Newcastle – a small Australian city resting in a contented backwater of this busy crowded planet.

To its natives the most desirable and convenient address. And, they delight, a well-kept (yet readily-shared) secret.

This particular Newcastle, one of dozens in the world, is a retired steel city on the continent’s east coast and as enjoyable a place as our images suggest. Newcastle, looking south from Nobbys Breakwater in August 2013. Horseshoe Beach foreground. Christchurch Cathedral, the Obelisk, King Edward Park, and The Hill, backdrop the city skyline.

Our Town: friendly, relaxed, bathing in the sweetest climes, caressed by the greatest of oceans, a glorious green and sandy haven on the world’s largest, most beautifully ancient island.

It would suit some to remain a pleasant large country town basking in sun-drenched delight. Or not, as residential high-rise crowds the city’s treasured beachfronts, and temples of retail consume dormitory suburban villages.

Port Hunter coal loaders send more ship-borne coal past a small Nobbys lighthouse than any other port in the world. Hard to believe.

When the Pasha Bulker suffered a bad anchor day and beached on Nobbys’ sands, Novocastrians learned again the price of such intense marine traffic – then farewelled that limping survivor homeward from breakwaters built on the skeletons of less lucky vessels.

Below ~ Facing east from Newcastle Harbour in June, 2007. Panamax carrier Pasha Bulker sits on Nobbys Beach, while Santa Isabel glides down the channel to show how it’s done. Newcastle is a coastal city of 150,000 people, central to a semi-circular Hunter Valley of population half a million – all sitting on far too much coal and gas for its own good.

Founded 200 years ago by Sydney escapees, nothing much has changed. That mob of unfortunates still escape at every opportunity, deserting that overgrown settlement for climes northward when their own tangle of expensive tollways becomes a trifle too much.

So here we are, enjoying the infancy of millennium three.

Newcastle’s charm and sunny disposition belies a harsh unglamorous history comprising premier convict settlement, center of coal mining excellence, record coal tonnage port, major steelworks and heavy industry .. and once a metro boasting 40 tons of atmospheric particulates per square city mile.

Despite a century of nationwide denigration, here stands Newcastle, “that smoky hole” of working class grime and dust and noise, looking more each year like a Mediterranean resort city.

The city center is relatively isolated from estate growth and mining activity that consumes the surrounding Hunter region.

Australia’s premier food bowl, the fertile Hunter Valley – image credt: Max Phillips (Jeremy Buckingham MLC) – link

We ponder Newcastle’s transformation from industrial heartland to almost resort city, and the Hunter Valley’s opposite direction, from agricultural abundance to, in many places, a fracking and open-cut moonscape.

Meanwhile, busy citizens of the Hunter Valley dig like the blazes all the coal they can manage, as if there’s no tomorrow – grimly aware that each tonne of coal shortens their children’s tomorrow by a another day.

  The Brewery, Queens Wharf, at night. Nobbys left (east), Stockton Ferry wharf at right (west)