History & Heritage

History & Heritage

Newcastle East is steeped in history. This Heritage Conservation Zone tells the story of the peninsula from aboriginal dreaming to present times.

People & Places of the East End



Joseph Lycett – Aborigines Resting by a Camp Fire near the Mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle, NSW. (National Library of Australia)

The Awabakal clan of Muloobinba (Newcastle) mainly lived around Merewether and the city foreshore area and harbour entrance. The clan had good hunting and fishing facilities, and was reasonably close to the clans of Lake Macquarie and the Hunter River and others located in what we now deem to be old waterfront areas – Honeysuckle (site of corroborees), Wickham, Carrington and Port Waratah, popular for mud crabs and shellfish, as indicated by the large middens that have survived.

The name ‘Awabakal’ means people of the plain or flat surface, believed to refer to the surface of Lake Maquarie. From the observations of the Reverend Threlkeld, it is understood that the Awabakal Tribe lived around Lake Macquarie.

Aboriginal people believe there is no separation between the health of the land and the health of the people. They have long known that to care for the environment is to care for all the living things; that all life is part of the enormous network of relationships that were created by the Great Spirit ancestors of the Dreaming.

The Awabakal tribe consisted of four clans, all of which had an area within the tribal territory considered theirs to use in their search for food and to gather raw materials for technologies. The four clans were Pambalong (or Swamp District), Ash Island, Kurungbong and Lake Macquarie.

The clans came together on social and ceremonial occasions. On a daily basis they respected territorial boundaries.



Dreaming stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations. Through song, dance, painting and storytelling which express the dreaming stories, Aborigines have maintained a link with the Dreaming from ancient times to today, creating a rich cultural heritage.

 They establish the rules governing relationships between the people, the land and all things for Aboriginal people.



The Awabakal people spoke of a volcanic eruption that occurred during the Dreaming, in the area now known as Redhead. An ancient volcanic plug is believed to exist in the Redhead area. The Awabakal name of this volcano is Kintiiyirapiin.

A long time ago a great darkness came over the land. The darkness came from a hole in a mountain and blocked out the sunlight. The people and animals were all very frightened.

Messengers were sent out to gather up the people to have a yarn about how they could bring back the sunlight. The elders decided that they needed to cover up the darkness that was all over the ground. The men, women and children collected rocks, sand, branches and bark which they laid on the ground to cover up the thick darkness.

After the darkness was covered many generations walked on the ground pressing the earth flames and darkness together, which created coal or nikin in Awabakal.

Now when coal is burnt the ancient earth fire spirit is released.



Painting by Saretta Fielding

Be aware that the story of the Kangaroo in Nobbys is quite a sensitive one. The Awabakal Dreaming website suggests that it should not be shared with women and children, but this version is a recommended text by BOSTES.

A very long time ago, when there were still giant sized animals around, all the various animals within the area would separate into two groups – one group being the females and the other the males.

They all lived together very peacefully and happily.

One day a large male kangaroo attacked a female wallaby.

This was against the law.

He was banished from the kangaroo group forever.

After a long chase by the wallabies the kangaroo reached Muloobinba, the place of the sea ferns, now called Newcastle.

As he entered the sea, he thought about how lucky he was to be able to slip away from the wallabies that chased him.

The wallabies thought that he had drowned.

But the kangaroo had swum to Nobbys Island and entered the tall rocky outcrop, making sure that he was out of sight of everyone.

He is still there to this day, but he won’t come out because he is never sure if it is safe for him from the angry wallabies.

Sometimes he gets upset and jumps around inside his prison. When his giant tail crashes against the earth, it makes the rocks fall and the ground tremble.

The Awabakal people believe this is what causes an earthquake.


The People Quiz answers…

  1. Name the writer and teacher who lived in Newcastle East (Carlton Building) during WW2? Dymphna Cusack. Her work includes “Come in Spinner” & “Pacific Paradise”- a successful anti A-Bomb play translated into several languages and performed around the world.
  2. Which Commandant began a building program in Newcastle between 1815 and 1818? Captain James Wallis (Commandant from 1816 to 1818).
  3. Which important colonial architect designed Customs House? James Barnett (Colonial architect for NSW. Work includes the GPO Sydney and Lands Department Building.)
  4. To which convict artist do we attribute much of our knowledge about early settlement of Newcastle and contact between aboriginal and European people? Joseph Lycett (convict and artist).
  5. Who ‘discovered’ Newcastle while returning to Sydney after searching for escaped convicts? Lieutenant John Shortland. His landing site was at the base of Signal Hill (Fort Scratchley) where he found coal.
  6. Name the magician/ventriloquist who lived in Scott Street and had a magic shop there. What was the name of his ventriloquist’s dummy? Rex Sinclair (Uncle Rex) and Horace starred on radio and stage.
  7. Who designed Longworth House/Airforce Club in Scott Street, a rare example of the Anglo Dutch style of architecture? Frederick Menkens (architect of national importance – works include: St Andrew’s Church, Baptist Tabernacle, David Cohen & Co warehouse, Earp Gillam warehouse, The Boltons).
  8. Who lived in Wynn House, Parnell Place and were members of a theatrical family associated with the Victoria Theatre? Del and Neville de Glorian – came from a long tradition of entertainment. Their grandfather William Wynn and his brother were trapeze artists. Later they became managers of the Victoria Theatre. Del and Neville’s father was a stage manager there.
  9. Which Lord Mayor was responsible for transforming railway yards into the Foreshore Park? Joy Cummings – the first Australian female Lord Mayor. Responsible for: saving Islington Park figs, Civic Park, extensions to Blackbutt, Wetlands, Glenrock and the Foreshore Park.
  10. The stairs down to the Foreshore Park are named after Jean Perret. What important role did she play in Newcastle East? Jean Perret was an activist and for many years was Secretary of Newcastle East Residents Group.


General Knowledge Quiz answers…

  1. Where was the Jubilee Monument (Coal Monument) first located?    Pacific Park
  2. What were the three main activities of convicts who were sent to Newcastle in 1804?    Cutting cedar, mining coal and burning shells to make lime.
  3. What does Muloobinba mean?    Place of the edible sea ferns.
  4. In what year did Lt. Shortland discover coal, fresh water and a good harbor at a site near the base of Fort Scratchley?    1797
  5. What is the Aboriginal name for Nobbys?    Whibayganba
  6. Who did convicts build the Bogey Hole for?    Major Morisset
  7. What is the significance of the Convict Lumber Yard near Customs House?    It is Australia’s oldest industrial site
  8. What is the name of the paddle steamer, wrecked at the mouth of the harbour in 1866, claiming the lives of 60 people?    Cawarra
  9. What was the early name for the Fort Scratchley headland?    Signal Hill
  10. Which school is the oldest in Australia?    Newcastle East Public School. It was founded in 1816 for the children of soldiers and convicts. The first headmaster was a convict, Henry Wrensford. He could read and write, being convicted of forgery. Beginning in a slab hut near Bolton Street, the school moved several times in its history and now overlooks Newcastle from the hill.

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