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BNE September/October 2016 |

23

I

t’s only 9.15am but already there’s a queue

of caffeine-starved customers waiting

outside Sherwood Coffee Bar in the West

End of Newcastle. Just five years ago this former

industrial area was derelict, empty, boarded up, a

ghost town, but how times have changed. Today

it’s seriously hip, following in the footsteps of

the CBD’s revamp of recent years. Next door

is Pappa Sven, a Scandinavian interior store

and across the road is The Edwards, the cool

bar, restaurant, store (for vinyl records and pop

culture items) and yes, a coin-op laundromat,

owned by Chris Joannou (one-time bassist of alt

rock band Silverchair) and Chris Johnston.

I’m with Neroli Foster, who runs Underground

Epicureans, taking people on walking tours to

groovy new cafés and restaurants and giving a

potted history of all the changes along the way.

Over a breakfast of quinoa

and seed porridge and great

coffee she explains how the

once neglected downtown

Newcastle has been reborn.

When the founder of not-

for-profit company Renew

Newcastle, Marcus Westbury,

returned home in 2008 he

discovered around 150 visibly

emptybuildings in the city centre anddevelopment

projects either stalled by the financial crisis or

simply not viable. The story of how Renew

Newcastle came up with a model to make some of

these spaces available on an interim basis to artists,

creative enterprises and community groups is told

in his book,

Creating Cities

, published last year,

while his ideas are being looked at in other cities

here and overseas.

Now construction cranes are everywhere,

a light rail is planned for the CBD and a new

transport interchange is being built at Wickham.

Pedestrian crossings intersect the former railway

tracks, linking the old part of town including the

West End with Honeysuckle, the near-completed

50-hectare residential and commercial area on

former industrial land along the harbour.

The Newcastle Museum is in the old railway

workshops here but my journey with Foster is

exploring the less obvious treasures that visitors to

the city may not find on their own.

Our next stop is the cute Bank Corner Café in

the building’s former staff kiosk. Further down

Hunter Street we share a bagel topped with butter

mushrooms at Papa’s Bagel Bar. Co-owner Johno

Quinn’s fond memories of how his grandfather

would soak up the last remnants of his meals with

bread or a bagel are behind the name and the

fresh-baked treats at this popular café.

A cold brew – ground coffee steeped in water

– and the best crumpet I’ve ever tasted smothered

in ricotta and macadamia nuts is pretty hard to

fit in but we manage at the Press Book House

Café, also on Hunter Street down from a gaggle

of bridal shops.

“Renew has changed the whole feel of the city,”

Foster says. That’s evident at the Emporium,

which was once David Jones, where I meet

Renew general manager Christopher Saunders

and see several artist businesses on site. He

explains that since 2008/09, more than 200

projects have gone through its leasing process,

taking over shops on a 30-day license. About

33 have gone on to take commercial leases on

buildings they occupy, including Studio Melt

further up the mall which sells carefully-curated

jewellery, objects and arts in a combined retail

and working studio/teaching space.

The Emporium’s shops range from clothes and

dressmaking to craft and art. Printmaker Graham

Wilson, whose space is called The Carved

Greenman, sells wood cuts, stonework, images on

t-shirts and paper sculptures. The store has led to

commissions for signage for local businesses and

others, such as designing a label for a perfume

range. “More than anything it’s a showcase,”

Wilson says.

In a smaller mall a few metres away owned by

A community of creatives in arts, food and design

has brought new life to the remnants of Newcastle’s

industrial age, as

Diana Plater

discovers

Tom Kearney at Ritual Object

Bliss Cavanagh’s Elyssium Sensory Art Room

“We explore less obvious

treasures visitors might

not find on their own”

Images supplied by Lindsay Bridge and Edwina Richards