Despite the constant din of traffic, dysfunction and endemic ugliness, Mayfield’s main street can be a pleasant venue – at least, from one of the few vantages removed from the immediacy and harshness of it all.
Across the road in Victoria Street, Tim Crakanthorp holds a greet and meet. The lucky few who bothered to avail give him a gentle earbash. Later, while his assistant gathers the signage, Tim imbibes a Michelle’s pie and deftly, I imagine, manages his expression to spin it as the most delicious maggot bag he’s had since… well, the last one.
Time passes. Fast-moving pedestrians with backpacks catch my eye – yes, the able homeless. These self-reliant middle-aged veterans are often found early in the day wherever there’s facilities for toiletry. They move purposely, talk loudly, filtering through the crowd, and apparently know of a local convenience. I have no idea where.
It’s pension week. The street, usually sparsely populated, is quite busy with local disadvantaged in full force, an eclectic yet ultimately sad parade that I can dispassionately watch only with great effort.
Here comes one – he’s new. I’ve seen pajamas, dressing gowns, ill-fitting trackies, the shirtless and shoeless, but never a full rabbit suit. Its top rolled back onto his greying hair reveals a tired aging face that the rabbit ears seem to mock in unconcerned waving.
A man on a child’s bike treadles heedfully along the footpath. He seems to be all coat, except for waste-length silver hair and weathered face. A laden bag causes a starboard list,
Regulars are doing the rounds, many I weep for with their tell-tale medicated haze or disfiguring tardive dyskinesia.
“Pointing Man” would pass as an iconic Australian bushman in waistcoat, hat, rugged features, and ashen hair. But in this bleak semi-urban setting he’s a captive of circumstance and the subject of mild avoidance. Idiosyncrasy emerges at crossings as he startles fellow pedestrians by pointing widely and wildly in all directions; either, in his mind, directing vehicles according to traffic lights, or interpreting to himself – and perhaps fellow travellers – what the lights mean and how they might act accordingly. Green light and he’s ahead of the pack, as though seeking escape from his compulsion. He didn’t ask for this life but, thus prone, must bear it alone.
“Traipsing Man” is the kindest label I can give to the next perennial. His rounds – all day it seems – are punctuated by a sudden approach to an unsuspecting to passively beg for a few dollars, usually “to buy a smoke.” When once he inadvertently interrogated an elderly local, the response was a gentle berating: “Spare a few dollars for cigarettes? Mate, I’m a pensioner too, and even I can’t afford to smoke. Buckley’s.”
So the day goes, and there’s much more to say…
Whereupon Young Throsby Discovers Mayfield
Decades ago, shifting restlessly on that cruel chair at a desk mosaicked by generations of carved schoolish graffiti, surrounded by future captains of industry and lieutenants of commerce, Throsby barely grasped the meaning of life, his place in the universe, or what the teacher was on about.
No wonder, then, was he oblivious to the wealth of mentoring expertise roaming the rooms, halls, and ramparts of that Spartan brick edifice on Turton Road Waratah. Like most pupils of feeble mind, who judged teachers by idiosyncrasy or schoolyard chatter, he sat, as always, oblivious to the talent borne by these masters of their professions who staffed that eminent campus.
No idea, either, of the thespian aspirations of his zestful English teacher, Vic Rooney, or the man behind that rough drawl assaulting him with history, John O’Donoghue.
If only one could return to those days with the experiences and hard-won appreciation of opportunity lost. But that horse had well and truly bolted.
Actor Vic Rooney (left) and playwright John O’Donoghue in 1982. From the Hunter Valley Theatre Company archives.
Essington Lewis: I Am Work
During the dozen years he spent largely trying to inspire, or even penetrate, the wandering minds of his arrogant little charges, John O’Donoghue’s own thoughts were elsewhere too. Noble as the work of teaching is, when dreams and work diverge, the latter diminishes to wage slavery.
After teaching at Broken Hill in the 50s, Newcastle Boys High School in the 60s, then lecturing in English at Newcastle College of Advanced Education in the 70s, a string of plays finally brought local celebrity and national fame when O’Donoghue won the Sydney Critics’ Circle Award for contribution to theatre – and for his play about BHP’s Essington Lewis.
O’Donoghue was born in Elizabeth Street, Mayfield, in 1929. He joked that the maternity home of his birth was now an aged nursing home, so he might die there, too. Like all local youngsters of an industrial precinct, the 24-hour grind and distant mechanical thunder filled his ears, air-borne particulates sought out his eyes and lungs, and life progressed in an atmosphere of coal cinders and smelting ore.
