marcus westbury

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Lonely Planet: Newcastle one of the hottest cities in the world!?

October 31st, 2010 by marcus

Sometimes something so amazing happens that you pinch yourself.

As regular readers — and irregular ones, anyone who has known me or met me or had the misfortune to be stuck next to me in transit for an hour  — will know if i have one obsession in life it’s with my home town of Newcastle. I’ve somehow managed to work it into pretty much everything I’ve done since actually leaving there in search of work that paid me a decade and a half ago. I’ve found many excuses to return through starting projects such as the This Is Not Art festival and most recently Renew Newcastle.

I’ve also managed to work the state and plight of Newcastle into pretty much every platform i’ve been given from the first episode of Not Quite Art, through to essays i’ve written, and most recently even worked it in at the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

I love Newcastle. I love its culture. I love its creativity. I love its natural environment. I love it’s old buildings. I love its fading beauty. I love its creative community. I love its unpretentious awesomeness.

I’ve always thought and often argued that it is underrated. That it gets a raw deal from governments, the media, and everywhere else who rates and evaluates the quality of places.

Even so, when Lonely Planet rang me and tipped me off that Newcastle had made a top ten destination list for 2011 I was still a little taken aback. As they pointed out it was likely to surprise a few people. Yes, i thought, i know it’s underrated but it shouldn’t be too hard to justify giving it a place among the top 10 places  to visit in Australia.  As i’ve been telling anyone who will listen Newcastle is a really interesting place right now.

Fast forward to last weekend and i managed to sneak a glimpse at the book they were talking about — It hadn’t actually clicked which list they were referring to until i finally found it via Amazon. But  Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011 ranks “the top 10 countries, regions and cities to visit in 2011” in the world.

Hang on. Back track. Double take.

Cities? In THE WORLD?

There it was, right there in black and white [actually they print in colour and i was actually only able to read it using the preview function on as I haven’t got my hands on the book yet] Newcastle, Australia is right there listed as the number 9 ranked city in the world to visit in 2011.  Number one was New York City and number nine is Newcastle.

It’s an eclectic list New York, Tangier, Tel Aviv, Wellington, Valencia, Iquitos, Ghent, Delhi, Newcastle and Chiang Mai. Particular props to Wellington – which is a bit like Newcastle and a place i’m pretty partial to.

As someone who has long sung the unfashionable praises of a deeply unfashionable place it is beyond words to describe how pleasing it is to see Newcastle make such a list. But in an odd kind of way that wasn’t the most satisfying thing about it. The most satisfying thing was not just a number on the list but that someone else, someone “authoritative” has described the Newcastle that i see, that i know and i love. According to author Catherine Le Nevez (who has actually written Lonely Planet guides to Paris and much of France for the most part) “Today’s new Newcastle is a unique blend of imagination, sophistication and laid-back surf culture.”

In her words “Australia’s most underrated city” has transformed itself “from ‘steel city’ to creative hub.” She describes how post BHP Newcastle has seen “an explosion of artists” — the most artists and galleries per capita in Australia — “from acclaimed regional centres to independent, artist run spaces and dozens of disused city-centre buildings occupied by photographers, fashion designers, digital artists and more as part of the inner-city regeneration scheme, Renew Newcastle.” [Don’t mind me if i just draw a little attention to the explicit props for Renew Newcastle there.]

She recognised too Newcastle’s great natural environment, it’s dynamic live music scene, it’s great cafes and restaurants and the great series of unique and interesting events that take place there during the year including, i’m pleased to point out, This Is Not Art. She recommended going to a Knight’s game [Go the Knights!], checking out the beaches, and strolling along Darby Street.

Obviously there are a lot of lists out there and they should probably be taken for the most part with a grain of salt. But I have to say that after a long hard slog on projects like Renew (and TINA), it feels a lot like a significant corner has been turned. There has been a sudden wave of recognition of late for projects like Renew Newcastle and the cultural life of Newcastle more generally recently that i have found deeply emotional and satisfying.

I will be fascinated with how – and if – people react to the suggestion that Newcastle is one of the ten most interesting places in the world right now. Apparently that makes it better than Sydney. Or Melbourne. Or Brisbane. I looked back over the corresponding lists for the last years and i can’t actually find the last time an Australian city made the LP global top 10 cities of the year list. I suspect that those in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne – particularly those that have spent little if any time in Newcastle of late will be confused and confounded.

