Welcome Back - On Returning to Newcastle

Well, we've been back in Newcastle for a month now; it has gone so quickly. (But then, it sometimes feel like I just wrote this. And when I did write that post, back in 2007, I remember a then-colleague of mine telling me, the world's oldest teenager, that I'd return to Newcastle with a husband a child. How I laughed at such a ridiculous notion).

All that I can't leave behind
 The idea of returning north had been kicking around for a while. I was tired. I was tired Sydney; tired of the crowds, the pollution, tired of getting pretty much anywhere being an exhausting hours-long odyssey, tired of not going to the theatre, the trendiest restaurants, tired of having my nose pressed up against conspicuous consumption. I wanted a simple life - picnics, the beach. So I set off to secure our fifth home in three years (oy vey), found one after a moderately tedious search, and we left Sydney for the final time. The move has been regretted by no one. We have a three bedroom house with a massive yard for the same amount of rent paid for a one bedroom flat with no balcony, laundry or car space in the inner west (although at that price, our Summer Hill place did include a lot of cockroaches). The neighbourhood is full of lovely old wooden houses, we've already made some friends (in one of those isn't-that-funny coincidences, it turns out our next door neighbour was an existing Twitter acquaintance), we can get anywhere (once the bus shows up) in twenty minutes.

It's not all good though. I miss the food in Sydney. So much. Sichuan, Xin Jiang and Shanghai food have been replaced by "Chinese". I'd forgotten, and DH is astonished, that restaurants in Newcastle close between 2 and 5:30pm. I'd also forgotten that Newcastle has zero culture of travelling on public transport except as last resort for the poor and very poor; I returned to Sydney last week for some shopping and was comforted to be on public transport at 10am with people who weren't completely decrepit. Sometimes I'm just plain confused. I'll vaguely think "I wouldn't mind going to the Lindt cafe today", or the Chinese Gardens, or the Rocks markets; then I'll remember we're not in Sydney and we aren't going back, and sigh quietly.

As I mentioned, I departed Newcastle as an overgrown teenager who happened to have a large discretionary income. I return with a husband and child, no longer interested in pubs or clubs, my perspective having changed in many ways. Bill Bryson wrote of returning to America after having lived most of his adult life in the UK that it felt like a backward step, like moving back in with your parents - they might be nice people, but you've moved on, and he felt that way about a country. I feel that way, a bit, about a city. There was a time when I thought I'd never return to Newcastle. And I get here and find I'm not the only one who has changed. Whilst I dearly miss Chinatown, the food situation has improved immensely from the chips-with-everything culture I remembered. There's plenty of gourmet and locally-sourced food providores, and when I first visited the Newcastle Farmers' Market, I was practically weeping with joy (yes, I am obsessed with food; I'm afraid we're going to have to live with that). Honeysuckle was just getting underway when I left, and I'm still to have a proper look around. Sadly the joy of "going to town" is largely a thing of the past. David Jones has gone, Showcase cinemas have gone, the Lucky Country is gone (though I find it hard to summon much emotion for the loss of the Jolly Rodger), the silver shops have gone, Big Als has gone, the lovely Eckersley's on Union St, which had the feel of an organic artists' establishment, has been replaced by a soulless clean retail emporium in Hamilton. Most heartbreakingly of all, the magic of the arts precinct - the art gallery and library - has been destroyed by the removal of the fig trees, leaving Civic Park barren and stark with no prospects of recovery.

But still! The joy of being able to get to the beach in twenty minutes will be a long time fading (and what beaches, with rockpools and nooks and places to explore). The beach and river and water are such a large part of the psyche of the city, and myself, that without it my soul was parched. There's much exploring to do yet with DH - the Watagans and vineyards, the east end of town, and I may even take him to a Knights game so he really gets a feel for living here. (Though I think he can do without that other quintessential Newcastle experience - throwing up in the car park of King St McDonalds at 2am).  In a way though, it doesn't really matter whether Newcastle is better or worse than Sydney. This will always be my true home; it's where I want to be. It's nice to get to know one another again.

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