Newcastle Walking Tours

Some very clever and lovely Novocastrians have created a series of fabulous, self-guided walks around the city.

These have been prepared and written by David Hampton, one of the splendid people who make Newcastle Museum amazing.

The audio of the walks has been recorded by a couple of very well-known Novocastrians – me and Garth Russell!

The full set of walks is available on Visit Newcastle.

Meanwhile, let me take you on a couple of walks – the Shoreline Walk and the Newcastle Architecture Walk.

 

 

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Newcastle Shoreline Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.

 

Heavy Walk – 3hr / 3.2km

Explore Newcastle’s maritime and surf culture through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

With its spectacular harbour and coastline, the Pacific Ocean has always played an important part in Novocastrian’s work and leisure.

Explore the city through its relationship with the shoreline. Visit places that once formed a crucial part of Newcastle’s working harbour and maritime culture. Enjoy the city’s spectacular coastline and discover places that Novocastrians have been visiting for generations to swim, relax and play.

This walking tour begins on the Newcastle Foreshore, at the viewing spot for Destiny, a sculpture that commemorates Newcastle’s role as a commercial port. It concludes at the Newcastle Memorial Walk, a spectacular walk that offers 360 degree views of the city and its coastline.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.

Introduction

Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Destiny

Julie Squires’ sculpture Destiny was commissioned in 1999 to commemorate 200 years of commercial shipping operations in the port of Newcastle.

Located on the former State Dockyard site at Dyke Point, Destiny was inspired by the traditional figure heads on the bows of sailing ships, believed to protect and guide ships. This contemporary form symbolises the spirit of the future: Destiny steps forward confidently yet protects and nurtures the past. She stands atop a globe and draws strength from the earth, and the strands of her hair represent the seven seas.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Newcastle Mercantile Marine Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of all merchant mariners lost in times of war.

During World War II the sea was a crucial transport route, bringing resources into and taking completed products out of Newcastle. Japanese submarines operated along the East Coast of Australia during 1942 and 1943. They sank 18 vessels and attacked another 15, killing 277 merchant mariners and 223 medical personnel.

The crews of two ships with strong Newcastle connections are remembered here. The S.S. Iron Chieftain and the S.S. Iron Knight, both owned by BHP and crewed largely by local men, were both sunk with loss of life by enemy action. The Iron Knight was torpedoed by Japanese Submarine I-21, the same sub that shelled Newcastle in June 1942.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. Customs House

The Newcastle Customs House was designed in the Italianate Renaissance Revival Style by New South Wales Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1877. On top of the clock tower is a Time Ball.

Up until the Second World War the Time Ball would fall and Fort Scratchley would fire a gun at precisely 1pm. This practice was carried out in ports around the world during the 19th century to allow ships’ masters to adjust their navigation instruments.

The Time Ball has since been refurbished and still marks time daily above the Customs House. The Fort Scratchley Historic Society has refurbished a replica field gun that is fired daily at 1pm to keep this significant maritime tradition alive.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Queens Wharf

In 1858, work began on the first major government structure along the Newcastle foreshore for berthing ships and loading coal. This became known as Queens Wharf. It was 1240ft long by 1861.

The exchange sidings of the Great Northern Railway ran parallel to the wharf, and coal from all over the region was transported in wooden hoppers to this point. A row of steam cranes would lift the bodies of the wagons out of their frames to be emptied into the holds of the waiting ships.

As expansive loading facilities opened around Carrington and Stockton, Queens Wharf ended its days as a loading point for wool and general cargo. It was demolished in the 1960s.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Tugboats

After Queens Wharf was demolished four smaller berths were constructed along Wharf Road for Newcastle’s Tugs. The first tugboat to arrive in Newcastle was the Huntress in 1854. Underpowered and overpriced, ships refused to use her and she left Newcastle within a year. More powerful tugs soon arrived and fierce competition emerged between the rival boats for towing jobs and salvage opportunities.

Tugs of all shapes and sizes have called Newcastle home. One of the most famous was the Champion. Built in 1895 for local mining magnate John Brown, she was not only one of Australia’s most powerful tugs, but also its most luxurious. Lavishly decorated and fitted with a piano, she was often chartered to take her owner and his guests on deep sea fishing trips. She sank at anchor in the harbour in 1954 under suspicious circumstances.

