Being the second oldest white settlement in Australia, there’s plenty of history in Newcastle and the National Trust is very active there. Tourism is one of the most important future growth areas for Newcastle, and it really has so much potential: historical buildings, beaches, and wineries in the Hunter Valley. I left Newcastle in 1980, and by the age of 35 had lived away from the city longer than I had lived in it. But regular visits to family mean I can now catch up on all the sights.
Last week, we visited two places – one that I was very aware of, Fort Scratchley, which was a no go zone when I was a kid but has now been restored by local historical groups;and Miss Porter’s House, a National Trust historical house.
(There are some interesting pictures on the Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Porters-House/140843169416116?ref=stream)
Miss Porter’s House is in King Street, and was built in the early 1900s. Local business owner, Herbert Porter moved into his new house in 1910 along with wife, Florence Jolly. Their children, Ella and Hazel were born soon after in 1911 and 1914. Sadly, Herbert and his mother died during the epidemic of Spanish flu in 1919, leaving Florence, Ella and Hazel to live on in the house making a living as best they could.
Both of the women grew up in the house, and remained living there all of their lives, with neither one marrying. Hazel was the last one to pass away; she died in 1997 and left the house and all of its contents to the National Trust. And there are lots of contents.
Despite the house suffering significant damage during the earthquake in Newcastle in 1989 – the two sisters had to be dug out from the house by neighbours – the National Trust has done a fantastic job of restoring and displaying a whole variety of furniture, knick knacks, kitchen equipment, clothes, dolls, and ephemera providing a series of snapshots in time of the women’s lives in this Edwardian building.
Each room has a volunteer explainer, partly to monitor the room’s contents, but mainly to explain the materials and activities of the house.
Miss Porter’s House is open every second Sunday from 1pm-4pm; there is an entry fee.
Going through it, I wonder what the National Trust would think of the contents of my mother’s house?
Fort Scratchley is also a very interesting and quite significant Australian historical site. Built in the 1880s to guard the resources being exploited already in the region by the white settlers– the area is rich in coal seams – the Fort offers wide views of the Hunter River and the beaches to the north and south and would have provided an excellent vantage point to monitor approaching vessels.
Interestingly though, a Japanese submarine was able to sneak right up to the Harbour in June 1942, firing off 34 shells with several landing at various spots around the city foreshore. The Fort’s guns could not return fire due to the low angle of the submarine in the water – the guns could not be directed down low enough.
Visiting the Fort today is fascinating, with a guided tour (fee charged) that takes you down through the tunnels underneath. You don’t have to take the guided tour, though, and there is more than enough of interest if you wander through the rooms and exhibits at your own pace.
And just to remind you of where you are, they do fire canons. This small one was fired a couple of times while we were there; our visit coincided with that of a large group of people from a cruise ship.