AS the big red ship called Pasha Bulker was hogging the world’s attention after wedging itself onto Nobbys Beach, Bob and Linda Jones were obliviously heading back home to Clarence Town after an early morning doctor’s appointment.
Boliermaker Nigel Beeston was just as ignorant, working deep underground at Centennial Coal’s Myuna Colliery at Wangi Wangi.
And Wayne Bull was busy at his panel beating job at Lambton.
By the end of the weekend, and as the rain and wind subsided, the four of them – and an extended Central Coast family of five – would become forever linked as the heartbreaking faces of the devastating East Coast Low known as the Pasha Bulker storm.
“Every time you see the Pasha Bulker, you think about it,’’ Linda Jones’ sister Libby Herington tells Fairfax Media.
“It was the worst day of our lives.
“I don’t think people realise that there were lives lost that day.’’
Jadie Beeston, a young mother and wife of Nigel, adds: “I think people remember that weekend was just an exciting storm, you hear people remembering the Pasha Bulker, the cars and homes being flooded.
“But they are all replaceable.
“It should also be a time where we honour those who we lost.
“It is difficult for everyone. His parents. His sisters. You don’t get over it, you just learn to live with it.
“It is still as bad now as it was then. For everyone.’’
And Wayne Bull’s sister, Michelle Schmitzer, is even more passionate about the need to remember those lost.
“I don’t like the Pasha Bulker at all. I hate it,’’ she says.
“A ship’s captain is told to lift anchor and take a boat out to safety. He doesn’t. My brother is missing and he is on page three.’’
The painful memories are the same. The ache of loss never completely dissipates. And the levels come in waves.
Libby Herington remembers that her sister Linda didn’t always go with her husband to his doctor’s appointments.
No one will ever know why she decided on June 8, 2007.
But she did. The love of her life, whom she met while they both worked at Stockton Hospital, also had a love of the rural life. And the pair settled in beautiful Clarence Town.
“He was very clever with his hands, Bob, and he loved a drink,’’ Ms Herington says.
“Linda was quieter but had such a beautiful heart, she loved her family”.
The pair had been to the doctors and were heading home as the rain continued to bucket down.
It was 11.20am when they reached a small bridge on Clarence Town Road which spans Wallaroo Creek, between Glen Oak and their home town.
But the creek, borne in Columbey National Park before it gathers momentum into Stony Creek and then the mighty Williams River, was already swollen from the endless rain.
Bob stopped the couple’s four-wheel drive before the bridge and watched on as a truck successfully navigated through the rising floodwaters.
Fatefully, he decided to take it on – they were just a few kilometres from the safety and dryness of their own home.
Witnesses watched on as the four-wheel drive hits the bridge before the wall of water took control – and all before it.
A Westpac rescue helicopter was called from the Pasha Bulker rescue to help in the frantic search.
But the Joneses never stood a chance and would later be found just metres from the bridge. Still in their seatbelts. And, importantly for their families, still together.
“We couldn’t believe it,’’ Ms Herington says.
“Mum was devastated. I don’t think she ever got over it. I don’t think any of us did.”
A few hours later, Wayne Bull had finished his shift at Steve Koulis Smash Repairs on Griffiths Road at Lambton.
But his car had been playing up and the 46-year-old was worried he wouldn’t get home. He asked a workmate to follow him home to Adamstown in the business’ loan car.
Wayne, a father of two, got home safely and decided to jump into the Ford Festiva with his workmate to get him back to the shop. It was a decision which costs him his life.
Stormwater drains across the city had been overflowing for hours now. The sheer amount of water had taken its toll. And the one that ran along the old water course known as Styx Creek was one of them.
As the Festiva travelled over the rail overpass along Griffiths Road, the pair were unaware of what was just a few metres ahead of them.
It was 6pm and dark. The Festiva is caught in the floodwaters, and as Mr Bull attempted to flee, he was washed away.
His mate never saw him and yelled for help.
Just like the Joneses, the father of two never stood a chance. His body was recovered several kilometres away towards Throsby Creek.
“The ferocity of the water coming down that drain was extraordinary and as Wayne opened the door he just got dragged out,’’ sister Michelle Schmitzer says.
“We miss him terribly. He was just a good egg. I am not just saying that because he was my brother. He was a great bloke and we want people to remember him for his smile, not what happened to him.’’
That Friday night, Nigel Beeston got home to Heddon Greta safely after spending hours travelling along battered roads.
He was a hard worker, the family’s breadwinner, and he didn’t shirk an overtime shift the following day, despite the weather.
He finished that shift about 4.30pm. It was Saturday afternoon and, again he was struggling to find his way through the maze of flooded roads. He rang his wife again at 6pm.
“He said it was slow going but he was going through Freemans Waterhole and he was only 10 minutes away,’’ Jadie Beeston says.
“But he never made it home.’’
As he travelled along Leggetts Drive near Brunkerville, a roadside tree succumbed to days of its roots being undermined by rainwater. It fell and crushed Nigel’s utility cab.
Jadie, who was waiting for Nigel to get home to her and their five-year-old Skyla, received a call from his grandmother.
“His nan rang and asked who was driving the ute and I said it was Nigel. When she couldn’t speak I knew something was terribly wrong,’’ Jadie says.
“I kept ringing his phone constantly trying to contact him. But I obviously couldn’t. I said it couldn’t be right, I had just spoken to him. But it was.’’
If they were to allow fate to enter their nightmares, the families of those lost during that storm weekend could be lost in grief.
The Joneses could have waited. Wayne Bull could have stayed home. and Nigel Beeston was a split second from safety.
“It is a moment that constantly goes through my head,’’ Jadie Beeston says.
“If he was driving one kilometre faster or two kilometres slower. It was the worst luck and timing possible. There are so many things he could have done and he would still be with us. Stopping and tying his shoelace. Anything.’’