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The old city centre has seen some new apartments and hotels built in recent years, but the rate of commercial and retail occupation remains low while alternate suburban centres have become more important. The CBD itself is shifting to the west, towards the major urban renewal area known as "Honeysuckle".
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This renewal, to run for another 10 years, is a major part of arresting the shift of business and residents to the suburbs. Commercial renewal has been accompanied by cultural renaissance. There is a vibrant arts scene in the city including a highly regarded art gallery,  and an active Hunter Writers' Centre. The old central business district, located at Newcastle's eastern end, still has a considerable number of historic buildings, dominated by Christ Church Cathedral, seat of the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle.
Coal mining began in earnest on 3 May when the Australian Agricultural Company received land grants at Newcastle plus a year monopoly on that town's coal traffic. All operations had closed by the early s. Privately owned and operated to service the A Pit coal mine, it was a cast-iron fishbelly rail on an inclined plane as a gravitational railway.
In the s, a major copper smelting works was established at Burwood, near Merewether. An engraving of this appeared in the Illustrated London News on 11 February The largest factory of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere was constructed in , on a 8. At the Sydney International Exhibition they won a bronze medal "against all-comers from every part of the world", the only first prize awarded for soap and candles. In , the BHP steelworks opened, beginning a period of some 80 years dominating the steel works and heavy industry. As Mayfield and the suburbs surrounding the steelworks declined in popularity because of pollution, the steelworks thrived, becoming the region's largest employer.
Newcastle as a traditional area of heavy industry was not immune from the effects of economic downturns that plagued New South Wales and wider Australia since the s. These downturns were particularly hard hitting for heavy industry which was particularly prevalent in Newcastle. However, it consistently remained above that of New South Wales. In , the steelworks closed after 84 years operation and had employed about 50, in its existence, many for decades.
At the time of the closure and since the closure Newcastle experienced a significant amount of economic diversification which has strengthened the local economy. Since , Australia experienced the effects of the s commodities boom as commodities prices for major export good such as coal and iron ore rose significantly. This provided a large incentive for investment in the Newcastle and Hunter region due to its status as a major coal mining and export hub to Asian markets.
Large projects related to the coal industry helped to propel the Newcastle unemployment rate to 20 year lows and allow the Newcastle region to weather the effects of the late s recession better than NSW as a whole. On 28 December , Newcastle experienced an earthquake measuring 5.
Part of the Newcastle Workers' Club, a popular venue, was destroyed and later replaced by a new structure. The following economic recession of the early s meant that the city took several years to recover. However, Beaumont Street, Hamilton , where many buildings sustained major damage, became a thriving cosmopolitan restaurant strip after the earthquake and is still going strong today.
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The earthquake helped to rekindle business in this suburban strip. This resulted in extensive flooding and nine deaths. Thousands of homes were flooded and many were destroyed. After the first few attempts failed, the Pasha Bulker was refloated on the third salvage attempt on 2 July despite earlier fears that the ship would break up.
After initially entering the port for minor repairs, it departed under tow on 26 July for major repairs in Asia. The most tragic maritime accident of the 20th century in Newcastle occurred on 9 August when the Stockton-bound ferry Bluebell collided with the coastal freighter, Waraneen , and sank in the middle of the Hunter River.
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It was later found that the ferry captain was at fault. The Junction is a highly populated suburb of Newcastle and most of the plane wreckage landed in the shopping area of the suburb. In a memorial plaque was unveiled for the killed pilot. Newcastle is on the southern bank of the Hunter River mouth. The northern side is dominated by sand dunes, swamps and multiple river channels. A "green belt" protecting plant and wildlife flanks the city from the west Watagan mountains around to the north where it meets the coast just north of Stockton. Urban development is mainly restricted to the hilly southern bank.
The small town of Stockton sits opposite central Newcastle at the river mouth and is linked by ferry. Much of the city is undercut by the coal measures of the Sydney sedimentary basin, and what were once numerous coal-mining villages located in the hills and valleys around the port have merged into a single urban area extending southwards to Lake Macquarie.
Newcastle has a humid subtropical climate Cfa , typical to the Australian east coast. Precipitation is heaviest in late autumn and early winter, while the second half of the year is slightly drier on average. The climate is generally moderated by the Pacific Ocean to the east. The highest recorded temperature was Winters are generally mild with drier conditions than summer on average.
Cold fronts affect the area and sometimes bring strong westerly winds behind them.
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The coldest temperature ever recorded was 1. The east coast low in May , the June Hunter Region and Central Coast storms and April are extreme examples of this type of weather.
Newcastle is often quoted as being the seventh largest city in Australia. This is misleading as the area represented extends well beyond both the City of Newcastle and the Newcastle metropolitan area. The area, officially the Newcastle Statistical District, is referred to as Greater Newcastle or the Lower Hunter Region, which includes most parts of the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock, Maitland and Port Stephens local government areas and, as of 30 June , has an estimated population of , The demonym for the people of Newcastle is "Novocastrian", derived from Latin novus new and castra castle or fort.
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The oldest state school in the area is Newcastle East Public School , a primary school established in Newcastle East Public School is the oldest continuously operating school in Australia, and celebrated its bicentenary in There are three selective state schools in the area. Hunter School of the Performing Arts is a fully selective K school and only takes students by audition. Merewether High School is a fully selective high school in the suburb of Broadmeadow. Hunter Sports High School is a partially selective sporting high school. The school accepts around half its students from the local area and around half by audition.
The city's main provider of tertiary education is the University of Newcastle. It was established in as a satellite campus of the University of New South Wales and obtained autonomy in The University now offers over undergraduate and graduate courses to a student population of more than 38,, including 7, international students from more than countries. The Tighes Hill campus is the network's largest campus and offers courses in business, hospitality and various trades. There are a mixture of typical regional show elements such as woodchopping displays, showbags, rides and stalls and usually fireworks to complement the events in the main arena.
The Mattara festival , founded in , is the official festival of Newcastle with a more traditional 'country fair' type program that combines a parade, rides, sporting events, band competitions and portrait and landscape painting exhibitions. The Newcastle Jazz Festival is held across three days in August, and attracts performers and audiences from all over Australia. This is the film festival where film-makers come together in one place to make a short film in 24 hours. It is run annually in July. This Is Not Art is a national festival of new media and arts held in Newcastle each year over the October long weekend.
Since its humble beginnings in , it has become one of the leading arts festivals in Australia dedicated to the work and ideas of communities not included in other major Australian arts festivals. The Newcastle Entertainment Centre, located inside the Newcastle Showground is a popular venue for regular events including wrestling, concerts and monster truck shows.
Newcastle has an active youth music culture, as well as a Conservatorium of Music which is part of the University of Newcastle. It continues to support local bands and has a large underground music scene. The members of Silverchair , the highly successful Australian band, hail from Newcastle, as does the Australian band The Screaming Jets. Notable modernist artists associated with Newcastle are seascape sketcher Shay Docking — , the cubist influenced abstract painter William Rose — , landscape painter John Olsen , who was born in Newcastle in , still- life painter Margaret Olley , portraitist William Dobell and figurative painter John Montefiore lived at Lake Macquarie to the south of the city.
Art collector William Bowmore resided in Newcastle and collected Brett Whiteley paintings as well as owning a large collection of international art and artefacts.