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Australia's second-oldest city, bound by a working harbour and glorious surf beaches, was forged from coal, timber and sweat but has moved on from that rough-and-tumble era to embrace a new outlook.merewetherbeach11

Clever repurposing has transformed heritage buildings. Former railway workshops house Newcastle Museum; a sandstone bank is now a French-inspired bar sparkling with chandeliers; a brewery's 19th-century grain and keg warehouse now showcases craft beers.

Arts projects, festivals and events have transformed five inner-city precincts. Come and explore Civic, Cooks Hill, East End, West End and the harbourside Honeysuckle development. Their makeovers are all part of a 25-year plan to revitalise Newcastle, shoring up its position as a vibrant regional centre and gateway to Hunter Wine Country.

A top ten city in Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel 2011', this is where bohemian culture coexists with surf culture; where hip cafés and award-winning restaurants flank an industrial port; where the land meets the sea.

This is Newcastle – a city of contrast, change and endless possibility.

And here's a short history of the place...

In 1770, Captain Cook noted a distinctive islet – Nobbys Head – on a map as he sailed by, yet it wasn't until 1797 that Lieutenant Shortland, searching for convicts who'd nicked a ship, discovered a "very fine coal river", naming itFortScratchley after Governor Hunter. The fledgling Sydney colony drew on the area's coal and timber resources before using it as a satellite penal settlement for the very worst offenders. At Limeburners Bay on the Stockton peninsula, bone-weary convicts were set to work making lime.

When military rule ended in 1823, a pioneer town blossomed. Throughout the 1900s, Newcastle's fortunes were tied to the steelworks. A deadly earthquake struck in 1989, and the steelworks' closure ten years later also rocked the city to its foundations. But Newcastle's port remains the world's biggest coal export terminal. Today, even as Newcastle embraces its indigenous, colonial, maritime and industrial past, it is busy looking to the future as a regional capital of creativity and cool.