The harbour’s modern fleets of tugs now dock further up river and carry on the long tradition of safely guiding ships into Newcastle Harbour.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Boat Harbour – Newcastle Pilot Station

Newcastle is a very busy port, with 4600 shipping movements per year. The Port of Newcastle is a compulsory pilotage port, which means that a ship’s pilot, employed and certified by Newcastle Port Corporation, is transferred to all ships entering and exiting the harbour.

Pilots provide advice to the ships’ masters (captains) to assist vessels arriving and departing from the port. The marine pilot takes charge of the conduct of the navigation of the vessel while the master retains command of the vessel. About 80% of Marine Pilot transfers to and from ships are completed by helicopter, the remaining 20% being by pilot cutter vessels, which are often berthed here.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. The Lifeboat

For 136 years the Newcastle Lifeboat Service went to the aid of the crews and passengers of vessels in danger. The first lifeboat arrived in Newcastle in 1838. The NSW government did not finance a full time lifeboat service in any port and as a result, the crew of the Newcastle lifeboat was made up of volunteers from the harbour department, dredge service and customs service. The volunteer crew received little or no payment and were uninsured for their dangerous task.

During the service’s long history the lifeboats responded to hundreds of distress calls and saved thousands of lives. From the 1860s onwards, the boats were stored here at the pilot station. Newcastle’s last lifeboat, the Victoria II is now in the Newcastle Maritime Centre collection.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Wreck of the Adolphe

One of the lifeboat’s finest rescues took place on Friday 30th of September 1904.

The Adolphe, an elegant four masted French Sailing Ship had arrived from Antwerp at about 9am. She was met by two Newcastle Tugs – the Hero and the Victoria. The Tugs secured lines to the ship and began towing her towards the harbour entrance.

Conditions at the Harbour mouth were dangerous. A strong wind blew from the south and the seas broke heavily across the entrance. When it came round the southern breakwater, the Adolphe was struck by huge seas that caused the Victoria’s tow line to snap. The Hero struggled on alone but could not hold the ship up and another succession of big waves lifted her onto the remains of a ship previously wrecked attempting to enter the harbour.

The lifeboat put to sea. Battling the huge swells, and carefully navigating the remains of other ships wrecked in the same place years before, the lifeboat came alongside the Adolphe, secured two lines to the stricken ship and dropped anchor. One by one, the French crew came aboard the lifeboat, and once 47 people were on board the lifeboat set off for safety. The rescue took only half an hour.

The crew of the lifeboat were hailed as heroes and the Consul-General for France made a special visit to Newcastle to thank the crew and reward them with a purse of sovereigns. The Adolphe’s remains can still be seen on the Stockton Breakwater today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. Grounded

On Friday, 8 June 2007 the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran aground in heavy seas on Nobbys Beach. Her enormous red hull interrupted the beach and the city skyline until she was successfully re-floated 25 days later, leaving nothing behind save a section of her rudder in the surf, which was later salvaged.

This sculpture was commissioned to commemorate that dramatic episode in Newcastle’s history. Created by renowned Sydney based sculptor John Petrie, Grounded is an abstract representation of the ship’s bow, reflecting both the shape and colour of the Pasha Bulker.

An original section of 22mm plate steel from the salvaged rudder of the ship is included at the base of the work.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Newcastle Ocean Baths

Newcastle is firmly associated with shipping, industry and mining but it is also a place of spectacular natural beauty.

During the early 20th century a decline in the local mining industry forced Novocastrians to consider projects to diversify the local economy, attract tourists and capitalise on the city’s beautiful coastal landscape.

The Newcastle Ocean Baths was one such initiative.

The construction of the pool began in 1910 and the distinctive and architecturally significant Art Deco pavilion was built in 1922. The Baths provided the main swimming facility for clubs, school carnivals and the general public for decades. It continues to be a popular swimming spot today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The World Pool

Just next to Newcastle Ocean Baths is the Canoe Pool, the site of one of Newcastle’s most enduring urban legends.

In 1936 a wall was built on the southern end of the Ocean Baths to protect it from rough seas and sand. Within this space a circular pool boasting a pigmented cement map of the world was constructed. The continents of the world were raised 60 centimetres from the bottom, 20 centimetres being above the water line. Countries of the British Commonwealth were coloured red, with other nations in green.

