Newcastle = Newie

Friends, travelling at Easter, sent a chatty email to say: “We’re going to Byron – might drop in at Newie, if that’s ok?”

Well, of course it’s ok, but did they have to say “Newie” and did they have to say “Byron”? Just what does it mean, when out-of-town folks start taking liberties with the names of other people’s country? In my childhood, it was always Byron Bay and it was always Newcastle.

Except, of course, Newcastle Beach was Newie, but only between mates. Nobbies – Newie – it all makes sense, especially when we reflect that beach culture is intimate, informal and the right kind of place for group slang. You can call beach attire swimmers, togs or bathers or whatever else your tribe dreams up.

When BHP existed, it was the BHP. And Bank Corner had a bank.

Which really is the point. Language is, at its heart, a tribal thing, a local body of knowledge. In my family, King Edward Park is Teddy Edward for reasons that no one really can recall. I’m not asking that the god of place names change the name of the park, but equally the park will remain Teddy Edward for my gaggle no matter what the mayor of the day may think. We watched fire works at Teddy Edward. We listened to Christmas carols at Teddy Edward. We flew kites at Teddy Edward.

Each to their own. Perhaps we can have a special day when the mayor in robes and chains, stands where the victorious Knights stood and gives it out for the children to recite: “We are Novo-castrians”! He should not be surprised when they give back “New-castle, New-castle!”

Names are basic. “Me” is the name I call myself except when rules require otherwise. Of course, I am a Novocastrian, when I speak
English as French, and I am from Newie when my children’s friends, in Sydney, ask. Do I feel comfortable with this slippery diminishing?

The English language has a shortage of familiar words. We find it difficult to utter such names as “fatherling” as if the robes of
British law might fall down and reveal dad’s knobbly knees and hairy legs. Such words are diminutives; they bring things down to size. Which means we find it difficult to say “Kurri Kurri” because in English, we can form diminutives by doubling words, like a child, when there is no reason for them to be doubled. A little little man is probably not little at all.

But what do the people from Kurri think now that I’ve halved their name? Is it a badge of identity that we bother to correct outsiders
when they play in our linguistic sand pit? Should we take up arms against this tide of indifference and demand our names in full?

I, sir, am known, in polite company, as Christopher Robin Haskins Esquire, or more properly still, as Baron Haskins, of Skidby in the County of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Thanks to the Internet we now have an urban dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) where people can go, to announce to the
larger world, new and obscure words. BloodMagus, on Oct 19, 2004, announced to eternity and infinity that “Newie” is: “Shortened slang for Newcastle, NSW. Sometimes used to describe the inner town of Newcastle, as opposed to the area of Newcastle. Used by locals (Novacastrians), people from adjacent regions as close as Maitland, or as far as the Central Coast, and ex-patriots now living in Sydney.”

BloodMagus probably is a Newie because he calls us “Nova-castrians” which is what us locals are likely to say, knowing no better, or in defiance. Of course we are flaming stars (nova) and of course we are brand new (novo). Newie = newbie? Try that one in the front bar of your local.

So, there we have it, until one of us decides to change the entry and add our two bob’s worth, we are stuck with Newie. We might even have to fight for the rights in the future. The New England Hotel, in Armidale likes to call itself the Newie and no doubt there will be other pretenders to the title. But, we know who we are and where we are from.

Indeed, we are, more and more, stuck with Newie as the number of ex-pats grows. We are approaching the point on the see-saw when we will be more saw than see. We are becoming our own memory of fishing on the breakwater and ships that got stuck in storms.

Newcastle = Newie

Keith Russell

Newcastle, Australia

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