Charlestown is the vibrant hub of Lake Macquarie – the go-to place for those seeking anything from shopping, food and entertainment to medical and professional services. It’s the region's number one destination, with no other area in the region offering the array of business, health and lifestyle choices.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAKE MACQUARIE LIBRARIES: HTTP//HISTORY.LAKEMAC.COM.AU THE CORNER OF SMITH AND IDA STREETS, CHARLESTOWN (NOW THE OFFICES OF INTOUCH MAGAZINE!).
Charlestown is flourishing. The precinct is booming with opportunity as demonstrated by the new residential developments, modern apartment towers, office blocks and of course the constantly evolving Charlestown Square – the largest shopping centre in the region. New residents and
businesses are moving into the area by the hundreds to be a part of this dynamic community.
Located high on the hill – the Charlestown we know today is nothing like its humble origins as a coal mining village.
Considered to be the founders of Charlestown, the Waratah Coal Company was first established in 1862 to mine coal in the Waratah district of Newcastle. The company then purchased another 2,600 acres to the south of Newcastle and in 1873 began sinking a mine shaft in what was then known as
Raspberry Gully – a deep gully to the north of Charlestown and now of significant historical significance for Lake Macquarie. The coal was taken along the “Gully Line” to Waratah.
Hacked out of dense bushland, the deep gully soon became a hive of activity and variously known as Charles' Pit, Raspberry Gully or The Gully Pit. Officially, the region was called South Waratah, but over the years, the name Charlestown came to include the Gully Pit and all other company owned land. This surviving name seems to have been derived from that of Charles Smith, the company's manager.
What formed from this was Charlestown's first European settlement with the first inhabitants being the miners from the pit.
The company created the town’s first subdivision in April 1876, including original street alignments along the current Pacific Highway as well as Pearson, Smith, Ida, Frederick, Milson and Ridley Streets. The Charlestown Oval was also established at this time, and bequeathed by the mining industry to the community of Charlestown.
In 1877 Charlestown was included in the Municipality of Waratah and had up to forty houses, several stores and a population of 200 consisting mainly of miners from Gully Pitand also shopkeepers. The first post office was opened in the same year with mail brought from Newcastle three timesa week on horseback.
Just two years later, Charlestown had3 hotels, a School of Arts and several stores as well as a Government Savings Bank. Charlestown’s first school opened in April, 1879 with 68 pupils.
ABOVE: EARLY DAYS - PACIFIC HIGHWAY, CHARLESTOWN.
By 1883, Charlestown had two churches and by 1892, had grown to a population of 500 people. Sometime around the late 1880’s, hostilities broke out when the Raspberry Gully owners employed strike-breaking mine workers brought in from Sydney. These "free labourers", included Spanish, Italian and Turkish migrants desperate forwork.
To house some of them, the company built homes onCharlestown Road, which locals called "Blackleg Row" or "ScabRow". Due to the chatter of the many languages being spoken,the area was soon nicknamed "Monkey Town." After some threats from angry miners, the newcomers quickly left and the modest cottages became known as Pit Row.
Diagonally down Charlestown Road was also the minemanager's hilltop residence overlooking the Gully mine. Today, the site is better known for the townhouse development Moreton Bay Gardens.
In the 1900’s Charlestown saw a period of rapid growth and expansion. In 1911, Charlestown had 120 homes which quickly increased to 158 homes ten years later and a population of 736 people. By 1933 Charlestown had 318 homes and a fast growing population of up to 1,360 people.
Although the mine did very well at first, conditions proved to betoo competitive during the latter part of the 19th century and itwas closed in the 1940’s - after World War II. Charlestown surged in population, growth and development in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Sewerage services were extended to Charlestown and a number of new schools were opened to cope with the growing number of school aged children.
Charlestown Square was built in 1979 - the first shopping centre to develop in the Lake region. The new centre had asignificant impact on the town by generating huge increasesin traffic, shifting the retail focus to the west and becoming a major employer in the region.
Today, very few traces remain of the Raspberry Gully pits.However, of the eight miners cottages built by the Waratah Coal Company for the strike breakers, four remain today at 300, 304,306 and 308 Charlestown Road. These remaining cottages are essentially the same in form as when they were built, with only some changes to materials (windows and cladding). They are the only remaining obvious relics of the Waratah Coal Company.
Also, tucked away in Rotary Park and very visible to motorists stopped at the intersection of the Pacific Highway and Dudley Road turn-off is a large mining wheel memento - the Rotary Park sculpture commemorating the mining venture that led to the early settlement of Charlestown. This sculpture was completed in 1972 and designed and sculpted by Charlestown resident, Peter Boyd whose father Tom Boyd worked as aminer all his life.
It is believed that Tom Boyd modelled for the sculpture which captures the back breaking work involved in working at the coalface. Beside the sculpture is a plaque that reads, "Dedicated to the coal mining pioneers who in the year 1873 started the first mining venture which led to the formation of Charlestown in1876. The poppet head was salvaged from the last remains of the Waratah Colliery which was situated in Raspberry Gullyfrom 1873 - 1961. Symbolically, this historic headframe wheel is located directlyopposite Charles Street - Charlestown.
The Building of CHARLESTOWN SQUARE
Charlestown Square is the major regional shopping centre in Charlestown and is owned and operated by General Property Trust (GPT) - one of Australia's largest diversified listed property groups.
Originally built in 1979 as a 2-story structure, the centre has undergone several extensions and renovations and currently has over 270 specialty stores – including over 100 fashion stores and more than 30 exclusive stores, making it one of the largest shopping centres in the Hunter region.
The centre now has 3 levels, and includes two food courts. The Centre is constantly evolving, and in late 2010 underwent a major $470 million redevelopment, which almost doubled its size to 88,000 square metres. This included adding over 100 new shops, a new 8-screen Reading Cinema, including 2 Gold Lounge cinemas.
The redevelopment also meant employment for an additional 1300 people, significantly boosting the local economy.
As of August 2015, Charlestown Square is undergoing a further major redevelopment in the former Best and Less mall. This development is rumoured to be bringing major international retailers such as H&M, Zara and Topshop to the Hunter region.
With over 270 specialty stores, including Apple, City Beach, Rebel Sport, Strike Bowling Bar, Best & Less and also home to the only Myer department store in the region, Charlestown Square has something for everyone.
FEATURED BUSINESSES IN CHARLESTOWN