His father worked at the BHP as a labourer, painter, and rigger. O’Donoghue chose teaching, and it was perhaps due to his first assignment being at Broken Hill that made it inevitable he would turn his mind to the imposing steelworks that had dominated his youth, for a story worthy of dramatisation.
And BHP was the biggest story in town.
The dynamics between Essington Lewis – BHP employee, managing director, and eventually Chairman – and pastoralist politician father John Lewis, lured O’Donoghue into studying the mammoth corporation, its workers, and management. From their synergy he crafted a play titled “Essington Lewis: I Am Work” – the name inspired by a fearsome Lewis who hung a “framed sign behind his desk saying ‘I AM WORK’, delivering an unmistakable message to his terrified juniors.”
Gloriously funny, politically pointed, unsentimentally warm and doggedly durable, the play gains strength and style from its steely imagery and its sometimes mischievous use of music … this play could be offered internationally as an example of contemporary Australian theatre.
~ David Britton (The West Australian)
Time has not diminished Essington Lewis: I am Work. If anything, the text is more sparkling than it was when the play was last staged in Newcastle 15 years ago and the performances of the actors returning from the production are richer.
The marvellous thing about the play is that it gives us history and the life and times of a man who puts work before personal relationships in a wonderfully entertaining fashion … it is a remarkable piece of theatre.”
~ Ken Longworth, Newcastle Herald
Historic notes on the play’s progress with commentary by actors and production crew is online at McFaddenMusic.
Sydney theatre companies remained quiet, expressing no interest in importing the production or mounting their own – trivial reasons such as “it’s too Newcastle” being offered along with their rejections.
… In 1986 the production was taken to Adelaide by the South Australian Theatre Company where it was hugely successful and where we all learnt that the play was not intrinsically Newcastle after all, but rather intrinsically Australian.
Interview with John O’Donoghue begins at 15:20 minutes.
Newcastle Steelworks might have been the biggest thing in town employing 12,000 people at its peak (some say over 15,000), but whatever it was to the region, and while everyone profited from its contribution to the local economy, they still blamed the hapless suburb and its lowly inhabitants for the dirt and downsides that stained the rest of the city.
So, it was “Mayfield’s steelworks,” and Mayfield was the steel workers’ suburb that BHP had created, shaped, ruined, and ultimately callously discarded.
The Toorak of Newcastle
As any Mayfielder will tell you, there’s a cluster of beautiful colonial mansions gracing the hill along the suburb’s northern reach. The incongruity of their existence within sight of the dirtiest stretch of industry in Australia’s history is easily explained.
Mayfield, as the Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate explained in 1897, and repeated a year later, was, until a century ago, the most desirable rural setting for wealthy local business tycoons to set up house and home, away from the noise, crime, crowding, filth, coal smoke, road dust, smelter fumes, and sewerage stench, of the bustling portside urban pocket where their fortunes were being made.
It is not surprising that the suburb of Waratah, which includes Hanbury, Georgetown, and Mayfield, has been made the Toorak of Newcastle. Mayfield is splendidly situated, and that side of it which has the Hunter River for its boundary is quite a picturesque part of the Newcastle district.
It commands a splendid view of the ocean and the harbour, and the various industries, and is one of the healthiest spots that could be selected as a residential place. Just at the present time its slopes are at their best, the grass being green everywhere, and the vegetation fresh and fertile.
~ Newcastle Morning Herald, Wednesday, 10 October 1900
William Arnott built this home at 21 Highfield Street in 1890 for his daughter and her husband, Isaac Winn, who along with his brother founded Winn’s drapery store in Hunter Street in 1878 (which closed in the 1980s). The Victorian manor has six marble fireplaces, four bedrooms, a slate roof, music room, and a formal dining room.
As that Newcastle Herald story was being written, at the turn of the 19th century, the fledgling suburb’s dozen or more meat slaughter houses were being joined by a soap and wax factory, rock crushing plant, a gas company, and it had “tramway and telephone connections in hand.” Within two decades a start-up Newcastle steelworks and Lysaght’s rolling mill would play their part in dismantling suburban serenity.
Residents could not have foreseen that an approaching world war would foster industries to devastate the picturesque northern vistas of their idyllic locale – in a century of industrialisation and relentless infill of the most glorious fertile birdlife wetlands on the east coast of Australia – to become the greatest steel mills of the nation and then, upon their unthinkable demise, the site of the world’s largest coal-handling operation.
