ANYONE who lived or worked through the Newcastle earthquake of December 28, 1989, will have vivid memories of that day, and the ones that followed as the region took stock of what had happened.
I recall being told that day, or soon after, that the quake would be one of the biggest stories that many of us would ever cover. As far as most of us were concerned, that prediction was right.
Thirty years later, I am yet to experience another reporting day remotely like it.
But for photographer Steve Tickner, the quake, as memorable as it was, might struggle to make the highlights reel of a career that has taken him around the planet as a bona fide foreign correspondent, covering some of the worst conflicts of the past 20 years.
After 10 years as a news photographer in Newcastle, Tickner flew to East Timor in August 1999 to cover the East Timorese vote for independence, and the events that followed, which he describes as "a bloody and sustained revenge".
Although he has travelled widely since, he has spent much of his time in South East Asia, concentrating nowadays on Myanmar, working first for an outlet called The Irrawaddy News, before shifting in 2016 to another, Burmese/English language publication, Frontier Magazine.
In 2013 he was a Nikon-Walkley award finalist for his photographs of ethnic Kachin fighters from the north of the country, under siege from the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw.
Then and now, he devotes his time to recording as many of the tumultuous events in that region as he can, while passing on his skills to as many local photographers and journalists as possible, all the while living on Asian pay rates.
With the 30th anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake rapidly approaching, the Newcastle Art Space gallery at Tighes Hill TAFE has an exhibition of some 40 of Tickner's earthquake photos, titled five.point.six. (as on the Richter scale).
Newcastle Herald photographer Simone De Peak produced the prints and chose the images with the gallery's general manager, Melinda McMillan.
Weekender spoke briefly to Tickner after he arrived in Australia a few days ago, and through email before that.
Weekender: What are you doing now?
Tickner: "I've had a long interest in Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand. In Bangkok for the red-shirt protests in 2010 I was involved in the final day of the months' long protests, when the Thai military launched a brutal crackdown on May 19.
"I saw the central shopping region set on fire and spent the night in the Wat Phatumwan monastery nearby. It was a 'designated safe-haven'.
"Five Thais, some of them medics, were killed by snipers in the monastery grounds while I was there.
"Another was shot as he ran past me, just inches away.
"A Thai soldier fired directly at us. We carried him inside but he died soon after. I lived, he didn't.
"I was called by the Thai police back to Thailand in 2011, and my radar shifted to Burma.
"Myanmar is supposedly transitioning to democracy but I didn't believe it to start with it and it's not happening now.
"The world expected Aung San Suu Kyi to be a great leader, but she has little power under the military, and the truth is her Bamar background means she has no time for the Rohingya.
"The United Nations says she will likely face trial for crimes against humanity.
"I work on Burmese pay rates, but the cost of living is still relatively low.
"I stay there because I love the work and because the story here is still evolving, and the majority of citizens still suffer severely under the government.
"Myanmar has over a dozen independent ethnic armies and numerous pro military militias, and has been in a state of ongoing civil war for seven decades with no real end in sight."
Weekender: What do you remember about December 28, 1989?
Tickner: "I was at home when it hit. I picked myself up off the floor of my flat, knocked the dust out of my hair and ran downstairs to the street.
"A couple standing outside drove me from Parkway Avenue and I jumped out at Hunter and Union near the workers' club, and never saw them again.
"I spent all morning at the club and then went to drop the film off - there were no digital cameras or mobiles in those days - and swung by Beaumont Street at Hamilton for about half an hour.
"Then I went back to the workers' club in the early afternoon. I was there for three days straight, until Sunday morning, pretty much without sleeping.
"After that I went to work for the next 14 days straight. Many of the photos show the risks taken by emergency services, and everyday people, to get people out.
Weekender: Inner Newcastle, Cooks Hill and Hamilton were the worst hit areas, and it took a long time for things to return to anywhere near normal.
Tickner: "The inner city was locked down for two weeks, initially finding food was an issue. I remember walking from the workers' club to Hunter Street, and standing in the middle of the road.
"Not a car or person in sight and I was struck by the complete and unfamiliar silence.
"No trains rumbling along the tracks, no traffic noise, no ship horns in the harbour, nothing, just complete silence, I think that was when the enormity of it caught up with me for a few moments."
Weekender: Your Asian work shows the massive gulf between our world and yours.
Tickner: "Myanmar has an abundance of political, ethnic and religious conflicts.
"Even the majority Bamar people can suffer under the military regime. Then there's the KIA (Kachin Independence Army), the SSAN (Shan State Army North), the TNLA (T'ang National Liberation Army) and the UWSA (United Wa State Army).
"And numerous small pro-Tatmadaw (Burmese military) militia bands, many involved in Myanmar's notorious narcotics industry.
"These ethnic armies hold territory across the country and are largely preoccupied with defending their own people against frequent military aggression.
"It's a nation plagued with nationalistic and religious divides, often whipped up by vested political/military interests.
"The genocide inflicted on the Rohingya is a particularly painful episode and taps into some very deep communal hatreds among the Buddhist majority.
"These beliefs play into the hands of those driving a return to more authoritarian rule."
Asia has clearly had an impact on Tickner.
His greatest inspiration is Neil Davis, a famous Australian war correspondent, killed by canon shrapnel while filming in Thailand in 1985. A
recent pic I saw of Tickner reminded me, against my wishes, of Dennis Hopper's insane cameraman in the Vietnam War film Apocalyse Now.
The big difference is that Tickner still has his senses very much about him.
Five.point.six runs from Friday, December 6, to Sunday, December 22. The gallery, at 91 Chinchen St, Tighes Hill, is open Thurs-Sun, noon to 4pm.
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