The former lord mayor of Newcastle who was in power when the 1989 earthquake struck has paid tribute to a leading emeritus professor of psychiatry who he says played a critical role in getting the community through the disaster.
Beverley Raphael, a renowned professor who specialised in the fields of population mental health and disasters, died surrounded by family on September 21 a few weeks shy of her 84th birthday.
After becoming the foundation professor of psychiatry at the University of Newcastle in 1978, Professor Raphael served as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists president from 1983 to 1985 and had posts at the University of Queensland, Australian National University and University of Western Sydney.
She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1984 and was awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Newcastle in 2002.
Aside from the Newcastle earthquake, Professor Raphael led the mental health response to the Ash Wednesday bushfires, the Bali bombings and the Granville train disaster among others.
John McNaughton, Newcastle’s lord mayor between 1986 and 1995, said Professor Raphael’s guidance in the days after the natural disaster was “absolutely critical” and helped the city avoid “a second disaster” in the form of possible serious and widespread mental health impacts in the weeks after the earthquake.
That second disaster, Mr McNaughton said a visiting high-ranking psychiatrist told him two days after the quake, would likely come about six weeks after the main event at a time when the reality of the road ahead sunk in for the community.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr McNaughton said. “I said ‘what do you mean the disaster will happen worse than this?’ He said because people will be so pent up, there’ll be so much tension among families, about people that have been hurt and the community, it always happens.”
The visiting psychiatrist asked if Mr McNaughton knew anyone who could help put the city on the right path and the lord mayor immediately thought of Professor Raphael.
“She came to Newcastle for two or three days and put me in touch with psychologists and I hired a team of psychologists that I kept here for four years – and we did not have a secondary disaster,” he said.
That team helped by counselling emergency service workers and general community members after the earthquake, which registered 5.6 on the richter scale and rocked the city and surrounding suburbs on the morning of December 28.
It killed 13 people, damaged 3000 buildings and left 1000 people homeless, leaving a bill of about $4.3 billion.
Mr McNaughton knew Professor Raphael from her time in Newcastle – she had not long left to take up a position in Queensland.
“I phoned her straight away and she told me what to do,” he said. “It was certainly Professor Raphael’s contribution that did so much for us.”