IT was 10.27am on Thursday, December 28, 1989, when the apparently unthinkable happened, and an earthquake with the substantial magnitude of 5.6 on the Richter scale shook Newcastle and some of its surrounding areas to their very core.
Within seconds, long stretches of Newcastle and Hamilton looked like war zones. The collapse of the Newcastle Workers Club took nine lives. Three people died under collapsed awnings in Hamilton. A tenth person died in hospital of shock.
In the street, a local television reporter was conducting an interview when the quake suddenly struck. News reports at the time described the morning in 1989 as a typical day in Newcastle before the tremor wrought havoc on the city.
Those who lived through it, or who joined the rescue and recovery effort that began almost before the shaking had stopped, will never forget the events of that time. The sheer scale of the damage. The strange stillness and silence of the aftermath. The personal bravery and heroics that emerged as personal earthquake stories were told to the world. The euphoria, later that summer, of the Newcastle earthquake concert, when more than 40,000 people came together for some well-earned rock’n’roll relief.
For months after December 28, the earthquake dominated daily discourse. The battles over important but damaged buildings. The dealings with insurance companies. The tales of lives rebuilt. Of discharges from hospital after months on the mend. Good stories and bad, as shonky fly-by-night builders cashed in on an urgent need for labour.
A year passed by, and when the first anniversary came around, almost everyone cast a wary eye to a clock or watch as the seconds drew closer to that unforgettable time. And so it was for the first few years after the quake, but then the focus began to change, and the formal ceremonies began to peter out. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, an entire generation has grown to adulthood knowing the earthquake not by experience or memory, but as history.
Even those who were there on the day now sometimes find themselves remembering it after the event, or when someone reminds them.
But with another big anniversary on the way in 2019, it is likely that memorials to mark the famous day will move up a notch. For some people, remembering the earthquake is an exercise in pain, of pointing to a tragedy that all wish never happened.
Even so, there was much to be proud of that day, and in the days that followed, and we must not allow the events of that time to fade completely. The earthquake is Hunter history, and an important part at that.