Mayfield today, 20 years after BHP Steelworks closure, differs little from the working class suburban dormitory of last century except in two respects: air pollution is no longer visible, though its secondary sources still exist in the heavy transport corridors and surviving heavy industries that enclose it; and, rebranding as a heritage-rich inner-suburban renovator’s dreamscape (aided by today’s extortionate property prices) has gentrified the demographic and ejected the lower socio-economic classes, to the thinly-disguised satisfaction of its image “gatekeepers.”
From the former there is no escape. Industries and railways are here for the duration. For the latter, it can thank the foresight of pioneer city planners who enforced generous subdivision rules and building codes that – in the rapid inter-war housing construction that comprises most of Mayfield – resulted in a suburb of spacious yards and generous dwellings. Thus making its reinvention an easy task for both Newcastle Council (aka “City of Newcastle”) and real estate marketeers.
Almost, that is, as clusters of gun-barrel houses in older streets, and that historic enclave “Pommy Town,” will long remind us.
Throsby had never heard the term before, despite having lived in the region all his life.
What had often puzzled him however – as reading and research revealed that when the steelworks were established in 1915 the city population rapidly grew to accommodate workers – was why the bulk of inner-city suburbs consisted of, even by modern standards, generous quarter-acre land holdings and quality two and three bedroom homes.
Drawn by William Claridge, from his book The Pommy Town Years
Certainly land was in abundance in the early 20th century, and clearly the councils had subdivision specifications in place, but where were the so-called struggling workers’ homes of the sort that dominate images of industrial England: rows of mean adjoined terraced houses opening directly onto streets, tiny back yards barely big enough for the outdoor privy, and narrow stone-paved roads?
Perusing Mayfield in 1999 in search of a house, Throsby quickly learned there were two types of property – those with, and those without, off-street parking. For large tracts of the suburb, particularly east and north-east, most houses had no driveways.
He also discovered prices were rising by thousands of dollars a week, and the remaining affordable dwellings either had cramped frontages or were adjacent to the railway line or heavy industry, like the formerly-named Commsteel at Mayfield West.
But this didn’t quite explain the lack of working class dwellings.
“Pommy Town” explained the largely uniform housing. It was described as a “housing subdivision commissioned by John Lysaght (Australia) to house experienced workers from England to staff their 1921 sheet rolling and galvanising plant.”
If that was the quality of homes and yards for industrial workers in 1915, then the rest of the suburb could only follow that example.
This overview article in The Herald captures it well.
The estate comprised the area of Usk, Vine, Avon, and Arthur streets, a brisk walk from the original Lysaght’s mill in Ingall Street, near the banks of the Platt channel and adjacent to the new steelworks site – of course much smaller then. When Lysaghts donated land for Mayfield Park, the poms formed a soccer club “Orb United.”
Although it’s always enjoyable to read an old-timer’s account of how things were, the fogies rarely explain the place of their childhood in thoughtful, humourous, or all-encompassing way. Mayfield is fortunate that one of the Poms, William Claridge, was an exceptional lay social historian and accidental ethnographer. His extraordinary “red notebook” resides at the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections department, and provided sufficient detail to result in its publishing in year 2000 as a 126 page quarto-sized book, “The Pommy Town Years ~ Memories of Mayfield and other Tales of the Twenties.”
Out of print, but available from many libraries, with an occasional appearance in second-hand bookshops, Claridge’s book is an engrossing read – more so for any Mayfielder who ever stood for a moment on a street corner and wondered about the why or how that led to that moment.
The Lysaght company built a small village of houses in four streets which was later to become known as “Pommy Town.” The streets at that time were pure white sand. In the warm weather the hot sand would get into our shoes. In Vine Street was a shallow creek and in wet weather it was common to see horse and carts bogged down and all and sundry giving a hand to dig them out.
When we arrived there were two settlers’ cottages, located in Bull Street between Vine and Usk streets. I was at this time (1921) 12 years old. Bull Street (now Industrial Highway for that section) was a main road parallel to the Hunter River 600 yards away. Part of the land between road and river was taken up by the steelworks gold club – a good golf course.
There were three Chinese gardens off Bull Street and each market gardener had a horse and wagon to sell door to door. A garden occupied the area where the offices of Stewarts and Lloyds pipe works (Tubemakers) are now.“
Here’s more from William Claridge’s book from this small article on Platt’s Channel.
The river in those days was unpolluted and fish and oysters were plentiful on the rocks along the river’s edge. There were also oyster leases. The fish were so plentiful they caught themselves!
Ingall Street ran to the river (Platt’s Channel, now filled in). Sometimes we would catch fish even from the gutters beside the road.
