Newcastle and the Hunter
©2011 Greg and Sylvia Ray
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic
or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,
without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Fourth printing, with revisions, 2016
Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, Newcastle
Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Front cover photo: An unknown photographer taking a picture of Newcastle East, circa 1930s.
Title page vignette:
Newcastle’s busy east end rail yards in 1938, showing iconic Customs House and Nobbys.
Newcastle and the Hunter
A companion volume to Newcastle, the Missing Years
Selected, arranged and interpreted by Greg Ray
Layout and image restoration by Sylvia Ray
THE publication in late 2010 of Newcastle, the Missing Years marked the start of an interesting journey.
That book told the story of the chance discovery of a collection of glass and film negatives – previously
owned by transport enthusiast and collector Mr Ken Magor – and of the realisation that these images largely
represented a collection of press photographs from the 1930s and 1940s that had apparently been discarded
years before, probably during a newspaper library “downsizing”.
My wife, Sylvia, and I decided these rediscovered photographs were the makings of a book and my longtime
former employer, the Newcastle Herald, enthusiastically supported our venture.
The Depression and war years had long been poorly represented in most collections of historical pictures
of the Newcastle area. This was partly because the hardships of those years made photography less accessible,
partly because so many people were fully engaged in efforts at economic survival or military service and
partly because of inexplicable losses of records from some of the most obvious potential repositories of highquality
regional images. Perhaps, in postwar years, people wanted to cast uncomfortable memories aside.
Newcastle, the Missing Years has now (in 2016) sold more than 18,000 copies and run through eight
reprints. The first print of 5000 copies sold out in three weeks.
Part of the pleasure of producing the book was the immense amount of feedback from readers.
Novocastrians and former Novocastrians from all over Australia (and some now living overseas) provided
their own special insights into some of the photographs. In many cases their additional information was
incorporated in later printings of the book.
For younger readers the publication of Newcastle, the Missing Years offered glimpses of a strange and
unfamiliar city. Many remarked on the city’s purposeful appearance and its seeming confidence during the
Depression and war years – the times of some of Newcastle’s greatest trials.
For older residents of the city the impact was different and much greater. Images of Newcastle and its
surrounding districts in the 1930s and 1940s brought back powerful and emotional memories for many people
who knew the city in those years.
Again and again Sylvia, the Herald and I were thanked for being part of making these photographs and
memories accessible. Surprisingly, tears were a common reaction, demonstrating very clearly the void in the
communal memory that the loss of these pictures had allowed to persist.
Many readers of Newcastle, the Missing Years urged us to consider compiling a second book of
photographs based around Mr Magor’s collection. This volume is a response to those requests.
A young Ron Morrison, shortly after starting work at the Herald in 1949, copying a photograph for transport
collector Ken Magor. Mr Magor is shown at right, in a photograph taken by Mr Morrison on June 21, 1961.
Left to right: Photographer Arch Miller preparing to go aloft, perhaps to take some of the aerial photographs
that appear in this book. A dapper Cec Piggott, pictured on an assignment in the 1930s, with his camera and his
characteristic fob-watch chain. Milton Merrilees, photographed in the 1960s with his Mamiya press camera.
Recovered Memories started life as what might have been considered a mere sequel but it soon grew into
an exciting project in its own right, thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of many people.
Sylvia and I would like to acknowledge some of these contributors:
Former Newcastle press photographer Ron Morrison and his wife Liz gave much advice, inspiration and
support as well as graciously permitting the use of some of their valuable images.
Mrs Daphne Barney, wife of my late Herald colleague Norm Barney, provided access to Norm’s extensive
Bob Roulston, the son of a former Newcastle Sun journalist of the same name, provided some superb old
Lyn Merrilees, Peter Merrilees and Bron Thomson – children of former Sun and Herald photographer
Milton Merrilees – gave access to a fascinating archive of their father’s work.
Patricia Kellett, daughter of former Herald photographer Arch Miller – and her husband Barry – provided
valuable information and another small cache of extremely helpful images.
We again thank Mr Barry Magor for giving us another small collection of photos from his father’s archive.