It will be interesting too to see how Newcastle locals react. I suspect the view will split somewhere between “you’ve got to be f**king kidding me?” to “it’s about time someone noticed” to “trust lonely planet to go and ruin our secret.” Either way, i’m looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, I’m off to New York city to take notes on how to bridge the gap to number one early in the new year. If you haven’t thought about heading to Newcastle before now might just be the time to consider it. You might want to get in quick before the tourists spoil it. Don’t forget to check out some of the “dozens of disused city-centre buildings occupied by photographers, fashion designers, digital artists” while you’re there.

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19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Janie Oct 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    I’ve always loved Newcastle in the way you love your slightly daggy uncle who has glimpses of coolness.

    I grew up @ Lake Macquarie and then moved to Newcastle after uni. I stayed there for quite a few years before, like you, having to move for work.

    I was there for Pel Mel. For Casanet Club. For Swami Binton. For crazy antics at the bowling club in King Edward Park. For the Dead Kennedys playing at the Mattara. I was there for the craziness that was Newcastle in the 80s. It was a fun time.

    I lived on the Hill (didn’t everyone?), often had dinner with Godrey Tanner (I’m just an old sodomite, my dear!) and moved to Cooks Hill (didn’t everyone?)

    I drank far too many martinis in a post-ironic sort of way at Pipers, the gay nightclub. David Herbert (he of moved-to-England-and-became-famous-cook-with-many-cookbooks) and I used to make the dj play A Foggy Day and we’d dance to it. Post-ironically of course.

    My old friend Terry (who now works at ACCA in Melb) and I used to share a house on the Hill – I remember telling him one day when I was cranky that our supposed non-smoking house reeked of cigarette smoke. He told me it reeked of self-righteousness.

    I spent some time in Hamilton when I tired of the inner city and used to do my shopping in Beaumont St with an Italian Grandmother trolley.

    I LOVED Newcastle.

    I was highly amused when my daughter moved there and lived with her father not long ago. She ended up being involved with the gang at Morrow Park, the TINA stuff, played in Ergo B Bag and enjoyed the Newcastle experience too.

  • 2 Roger Oct 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Marcus

    Your enthusiasm for Newcastle is infectious, and promoting some great things. I’m not a Novocastrian, despite having spent significant time here and currently building a new home in inner city. I can understand, however, the reason for the belief that Newcastle can, and has, produced things of great creativity and blending of cultural influence.
    It is magnificent to live in a city where I was able to ride my bike down a dedicated cycleway beside Throsby Creek and then the Harbour to meet up with friends met via Twitter and the #newlunaticks and as an extension of #deeplyofftherecordbeers.
    I tried to put some of the ideas together here

  • 3 Cassie Booth Oct 31, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    When visited a year ago I drew a comparison with the City of Ipswich where I am now.
    Also a misrepresented hub of starving artists with big futures.
    So many imaginative souls together are bound to affect the atmosphere of a place and as they collectively see things in a different way.They force those around them to see things in a new light too.

  • 4 Alaisdair Oct 31, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I just can’t believe it! I am a Novocastrian and have moved away for similar reasons to get paid for what I want to do but I always find myself drawn back to it, I love it, especially right in town and alot of people can’t understand why! I hope this boosts tourism MAJORLY for our city and we can “Renew Newcastle” especially Hunter Street Mall (where I work!) transforming it into the thriving shopping hub it SHOULD be

  • 5 Jane Nov 1, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Hi Marcus, I am a proud Novocastrian made even more so by this announcement from Lonely Planet. I have known for years what a gem of a place Newcastle is and I can only hope that this will increase tourism to our beautiful region and help in the renewal of the city centre that is badly needed. I have lived in other cities in Aus and overseas but I always come back to Newcastle, there is nowhere else quite like it.

  • 6 Matt Nov 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Great article marred only by your use of the word ‘it’s’ as a possessive. Its is correct in this instance. Only use ‘it’s’ if you’re saying ‘it is’. And yes, I am a pedant on a crusade to save the apostrophe.

  • 7 marcus Nov 1, 2010 at 9:55 am

    @Matt. Apologies if i am not a pedant. I am a busy man on a crusade to save time so i can, you know, do more stuff.

    I am aware of the correct use of the apostrophe and you will note that i have used it both correctly and incorrectlyat various points throughout the piece.

    Should i find myself with any time on my hands any time soon i will proof all the apostrophes, typos, mistyped words and grammatical errors throughout my entire blog. Although i may actually just devote that time to doing other things.

  • 8 Adam Nov 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Have to ask, what was the author smoking when they reviewed Newcastle? I take it, it was the ice supply that is so prevalent in Newcastle – more prevalent per person than any other city in Australia.. lol!
    I am an ex-novocastrian, and i have seen more of newcastle than anyone should have seen, including the seedy negative underbelly that goes on there, such as certain police officers in a certain station taking drug bribes to look the other way for so many things – including “missing persons”.. I highly recommend Newcastle to NOONE!