We had a good swimming hole where a creek met the river and, because there were sharks about, tied barbed wire to the mangrove trees to keep them out. The men who set Jacob lines to catch jewfish (mulloway) used heavy lines – a jewfish could be four feet long (well over a metre). Sometimes the sharks would take a jewfish leaving just its head.
The last paddock to the dairy farm (north of Bull street) was mostly swamp… when the big tides occurred the mullet ran. They would fill the swamp in countless numbers until they were one thrashing mass.
~ William Claridge, The Pommy Town Years
Loiters, Skateboarders, and the Homeless
As any local will explain, the two decades following BHP’s closure has been a losing battle for low-income renters, working poor, loiterers, the homeless, street kids, and “criminal elements” (perceived or real) in general.
And and fewer, Throsby regrets, people of character
Street by street the pattern is the same – less tagging, fewer domestic brawls, fewer dilapidated houses – as the renovators rinse and repeat their heritage makeovers.
It is no accident how Mayfield has changed. From the instant it became news that BHP would close, destiny was set.
Comically “sanitised” art at McDonalds carpark. In 2006 local artists proposed popular tropes of art – bright colours, satirical artwork – but were told by the MMC to paint a collection of the suburb’s “grand old houses” and “montages of industry.”
The suburb’s gatekeepers of image – the Mayfield Mainstreet Committee (“MMC”), Newcastle Council, and the real estate industry – swung into action, as did savvy investors. As prices went exponential, the “talk” was that Sydney rental property types were moving into Newcastle and were to blame. It mattered not. Mayfield had indeed been the poor cousin, the dormitory suburb of last resort for Newcastle home buyers. Now nature took its course via the average Australian house price, and within a decade only highly-paid couples could find finance. Fewer still by 2020, as most houses sell for half a million dollars. That’s a powerful “gentrifying” filter.
Ethnographer researcher Fiona Grubb lived in Mayfield a decade ago for a participant study of the transition of Mayfield from “Fordism to post-Fordism” – that is, to document how the area would reinvent itself as it changed from a shabby, polluted, working class suburb (an object of sneering disdain by all the other suburbs) into a post-industrial and almost trendily-heritage, desirable, inner-city residential dormitory.
Through an iterative research methodology I developed an understanding of the contested nature of the creation of images of Mayfield. Early on it became clear that there were two discourses at work in the imagination of Mayfield as a place: the official, held by institutionalised interests and gatekeepers over the suburb’s imagined future, and the unofficial, often played out or represented through the practices of some of the suburb’s most marginalised residents.
… increase in property values was not the only desirable outcome of the heritage discourse. … these ‘heritage’ houses were commodified [to provide] the means by which home-owning residents could exert influence over images of the suburb’s future, and reinterpret its past.”
56-58 Maitland Rd in 2009 ~ The ‘old’ Mayfield – a little too much character?
Fiona observed the visible element fighting a rearguard action against gentrification. The invisible element were the disabled, unemployed, and working poor tenants being forced away by rising rents. The visible were, and still are, the loiterers, the homeless, and restless youth.
She cites the seats out front of Woolworths, and “the park behind Woolworths” as both defacto town square and commandeered space for homeless, loiterers, alcoholics, or simply folk for whom any place is more desirable than a bleak home circumstance.
Behind the supermarket was another popular ‘loitering’ location that undermined the image of Mayfield as a gentrifying suburb – Alexandria Park. During the time I conducted research in Mayfield I never heard the park referred to by its name.
This small park was ‘connected’ to the supermarket in many ways but created in the spaces of the road. Supermarket employees used it for their work-breaks, and many of the people who ‘loitered’ on the seats out the front of Woolworths moved to the shady areas in the park in the middle of the day. Activities such as alcohol consumption were a little less constrained in this less visible space, and I often saw people sniffing glue there.
The park appeared to be neglected by the Council maintenance workers in comparison with other parks in the area. It was mown less often and accumulated rubbish, some of it large items such as blankets and mattresses which were thrown into the storm-water drain that bisected the park. There were no rubbish bins there and the picnic tables were fixed in the sun rather than in the shade (as is the case in other parks in the area) possibly either to increase surveillance and discourage illicit behaviour or more simply, through poor design.
While we casual observers see the park as, well, grass with trees, Fiona’s mind delved further into the obscurities visible only to the informed researcher keenly aware of how unseen forces are invoked by the designs – intended or accidental – of streetscape and cityscape places and spaces that direct the people who inhabit them.
Not “just a park behind Woollies” but one of poor design that appeared unintentional, something that reflected in its use where illicit activity or simply loitering could go on unnoticed. The park is an inconsequential place where “behaviours could take place that might contravene more proscribed notions of place and space in other areas of the suburb.”