Much about the Pools’ construction and final fate remains a mystery. Considering the Depression of the 1930s it may have been a project to stimulate employment. However, the designer of this unique creation remains unknown. The construction of a map in a public pool was certainly unique, and no similar pools are known to have existed in Australia.

It is generally believed that the World Pool, as it became known, was removed after being damaged beyond repair by a cyclone in the 1970s. However, rumours persist that remnants of the map are still uncovered after big swells.

What is known for certain is that many Novocastrians who grew up between the 1930s and the 1960s have fond childhood memories of playing in the pool and journeying ‘across the globe’ with their family and friends.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Newcastle Beach – Surfest

Newcastle Beach hosted the first ever Surfest and for two decades was the competition’s home beach.

Surfest began in 1985 when Newcastle was still striving to cast off the city’s grime-ridden industrial image and showcase the unheralded beauty of Newcastle beaches and its fantastic surf breaks. Surfest was originally called the BHP Steel International and was the richest professional surfing event in the world at that time.

Surfest has become Australia’s largest surfing festival and part of the international world tour of surfing. It has made Newcastle and its surf culture famous not just nationally but internationally as well.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. King Edward Park

By 1860 the area of King Edward Park was clearly identified on maps as a ‘Reserve for Public Recreation’ but it was first proclaimed a recreation reserve in 1865.

During 1898 the park gained a Rotunda and many of the spectacular trees that now define the park were planted. During the Second World War a gun battery was established in the park and bomb shelters were erected. They were finally demolished in 1978. It continues to be a focal point for community recreation to this day, with picnics, wedding parties and gatherings taking place in this spectacular park by the sea.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Newcastle Memorial Walk

Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to commemorate the Centenary of ANZAC and was completed in April 2015.

With its striking 360 degree views of the city and coast, the walk commemorates those who enlisted in World War I and features the family names of men and women from Newcastle and the Hunter Valley who served during the war. It also recognises the contribution that BHP Billiton made to the war effort in supplying steel rail, ship plate and munitions.

The Newcastle Memorial Walk provides a striking connection between the City’s CBD and the walk to Bathers Way, which continues south to Merewether Beach, home of the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to the audio on Susan Gilmore.

 

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Newcastle Architecture Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.

Easy Walk – 1hr 30mins / 2.2km

Explore Newcastle’s Architectural heritage through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

The architecture of Newcastle is defined by a rich diversity of styles that reflect the city’s prosperity and growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Explore buildings that have acted as cultural, political and economic icons for the people of Newcastle. Discover the works by architects not just of local, but national and international significance.

This walking tour begins at City Hall, which has been at the centre of Newcastle cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929. It ends at the Civic Theatre, Newcastle’s premier live theatre venue and one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.

Introduction

Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Newcastle City Hall

Newcastle City Hall has been at the centre of Newcastle’s cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929.

The first actions to establish a new town hall were recorded in 1888 but a final site and design for the hall was not agreed upon until 1925. Newcastle City Hall was designed by acclaimed architect Henry Eli White. The building contains a concert hall that seats 844 people, a dining room and servery, office spaces and the Council Chambers. The Hall is constructed of Sydney sandstone, adorned with Roman Doric and Ionic columns and dominated by its tower and four sided three metre diameter clock.

City Hall has performed a variety of roles in the decades since its construction. During the Second World War it was the nerve centre for the civilian response to an attack on the city and hosted free concerts to international and local troops seeking entertainment.

During the 1970s Newcastle City Council Offices were moved off site and replaced with conference spaces. The City Hall continues to host concerts, ceremonies and meetings of the elected Newcastle City Council today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Corm

Corm was presented by BHP Pty Ltd to Newcastle City Council to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of City Hall in December 1979. The 1.5m tall bronze sculpture was inspired in both title and form by the fleshy stem found in plants. The sculpture was created by artist Marilyn McGrath who has described the work as an organic sculpture designed to provide a link between the constructed environment and nature.

