Cessnock is a city in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia, about by road west of Newcastle. It is the administrative centre of the Cessnock City Council LGA and was named after an 1826 grant of land called Cessnock Estate, which was owned by John Campbell. The local area once known as "The Coalfields" is now the gateway city and service centre to the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, which includes Pokolbin, Mount View, Broke, Rothbury, and Branxton.
Cessnock lies between Australia’s earliest European settlements - Sydney, the Hawkesbury River and Newcastle. Lying on the land route between these important settlements it provided early European contact with indigenous people who have inhabited the Cessnock area for more than 3,000 years. The Darkinjung people were the major inhabitants at the time of European contact, which subsequently proved to be disastrous for the Darkinjung tribe. Many were killed or died as a result of European diseases. Others were forced onto neighbouring tribal territory and killed. The city of Cessnock abounds in indigenous place names and names with indigenous association which is indicative of this settlement and include Congewai, Kurri Kurri, Laguna, Nulkaba and Wollombi.
Pastoralists commenced settling the land in the 1820s. Cessnock was named by Scottish settler John Campbell, after his grandfather's baronial Cessnock Castle in Ayrshire to reflect the aristocratic heritage and ambitions for this estate. The township of Cessnock developed from 1850, as a service centre at the junction of the Great North Road from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, with branches to Maitland and Singleton. During the 1860s, land settlement was extensive between Nulkaba and Pokolbin, with wheat, tobacco and grapes the principal crops.
The establishment of the South Maitland coalfields generated extensive land settlement between 1903 and 1923. The current pattern of urban development, transport routes and industrial landscape was laid at this time. The surveying of the Greta coal seam by Professor Edgeworth David around 1888 became the impetus for considerable social and economic change in the area with the development of the coal mining industry.
Whilst mining was the principal industrial base and source of employment in the Cessnock area for the first half of this century, a slump which commenced about 1960 forced the closure of many mines. Subsequent changes to the mining industry, including automation and the introduction of sophisticated computerised equipment, led to the closure of the vast majority of the remaining mines in the area. This has resulted in a decline in population in many villages and townships over the last twenty years which has led to the closure of some schools, shops and community meeting places. Consequently, many areas have undergone a change in character, with rural residential housing developments becoming popular, as well as small cottages and farms used principally as weekend retreats.
The Hunter Valley wine-growing area near Cessnock is Australia's oldest wine region and one of the most famous, with around under vine. The vineyards of Pokolbin, Mount View and Allandale, with their rich volcanic soils tended by entrepreneurial vignerons, are also the focus of a thriving and growing tourism industry. The extension and eventual completion of the F3 Freeway, created a property and tourism boom during the 1990s.
Cessnock has begun to develop other tourist ventures beyond the wine industry such as championship golf courses, hot air ballooning, sky-diving, and guest house accommodation.
The town has long suffered from a relatively poor reputation in New South Wales due to issues relating to crime and unemployment. The town is also rather unattractive - a legacy of its functionality rather than appearance as a mining centre. The city council has actively pursued a policy of urban renewal in the city centre since 2001. The local council was one of the first to introduce a recycling program for waste disposal in the state.
Most employment comes from the local port city of Newcastle, the nearby major centres of Maitland and Singleton and in service industries in the local council area, which comprises many small towns, such as Kurri Kurri, Weston, Neath, Abernethy, Kearsley and Pokolbin.
Primary Schools in Cessnock:
Cessnock also has a TAFE institution for further education.
The Sydney-Newcastle Freeway's Cessnock exit at Freemans Waterhole provides one of the main road connections from Sydney to Cessnock via "The Gap", a pass through the Wattagan mountain range just north of Mt Heaton. A new freeway linking the New England Highway at Branxton and the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway at West Wallsend is planned to be built in the near future, which will bypass Cessnock. Less traffic will take pressure off the local roads and provide easier access to Pokolbin from Sydney and Newcastle.
The local airport is placed just to the north of the city, at the entrance to the Vineyard District. It has a small public passenger terminal and also serves as the base for aviation training organisations such as Avondale College's school of Aviation and Hunter Valley Aviation The airport is not served by RPT flights. Access by air to the region is by Newcastle Airport at Williamtown, away, and includes direct services from Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.
The local bus service is run by Rover Motors which provide services to Maitland, Newcastle and Sydney as well as local school bus services.
Greater Cessnock contains a number of buildings and sites that are on the Register of the National Estate.