On the way back from Brisbane we drop into two unexpectedly delightful places – the little country town of Bellingen and the historical industrial city of Newcastle.
We arrive in Bellingen in the deep darkness of a winter evening. It is a rain washed night and we are pleased to find ourselves in a cosy apartment (Bella Vista) very close to the heart of town. We head down to the quiet main street and enjoy a creditable Indian dinner. The next morning we make our way back into town and find it a lot busier. We are bowled over by the loveliness of this place. Bellingen is a blend of yesteryear charm and hippy earthiness.
It is heart skippingly gorgeous to see words like Millinery, Ironmongery, Drapery and Grocery wrought in old fashioned iron lettering above our heads and printed clearly on the front of Hammond and Wheatley Emporium.
This is a town which parades its history everywhere – from the tidily proportioned courthouse built in 1910 to the Art Deco elegance of the newspaper office and the Soldiers Memorial Hall and Literary Institute.
We enjoy a relaxing cuppa at a quirky little café called People of Coffee and dip into some cool alternative shops with names like Alchemy, The Yellow Shed and Soul Kindle.
We meander into lane ways of whimsical boutiques and café tables tucked beneath big old trees. I love the laid back vibe of this place where genteel past and funky present sway in easy rhythm with each other.
Just outside Bellingen is a sunshiny place called The Butter Factory where we spend a happy hour or so browsing through some pretty little shops and basking in a beautiful garden.
Our next stop is Newcastle and I must admit I don’t have many expectations of this industrial city but I am so wrong…
There is an almost European flavour about Newcastle that is really different to the energy of other Australian cities. You can feel the breath and pulse of its gritty and gracious past in rows of dilapidated Victorian terraces, the dominant presence of Christ Church Cathedral, stately old buildings and the working harbour. This city started as a harsh penal colony and became a centre of heavy industry. Its history is palpable everywhere. But this history harmonises oddly with the edginess of a contemporary urban centre complete with street sculptures, hipster cafes and cosmopolitan restaurants.
On the way to breakfast, at an excellent wholefood café called Momo, we walk past a marvellous sculpture titled Evolution 1 by Sandra Minter Caldwell.
This work consists of four 1.8 meter tall figures which represent people who have come from the four corners of the globe to begin life with a fifth figure representing the Aboriginal people (the traditional owners of the land). What a splendid concept and how wonderful that this powerful and significant street sculpture was created by a woman.
And so the mingled magic of history and happiness in a picture perfect country town and an iconic industrial city adds its light to our road trip home…
© Anita Patel, 2016