Becky Kiil may not be Newcastle born and bred, but she knows more about the city than most locals and shares her knowledge and fave facts on guided walking tours around the city.
Originally from Whyalla northwest of Adelaide (a steel town like Newcastle), Becky came came to Newcastle four years ago from Melbourne where she'd been working as a clinical disability social worker. Seeking a major change both career wise and geographically, Newcastle was a clear fit for lifestyle and new career prospects.
I came to visit friends six years ago when they’d had a baby. My friend took me to Darby Street and then drove me along the coastline - I fell in love with the city’s easy access to the beach, lack of traffic jams and the relaxed lifestyle.
It was the creative scene that first drew me but the fact you can have a city on a beach; just blew my mind. Newcastle has everything I was looking for; cafes and art galleries while also offering the relaxed vibe of a small beach township. I knew about the struggles of steel towns but had heard Newcastle was going through enormous urban renewal.
Here everyone smiles and says hello and you can achieve things. There’s community support and a lovely scale to do big things but not get beaten down by the competition. A lot of Novocastrians don’t realise how lucky they’ve got it.
I was inspired by a friend who ran a tour business in Melbourne and every time I had visitors in town I took them on this tour. I'd always wanted to take people on tours and show them the best places and hidden gems - it comes naturally to me and is definitely where I feel most excited. So that’s what I decided to do with Newcastle Afoot, which just celebrated its third anniversary.
I had no idea I would ever do something like this. I studied architecture but found I was more interested in people and planning so I became a disability case manager. I thought life was going to be about social justice and fixing the world, but here I am.
I love the social connection; nothing compares with the community that comes from it. A lot of my guests are visitors to Newcastle, but many are also Novocastrians. I love showing them Newcastle’s creative scene or watching them try a creative cocktail concocted by a local bartender. It’s the small moments that excite me. My scavenger hunts are also tremendous fun and I love seeing people discover cool things about Newcastle that they didn’t know about.
This year I’m excited to be launching a street art festival sponsored by the City of Newcastle called Big Picture Fest. It will be a positive community festival supporting Australian artists and it will run from October 2-4 (subject to COVID-9 restrictions). I’m also moving to make my eat and drink tour for private groups only and introducing a new bar and street art tour.
One of my guests wrote me a thank you card all the way from the Netherlands, which really encouraged me. She saw that I really cared about what I do. Oh, and two people who met on one of my tours are now a couple! It’s nice to see people connecting.
The Bogey Hole has to be one of the city’s best hidden gems. It is such a beautiful pool, it’s unique to Newcastle and its history is incredible. You can see layers of history, including coal and compacted volcanic ash, in the surrounding cliff face.
At Nobbys Headland there are three tunnels, now covered with rubble, that in the 1850s were going to be filled with gun powder to reduce the height of the headland. They worked out however that the gun powder was actually going to blow up the whole island, so locals campaigned and petitioned authorities in Sydney to stop it. It’s considered Australia’s first environmental protest.
Newcastle Afoot operates small guided walking tours, grassroots local experiences and even a gin masterclass, connecting people to local business owners and introducing them to creatives.