Holidays at Lake Macquarie
Lake Macquarie features many beautiful bays and beaches punctuated by rugged headlands and coastal bushland. With the lake as its centrepiece, it is only natural that Lake Macquarie has been a mecca for thousands of holidaymakers in search of recreation and leisure for more than a century.
Tourism has always played a large part in the history of Lake Macquarie from the early hunting and fishing parties which visited the lake, to the excursions by tram to Speers Point Regatta in the early 1900s.
Belmont House and Belmont Hotel - 1860s
Early Belmont resident, Thomas Williamson, had sufficient faith in the Lake's potential as a tourist destination to believe that a properly run guest house would attract many visitors. In the late 1860s he constructed a spacious weatherboard house near the site of Threlkeld's first mission house, which he named Belmont House after a property in Unst, Scotland. By 1869, advertisements like the following started to appear in the Newcastle Morning Herald.
A Town and Country journal article from 11 June 1870 described the site as ...
"The site of the house is exceedingly pretty, being on the top of a gentle rise close to the water's edge, and immediately contiguous to a number of beautiful trees, the umbrageous shade of which forms a delightful cool retreat, even on the hottest of days. The contrast between the calm quiet, and at times deep solitude of this sequestered nook, and the bustle and noise of the 'coal city' is very striking. ..."
Belmont House was only moderately successful, the main impediment to it's business being the appaling state of the roads to the area. The house was destroyed by fire in August 1929.
The first Belmont Hotel was built accross the road at the rear of Belmont House, and became the hub of the local community.
Speers Point Park and the Regattas of the 1890s
At the turn of the 20th century the Park was the most popular spot on Lake Macquarie and around Newcastle. It was referred to as the 'lungs' of the mining townships of Wallsend, Plattsburg, West Wallsend and Minmi. Camping was permitted and it was a common site to see the shores dotted with tents. A fresh water spring was located near the jetty, supplying the needs of the campers and visitors. As the road improved crowds arrived in horse drawn buses and drays for the Sailing and Sculling Regattas held each year on Anniversary Day, 26th January, the first having been held with Mr. Spiers' permission in January 1880.. At this time there were even horse races held in the Park. All traffic entering the Park had to pass through Mr. Spiers' sliprails, now the site of Lake Macquarie Council Administration Building. In 1904 the Annual Regatta saw 10,000 people and 'hundreds of horses and vehicles' in the Park, pointing to the need for additional land. Shortly after this an additional area was added to the Park. In 1905 there were complaints of horses swimming in the baths and of pigs roaring around the park. However, horses and cattle were allowed to graze, horses at 7c per head and cattle at 5c per head.
Toronto and the Toronto Hotel 1920s
The Toronto Hotel has been called the birthplace of Toronto. It is the oldest building in town and was built by Excelsior Land, Investment Building, and Banking Co. who promoted it "as a pleasant and commodious brick building, containing about thirty bedrooms, besides parlours, bar, dining and billiard room". It sits on one of the lake's most important historic sites - the site of the old Mission Houses and homestead of Rev.Lancelot Threkeld.
The Toronto Hotel opened in December 1887 and included a tennis court and putting green. A plumber and a bricklayer came from Sydney to work on the hotel and other buildings. In the 1920s a ballroom was added on the western side and a swimming pool on the eastern side. During these years the Toronto Hotel and it's facilities were promoted as the 'Riviera of Australia' and it was where many newly married couples spent their honeymoon.
The following booklet was published in 1924 on the occasion of the Centenary Carnival of Toronto township, and highlights it's popularity as a tourist destination of the day.
Miner's Holiday Destination of the 1950s and 1960s
Lake Macquarie was once a popular camping destination for miners from the Hunter Valley Coalfields to spend their annual holidays. When the warm weather arrived large scale invasions of as many as 12,000 people from the coalfields took place, reaching a peak during the annual 3 week mine closures at Christmas and New Year.The 1950s and 1960s saw this influx reach it's peak, and the camping become more sophisticated.
The Newcastle Herald reported:
"In the past the visiting miners rowed from Cockle Creek in small rowing boats to the places of their choice about the lake. They brought with them light tents to shelter in at night and only the bare necessities for a primitive holiday. These days they come in large lorries and trailers, taking their families and many of their possessions, to set up house in well equipped canvas colonies on the shores of Wangi, Belmont, Swansea. Blacksmiths, or wherever else there is likely to be good fishing. The tents have multiple rooms and all the conveniences including kerosene stoves and lamps and ice chests. In most locations the ice man makes special deliveries once or twice a day."
This postcard was sent to Mrs H A Kembrey (Nee Nellie Catherine Laverick) of Cessnock around 1950. Many miners and their families from the Hunter Valley coalfields took their annual holidays by the Lake in this time period.
The 'Great place to live' destination of the late 1970s and early 1980s
The 1980s was a period of growth for Lake Macquarie. We became a City in 1984, having reached a significant population. While tourism was an increasingly important industry for the Lake, with an eye on future growth the focus of promotion expanded to encouraging business and portraying the Lake as a great place to live..
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