Think of places to visit in Newcastle (the NSW one), and you’ll probably go straight to thoughts of the beaches. But there’s another fabulous treasure in Newcastle lurking in the burbs that’s worthy of a visit or two, or even six. It’s Blackbutt Reserve, and if you haven’t been there, you should.
I revisited it recently. I’ve been dozens of times before as it was the site of many a childhood and teenage adventure (born and bred Novacastrian) as it was just up the road. It was a kid’s paradise – koalas, ‘roos, birds and emus, ducks on the pond, and birds by the dozen. Long walks and long picnics in the sun. And oodles of bush to explore. To choruses of cackling kookaburras, we tramped under the canopy of grand stands of eucalypts and picked paths through meandering tracks, slashed through ferns and bushes, picked our way along creek beds and clambered over fallen logs.
Once we took the dog for the day and foolishly attempted to get her to cross a large fallen tree log making a bridge over a ten foot drop to the ground below. We teens were sure-footed but not so much an overweight Labrador who more resembled an oversized golden wombat, and of course the poor darling slipped, dangling off the side suspended by the lead and collar my friend was still holding, trying desperately to hold her weight. I screamed to let the lead go, she did and the dog somehow pretended she was a cat and landed safely. Sheba was fine but teenagers can be so stupid. How did we all survive?
That mishap and traumatic experience for the poor dog aside, it was a fabulous place to visit, especially when you’re a young teen reaching for independence and some good, wholesome fun – well, apart from the smoking.
It’s still a bloody good place to visit. All those things are still there but now the facilities are much better with expanded playgrounds and picnic areas, a kiosk and educational displays. Who doesn’t love a good fact sheet?
This is a veritable forest in the city, a green oasis in a place founded on smog and coal. In fact, some of it is actually a former mine site. Hectares and hectares of lovely open green space to thrash about in or just absorb from a slight distance. Over 180 hectares of native bushland in fact, mainly eucalypt forest with ‘pockets of significant remnant vegetation’ and tons of walks and places to sit and chill. You can even have your Christening or your wedding there.
And there’s more. The website has details about what’s on: a reptile show, feeding times and animal encounters, although the koalas and roos are being rested from public man-handling at the moment.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to meet the locals.
I met this fine fellow on my visit, just wandering about in the bush. He put on a marvellous show for me. Actually, I’m confident it was actually ‘for the ladies’ but the peahens weren’t around and I was the only one who took the slightest bit of notice.
And just in case you’re wondering, this is what peacocks look like from the back. Not bad.
And then there were these fellas. Ahhh! I got hissed at once for squatting too close to the babies, but mum really wasn’t too perturbed at all by my presence.
But it may not have been thus. But through circumstance and a handful of very dedicated people, Blackbutt Reserve wouldn’t be here at all.
Blackbutt Reserve was founded on the misfortune of an ill-fated subdivision at Kotara during the depression when only four blocks sold. One sold to a Mr Tom Farrell and this block became the first official part of the public recreational reserve when it was purchased in 1938 by Newcastle City Council (NCC), together with six hectares of New Lambton, at the earnest and determined lobbying of Joe Richley, an alderman of council, and Tom himself, Vice President of the Northern Parks and Playground Movement.
More land was gradually added as many attempts to acquire sections were fought off. The biggest threat came in 1967 when the NCC confirmed its support for Highway 23 to cut through three valley of the reserve. Farrell and Richley again joined forces and the long, public battle to ‘Save Blackbutt’ began.
Fast foward through seven years of public protests, media coverage and political pressure which culminated in a Federal enquiry into Blackbutt Reserve and the motorway in 1975. Farrell and Richley made a major submission to the Select Committee who decided that ‘in no circumstances’ should the Motorway 23 enter or cross Blackbutt Reserve but instead by sited on the western side of Lake Macquarie. The road is now known as the Inner City Bypass as Highway 23. (Someone correct me if that’s not accurate.)
The rest is history.
I lived through all that drama but remarkably stayed largely unaware and detached, as did my family, even though I was avid user of the reserve and we always lived ‘just up the road’. Activists we were not. I’m amazed to only learn now the extended battle history of this reserve lapping at my backdoor. Teenagers!
Like any public facility, it faces ongoing challenges – largely funding issues and understaffing, and attempts at encroachment – but now it’s well and truly embedded in the heart and soul of Newcastle, and deserves its status as city treasure.
Tom Farrell was proud of his work and described the establishment of Blackbutt Reserve as his greatest achievement. Other achievements he was instrumental in were pretty good too: Mt Sugarloaf, Barrington Tops and Myall. That sounds rather like a NSW tourist brochure. Better make their acquaintance as well.
So by all means visit the beaches when you’re in Newie, but I’d suggest putting Blackbutt on your list. Take a picnic, and your camera. You might meet a peacock showing off.
I wonder if the wishing well is still there at the top entrance??
Just too pretty not to give him another quick appearance.