My name is Barry Wiseman. I grew up in the Cessnock district, living there between 1948, when my family emigrated from England, to 1966, when I returned to England, always meaning to return to Australia.
Looking to do something totally different, I joined the British Police and served in Sussex, on the south coast for thirty years in uniform, vice, CID, Criminal Intelligence, surveillance, Special Branch. Recovering from injuries, I finished my service as Inspector in the Prosecutions Department. During all that time I was thought of as “that Australian bloke”.
Since that retirement, I have written for magazines, mostly about classic cars and aircraft, including articles for Restored Car magazine in Australia.
After 51 years, my wife, Carol, convinced me that I should go back to my roots and that is how, in September 2017, I found myself wandering along Vincent Street, seeing what had changed in a half century.
Travelling with my daughter, Wendy, we stayed for a few days at Hunter Valley Motel and that was just fine for walking into town. I smiled when I saw that the swimming pool, where I spent so many Sunday mornings as a boy looked the same, though the library had gone, replaced by a smart, modern establishment in Vincent Street.
The Police Station and Court House looked just the same and the car sales premises, though changed from the days when Harringtons sold Fords, with Vauxhall and Triumph dealers alongside, retained the theme.
Walking along Maitland Road, I found that a house built by my father, Frank, still looked much the same and was still occupied by the lady who bought it around 1960.
The fine old School of Arts building still stands, but there the changes began. Gloria Hyam’s florist shop had gone. The Empire Picture Palace had gone and so had Cubby Jabour’s milk bar next door, where I used to spend so much time, though a glance up the road showed the fire station, (where Cubby, a volunteer fireman, used to run up the hill when the bell was rung), looked exactly as I remembered.
I looked in vain for the Nattrass bakery and De’Argevals men’s wear shop, Holdaways newsagency and Endersby’s shoe shop. What used to be a ridiculously high kerb along there had been levelled by some clever road engineering.
I saw that the other cinema (the Regent) still stands, though not as a cinema, whilst the next door Co-op store is now a church tea room and meeting place. My daughter had her first experience of gravy on chips at what used to be Rochester’s Café, next to the Regent. The old grain and produce store across the road still stands, though no longer in use, whilst back over the road, what used to be Cyril Arblaster’s Golden Fleece garage is now a swish Shell petrol station.
Like most high streets in England, Vincent Street is now dominated by coffee bars and estate agents and I did wonder who decided to make the council offices look so grim and forbidding in its dark grey paint.
I looked for the old Cessnock Eagle newspaper office, where my brother, Eric, worked in the 1950s. I couldn’t find it, but I did find the Advertiser office. Just beyond was Rover Motors, where my father worked as a motor body builder when they ran red double-decked buses. That reminded me of the old, pale blue articulated buses that also used to run in Cessnock, with full-width, rexine covered seats, where we used to slide end to end on corners. It was really comforting to see so many pubs still standing, including Pedens.
Across the road from there I showed my daughter a sign that I had flattened with my Triumph Herald coupe in about 1963. The little things stick in your mind, don’t they? The railway station where I used to board the 6.50am Newcastle train to take me to work at the Bank of New South Wales – gone, as has the Bank of New South Wales. South Cessnock, where I used to open the bowling for Hyde Park was unrecognisable for the better.
It was behind Vincent Street that I had my first shock, seeing that the Town Hall and Church had gone, replaced by a row of supermarkets and mini-malls. I remembered Coles and Woolworths as stores that sold just about everything. At least you still have Woollies, whereas they have disappeared from England, though there is a branch in Cologne, Germany, strangely enough.
Out of town, towards the old air strip, where we used to race cars, I saw that the Brickworks had gone, leaving just a couple of kilns outside one of many swish estates. There used to be a dip in the road that we called the “washaway,” where we used to get our cars temporarily airborne, but that’s gone, too. Just as well, maybe. There is an excellent Tourist Information office along there and some interesting diversions along the wineries roads.
Walking around, I looked at people of my age, wondering if I might have known them. I looked in at the library and saw a photograph of Phillip Wetzler in the Advertiser. He was a classmate and we played cricket and tennis together for Cessnock High School.
One reason that it took so long to go back to Cessnock is that I was told that it had changed so much that I wouldn’t like it. That person was wrong. Living my life I have been to many wonderful places, including Russia, America, Norway, Morocco and most European countries, but I know now that if I had stayed in Cessnock, I would have had a good life. In my heart, I’m a Cessnock boy and always will be.
Since I returned to England I have liked the Advertiser on Facebook and enjoy daily revisits through that. It gives the impression that the community spirit is excellent and that residents take a justifiable pride in their area.
My best wishes to you all and to your town.