The first time I visited Newcastle, I remember being taken aback by the sight of coal ships queued along the horizon. I had only ever really seen ships one at a time off in the horizon, and had never before visited an city where industry is such a part of the fabric of the landscape itself rather than hidden away from view, like a dirty little secret. But here, as you walk along the coast, you can see the hulking silhouettes of these enormous ships lined up in the distance, waiting their turn to be ushered just inside the harbour to be filled with coal.

As you can imagine, this industry brings protest and activism, and understandably so. The coal industry is problematic on a number of levels, and for some the continuing connection of newcastle to the mining and export of coal is something to be lamented. I understand this position, and from the position of ecology and sustainability, I support it wholeheartedly.

And yet, what I never expected, were the feelings of affection and excitement that the coal ships have raised in me. I love sitting in the sea or walking along the coast and looking out to see them far away. It still surprises me when I take a photo of the ocean only to find the outline of ships dotting the horizon. And the other day, when one surged through the harbour as I was checking Nobbys Beach, I felt my jaw drop in excitement at the almost surreal way the storie-high, red, steel behemoth dwarfed Nobbys Head, towering above us all as we walked along the foreshore. I felt excited the way a small child gets excited over such things. Then later, as I lay in my bed above the old gaol, I heard one of the ships release its horn into the midnight air. The huge sound was softer than you might think, blasting through the quiet of the night and bringing a smile to my sleepy face.

 (This photo hunted from here)
I have asked a few folk about the ships over the past few days - about what they think about their presence. They have told me about watching them as they surf, listening for their horns to know if they are too close to someone else, explained the craziness of the beached Pasha Bulka. Bar none, they have loved them. Loved watching them. These ships that are guided by equally impressive pilot boats, that are such a part of the Newcastle coastline, landscape, cityscape, of the culture and fabric of this town. They are part of the way that Newcastle is not like everywhere else. The way that people here are connected to the economics and industries that have been such a part of Newcastle's past, and which continue to be, in a multitude of unavoidable and intertwined ways, a part of its present.

(Like a small child, I waved at the driver of this pilot boat. No, really. I did.)

Note: Please excuse the dodgy photos taken on my crappy smartphone.


  1. Hey Rebecca

    If you're keen to find out more about Newcastle surfing history and culture check out my friend Geoff (Crow) Moore's blog

    A great bloke to talk to.


  2. Oh wow! Thanks so much - I'll definitely check it out! Hope you have been getting waves? I got some sweet little ones this morning...

  3. Surfed Newcastle beach before work 6am-7.30am when did you go out?
    You should come and check out Redhead this weekend. Should be good with the Northerlies :)

  4. I went out a bit further around the corner, later.
    I'd LOVE to come to Redhead this weekend, but I have to do a trip back to Byron for a wedding. Hopefully the northerlies are contained to here and will leave me alone up there.

    Another time! :)

  5. You've become a fan of the Cowrie Hole. Just watch out for angry Kneelos :)

  6. Anonymous7:52 PM

    Hey Rebecca
    Have enjoyed looking in on your stuff (got on through Kurungabaa) and am stoked you're enjoying my lovely hometown. The coal ships do provide some sort of 'visual attachment' that remind you that you are home amongst the familiar. There used to be a small coal ship named the 'Wallarah', which used to run from Catherine Hill Bay to the Harbour, twice a day from memory and while I sense that the large ships will remain for sometime, I miss seeing that, relatively small ship rolling along the coast. Hope you continue to enjoy Newcastle (and venture further into the more beautiful :) areas south.

  7. Dave - the only kneelos I've met so far have been awesome. But I'll keep my eyes peeled for any angry ones... :)

    Brad - Thanks for your kind words.

    Yes, I've heard the areas south of here are lovely - I'll have to check them out when I get back next week! Something to look forward to!

  8. Several of my surfing mates are kneelos :) If you were surfing the Cowrie Hole last Saturday check out for pics. My mate Brett (a kneelo) takes some great photos of Newcastle beach life and displays them on this website.


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