HIDDEN GEMS

The spirit of community

Imagine looking at the world from a Google Earth camera. You see the world as this marvellous  image of gorgeous blue, white and green swirls. As you get closer, you see big cities known for culture, fashion or lush tropical beaches. Places such as New York, Milan and Rio Di Janeiro that naturally draw people in because of their reputation on a world scale. For many people, these are the diamonds of the world, the cities that spark excitement and ignite imagination. Australia is undoubtedly a beautiful country, well known for the Great Barrier Reef, outback, our iconic animals and Opera House. These are the universally acknowledged diamonds Australia boasts of, but it’s not until you go searching for those precious hidden gems that you really come across the treasures of travel. Maitland, with its subtle country charm, is one of those treasures.

When many people think of Maitland, what often springs to mind is The Levee, the regional art gallery, our beautiful churches or the nearby vineyards the Hunter Valley is famous for. Whilst these are the things that excite people, the true treasures of Maitland lie in our spirit of community. Maitland’s community spirit is phenomenal, and it is seen in the local children who play street cricket, the events such as Riverlights Multicultural Festival that celebrate the many cultures Maitland has welcomed or the support our Rotary and Lion’s Clubs give residents. As you stroll along Morpeth’s cobbled lanes, it’s not uncommon to pass by a café and the staff greet you by name and know your order before you say anything or for people to say ‘hello’ when picnicking on the banks of the river. For me, this inextricable spirit of community is why I love Maitland. As a human rights activist, I often travel to different cities across Australia and the world. The more I travel, the more I realise how Maitland is unique both nationally and abroad.

Community and culture are everywhere in Maitland but are highlighted in Maitland’s award winning art gallery (we call it MRAG). Being a regional gallery, MRAG is teeming with high quality  exhibitions, often honouring the diversity of indigenous Australia and addressing topical issues such as the quest for peace. Each season the Olive Tree Markets are held and give people the opportunity to meet artisans, some behind the riveting works showcased in the gallery, and  participate in artist run workshops. This is one of the many ways in which community and the celebration of culture is placed at the forefront of Maitland’s agenda.

As you make your way through Maitland, you get to know the history behind this precious gem. This history can be found down  every street with memories etched in the walls of our buildings, some dating back to the 1800s, such as Grossmann and Brough Houses. Knowing the importance of our history is what allows us to take great care in preserving it for future generations to see and create memories of their own. This is especially true for MRAG which was renovated and extended to allow for future generations to enjoy the wonders of art. In many ways, Maitland’s history is what brings us closer together as a community and allows visitors to value the precious time spent around the city and the conversations with residents.

As you travel through Maitland and indulge in everything it has to offer, you’ll get a taste of what true community feels like. As you make your way through the stalls at the show ground or see the smiling faces at music festivals such as Groovin the Moo and immerse yourself in the various cultures that make Maitland what it is, take note of the spirit of community and camaraderie. I can
almost guarantee that this spirit will make your time spent in Maitland extra special. It will add joy to memories and leave you itching to bring family and friends here, so they too can experience one of Australia’s greatest hidden gems.

Story by Kupakwashe Matangira