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Full steam ahead for special Newcastle Museum exhibition

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It’s full steam ahead for a trip back in time, thanks to a special display at Newcastle Museum this weekend.

The much-loved Honeysuckle complex will showcase a unique peek into the city’s past, with paddle steamers and horse-drawn carriages part of the display featuring Australia’s best model railways.

Newcastle 1899, created by noted modeller Ross Balderson and a small group of fellow enthusiasts, depicts the local transport precinct in miniature at the turn of the century, complete with steam trams chugging their way up and down Scott Street. 

The working model is complemented by a bustling harbor filled with historically-accurate ships including tugboats Champion and Commodore.

Creating the exhibit was a labour of love for Mr Balderson, who’s been working on it for more than a decade after being inspired by an image in a railway book taken by renowned Newcastle-based photographer Ralph Snowball.

“I have produced numerous model railway layouts throughout my life recreating NSW locations and capturing moments in time of our past history,” he explained.

“I chose to model Newcastle after first being inspired by one single photograph published in a railway book, which showed a scene looking across the city’s railway station platforms and rail yard to a row of moored sailing ships loading goods at Queens Wharf.

“With the assistance of Greg Ray and David Hampton, I’ve been given the opportunity to show the model at Newcastle Museum, displaying how the city once appeared back in the days of sailing ships and horse-drawn vehicles.”

Local history buffs and railway enthusiasts, who’ve followed the progress of the build through the Lost Newcastle and the Rediscovered Newcastle Facebook groups, will finally have the chance to see it in real life when it is displayed in the Link Gallery until 9 July.

Newcastle councillor Carol Duncan admitted it had been wonderful watching the project from afar.

“Ross and his supporters are so incredibly passionate about this,” the Lost Newcastle founder said.

“It’s been fascinating to see this model come together over the years.

“I encourage everyone to check it out this weekend, which provides an insight into a time in Newcastle’s history that otherwise could be lost to future generations.”

City of Newcastle director of museum, archive, libraries and learning Julie Baird was also looking forward to witnessing the exhibit in person.

“Ross and his supporters have spent the past 10 years painstakingly recreating the Newcastle Railway Station precinct, drawing from historical photographs, measuring existing buildings, and hand-painting backdrops to develop a breathtaking record of Newcastle in the age of sail and steam,” she said.

“The model is a superb reflection of the complex and varied skills that contribute to model-making, combining artistic flair, precision accuracy and detailed research to create one of the finest examples of historically accurate miniature railways in Australia.

“Newcastle Museum plays an important role in interpreting and preserving our city’s fascinating history for future generations.

“So, we are proud to be able to display the model for the first time in Newcastle.”

Newcastle 1899 is being exhibited alongside Hexham-ish, a model railway built by Steve Curry based on the J & A Brown railway that operated for more than 130 years between Hexham and Minmi.

Mr Curry has been responsible for scratch-building highly detailed models of the J & A Brown locomotive fleet, including a representation of The Buck, which is on permanent display at Newcastle Museum.

Entry to the facility is free.

Both model railways will be available to view during regular opening hours of 10am and 5pm.

Each layout will operate, with trains running throughout the day.

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