McGrath was born in Sydney in 1939. She was training to be a registered nurse at the Royal Newcastle Hospital when she began attending evening classes in Sculpture and Drawing. McGrath went on to teach at the Newcastle Technical College Art School, and her work can be found in both public and private collections across Australia, including The Art Gallery of NSW.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. City Administration Centre

Known by many Novocastrians as The Roundhouse or The Champagne Cork, this building was constructed to accommodate the various departments of Newcastle City Council in 1977 as the City Hall could no longer accommodate the growing workforce. A roughly triangular parcel of land next to the City Hall was chosen to construct a purpose built administration centre.

With deep recessed windows to cut down on heat from the sun, the building’s precast concrete columns were finished to match the colour and texture of the City Hall stone work. The basement carpark spirals down from street level and had to be constructed like an underground dam, due to its proximity to the harbour. The water table beneath the building is very high and special construction techniques had to be used to prevent the water logged earth from collapsing into the excavation.

It continues to support the city as Newcastle City Council City Administration Centre.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Newcastle Art Gallery

Newcastle Art Gallery was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Friday 11 March 1977. It was the culmination of decades of work to realise the belief that Newcastle, a city known for industry, could also be famous for having the best art gallery in the country.

Newcastle Art Gallery is a pioneer. It was the first purpose built regional art gallery in Australia. With its sharp geometric shapes and exposed concrete walls the gallery reflects the Brutalist aesthetic that flourished in the decades after the Second World War. The Gallery has collected over 6000 works since its inception, and is considered one of the most significant public collections in the country.

Today the gallery hosts a variety of exhibitions drawn both from its own collection and from other institutions via travelling exhibitions.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Music, Literature and Art

Paul Beadle’s relief sculptures adorn the entrance to the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre. His heavily stylised work is designed to fit into tight spaces. The two reliefs show aspects of music, literature and art. Beadle included a unique self-portrait carving a male bust in the top of the right entry. The works reflect the community’s desire to be a place of creativity and learning.

English born Beadle was the head of the Art School at Newcastle Technical College from 1951 until 1957. He taught and exhibited widely in Australia before migrating to New Zealand in 1961.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Baptist Tabernacle

The Baptist Tabernacle was designed by one of Newcastle’s most prominent and popular architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, Frederick Menkens.

Constructed from 1889 to 1890, the buildings elaborate painted plaster neo-classical Corinthian façade was inspired by the Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

It was threatened with compulsory demolition during the planning of the neighbouring Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre in the 1940s but both legal arrangements and the Tabernacle’s trustees prevented the building’s destruction.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – Menkens

Frederick B. Menkens was born in Germany in 1855. Few could claim to have had as diverse and striking an impact on the look and character of Newcastle as this creative and versatile architect.

His first trade was bricklaying but he went on to study Architecture at the Royal Polytechnicum at Hanover. He migrated to Australia in 1878. In 1881 he set up an architectural practice in Maitland for a year before moving to Newcastle. Here his practice flourished, and Menkens would go on to design over 100 buildings in the city and throughout
the Hunter.

Menkens developed a reputation amongst local builders as uncompromising and demanding. Having learnt bricklaying as a trade, it is said he would remove his hat and coat, snatch the trowel from a bricklayer and proceed to demonstrate the proper technique for laying bricks if what was being produced did not meet his standards. Menkens even spent time in prison due to his relationship with one builder, sued in the Supreme Court over a dispute with the contractor regarding the quality of their product.

Menkens died aged 55 from cirrhosis on 10 March 1910. His legacy can be seen across Newcastle in the buildings he designed.

His skills as an architect and his ability to adapt his style to meet the needs of his clients are well demonstrated here on Laman Street. Menkens not only designed the Baptist Tabernacle, but in the very same year designed the very different Gothic influenced St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the corner of Laman and Auckland Street.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. NESCA House

Newcastle City Council began to generate electricity for street lighting in 1890. Within two years it was increasing electrification and a district supply was established. By 1937, the Newcastle Electricity Supply Council Administration was providing over 87 million Kilowatt hours of power and had out grown its office space in City Hall.

The Council decided to construct an administration centre for the electricity department on the parcel of land next to the City Hall. Emil Sodersteen, the architect responsible for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was chosen to produce the design.

Sodersteen’s new building was designed to complement the City Hall, and was constructed from similar sandstone. Despite its consideration of the grand and traditional building next door, NESCA House demonstrates strong influence from Art Deco and European Modernist styling.