Other helpful contributors include Ron Jones, Kevin Laffey, Laurie Murphy, Teresa Purnell, Edna Petfield,
Ed Tonks, Carl Christie, Ron Barber, Bruce Belbin, Matthew Endacott and Jim Laing.
We also wish to record our appreciation of the great support for our book projects from my former
employer, the Newcastle Herald.
Thanks too, to the staff at NCP Printing, who have enabled us to fulfil our ambition of having these books
printed and published in Newcastle, by Newcastle people.
My special thanks to my wife, Sylvia, who indulges my interest in history and who has applied her
computer skills so well to ensure the images in our books are presented to their best advantage.
Most of all, credit is due to the photographers who created many of the images in this book. To the best of
our knowledge, these include Ron Morrison, Milton Merrilees, Arch Miller, Tom Hall and Cec Piggott.
A bird’s eye view of the past
It’s interesting to reflect that in the 1930s and 1940s, powered flight was a relatively recent development.
The science of flight had taken a leap forward in World War I and did so again in World War II. By then flying
had become a popular hobby for those with the resources and inclination.
Newcastle, like many other cities, had its own aero club. Based at Broadmeadow’s District Park (until
aircraft outgrew that aerodrome), Royal Newcastle Aero Club had some fine planes and excellent pilots who
provided photographers with new pictorial opportunities.
As the likelihood of war in the Pacific dawned on authorities, it became apparent that the industries of
Newcastle would form the heartbeat of Australia’s defence response. New air bases at Williamtown and
Rathmines were the result.
At the same time Newcastle was expanding. The formerly wide-open spaces between its sometimes farflung
suburban satellites were filling in. The city, once fairly densely concentrated on its little peninsula
between harbour and sea, was adopting the sprawling pattern that would become so familiar in the future
when better roads and transport were available.
In Newcastle, form has traditionally followed function. And function, for most of the city’s history, has
been all about mining and industry. Still, planning authorities have tried – often perhaps in an unco-ordinated
and spasmodic way – to impose some order on the shape of development.
Aerial photographs are an ideal way to monitor urban growth, and the availability of a remarkable group
of small collections of such pictures from the 1930s and 1940s has provided an opportunity to offer a unique
bird’s eye view of Newcastle during a critical period of its growth and development.
Aerial view of Newcastle, revealing the changes to the inner-city areas between the 1940s and the present day.
Above: Royal Newcastle Aero Club Tiger Moths fly over the Hunter River and its heavy industries, circa 1940s.
The picture below shows spectators at an aerial pageant at Broadmeadow’s District Park aerodrome in 1939.
A glorious view of the city from the air in 1940. The ill-fated ship TSS Maianbar can be seen hard aground
on Nobbys Beach where it wound up after a towing mishap. The ship, unable to be refloated, was dismantled.
An aerial view across the coast from off the cliffs at Shepherds Hill on October 2, 1941, showing part of
the city, some of its heavy industries and the area that was soon to become Newcastle’s State Dockyard.
Two more bird’s eye views of the working port of 1940s Newcastle. Picture above shows part of Carrington,
the grain silos, the State Dockyard and coal-loading facilities at the Dyke and Basin. Note the grimy smudge
of Zaara Street power station. Photo below shows the aircraft carrier, HMS Glory, visiting the city in 1946.
An aerial view of Newcastle, east of Civic, in the 1940s. Landmarks in the middle ground are the synagogue
(not far from the intersection of Darby and Tyrrell Streets) and chimneys of the old council powerhouse nearby.
A splendid aerial view of Newcastle in the late 1930s, looking south along the city’s original Watt Street axis.
Looking west along Hunter and Scott Streets in 1935, showing Dark’s Ice Works in the foreground with the old
boat harbour, fish markets and overbridge. In the background are Parnell Place tram yards and Christ Church
Cathedral and cemetery. Note the building work at the cathedral. Picture by Sydney photographer Milton Kent.
Newcastle’s Civic area from the air. The date is unknown, but predates the 1939 construction of Nesca House.
Aerial view of Newcastle’s Civic and Cooks Hill areas, post-1939, looking south and showing buildings and a
cricket pitch on Civic Park, the Burwood railway through the park and light development along Darby Street.