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WHAT a wonderful photograph of Hunter Street, Newcastle, in the 1930s (''Main drag'', Herald, 27/11).
Lots of people and activity despite the fact that there was a heavy-rail line with steam trains coming into Newcastle Station from Toronto, Belmont, Telarah, Morpeth, Cessnock and Central.
There was a coal-fired power station on the foreshore near Zaara Street.
Crossing to Wharf Road from Watt Street at Customs House was over multiple train tracks in a shunting and marshalling precinct for coal wagons, locomotives and passenger carriages.
The photograph also shows a tram, one of many, that ran on a comprehensive network throughout Newcastle and to Wallsend, Waratah, Mayfield and Merewether.
Much has changed since that photograph was taken - some things for the better, others not.
A visionary state government decided that light rail was not ''with it'' in the 1940s and finally closed the lines in 1950.
In the 1970s Newcastle City Council, following the fashion of the time, decided that part of Hunter Street had to be turned into a mall. The old Strand Arcade and theatre complex had to be demolished and replaced with something more modern. Paving replaced the asphaltic concrete and kerb and gutter. Along with these changes was a clumsy covered walkway that clashed architecturally with the historic facades of several early municipal and commercial buildings.
More recent attempts by the council to revitalise the mall with stone paving, kiosks and sail structure shelters for the ill-fated markets did little to rescue it. Three public toilet blocks were demolished, two constructed, now there are none.
By any measure the mall has been a multimillion-dollar failure with nearly every business in the area closing down and leaving over the past 40 years.
History shows us that the heavy rail is not a problem for Newcastle despite what a vocal and well-funded minority would have us believe. They want millions of dollars of public funds to demolish the existing rail infrastructure and build a new terminus. This cannot be justified.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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