disturbance to aboriginal heritage site: Excavation and construction of new facilities will disturb the ‘kangaroo spirit’ that resides in the headland known to the Awabakal as Whybaygamba. Awabakal oral tradition has it that the kangaroo shakes his tail when disturbed, thus accounting for the recurring pattern of earthquakes in Newcastle.

· Social Exclusion: While the proponent claims his proposal will open up the headland to all, he boasts of a ‘chefs hat’ restaurant and ‘five-star’ accommodation. Hours of access will be limited. The general public will have to walk to the site unless there are overnight guests or restaurant patrons. Over 30 vehicles a day will traverse Macquarie Pier (1818), a State Heritage item enjoyed by thousands as a public pedestrian promenade. Access to Nobbys can be made viable without the need to construct a restaurant and exclusive accommodation.

· Loss of open space: Buildings already account for 66% of an already crowded site not much larger than a generous suburban housing block. Open space is essential to appreciate the isolated context of the Nobby’s lighthouse and the vistas to be had from the headland.

· Loss of heritage curtilage: The proposed 50-seat glass and steel restaurant will lie within 30cm of the seaward side of the Nobby’s Lighthouse (1857) – the oldest operating lighthouse on the eastern seaboard. The awning of the restaurant overlaps the lighthouse gallery, while the restaurant closely envelopes the lighthouse on its important seaward side. The ability to appreciate the heritage context of this squat historic lighthouse (in Commonwealth ownership) is severely compromised – whether viewed in close proximity on the headland or from important publicly accessible viewpoints such as the Southern Breakwater.

· Loss of heritage values: The close and enveloping nature of the new development combined with its siting on the seaward side of the Nobby’s lighthouse, effectively ‘decapitates’ the lighthouse lantern from its base. From many angles, the lighthouse base will be obscured by the restaurant. Unobstructed visibility is the prime siting rationale for lighthouses. Nobbys lighthouse needs to stand alone to be appreciated as a heritage item. Further, the group of buildings and the open space on Nobbys should be considered as a cultural landscape – as a single unit. The proposed restaurant and enlarged cottages have the visual effect of creating a fused mass with the lighthouse.

· Alternatives to ensure access: Supporters of the re-development argue that it is necessary to ensure access for all, and to generate funding for the maintenance of historic structures. The only heritage-listed building on the headland is the operating lighthouse in Commonwealth ownership. The existing 1940s cottages on site can be adaptively re-used as cafes, souvenir shops, an interpretive centre and public toilets, generating income that Newcastle Port Corporation can utilise to maintain these structures and employ a ranger. Re-use of the cottages would not compromise the heritage value of Nobbys. I have previously toured Nobbys as part of organised tours – little needs to be done to make it publicly accessible other than opening the entrance gate, and adding a short section of safety fencing.

This is an excellent opportunity for the new Federal Government to establish its heritage and environmental credentials by not approving the proposed Nobbys redevelopment on the basis that national heritage values are compromised under the EPBC Act. Non-approval would complement the generous funding made by the previous government toward the restoration of the nearby nationally significant, Fort Scratchley, another key component of the proposed Coal River Heritage Park..

Yours sincerely,

Mark Metrikas

Grad Dip Heritage Studies, UNE

B701/24 Bolton Street


Friday, January 25, 2008

Public Statement for all who care about Newcastle and its heritage



Nobbys is a significant place that is for all of us.

At first glance it may sound great to privatise Nobbys and build an 8 unit Motel style development with Restaurant and a manager’s cottage. Perhaps it could be done in a sympathetic way with some public access thrown in?

In reality, it’s over development of a unique lighthouse site and privatisation of public land and of the views to and from the headland and is particularly wrong in that it impacts on the lighthouse (A Commonwealth Heritage Place). It continues an unsympathetic attitude to an Aboriginal Dreaming Site.

Whybaygamba (Nobbys) was reduced from 62m in height to 28m for the erection of the Nobbys Lighthouse which is still an operating lighthouse after 150 years.

Nobbys and the Nobbys Lighthouse are unique Newcastle heritage items that must be acknowledged and respected in an official conservation tourist management plan for the Coal River Precinct (SHR1674).

The public must be given safe access to the headland and the area around the lighthouse.

The Development was initially approved by the NSW Heritage Council in 2005 with conditions. The Applicant did not accept the conditions and resubmitted the original development as a Crown Development Application under 116C of the NSW EP&A Act to escape independent and transparent assessment and the imposition of conditions that may have reduced the impact.

