THURSDAY, December 28, 2017, marks the 28th anniversary of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, an event that will stay forever in the minds of those who lived through it.
It is a day seared into the brain of every person who found themselves that morning in the city centre, or in Hamilton, or the various other hot-spots of shaking and damage that radiated across the region.
Despite its importance to those who were there, the relentless march of time means that a generation of adult Novocastrians will go about their business this anniversary with no direct experience of one of the most extraordinary periods of our history.
For them, and for children and teenagers today, the 1989 earthquake is a matter of history, something to be experienced through story, or film footage, the written word or photographs, rather than something that was felt through a dawning realisation that the world was shaking, and that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
If there was one extraordinary aspect of that earthquake, it was that so much damage was wrought across such a broad area, with only 13 deaths and 160 or so taken to hospital. Coming three days after Christmas, it meant the city had far fewer workers than would normally be the case. People were out of the area on holidays. The evening of the 28th, rock band Split Enz had been scheduled to play in the main auditorium of the workers club, which collapsed, its roof hitting the floor, in the shaking. As bad as it was in the end, things could have been much worse.
As is often the way in times of adversity, the earthquake became a salve for our community – a community that pulled together when things were at their worst. In this era of hi-visibility vests and endless workplace safety protocols, it is worth remembering that much of the work on quake day was done by volunteers toiling alongside the official rescue services.
Everyone who could, pitched in.
It took literally years for the scars of the damage to be erased from the streetscape, and history shows it was the flood of insurance money that poured into the city – reckoned at the time to be more than $1 billion – that began the rejuvenation of the inner city and its surrounding suburbs.
Today we live in a very different-looking Newcastle, with stronger building codes. Even so, we are still a city susceptible to the unpredictable tectonic forces of nature.