Doubtless the park would have been subsumed into an even larger Woolworths, and the trivial little roadway ambitiously-named “Newcastle Street” would have cut along the creek to Valencia Street, a plan stymied – one supposes (without any evidence except experience with developers) – by the intransigence of a certain former bakery at 12A Valencia.
The park that shall remain nameless and invisible ~ Alexandria Park, behind Woolworths at Mayfield.
Above, western end of park viewed north from Valencia Street. Below, southern border of park and Throsby Creek.
Skateboarding and Dangar
The hierarchical dynamics of Dangar Park’s skateboard park is also closely examined as both a rebellious expression for a wide-ranging community of skateboarders (many of whom also frequented the Newcastle South Beach facility) and a council-sanctioned area for local skateboarders to enjoy the activity while being attracted from the streets and footpaths where they were both a perceived and actual nuisance.
According to Fiona:
Mayfield’s stigmatised industrial history was represented by the suburb’s most marginalised residents, those with the least access to formal channels of influence over images of the suburb and for whom the discourse of gentrification was at best inaccessible, and at worst held negative implications for their continued tenure in the suburb.
Mayfield’s skaters and loiterers were representatives of the suburb’s stigmatised status as comprised of transitional spaces, spaces of transience and transgression. In this version of knowing place, Mayfield was a transitional space rather than a suburb in transition. By appropriating and incorporating the disused or marginal spaces of Mayfield into ways-of-knowing place these residents highlighted the elements of the suburb’s industrial past that the gentrification discourse sought to transcend or control.
Skateboard area at Dangar Park in 2009
Trevor Dickinson’s mural at the baths, Dangar Park, in 2019
Junk Shops ~ The residents’ fault
But it is the commercial strip that is perhaps the most disappointing feature of Mayfield. Very few traditional brick & mortar retail businesses survived the retail decline of the past two decades.
The shopping centre has lost three clothing retailers (Rockmans, Size16, Abercrombies), three newsagents, two hardware shops (Mitre 10, Home Hardware), two optometrists, two video rentals (EZY and TOP), Hunter Health Foods, Tandy electronics, BP service station and car wash, Mayfield Tenpin bowl, Darbys Pies, Darrel Lea, Go-Lo, a green grocer, a jeweller, used furniture, NSW RTA (aka RMS), even the police station.
At Mayfield East long gone are Robertson Brothers, Pizza Hut, a BP service station, Anchors seafood, and large second-hand cars dealer.
And – no surprise – all the banks: Commonwealth, ANZ, Westpac, Colonial, and National.
Not to mention, so we will, a new-car dealership whose deserted premises were demolished after a brief engagement as a market (“Spot”) leaving a decade-long smoking crater at 77 Maitland Road, pictured below.
Aerial view of 77 Maitland Road, proposed site of Coles supermarket in 2019
In their places the CBD has accumulated a collection of money lenders, pawn shops, job vendors, massage parlours, and “wholesale/discount” chemists. Quite the irony, because decades ago, while most of those long-gone shops were still trading, Mayfield’s “lower socio-economic profile” (people without cars, aka ‘foot traffic’) was blamed for contributing to the “low-quality ‘junk’” shops.
Twenty years of quadrupling house prices and tirelessly spruiked ‘heritage’ and ‘gentrification’ has, prima facie, had the opposite effect. Every hole in the wall created by a traditional small retailer leaving has been filled by a money lender, job vendor, pawn shop, or massage parlour.
Mainstreet Mayfield is junkier than ever, by that measure.
A saving grace to all this, however, is a steady growth of food outlets and coffee houses, anecdotally due to affluent home owners with disposable income displacing low-income renters, or a cohort of younger, more free-spending high-income renters.
Along with six or more coffee shops are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Pilipino, African, Thai, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Italian inspired restaurants and small groceries.
Survivors’ awards and honourable mention goes to the eternal and redoubtable Michelle’s on Victoria (an old-school cake shop), Ho Wah and Ying King Chinese restaurants, the seafood shop (fush ‘n chups)… and Davies Shoes!
Throsby’s parody award goes to the arguably French Hot Bread shop juxtaposed cheekily with the unquestionably French Steph’s Gourmet Foods. No offence to the hard-working bread shop folk, and one of my favourite early morning stopovers (croissants!!). I trust they get the joke.
