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The Port of Newcastle remains the economic and trade centre for the resource rich Hunter Valley and for much of the north and northwest of New South Wales. Newcastle is the world's largest coal export port and Australia's oldest and second largest tonnage throughput port, with over 3,000 shipping movements handling cargo of 95.8 Mt per annum, of which coal exports represented 90.8 Mt in 2008-09. The volume of coal exported, and attempts to increase coal exports, are opposed by environmental groups.
Newcastle has a small shipbuilding industry, which has declined since the 1970s. In recent years the only major ship-construction contract awarded to the area was the construction of the Huon class minehunters. The era of extensive heavy industry passed when the steel works closed in 1999. Many of the remaining manufacturing industries have located themselves well away from the city itself. Newcastle has one of the oldest theatre districts in Australia. Victoria Theatre on Perkins Street is the oldest purpose-built theatre in the country. The theatre district that occupied the area around what is now the Hunter Street Mall vanished during the 1940s.
The old city centre has seen some new apartments and hotels built in recent years, but the rate of commercial and retail occupation remains low while alternate suburban centres have become more important. The CBD itself is shifting to the west, towards the major urban renewal area known as "Honeysuckle". This renewal, to run for another 10 years, is a major part of arresting the shift of business and residents to the suburbs.
Commercial renewal has been accompanied by cultural renaissance. There is a vibrant arts scene in the city including a highly regarded art gallery, and an active Hunter Writers' Centre . Recent fictional representations (for example Antoinette Eklund's 'Steel River' See http://www.scholarly.info/fiction.htm) present a new vision of the city, using the city's historic past as a backdrop for contemporary fiction.
The old central business district, located at Newcastle's eastern end, still has a considerable number of historic buildings, dominated by Christ Church Cathedral, seat of the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle. Other noteworthy buildings include Fort Scratchley, the Ocean Baths, the old Customs House, the 1920s City Hall, the 1890s Longworth Institute (once regarded as the finest building in the colony) and the 1930s art deco University House (formerly NESCA House, recently seen in the film Superman Returns). Residents of Newcastle refer to themselves as "Novocastrians"1
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