116C states: Viz: Determination of Crown development applications NSW EP&A Act 1997

116C Determination of Crown development applications

A consent authority, in respect of a development application made by or on behalf of the Crown, must not:

(a) Refuse its consent to the application, except with the written approval of the Minister, or

(b) Impose a condition of its consent, except with the written approval of the Minister or the applicant.

The effect of 116C above was that the applicant determined their own development and if any conditions were set they are not valid unless approved in writing by the applicant or the Minister. None of the officially established plans of management (EG Council’s Heritage Places Strategic Plan and POM 2000) were able to be brought to bear on the development not even the Newcastle Port Corporations own objectives as stated in the invitations for Expressions of Interest as written below:

1. To release this (currently) restricted site for public access/use and, in doing so, to establish a pre-eminent destination of historic and scenic significance for the benefit of the Newcastle community;

2. To solicit innovative, practical and economic proposals for the adaptive re-use of the signal station and cottages;

3. To protect and enhance the site’s historic, aesthetic and social fabric for the future benefit of the Newcastle community;

4. To actively promote the site’s heritage value and significance, particularly its role in the development of the Port of Newcastle, through public education and the use of on-site static and interactive information displays.

5.To ensure the safety of all users of the site.

The Joint Venture/Consortium agreement between the Newcastle Port Corp and the Nobbys Lighthouse P/L has not been made public nor have the Board’s papers and recommendations declaring the DA a Crown Development. It is certainly not clear if the DA is entitled to be a Crown DA. Furthermore there has been no explanation of why the Consortium tried to develop the site in contravention of the Commonwealth legislation and the NSW conditions of consent.

Nobbys Headland should be transferred to the NSW Parks Service so that the headland can be administered by an authority that has a legal obligation to protect and promote the heritage values of the Nobbys Lighthouse and make the headland available to the general public as a park. The lighthouse is not only an important heritage lighthouse that must be acknowledged, it is an operating lighthouse controlled by legal lease obligations with the Commonwealth Maritime Safety Authority.

Doug Lithgow, President Parks and Playgrounds Movement –

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Historical Documents on Nobbys Lighthouse Digitised

The University's Coal River Working Party released two digitised historical reports relating to the Light House and the proposed blowing up of Nobby's Island dating from 1852 and 1854 respectively.

The two reports were prepared for the Legislative Council of the Government of New South Wales and contain eye witness testimony and illustrations. They form part of an online library of historical documents digitised and made available to the local community relating to Newcastle's historic Coal River Precinct.

1852, August 31st. New South Wales. Parliament. Legislative Council. Select Committee. Newcastle Light House. Report from the Select Committee on Newcastle Light House with Appendix and Minutes of Evidence. Ordered, By the Council, to be printed 31st August 1852. Sydney: Government Printing Office, 1852. [1.1MB PDF file]

1854, July 18th. New South Wales. Parliament. Legislative Council. Nobby's Island. Laid upon the Council Table by The Colonial Secretary, and Ordered by the Council to be Printed, 18th July, 1854. Papers relating to the blowing up of Nobby's Island. [727KB PDF file] Thanks to the New South Wales Parliamentary Archivist.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nobbys Lighthouse 150th Birthday

Nobbys Light turned 150 years old midnight 31st December 1857 -2007:

An important group of caring citizens celebrated this occasion today at Nobbys.

Newcastle took the lead in 1804 with the first navigational light on the Australian coast. It was a coal fired beacon on Signal Hill fuelled by coal from the convict worked mines at Colliers Point, the birth site of the city of Newcastle.

At midnight on the 31 of December 1857 the coal fired beacon was extinguished and the Nobbys Lighthouse was brought into operation.

The Nobbys Light has operated continuously for 150 years today never missing a night as a steadfast beacon at the entrance to the Port of Newcastle in fair and stormy weather always guiding shipping in one of the busiest ports of Australia.

Newcastle people who know of the national significance of this unique Commonwealth Heritage Place are appalled at the proposal to alienate this important navigational beacon with private commercial development and insist that it be protected and allowed to stand free as a sentinel at the entrance to the Port of Newcastle as it has done for 150 years.

Any development of Newcastle’s iconic headland and signal station cottages should be by adaptive reuse rather than by new buildings impacting on and impairing the 150 year old Nobbys Lighthouse.

View the slideshow