In Writing Radical Newcastle, leading historians share their stories about the fascinating cast of communists, heritage activists and churchmen who are part of Newcastle’s colourful past.
A senior lecturer in History at the University of Newcastle, where she completed a PhD on Perceptions of Newcastle in 1995, Nancy answers our questions about her work on Radical Newcastle.
Tell us about your background, including what drew you into your area of interest?
I came to Australia from Canada in 1989 and moved to my husband’s home town of Newcastle in 1991. As an historian, I wanted to understand the place in which I was living and ended up producing a PhD entitled “Creating the Coalopolis: Perceptions of Newcastle, 1770 – 1935,” under the supervision of the late John Turner, who knew everything about Newcastle’s history.
Did your research for Radical Newcastle change your point of view or reaffirm something you already knew?
As an editor of the Radical Newcastle book, I have been impressed with the range and longevity of radical action in Newcastle and of the personal courage of those who took up radical positions. Reading about the disparagement of those seeking equal rights for women and Indigenous people, for example, made me reflect on how what is considered radical changes over time, with positions once on the outer fringe shifting towards the centre, or in cases like communism, maintaining a radical position for over a century.
Do you draw on any people or resources for inspiration?
The Radical Newcastle project is inspired by books on Radical Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Looking at these works suggested how a book about Radical Newcastle would have to be distinctive – in looking at Newcastle as the centre of a radical region rather than just focusing on a CBD as these books did and in defining radicalism much more broadly than the politics of the far left.
What do you hope will be achieved by what you are doing ?
The whole Radical Newcastle project – which has included several public meetings and symposia, a blog, a Facebook page with over 200 members and a book – provides a way of sharing stories about Newcastle’s radical past many of which have not been recorded in histories produced until now. I hope that these stories will both bring attention to the struggles which brought about things which we now take for granted and inspire people to take on radicalism in their own lives where they see a need for change.
What’s your favourite Newcastle neighbourhood and why?
Bar Beach, where I lived when I first moved to Newcastle and now try to rent a holiday flat for at least a week each summer. The beach suits my Canadian level of surf skills, I love the little cafe/surf shop on Darby Street and it is close to the homes of family members.
Can you name a local hero?
Gionni diGravio, University of Newcastle archivist. Gionni is a great commentator on Newcastle past and present and his enthusiasm is infectious.
What do you look forward to doing most in Newcastle in summer?
Walking from Newcastle Beach to the end of Nobby’s Breakwater at sunset. I have a large photograph of Newcastle Baths on my dining room wall as a reminder of how beautiful it is.
Whale watching from dry land.
Where and what was the last greatest meal you had in Newcastle?
A farewell dinner for a colleague taking up a professorship in the UK at Rustica on King Street which has helpful staff and a beautiful outlook over the ocean.
Your #1 Newcastle insiders tip?
Go back to the Hunter Street Mall. It isn’t as you remember, but now is the best place I know of to buy and chat with the makers of handmade clothing, jewellery, art and delicious food.