Paul Scott reporting for the Newcastle Herald

August 21, 2023 – 8:00am

Is Newcastle Australia's Goldilocks city? Picture by Marina Neil

Is Newcastle Australia’s Goldilocks city? Picture by Marina Neil

Newcastle is Australia’s “Goldilocks” city. But it isn’t the only one. Other cities are monikered as Goldilocks cities according to The City Report published in June 2020. The Committee for the Hunter’s CEO Alice Thompson also mentioned Newcastle as a Goldilocks city in the Newcastle Herald in the following April.

Correspondent Mark Mathot from Mayfield East fired the “Goldilocks” reference up again last week with a glowing recommendation to this masthead (‘Newcastle is Australia’s ‘Goldilocks’ city’, Letters, 17/8/) about how he and some others view Australia’s seventh largest city, albeit with a proviso about “not ruining the elements that make our town so special”.

Mr Mathot wrote about a man “who just retired to Newcastle from the Southern Highlands. After a visit, he and his wife purchased a waterfront apartment at Honeysuckle in preference to one in Sydney or the South Coast. His neighbour, who owns a successful business in Dubbo, uses his Newcastle apartment as a holiday house.”

His is an excellent endorsement for the city’s (although he also refers to Newcastle as a town) current and future development as a retirement village or an investment for the well-heeled seeking harbour views. Honeysuckle is no doubt a terrific place to live in an apartment when looking toward the water, but it’s a God-awful vertical cement canyon when observed from Honeysuckle Drive. Honeysuckle demonstrates Newcastle is clearly a Goldilocks city for developers.

Just on the interchangeable use of city and town when referring to Newcastle. If a steady stream of correspondents can get their knickers in a knot about the shortening of Newcastle to Newy, I reserve the right to be just as irked whenever I hear Newcastle referred to as a town. And the right to have that irk piqued whenever Newcastle is referred to as “our town”.

The anthemic Go Hard Go Knights Go Crowd blurts through distorted speakers on game day at Turton Road to awaken the inebriated and/or medicated from their semi-slumber. The tune proudly and parochially reminds both those plonked in corporate boxes and those planted on the hills that “this town is our town; this town is your town”.

Newcastle as everybody’s town? Really? Not according to the Centre for Public Integrity’s Geoffrey Watson SC, who led the charge as the ICAC’s counsel assisting during 2014’s Operation Spicer.

“I always felt Newcastle was an odd place, insofar as it seemed to be run by a smallish group of very powerful people, well placed in the law, politics, but mainly business, who really seemed to be in control. There seemed to be these sort of weird oligarchs, who were very wealthy, controlled particular industries, and manipulated and did things themselves.”

To crudely paraphrase the Monty Python skit on the Piranha brothers, Watson’s assessment is cruel, but fair.

The City Report defines major cities as those with a population greater than 100,000 that are not capital cities, while towns are defined by populations of between 20,000 – 40,000.

A city is metropolitan, and a town is regional. What does it matter if locals describe Newcastle as a city or a town? Because it represents a mentality that is flexibly adopted at state and federal levels when distributing grants. Newcastle can be, and has been, excluded from both regional and metropolitan grants.

I can’t erase the memory of the mayor of North Sydney shamelessly claiming in 2020 that the North Sydney Olympic Pool was “definitely a regional facility” after being asked why her council received a $10 million federal grant from funds specifically earmarked for the regions.

“We have people from all over the state coming to use our pool. It has a history of being a regional pool, also it’s a tourist attraction,” she said. No wonder I can’t find the latest series of ABC’s Utopia amusing.

Is Goldilocks the most appropriate allegory for Newcastle’s growth? It sure isn’t Sleeping Beauty anymore. I’m more inclined toward seeing Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as parabolic for how parts of Newcastle are evolving: “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Apologies to Kafka purists who can’t cop the Corngold translation.

I don’t view Newcastle, like Goldilocks and the comfy bed, “as just right”. But it has been leaning further and further in that direction when it comes to regulators rolling out the red carpet to the developers who see the city’s building laws setting out size and scale as a mere starting point for negotiation.