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Our Town Revisited: Newcastle in colour with a focus on the 1970s

This is the Newcastle that I remember from my own younger days. And this is the most personal of our books to date, peppered with fragmentary anecdotes of my memories of growing up in Our Town. My unrequited wish to go on Romper Room, for example. And of course my still-jarring memories of the 1989 earthquake – the 30th anniversary of which coincides with the production of this book.

Newcastle’s East End, late 1970s. Photo by Ron Morrison.

For the past decade, Sylvia and I have produced a collection of historical photographs each year. It started with Newcastle, The Missing Years in 2010 and culminates this year with Newcastle, Our Town Revisited.

Each year, so far, when we’ve come to think about the theme of our next book, the available fresh, unused material has made the selection for us. This year was no different.

This year the best unused images available to us were colour transparencies and slides – mostly from the 1970s. The backbone of this collection was a wonderful group of medium-format transparencies created by Ron Morrison for use in his books of decades ago. But on their own these were not quite enough to fill a book of our customary format. Fortunately, we were offered the use of a big collection of slides created – again mostly in the 1970s – by the late Don Ebbott. Don was a keen and talented amateur photographer with a strong interest in the built heritage of Newcastle and the Hunter. For some years he and his wife Mavis travelled on National Trust day-trips, Don toting his trusty camera and carefully documenting buildings from the humble to the grand. Combined, these collections easily made a book.

From the start I knew I wanted to use the words “Our Town” in the title, as homage to those extraordinarily successful and resonant television commercials for the Newcastle Permanent Building Society. The working title was “This was Our Town”, but Sylvia felt that title implied a suggestion that the town might no longer be “ours”. While that might be an idea worth debating, it wasn’t the intention so, after a few other attempts, we settled on Our Town Revisited.

I regard our books as exhibitions and I treat the selection of images as an exercise in curation. When the material is all laid out the next step is to mould it into a collection that has some consistency. In the process gaps appear and I realise some things are missing and need to be found. This time the gaps were filled from small collections that came our way, and from stray single photos that appeared from unexpected sources. The photographers – credited in the book – include Eric Sutherland, Doug Brown, Dr Don Dunlop, Alan Bennett and Doug Lithgow.

Newcastle rail footbridge by Ron Morrison

The book is designed to evoke the Newcastle that was, when I was younger. It was so different from the city of today, and I’m not making any value judgements when I say that. I find it astonishing to look back and recall so many things about that city of the past that we all thought would last so much longer than they did.

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