Breaking up the Strip
To further disrupt the contiguity of a once traditional and organic shopping strip, Mayfield is becoming the supermarket capital of Newcastle, with Coles to join Woolworths and Aldi with a third sub-precinct, Westfield-in-miniature, vehicle-centric, walled garden. While these supermarkets are much appreciated by the locals for their grocery convenience, the downside is slow demise of local small retailers and increased strangulation of the suburb by passing-through vehicular traffic attracted by these supermarket giants, who are well aware it comprises a large portion of their trade.
Woolworths attracts many Mayfield residents, and shoppers from outside the area, according to the Coordinator of the MMC who had interviewed the manager of Woolworths about the viability of the supermarket. Indeed, Woolworths Mayfield has twice the turnover of comparable supermarkets in Newcastle.
…Maitland Road does not present as a continuous retail strip. The central area of Mayfield (the Woolworths block) has no on street parking, and no active street presence, effectively dividing Mayfield into three precincts.”
~ Mayfield Marketing Plan (“MMP”), APP Corporation Pty Ltd 2003.
Street view of Woolworths from Valencia Street intersection.
The council-endorsed and MMP-proposed ‘boutique’ shops, including the impressive Coliseum Antiques and the small cafes, are up against the big four fast food outlets: McDonalds, Subway, Dominos, and KFC.
Woolworths recent makeover incorporated a Japanese sushi bar and – why not? – a coffee shop. The locals shops now must contend with Coles’ planned supermarket and six specialty retailers that sounds rather like a mini-mall.
Too many grog shops is never enough.
To supplement three hotels, two of which have drive-through liquor outlets, Woolworths BWS, and Aldi’s mini-bar, Coles reportedly will bring a Liquorland to parched locals, for whom the existing surfeit of beverage suppliers was patently inadequate.
Is there any way, one wonders, how Mayfield’s commercial strip could ever be ‘boutique’ with major developments so drastically challenging the idea. For an indication, imagine two drive-through bottle shops, plus Woolworths, Aldi, and Coles supermarkets superimposed on Beaumont Street.
However, Maitland Road Mayfield is a spacious and open canvas. We’ll have to wait and see where this all leads. The best laid plans, and all that…
Pictured ~ Maitland Road Mayfield at the Nile Street intersection. Viewed east to west from left.
If you click the image below, an interactive panorama opens in new window. Use player controls or mouse/touch to drag & zoom.
But, all said, a Suburb Comfortable with its Dysfunction
Researchers, or even casual students of Mayfield, quickly establish the constraints that make it permanently dysfunctional. As Newcastle’s largest suburb, its broad central tracts of wide streets and uniform residential character insulate those lucky home owners.
But this heartland is quartered by Maitland Road, part of the Pacific Highway, and Hanbury Street, an artery to the industries and the carriageway of choice for affluent residents beating their familiar path to Westfield Kotara. The southern boundary is the main north railway line, long the bearer – in addition to passenger and freight rail – of 24-hour processions of kilometre-long coal trains.
North and east are a surviving array of heavy industries and two massive coal loaders, together conveying to and fro the world’s highest annual tonnage of coal. Generally overlooked – but making its presence felt at any time of day or night with startlingly loud eruptions of metallic cacophony – is the Commonwealth Steel complex on Maud Street, presently branded as Molycop, and celebrating more than a century of production.
However, those same transit ways also place Mayfield in an excellent position for commuting to and from employment at nearby industries, Newcastle CBD, or even for mine workers choosing the daily trip into the valley. And unlike many inner suburbs, Mayfield’s heavy transit corridors offer easy access to public transport both into and out of Newcastle proper.
Finally, as suburbs go, it’s ideally placed to access the broad variety of retail and wholesale outlets in adjacent suburbs and the tourism venues of the Valley, Lake, and Bay.
Molycop, aka Commonwealth Steel. Though its street address is Maud St Waratah, it’s surrounded by Mayfield and Mayfield West residential, with the rail corridor along the southern edge.
And That Street Art
Mayfield surprisingly has one of the largest displays of street art of any suburb, perhaps except Wickham, most of it commissioned, or freelance with owner’s permission.
It came about largely from the efforts of the Mayfield Mainstreet Committee, evidenced by both its conformity, family-friendliness, and the frequent cameos by postcode 2304.
The gallery that follows, and those parts above, was compiled over 15 years, from 2004.
36 Roe Street
Some time in May of 2007, a long-gone resident of 36 Roe answered the door one morning. It was the police: “Hello. Do you know your wall has been paint bombed?” The helpful officers, ever vigilant for signs of graffiti, had noticed the preparatory and messy underlay paintwork on the old shop wall along the lane. They were relieved to be told “Yes, it’s ok, I was asked for permission and was shown a drawing of proposed art work.”
