It’s difficult to describe Nobbys headland to a stranger without referring to other great monuments of other great cities.
At the entrance of Newcastle harbour, Nobbys is not just a lighthouse, a land mass or even a landmark; it is the very symbol of Newcastle. It is to that coastal Australian city what the Opera House is to Sydney, not only a sacred site but a visual shorthand to explain the city itself.
That’s why it’s not only a part of the city’s coat of arms but a part of its consciousness as well. That’s why every other local logo has an image of a lighthouse that few have ever seen emit light. (That’s why the grounding of the Pasha Bulker was so profound for Novocastrians when the tanker came to rest on Nobbys beach in July 2007 during a thrashing storm. Can you imagine if a cruise liner crashed into the foot of the Sydney Opera House?)
To the indigenous of the area, Nobbys is a rocky outcrop that houses a male kangaroo banished for attacking a female wallaby, still hiding and only making its presence felt when its tail cracks and causes an earthquake (like it did days after Christmas in 1989, levelling other landmarks in the area).
To the modern observer however, Nobbys might be dismissed as a humble clutch of undistinguished buildings atop a pile of rubble and rock, if it were not for its spectacular setting and the profound effect it seems to have on the current populace who have adopted it as their totem.
I visited Nobbys on the first weekend of it reopening in 2011. Closed for generations, restricted to the public for 100 years, it seemed a necessary, crucial thing. I thought it would be extraordinary to touch a place that had been hitherto forbidden but had still towered over my life like the sentinel it was intended to be. I knew it would be a profound experience but I hadn’t counted on how much.
What is truly remarkable about visiting Nobbys is not what you see when you get there but what you see when you look back. It is the view. It would be a breathtaking experience for anyone but a potentially life-changing experience for someone who has grown up in its gaze. It’s like seeing your hometown for the first time, as if you’ve stepped out of the picture and stepped back to take in all its glory.
As I tried to take it in, I found myself thinking, this is it, this is the only reason you need to come to Nobbys. After years of debate as to the purpose of the site, standing there you realise that Nobbys needs no other attraction than to simply exist. Looking back at the town, you realise that it’s not Nobbys that is the attraction here; it is Newcastle itself.
This is truly one of the best views in Australia, and one of the most amazing city vistas you could expect to see. It’s all there, practically every element of the Australian experience at one glance: the sea, the beach, the harbour, the foreshore, the industry, the country, the city, the suburbs, the mountains, the valley. But at my feet was the jewel of it all, the suburb I live in, also called Newcastle, burdened by beaches and water views, inner-city convenience and country kindness, and I was in awe of the fact I lived there.
I’ve always considered Newcastle one of Australia’s best kept secrets. Being born there I am biased but not as much as its detractors who dismiss it as industrial wasteland and urban blight. You can find that there, sure, like most cities, depending on which direction you’re looking. But the fact is, from where I’m standing, I have a lifestyle of which most Australians can only dream and the view from Nobbys puts it all into spectacular perspective.