IF Newcastle Workers Club became the public symbol of the 1989 earthquake, then the shopping strip of Beaumont Street, Hamilton, was the most extensively damaged area, and a place that felt it was soon forgotten in the rush to reopen the Newcastle CBD.
The quake wave hit the north-south Beaumont Street side on.
As retired University of Newcastle masonry expert Adrian Page explained, this resulted in the collapse of many of the front parapets of the terrace-style shops that still make up most of the street. The mass of bricks then fell onto the awnings, which collapsed onto the street.
Three people lost their lives this way. Dulcie Bliim, 78, and Cec Abbott, were killed outside the Kent Hotel, while Cyril McMahon, 62, died a short distance away outside a Soul Pattinson chemist.
Another 20 or so people were ferried to hospitals with injuries, some of them serious, after being removed from a street that was quickly characterised as being "like a war zone".
And it was. The falling bricks and tumbling awnings made a noise that grew to a crescendo like a series of co-ordinated bombs.
Then came the absence of sound - a shocking silence that seemed to empty the entire city of air for a long second - accompanied by billowing clouds of mortar-filled dust.
Filling the silence, then, a growing wave of cries and screams and alarms. And the slow return of movement to the survivors in the streets who had frozen in their tracks. Those who'd had lucky escapes inside the buildings shook the falling plaster from their hair and clothes and made for the closest door to escape.
It was a picture repeated up and down the Beaumont Street retail strip and its surrounds, from the Exchange Hotel on the Denison Street corner at the southern end to the Maitland Road intersection to the north.
This week, real estate agent Randolph Rossi, pharmacist Roch Shamley and George Kiriakidis from the Nina's IGA supermarket recalled the events of 30 years ago, with Rossi noting there were not many of the original shopkeepers left any more.
Shamley's chemist was near the Tudor Street intersection, although he's moved four shops closer to the corner since then. He was working when the quake hit, sending "bottles flying everywhere", but he kept the business open throughout those first frantic days and on through the long month that Beaumont Street was barricaded off, supplying much-needed prescriptions to his customers.
Nina's IGA was one of the businesses thrown into disarray by the quake, and Kiriakidis says it took six months for the shop to reopen after the damage it incurred.
The time it took to bring Beaumont Street back to a semblance of normality took its toll on the patience of many of the shopkeepers on the strip. Almost a fortnight after the quake on Wednesday, January 10, the Herald ran a story headlined "Damage to Beaumont St forgotten". That the demolition of the George Hotel and Carrington Chambers four days earlier was still on the front page, while the Beaumont Street plea for attention ran on page 10, seems telling in retrospect.
About 40 people had met with city officials the day before at Hamilton Bowling Club, where various business operators listened to lord mayor John McNaughton and the council's head engineer, Harold Stuart, explain how buildings were still being assessed for safety of entry.
But the shopkeepers were not impressed.
The council has done nothing for usBeaumont Street newsagent John Moran, at a meeting a month after the quake
"We have waited two weeks while Newcastle was reopened, we have sat back and been patient but we still don't know what's going on," Megan Hansen of the Little Swallows restaurant told the council heads.
Optometrist Terry Rodgers said the Hamilton shop owners had been "very tolerant, but now we reckon that we're due a decent trot".
The meeting heard there were still a number of seriously damaged buildings causing concern that might still need to be partly demolished, including the Soul Pattinson chemist and the old municipal chambers, since rebuilt with its distinctive replacement clock tower.
Hamilton greengrocer Peter Auckett said he had a closed shop, a damaged house, no income and a family to feed. He was by no means alone.
But it took another three weeks, until January 31, for at least part of the road to reopen, when the barricades came down at the northern end. The Herald said a meeting that day at the Gallipoli Club to discuss financial assistance and to collect damage statistics had drawn 300 people.
The Lord Mayor's Earthquake Appeal Fund, which was announced on the day of the quake, had collected almost $3.5 million in its first month, and the fund chair, Alwyn Druce, told the Hamilton meeting that "nothing prevented the fund from assisting small businesses".
The question of which buildings to demolish, and which to save, was a dominant theme in Beaumont Street, as it was across the city, with those dedicated to preserving the Hunter's built heritage pitted against building owners concerned about the costs of preservation, along with officialdom wanting things back to normal as quickly as possible.
As it turned out, one of the most damaged buildings on the block, the Kent Hotel, was spared from the wrecker's ball, and is now a noted landmark in a celebrated street. The pub had changed hands 18 months before the quake, and the new owners had spent $300,000 doing it up. Two of the owners, John and Pauline Stirling, were behind the bar at the time.
"I was in the office when it happened," Ms Stirling said on the day.
"Things started flying around. Glasses were smashed and the floor moved up and down. There were about a dozen drinkers in the bar and 10 people upstairs."
Everyone inside was alright, but the awnings had taken their fatal toll. After rescue workers and civilians had finished their frantic digging for casualties, machinery moved in to make the building safe. The Stirlings watched on as the front walls of the hotel came down, turning the upper floor rooms into a life-sized dolls' house, with much of the furniture still in place.
A decade later, the couple said their decision to oppose the demolition that was being pressed on them at the time had been vindicated many times over, with the Kent growing from "the clean but a little run-down" place they started with, to an entertainment mecca that was employing 50 people in 1999.
The Kent is under different owners today, but it's still one of the busiest pubs around, and synonymous with Beaumont Street, and the earthquake.
And while the strip has had its ups and downs since then, its success has fulfilled Randolph Rossi's early prediction that the street would survive and prosper.
The news photographers and camera crews that documented the calamitous scenes in Hamilton that day have allowed us to look back on occasions such as this, reviving memories of those who were there, and filling in gaps for those who were born too late, or who have moved here subsequently. One of the most important records of Beaumont Street - and one that's been little seen, and almost forgotten about - is a series of video images shot by an Islington retiree, Ray Standen, who was 64 at the time of the quake.
With mobile phone cameras still two decades away, Standen walked the length of Beaumont Street with a shoulder-mounted video camera in the days before Christmas 1989 to make what was planned as a Yuletide video. He had hours of footage and spoke to many of the street's shop-owners and their customers. He was filming in a video shop on Beaumont Street three days after Christmas when the quake struck, and he rushed outside and continued shooting.
Herald historian Mike Scanlon interviewed the hobby film-maker in the early 1990s, and says the footage was compiled into a long two-volume set. Highlights compiled by Herald digi-journalist Simon McCarthy are on our website and the full films can be seen at Greg and Sylvia Ray's site, phototimetunnel.com.
"The last man to film Hamilton at Christmas, first man to film it after the earthquake, is what Standen said. He has left us a quirky, but irreplaceable record.
- This story is part of a series by journalist, Ian Kirkwood, marking 30 years since the Newcastle earthquake. On Thursday, the Newcastle Herald will publish Part IV: The heroes and victims' stories.
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