The building housed a demonstration theatre, showroom, administrative and business offices and staff accommodation. It opened in 1938 and performed a variety of roles until The University of Newcastle took over the site in 1995 and it became known as University House.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. The Workers Club

The Workers Club forms the legacy of one of the most prominent cultural, political and social hubs in Newcastle, as well as being the site of one of the city’s greatest tragedies.

The Newcastle Trades Hall Council Workers Club otherwise known as the ‘Red Inn’ and ‘The Newcastle Workers Club’ opened on this site on the 8th of October 1948, to prepare and teach skills for workers in preparation for the revolution.

During the 1950s and 60s the club played an important role in the local Labour movement, and acted as a platform for organising and staging community events.

By the 1980s it was a popular live music venue. On December 28th, 1989, the Workers Club was due to host a performance by popular band Crowed House, with thousands expected to attend. Hours before, however, at 10.27 am, the city was devastated by an earthquake. Parts of the Workers Club collapsed resulting in nine deaths.

The new Workers Club building was officially opened in 1992 by Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Earthquake

The Earthquake that struck Newcastle at 10.27am on Thursday, 28 December, 1989 was one of the most serious natural disasters in Australia’s history.

Registering 5.5 on the Richter scale, the earthquake claimed 13 lives in total. In addition to the nine people killed at the Newcastle Worker’s Club three people were killed in Beaumont Street, Hamilton and one person died of shock. A further 160 people were hospitalised. The death toll could have been far worse. At this time Newcastle’s CBD was a dominant commercial and retail hub. Thousands of people would normally flock to the CBD to take advantage of post-Christmas sales, but a public transport
strike meant that fewer people were in town than usual.

50,000 buildings were damaged and approximately 40,000 of these were homes. 300 buildings had to be demolished. 1,000 people lost their homes and the damage bill was estimated to be about four billion Australian dollars.

Novocastrians found that the earthquake altered not only the built environment but also their sense of community identity. The Earthquake, and the devastation it brought to Newcastle’s CBD became a catalyst for decay, change and rebirth that continues to influence the city today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Miss Porter’s House

‘Miss Porter’s House’, a distinctive Edwardian Terrace, was the lifelong home of Ella and Hazel Porter.

The Porter family built this house in 1910. The building and its contents are representative of the middle-class urban lifestyle of the early twentieth century. It retains Edwardian and 1940s period furnishings, unique stencilled ceilings and a collection of thousands of objects acquired by the sisters over the decades.

Before she passed away in the mid-1990s Hazel bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) who now maintain the property and open its doors to the public.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Bank Corner

The acutely angled intersection of Hunter and Hannel Streets was occupied by a bank for over 100 years. The previous building stood for 50 years before being replaced by the one before you in 1940.

Described in the press at the time of its opening as a simple modernised version of the Classical Traditional, the building also has Art Deco influences in the detail and decorative elements.

The building was a branch of the Bank of New South Wales.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. Art School and Trades Hall

This building was opened in 1896. Generations of Novocastrians enrolled here to learn trades and skills, as it hosted courses on everything from free hand drawing to steam engine maintenance.

The building was designed by W.E. Kemp, who also designed the Sydney Technical College in Ultimo. Federation Romanesque in style, the College’s frame is constructed from Red Cedar. The building is asymmetrical, with the right side being larger than the left.

The tradition of training on this site continues today. The TAFE Hunter Institute Newcastle Art School is a combination of the 1896 Art School building, the 1895 Trades Hall building and a 1997 extension that joins the two architectural highlights into one.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Steggas Emporium

Built in 1886, this row of seven shops represents one of Frederick Menkens’ earliest designs in Newcastle.

The shops are typical of Victorian commercial street architecture of the period. Menkens added a touch of flair by putting a dramatic stress on one of the central bays by giving it a crowning triangular pediment surmounted by a raised parapet and broken segmental pediment. Unfortunately this feature has been removed, along with the original single story veranda.

Steggas, with seven separate businesses occupying the same building, was a forerunner of today’s department stores. The shopping habits of Novocastrians changed in the 1880s due to the introduction of efficient public transport networks, including the city’s tramways and the Great Northern Railway, which allowed people from outlying
areas to travel with ease into the city centre for shopping and recreation.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

13. Civic Theatre

Dominating Newcastle’s Civic Precinct is the Civic Theatre, built in 1929.