The former shop sidewall in 2007
Above… channelling Pollock methinks?
Why were the police proactively alerting the resident at No. 36? It was the new age in Mayfield, with authorities determined to clean up the place.
Over the decades Throsby recalls few instances of vandalism, most on unoccupied premises, with the exception of a few persistent taggers who targeted residential fences (Hrok, you know who I mean).
When a solid work of art was placed there, or the building reoccupied, almost no subsequent defacement happened. It will never be known if the demographic change brought by higher property and rental prices removed the miscreants, or if they became gentrified by the blaze of heritage PR.
Early in 2004, the Mayfield Mainstreet Committee saw a problem with graffiti as high profile public buildings on Maitland Road, and fences and gates of private residences, were continually tagged.
An interesting case study was 13 Valencia Street ,that in the early noughties, housed what one then called a sheltered workshop (a term gentrified to “social enterprise”). When the “enterprise” moved out and the quite respectable structure became obviously vacant it gathered, like moss on rocks, the scribblings of kids who, one guesses, found its generous paving in the short stub of Newcastle Street a great place to loiter, skateboard, or both, plus a quick escape route down a nearby lane!
Unoccupied in 2008, 13 Valencia St takes damage
In 2014 a fire destroyed Hunter Valley Whitegoods on Maitland Road. To the wonderment of the locals, and Throsby’s delight, the business continues five years on as though the building was still there. Fire? What fire? Graffiti on an adjacent wall supplies backdrop to the three-dimensional whitegoods relief sculpture that has become Mayfield’s living pop art exhibition.
Some describe the work as an enduring post-Fordism expression of neoliberalism’s victory over the vicissitudes of natural calamity; a superb proclamation of visual art’s reversion to post-modern modernism that… Throsby jests.
A comprehensive photo essay of the fire is still online at, of all places, Barrossa Herald.
326 Maitland Rd from Denison St in 2019 – What? The building’s gone? Oh well… carry on.
Also, at the other end of town, is (or was – been a while) the magnificent hard-core gallery at Myola Street east.
Myola Street and Litchfield Park
While Mayfield’s street art is largely commissioned, in one of the few seedy dark corners, at the north end of Myola Street, this hard-core work embodies the true grit of unfettered expression. The stark steel framework makes the space even more gripping. One of Throsby’s favourites.
Myola Street east facing Litchfield Park
Facing off the above is Litchfield Park’s storage building decorated with the polar opposite – murals promoting Mayfield and it’s respectability in this almost invisible corner of the precinct: a sports park bounded by a storm water drain (Throsby Creek), a rail link to the heartland of industry, and the rear of light industrial buildings facing Maitland Road.
Click the image below for an interactive panorama that opens in a new window. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Above Panorama from Litchfield Park viewed west through north to east, left to right. The “drain” is Throsby Creek. Below ~ Litchfield Park building, Mayfield East
White Sox on Arthur
Along Arthur Street in old Pommy Town there was, in 2008, a baseball park, lavishly emblazoned with “White Sox” graffiti-style art. Another space gone, I fortunately and accidentally captured it whilst inspecting the nooks of this old suburb.
If I read Google maps right, it’s been flattened in favour of another subdivision. Hard to imagine, viewing the gallery below. Also, from the panorama, one would hardly guess one of NSW’s largest heavy industry precincts is just behind the line of trees.
If you click the image below, an interactive panorama opens in new window. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
The series below are random shots of the artwork decorating the former White Sox baseball park off Arthur Street, Mayfield, in 2008
The Gallery that is Maitland Road
At the eastern (or south-eastern) end of Maitland Road’s entry into the suburb lies a small strip of light industrial and retail buildings. On Selwyn Street side, the former Robertson Brothers engine workshop is repurposing into niche usage.
It’s here that “mainstreet” artwork tentatively begins, with Highway Entertainment’s former signage and nearby skateboard and barber shops, opposite Dangar Park.
Intersection of Maitland Road and Ingall Street viewed west
Above ~ Highway Entertainment’s former signage in 2009, now (yet another) a job center. Below ~ Skateboard and barber shops in 2009
Across the road is Dangar Park’s magnificent stand of palms
85 Maitland Road
85 Maitland Road in September 2009 ~ Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
89 Maitland Road
December 2009 ~ Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
93 Maitland Road
Formerly Metaland, then Video Ezy, now a dentist.
154 Maitland Road
On Wednesday, 6 November 2019, I journeyed down the lane behind the shops to finally capture this superb mural that I only ever saw at a sharp angle from the main street.
