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Coal River Precinct seeks national heritage listing

BIRTH OF A NATION: University of Newcastle archivist Gionni Di Gravio standing along the Newcastle breakwall. Mr Di Gravio is part of a fourth push for national heritage listing for the Coal River Precinct. PICTURE: Simone De PeakIN SOME ways, University of Newcastle archivistGionniDi Gravio resents having to seek Canberra’s approval.

“Especially becausewe were here before them,” he said.

“We are the Cinderella city of ,we’ve done the hard work, butit’s the ugly sisters like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra that get the invite to the ball.”

But, that aside, the push is again on to have the Newcastle’s historic Coal River Precinct recognised on the national heritage register.

To Mr Di Gravio and the Hunter Living Histories working group behind the bid, the Coal River Precinct isthe birthplaceof the national economy.

“It’s where we developed our industrial base with the discovery of coal mining, and we’re still wedded to that today,” he said.

“They tried finding coal in other places but it was Newcastle that nutted it out, that got it out of a tunnel under Fort Scratchley, put it on a ship and sold it for the return on an export in modern .”

The precinct includes the likes of Fort Scratchley, the convict-built Macquarie Pier which now forms part of the Nobbys breakwall, and sites throughout the city’s east end which were the birthplace of coal mining and of the city itself.

It’s also the site of ’s first environmental protest –when, in the 1850s, a group of civic leaders led a push to save Nobbys Headland from demolition plans.

The tunnels where the dynamite was to be buried inside the headland still exist today, though blocked off from access.

The precinct is already listed on the state heritage register as a site which“concentrates the whole story of the development of New South Wales’ first and most important industrial centre”, as well as an area rich in Aboriginal history predating European colonisation by tens of thousands of years.

But, despite that, this is the fourth time a national listing has been sought for the site.

Newcastle City Council moved a motion in 2015 supporting the bid for national recognition of the area, and Greens Deputy Mayor Michael Osborne said he believed the site ought to be listed.

“The area encompasses Newcastle’s first coal mine, the site of the first navigational aids for coastal shipping and Hunter River traffic, and the site of a series of fortifications designed to protect the growing settlement,”CrOsborne said.

“Nobbys Headland, or Whibayganba,is an important Indigenous dreaming site, the home of the giant kangaroo and the focus of’s first environmental action which took place in 1853 and 1854 to protect the natural landform.”

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