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 Amazon.com 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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Tags: Australia's most underrated city · Chiang Mai · Delhi · Ghent · Iquitos · lonely planet · Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 · New York · Newcastle · Newcastle australia · Newcastle Knights · Newcastle Lonely Planet · Not Quite Art · Renew Newcastle · Tangier · Tel Aviv · this is not art · Valencia · Wellington19 Comments