  • […] You might also want to read this by Renew Newcastle Founder Marcus Westbury […]

  • 10 Helen Nov 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    @ Matt – i noticed the apostrophe CRIME too, also a pedant !
    Newcastle…hmmmmm….I sometimes use to call it Spewie Newie – I was 19 when I left, It was tooooo small for me and my interest in 1978 – now, it’s too big – overbuilt in some places, unloved in others. But it is still home (sort of)

  • 11 Dave Nov 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Let me be the first to say that there is a huge difference between visiting a city, and living in it. The over-simplified explanation of why I should go to Newcastle is both a little patronising and obscurant: like when someone suggests you listen to an album that they know you have never heard of to make them seem worldy, and when you listen to it, you realise why you had never heard of it: it isn’t that good.

  • 12 Liz Nov 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Mr Westbury Sir, I dig it. And I tip my hat. I dare say there are quite a few of us (artists) in big towns and small towns, seedy or otherwise who are inspired by your crusade. It’s only two cents, but it’s mine. There it is.

  • 13 Anon Nov 2, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Newcastle would be a great place to live if it weren’t for the Morrow park Clique. And i disagree respectfully with the unpretentious comment about Newcastle. It has its own pretentions, it may just be that you’ve never experienced them, but as someone who’s tried to get involved in the grass roots art movement that started blooming years ago and being laughed out of several parties for not knowing the right people or asking the wrong questions or for several other reasons I can not fathom, I know first hand there are corners of elitism in Newcastle.

  • 14 Graham Wilson Nov 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    No surprise here. It is great that the things that Lonely Planet is highlighting are the antithesis of the Westfield/Charlestown Square idea of creating a “place for young people”. I really hope that this translates into long term investment in creative spaces for all the amazing creative people that live here in Newcastle.
    Congratulations Marcus …to yourself and all the people that have worked to make this possible. It was ‘interesting’ to see John Tate ( our Mayor) claiming credit for this achievement.

  • 15 Mysta Squiggle Nov 3, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Newie is good for mainstream young backpackers but not so good for cosmpolitan middle aged types. eg tough luck if you want to listen to live electronic music on any weekend (apart from TINA). or watch some arthouse cinema. But for a city of it’s size it is an impressive place I admit.

  • 16 Marilyn McDermott Nov 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I visited Newcastle for a whole day recently and while I waited for someone who was in Newcastle on business for the day I managed to be amazed at the beauty of the cities geographic location – right on the beach; the beaches – wow; its eclectic mix of boutiques, coffee shops and eateries, its inexpensive movies, antiques and generally much-more-friendly-than-Sydney people. I have passed through Newcastle on my way home to Sydney from somewhere up north forever. Finally I saw Newcastle and I was so surprised.

  • 17 dave johnson Nov 9, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Hi Marcus
    Came here from Christchurch in Nov 08, after emigrating to NZ – not intended being here but so glad in many ways (Christchurch had a guy -David Henderson -although a developer) who had vision like you who revitalised part of the cbd)
    I love the mix of experiences here; Pubs, cafes, beaches so easy to get around, great for family, history ,varied architecture, port setting, TINA/electrofringe, festival, town centre wandering
    Your work as a catalyst is fantastic and a great model. I think we need an arts/media centre (s) for the community, and more electronic music !
    Good habit of regenerating itself here – steel works, earthquake, honeysuckle, GPT I’m sure – from bib box idea to staircase to cathedral and lanes?)
    My career has been in brownfield site investigation and regenerating old industrial contaminated sites (UK, NZ, and now here)and work for RCA in Carrington- we did a lot of the Honeysuckle site investigations –
    I’m off to the Cottage Creek consultation tonight out of interest – after 08 initial masterplan – and nothing happening at all along this strip – compared to honeysuckle – needs kicking along – maybe that’s why craig norman went !
    Keep up the good work !
    Dave Johnson

  • 18 Adriana von Runic Nov 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I was very impressed with Marcus’ speach at ‘Arts NSW & Creative Industry Summit 2010’ in Sydney last Friday – it was the highlight on the day ! A new paradigm or a sustainable concept, how to utilize space in inner cities, a sucessful project ‘ Renew Newcastle’ ….? I am European and have witnessed the changes in Berlin….I have returned to NSW to build alliances in the arts and connect my projects. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • […] en route to Brisbane. This will make commuting to Sydney feasible for Novacastrians.For all this, Lonely Planet recognised Newcastle as one of the 10 hottest cities in the world for 2010.So regardless of whether this is money well […]