The former steel city offers a more nuanced take on good old blokey adventure as Mark Eggleton discovered.
I’m sitting in the Great Northern Hotel opposite the train station in Newcastle. It’s a muscular old hotel built back in the 1930s - back when large brewing companies built grand pubs that were designed to dominate their surrounds and exude an air of importance. And they were important because they served beer and the odd counter lunch to local movers and shakers.
While the Great Northern unquestionably has watched the rise and fall of Newcastle as a steel town, it still exudes a certain shabby chic. It is also a reasonable live music venue. On this particualr evening, I’m drinking with a bunch of blokes led by Craig “Rosie” Rosevear (former drummer with Aussie band The Screaming Jets) and we’re chatting about the glory days of Oz rock and surfing culture in Newcastle, which is rather apt in the faded glory of the Great Northern. We’re also drinking beer.
Beer had been a bit of a theme on the trip, with James Squire regularly consumed as had been numerous others, including Stone & Wood from Byron Bay and the local drop from Murray’s Craft Brewing Co.
The previous evening we had visited local restaurant Rustica with its lanterns arranged like honeycomb across the roof and its wrought iron portico bought from a 15th century Portuguese church. The walls depict images from Renaissance Italy. It’s a hodge-podge but it works and reflects the many passions of owner and transplanted Irishman, Will Creedon.
We were in Rustica for a Beer Appreciation dinner hosted by former brewer, international beer judge and local beer-lover Lachlan MacBean and we tasted a number of beers from around the world matched with delicious comfort food from the Rustica kitchen.
Beer was overwhelming our trip with a visit to the Albion Hotel already fitted into the itinerary and with a wee tasting of eight tap-poured Aussie craft brews courtesy of Newcastle's top tap dog Mr MacBean (again) our manly diets seemed to be built around bubbles and froth.
The reason - we were four men on the ultimate blokes trip to Newcastle. Besides the amber fluid, there would be rock climbing, tree-climbing, football, flying foxes, an obstacle course in the treetops, coffee, food and Segways … yes Segways.
We even had quasi-masculine sponsors in Uncle Toby’s Muesli Bars, Jeanswest, Schwarzkopf Professional, Natural Confectionery Company, BRUT toiletries and Opena Case – a mobile phone cover with a built-in bottle opener. All very blokey except maybe for the lollies, deodorant, hair gloop and probably the muesli bars but we were a bunch of sensitive, well-coiffed, sweet-toothed new-age blokes. Sure we’d consume the frothy stuff and play an interminable amount of X-Box games but we were out to prove our innate sophistication.
Chatting to Rosie in the Great Northern over a quiet ale we retold our exploits in detail. It all began with a kind of Parkour experience in the trees (but with harnesses) at the Tree Top Adventure Park in the Blue Gum Hills Regional Park. Four blokes (and one woman) scurrying, climbing and falling with style through a series of obstacles strung up in the forest canopy.
There were flying foxes and much commando-like activity. At the end of it, we were better, braver people. I immediately set myself up as a new-age guru and motivational speaker.
After descending from the trees we headed to a packed Hunter Stadium to catch the might of the Australian Rugby Union team get beaten by Scotland in driving rain, Arctic temperatures and gale-force winds. As the ultimate blokes we sat in a corporate box with around 100 of our closest local friends and ate footy food in sideways rain if we stepped outside.
With football and trees under our belt, the next day’s trip to indoor climbing centre, Pulse Climbing, was relatively tame. We scaled walls and failed on overhangs but our masculinity was proven. In fact we were so comfortable with ourselves that we went Segway riding in a protected wetland. Sure we went laser clay-target shooting and I briefly dreamed of bagging a trophy kill, such as an endangered bird or small marsupial from the back of my Segway, but it wasn’t to be.
In the midst of trying to live the dream as Alpha-males, as four urban silverbacks, we had kind of become sensitive, environmentally friendly types. Maybe it was the hair product; maybe the lollies and muesli bars. All I know is beer, male company, good food and testosterone-packed adventure crammed over a couple of days just made me want to hug a kitten and I have an irrational dislike of cats.
2/1 King Street, Newcastle NSW 2300
(02) 4929 3333
Crowne Plaza Newcastle
Merewether & Wharf Road, Newcastle NSW 2300
(02) 4907 5000
East Coast Xperience
412 Sandgate Road, Shortland NSW 2307
1300 46 56 36
Hunter Wetlands Centre
412 Sandgate Road, Shortland NSW 2307
(02) 4951 6466
Chifley Executive Apartments
111 Scott St, Newcastle NSW 2300
(02) 4040 1200
(02) 4982 6411
Tree Top Adventure Park
Blue Gum Hills Regional Park, Minmi Road, Minmi NSW 2287
(02) 4026 7617