It took over 10 years to get these photos, and could have been longer. Well worth the wait.
You see, this vacant block in Mayfield’s main street was always occupied with somebody’s stuff, and in recent years more so, complete with a particularly cranky dog. But a week ago while wandering by it was empty with the back fence down. Street art opportunity!
Finally seeing the art square on was a pleasure, a rewarding experience. The narrow viewing angle never suggested it would be this impressive.
And the scale – it’s huge. And the work – the entire brick face is painted pale lilac.
Not sure how much it’s faded, but still looks like it was painted yesterday.
156 Maitland Road
180 Maitland Road
Nile Street and Maitland Road intersection in 2009 ~ Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
On the Nile Street frontage, a stucco wall became the perfect canvas for a series of high-visibility quality artworks over the past 15 years.
Of passing interest, a small commercial space near the side entrance briefly housed a “guitar maker” whose workshop was visible through the show window. Sadly it’s moved on.
Nile Street view ~ Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Viewed from Nile Street, northwards
Rear, 180 Maitland Rd
Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Viewed from Nile Street
Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Viewed from Nile Street
4 Victoria Street in 2019
Used to be a house here, being torn apart by climbing ivy
187 Maitland Road ~ rear
aka, behind the Stag and Hunter pub in 2019
Lane off Havelock Street in September 2009
View east from lane off Havelock St – ramparts of The Beauford Hotel in distance
Beside 2 Havelock Street
Rear of 55 Maitland Road
Behind the Ironworkers building in 2019
For over a decade kept forgetting to capture this. Looking faded now.
From Kerr Street in 2019
Kerr St side of 191-197 Maitland Rd
Rear of 191-197 Maitland Rd
In 2004 with my first digital camera, a Sony DSC-F717, the first thing I captured was the fading work on Mayfield Library’s northern face – a work that stood for well over a decade. With only a 256MB memory stick, I was sadly forced to click on in low-res 640×480. I know, I know… The 2004 pics were nevertheless resized to 1900 wide to match the format of all our art pics, and I just manage to get away with it.
Mulberry Child Care at 219 Maitland Rd
It’s 2019 and that’s nice work on the former Mayfield cop shop
Oily May Expresso Bar at 223 Maitland Rd
77 Hanbury Street
The gremlins already at work
88 Hanbury Street ~ June 2016
A difficult place to capture the work in full
Behind the Mayfield Hotel and BP in Maitland Road is an insignificant-looking strip of tree-bordered grass.
The history of the acquisition of the area now known as Webb Park is interesting. On January 1935, the (Ald. S. F. Webb) suggested that the area which was then waste, swamp land, should be acquired for the people. The area was approximately one acre, and the cost of acquisition £1200. Two months later on March 19, 1935, Waratah Council approved of the purchase, and the land eventually came into possession of the council.
Webb Park is one of Mayfield’s most visited parks and still hosts annual Christmas Carols and various gatherings, following a century of community activity. For example…
The 1952 Mayfield Spring Fair had an opening procession along Maitland Road from Dangar Park to Webb Park. Miss Baldwin’s St. Andrews Boys Fellowship performed gymnastics for the visiting Premier (Mr Cahill), who opened the Festival – arranged by the Mayfield Business Men’s Club
Five thousand people crowded into Webb Park to watch marching teams from Stockton, and an exhibition of jitterbugging. There was a Talent Quest, a ‘greasy pig’ chase, even a scooter race.
When the BP complex in Maitland Road cast a multi-story winter shadow upon the area, it also provided an excellent wall for street art.
Especially early in the century, with organised youth groups learning the arts and aerosol “shoot outs.”
Webb Park in 2004 showing the famous wall where kids applied their skills with abandon. Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
Webb Park in January 2004 on the Maycare fence (BaptistCare Community Centre 88 Hanbury St). Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
November 2004 ~ higher resolution and more careful selections.
~ Inaugural 24-hour Aerosol Art Shootout!!
This was the final time I photographed (shall we say) ‘hard core’ wall art.
Web Park, at it’s best, in January 2009. Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
View east towards Hanbury Street.
The works below include closeups of stylised signatures.
Below ~ Art wall in January 2009. ** Warning ** Large download. Panorama might take minutes to load if your Internet is slow. Click the image below to open an interactive panorama. Use player controls, mouse, or gestures to drag & zoom
By 2019, Webb Park had lost its ficus from the eastern and western edges, increasing the noise, wind, losing so much summer shade, and exposing the ugly rear of CBD structures, making it a bleak little space indeed.
The disturbing rebellious wall art was replaced with a “toddler-friendly” nursery art mural.