The theatre was designed by Henry Eli White, the same architect responsible for the City Hall. White was one of the most successful theatre architects in the country with Sydney’s Capitol and State Theatres also to his name.

Originally designed internally in a dramatic Spanish Baroque style for both cinema and live theatre, the building went through many modifications and operators. By the 1960s the Civic was in decline, due to competition from television, and its patronage fell by 63%. It closed in 1973 and Newcastle Council made the decision to transform the Civic into a dedicated live theatre venue. This decision saved one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Today the theatre is Newcastle’s premier performance venue, hosting a diverse program of shows including dance, drama, comedy, cabaret, film and children’s shows.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to audio on Civic Park.

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The Birdwood Flag

Gionni Di Gravio, archivist from the University of Newcastle describes the Birdwood Flag as a ‘big bag of confetti’.

“It’s a bit of a shock when you first see it, but it’s thanks to Bronwyn Orrock that we knew about the Birdwood Flag. We knew of its existence but we’d never seen until late last year.”

On a visit to Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral to inspect various items in the collection of the Diocese, Gionni asked about the flag.

“They brought out a shoebox – I opened it and my heart sank. I was distraught. But Bronwyn (Orrock) explained that (the state of the flag) it was part of a ritual.”

Historian Bronwyn Orrock was researching the fine art items held by the Cathedral.

“It was while I was researching in the Diocese archives that I found out about this flag but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realised how important it was,” she said.

But the flag which had once flown over General Birdwood’s headquarters at The Somme was now just a bag of tiny fragments.

When Bronwyn asked what had happened to it, the former Dean of Newcastle told her how flags are supposed to be treated when they’re put into a cathedral.

“He said, ‘They’re hung until they drop and then the pieces are supposed to be quietly and reverently collected and disposed of. I picked up the pieces because I thought one day someone is going to think this is really, really important. Someone will be looking for this; it will be important for Australia,'” she recounts.

“So he just quietly put the pieces in a box, put it at the back of a big old safe they have, and it was forgotten.

“Of course then the Cathedral went through the earthquake and restoration. All those things in the Cathedral were packed up, taken away and stored, and so the flag was just forgotten about,” she said.

“It’s only because I was doing this research and saw this lovely 1930s black and white photograph in a cardboard mount and thought, ‘Why has someone gone to the trouble of taking this photograph?’. I then found out a little more about the Birdwood Flag. When Gionni told me it had been found, I broke into tears. I couldn’t believe it was still there,” said Bronwyn.

General Birdwood was the British head of the Anzac troops, so all Australians serving during WWI served under him. Bronwyn says this is why they didn’t serve under an Australian flag.

“Our troops all served as part of the Empire, so they didn’t serve under an Australian flag. They had Australian commanders at the lower levels, but the ultimate person they reported to was a British general.”

This flag flew over Birdwood’s headquarters at the Battle of the Somme and while there haven’t yet been any photographs found of the flag flying, there are detailed newspaper reports of the making of the flag and the presentation of the flag to Australian soldiers in France.

“When this flag was first made, done by public subscription, there was a young lady named Miss Dora Sparke from Waratah, daughter of William Sparke. Dora was in her early twenties and her two brothers had gone to war. She decided with a group of friends to start making gifts to provide comforts to the soldiers in the field,” said Bronwyn.

“She then heard that British women had presented a flag, a Union Jack, to the Australian troops in France. She decided this wasn’t good enough and that we should be sending our boys an Australian flag, but not just any flag. She wrote and got permission for it to be an official flag.

“It was received by General Birdwood in a ceremony at the battleground where his headquarters were, and it was hung there. When he came back from the war, he returned it to Newcastle and it was stored here until he came [for] an official handing over ceremony.”

These days, the flag is in thousands of tiny pieces and now carefully stored by the University of Newcastle, but there is strong desire to have the flag restored.

Bronwyn thinks restoration may be possible to at least get the flag back on public exhibition, but it will be expensive.

“Perhaps we’ll need the public to help again!”

With the centenary commemorations of World War I, there are hopes that the funds necessary to restore the flag will be made available.

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