A Potted History

Newcastle City, on the Hunter River, is Australia’s sixth largest and second oldest city on the Pacific coast, 100 miles north of Sydney.

Former steel city and export hub to the agricultural and timber wealth of the Hunter Valley, Newcastle now claims the world’s highest coal export, shipping eighty million tonnes in 2006.

Newcastle’s third century will see turbulence, not only from weather. Climate change is the agenda of these times and the next fifty years will undoubtedly exert economic pressure to change the way people view endless progress – especially mining and burning of coal.

Newcastle’s portfolio is weak, more so from losing steel manufacturing and related industries, with a now heavy dependence on one of the major greenhouse gas contributors.

Export momentum might decline slowly as nations shift from coal-powered industry and carbon emission technology develops cushioning the region’s income.

The name ‘Port Waratah’ is synonymous with Newcastle, Newcastle Harbour, Port of Newcastle, and the earlier forgotten names like Coal River and King’s Town.

The coal industry is a vested interest with powerful voices in State and Federal Australian governments.

Nevertheless, business has a keen eye to the future and might overcome its ‘greenhouse gas’ legacy.

Growth Forever

Novocastrians’ unchanging viewpoint is that the region should enjoy continuous growth, in accord with this extract from Newcastle Port Authority’s Scuttlebutt newsletter:

The Port of Newcastle’s economic importance to the Hunter Region has been confirmed in a new study which puts its value of trade at $8.8 billion in 2005-06, with coal exports valued at $6 billion and non-coal trade at $2.8 billion.” Port development and investment worth up to $1.5 billion in the seven years to 2010 will generate 1,630 jobs in the Hunter Region each year.

Newcastle Port Corporation is to sponsor a $200,000 research project into clean coal technology at the University of Newcastle.

The carbon dioxide released during the production of coal is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,

.. University of Newcastle project leader, Associate Professor Behdad Moghtaderi.

Greenpeace’s climate change stance sees heavy dependence on one major export – and one complicit in global warming – as not a great thing.

A supporter of that view contributed this startling and daring piece of political graffiti to Newcastle’s almost non-existent political dialog with, well, an incidental passing scribble on … Our Town’s biggest wall!

Former Latec House, 575 Hunter Street circa 2007.

A paradise …

Newcastle boasts fifty golden sandy beaches within a short driving radius.

Two minutes from a city office has you basking by sunny sand-fringed Pacific Ocean surf.  City population is a comfortable 150,000 with 200,000 in nearby Lake Macquarie.

The Hunter Valley region, a 100-mile basin of coal and agriculture, supports half a million people.

If 50 beaches weren’t enough, the breakwater created yet another, the fabulous Nobbys Beach on its eastern side.

Ten miles of cliff-lined coast head an inland arc of residential-coated low hills surrounding city central’s flat basin. North and south, the shires of Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie offer scenic water wonderlands, each with several hundred miles frontage to magnificent enclosed waterways.

The isolated beachside suburb of Stockton (mid-right) rests at the foot of a 20-mile unbroken strip of sand and surf northward. The harbour line is paralleled by Hunter Street, a continuous strip of commerce stretching west five miles, drawing out the CBD and commerce along the river.

Seaward, to the east, surge thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean to the Americas. Asia is eight hours north by air.

Newcastle looking south-westish. Circa 1980. Stockton at right, New Zealand 2300 klicks left.

In decline?

Fifty years ago Newcastle, like any Australian city, was self-sufficient in potato crisps, peanut butter, hosiery, breakfast cereal, biscuits, flour, light bulbs, cotton weaving, and every imaginable industrial or manufactured widget. Australia made its own clothing, footwear, TVs and electronics – even radio transmitters, ships, trains, etc.

We designed and flew an unmanned aircraft, and even had a fledgling space program.

Today we export unprocessed coal, iron ore, and gas, and import everything else – even coat hangers and hair pins.

We eat Maccas and Dominos, New Zealand milk, Californian cherries and oranges, condensed milk from Singapore, fish from Asia, honey from Scandinavia.

Progress and wealth are not measured by economic indicators but by the happiness and well-being of people in stable self-sufficiency. This principle has been lost in an age of imports.

Globalisation of international trade finds our factories long idle and the docklands a chic “Foreshore” precinct in this former self-sufficient manufacturing, ship-building, produce, and value-added export hub.

Some will never forget this town was built on the sweat of longwall gophers, pioneer farmers, and furnace attendants.

They shall remain forever unimpressed that this old worker town now dresses in Armani… selling a reinvented past to a generation oblivious to it.

Rants usually get one into trouble, and Internet readers generally dislike them. Though NewcastleOnHunter is not intended as a rant website, I have indulged myself a little in this article, and even wondered: “What is my point?”

The issue is not anti-globalization, but the relinquishing of human control and thinking to automated economics – based on the odd premise that economics is good because it’s a science of efficiency. Or that business and markets are good because they have the intelligence to distribute stuff according to demand.

Well, economics is indeed a dismal science. And markets, well, what just melted down in 2008?

So the point might be that you might be comfortable and affluent, but too many fellow humans are not. Sure they appear to live like royalty of yesteryear but they’re losing ground dramatically compared to middle and upper income groups.

Australia was founded as a military colony, run by militia, governed from 12,000 miles away by royal decree – and within 100 years blossomed into the world’s wealthiest and fairest democracy, and mid-last century basked in social programs, mutual societies, and government-operated infrastructure that lead the world.

In the name of laissez faire we have dismissed all social gain as last-century’s model “that simply cannot work in these modern times.”

What we are really saying is what Mr Gekko said a few decades ago…

“Greed is good.”