AT 22, Mark Johnson was typical of the thousands of Novocastrians who found themselves at the Star Hotel's fateful send-off.
He wasn't a Star regular, but had been there a few times for a drink in the pub's famous King Street "back bar" where popular local bands like The Heroes and Mecalissa played on the cramped stage behind the bar and where uninhibited girls danced on the bar itself.
"It wasn't one of my favourite places," he says.
"I thought it was a bit of a hole. It was a bit rough and wild."
But there was no way he was prepared to miss the Star's last night. Johnson says the night unfolded peacefully. It was very crowded. People spilled out on to the street. I couldn't get to the bar so I bought some beers at the Commonwealth and carried them down in a bag.
"The atmosphere was like a love-in.
"A bloke from 2JJ was there recording it and he interviewed me.
"I told him I didn't even really like the place, but I had to be there for the closing night.
READ MORE: Heroes plan last hurrah
"I think everybody who had ever been there was there. It was like a carnival.
"It was so harmonious it was actually beautiful.
"Not at all like it was usually at that pub. I wasn't aware of any trouble at all until the police arrived.
"They elbowed their way in and told the band to stop playing.
"Somebody is supposed to have said it wasn't 10 o'clock yet and I got told one of the police grabbed a microphone and hit somebody.
"I don't know if that's true, but as the police were leaving they got jostled a fair bit.
"Somebody started this chant: "F--k the pigs!" and it just caught on. It was huge, this massive chant. It was this great angry rumble like the whole crowd was doing it.
"Everybody's attention went onto the cops then.
"I think they must have got some reinforcements and the next thing they seemed to think it would be a good idea to grab some people and belt them in full view of everybody.
"I saw them bashing one man's head against the grille of a paddy wagon.
"A couple of people started to fight back and next thing the whole crowd was pelting the cops with anything that came to hand.
"I'd been beaten up by some police when I was 14 for under-age drinking in a back alley. They gave me a really bad time so I admit when I threw some cans I really meant it.
"Things got very ugly and the cops retreated towards city hall.
"They basically disappeared and then somebody started this chant: 'Wreck the Star'. Kids started pulling the place apart, getting souvenirs.
READ MORE: The night of fighting on the streets
"Somebody said the cops had reappeared up near the Castle and we all went up the road looking for them.
"The water board building had a great rock garden with rocks about the right size for throwing and everybody started grabbing them and pelting the police cars.
"Then a weird thing happened.
"Instead of driving away, the cops got out of their cars and took off. Nobody could understand why they did that.
"Then somebody got a bright idea to tip the cars over.
"Petrol leaked out all over the road and sooner or later somebody lit a match.
"When the cars went up in flames I remember thinking: 'Oh oh. I'm going home now.'
"Everybody knew this was suddenly a very big deal.
"The police came back with the fire brigade and they turned the hoses on us.
"It felt great being cooled down by the spray.
"Everybody dispersed and it was basically over."
Asked why an apparently peaceful night erupted into violence, Johnson blamed police.
"I think the police at that time in Newcastle were over-confident with their violence.
"They handled things really badly and got people upset.
"Maybe it was my imagination, but I think after the riot the police around town were a lot less cocky.
"I went home that night but they got me three weeks later.
"When I went into pubs the publicans warned me to get out of town because the cops were trying to find me.
"They had press photos that showed me throwing cans and they were going to arrest me.
"I was buying a cricket bat at Adamstown when a cop came and grabbed me.
"He asked me where I was on the night of the riot and he arrested me.
"He let me buy my bat but then he took me to the old cells in Hunter Street.
"The cops there gave me a hard time.
READ MORE: The riot and the myths
"They kept coming in and telling me I was going to get 14 years in jail.
"I believed them. I was 22 and didn't know anything.
"I was in the cell about six hours before a friend's parents bailed me out. My parents were away at the time, thank goodness.
"There were about 50 of us charged and every time we had to go to court we had to go the cells first and get taken up.
"It wasn't much fun. In the end I got a 12-month bond."
When the cars went up in flames I remember thinking: 'Oh oh. I'm going home now.' Everybody knew this was suddenly a very big deal.Mark Johnson
- This article was first published in 2009
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