I was on the phone when the building started to wobble, and a piece of metal falling past my window from the roof made me wonder if the Herald's presses had blown up.
We were still printed in Bolton Street, Newcastle, then, so I had no reason to think that Street Real Estate agent Andrew Walker, on the other end of the phone, would have felt anything.
Not until late afternoon, anyway, when I saw the Street's office next to Civic station looked like a bomb had hit it, and that he'd been lucky to get out in one piece.
His first thought was that a train had ploughed into the building. Others, seeing BHP vent its coke ovens as a post-quake safety measure, thought the steelworks had exploded.
Some thought it was a bomb, or a collapse in a coal mine working.
I joined my colleagues in a hasty escape from the Herald building, but not before going back to retrieve my board shorts and towel.
It was the day after Boxing Day, after all, and it might be a while before we were sent back in.
I was almost out of the room again before I turned and grabbed a notepad and some pens.
Priorities. Outside, we realised people were pouring out of buildings everywhere around us.
It was serious. I left my swimming gear at the Sydney Morning Herald office next door, and said I'd be back later to pick it up. It took me a week.
Everyone who lived through the quake has two stories.
The general one, fashioned mainly by the media.
The workers club, Beaumont Street, Cooks Hill and the Junction, the quake "epicentre" under Boolaroo, the Crowded House and Split Enz show being set up for the club that night.
Then there's the private stories. From the full-blown terror of those who cheated the tomb amid the Workers Club poker machines, to those who felt a gentle bump, and thought little of it until the news began to spread.
So lots of people's quake stories are at once both much the same, and very different.
I teamed up with a photographer, Andrew Maclean, with instructions to go to Cooks Hill, where I lived.
I would have been under that. I would have been killedComedian Mikey Robins, on his lucky escape in Laman Street
After driving past my flat to make sure it looked alright - we'd realised it was an earthquake by then - we stopped in Laman Street.
There, the end terrace of a row next to Newcastle conservatory had lost the top half of its side wall.
Two friends - Castanet Club members Kate Gray and Michael Robins - lived there.
Robins, soon to be known nationally as comedian Mikey Robins, was a night owl who usually slept well past 10.30am. Or 10.27am to be precise.
"I would have been under that. I would have been killed," he said. No-one disagreed.
READ MORE: All of this week's 1989 earthquake coverage
Diagonally across the road, an old butcher's shop was a hip art and fabric gallery, Tikat.
Buildings either side held the walls up but the roof had collapsed into the gallery space, and the building was demolished.
The owner of the gallery was Debbie Abraham, nowadays director of Lake Macquarie City Council's gallery at Booragul, where the historic Awaba House, used as the gallery's cafe, was gutted by fire in August.
Abraham said losing the Tikat shop in the earthquake was a setback, but it was nothing like those who suffered personally, or had their homes damaged or destroyed.
Like many, she remembers the barricades, the passes needed to get in and out of the city, the night-time silence and a very muted New Year's Eve.
"It was a hugely sobering time with an amazing sense of community and camaraderie," Abraham says.
Indeed, that's the way that many of us remember it, but the Herald's quake files are a reminder that recovery was far from straightforward.
Shoddy builders were a persistent problem and a police task force in 1992 put the extent of quake of insurance fraud at $50 million.
People in need complained that assistance was hard to get, or that it was distributed unfairly.
But as time passed, and damaged buildings were either replaced or repaired - meaning fewer and fewer visible scars of the earthquake - its impact on daily life receded with each anniversary.
By 1994, the Herald's Mike Scanlon could note that while national demand for quake stories remained, local interest in marking the day publicly, was waning.
At the time of the quake, Latec House in Hunter Street West, now part of the Pinnacle Apartments development, was the tallest building on the street.
Today, with new building codes paying careful attention to potential earthquake impact, the new high-rise buildings springing up in the CBD are designed to cope with the enormous stresses without coming apart at the seams.
But all of this was well into the future on quake day.
Security was not so important before the Twin Towers in 2001, so photographer Maclean and I walked in the Workers Club's side door, and up the stairs towards the auditorium.
Not that sensible in hindsight but things look different in your 20s.
We were inside for no more than five minutes. An entrance near the back of the room was almost completely blocked by building debris that had spewed down the short flight of steps.
The auditorium had a massively high ceiling and a mezzanine level that ran along the two sides and across the rear. Band promoter Peter Anderson, of Rock City, says the room was licensed to hold 1800 people.
As his photos show, the ceiling, with its spiked chandeliers festooned with Christmas decorations, lay across most of the floor.
It looked like the mezzanine was the only thing that stopped an even worse collapse.
Club cleaner Howard Gibson, who described himself hours later as "the luckiest man alive", was in the auditorium when it hit.
"The chandeliers started dropping and the floor gave way and then it all started falling on me," Gibson said.
The imagined havoc of the earthquake hitting while more than 1000 punters rocked away to Crowded House or Split Enz has been recounted often enough, but Gibson recalled that day that the Thursday hoy or bingo games had been moved from the collapsed room into the old auditorium, in the older section of the club, which survived intact.
"They'd been in the new auditorium for years, but numbers started to drop off a few months ago and they moved into the smaller room," Gibson said.
Thirty years on, he and his wife Elaine were among those who answered the Herald's invitation last Saturday to meet at the club site, or outside the Kent Hotel in Beaumont Street, to gather and remember the events of that time.
Some, like lord mayor McNaughton, with his wife the lady mayoress Margaret, were ubiquitous figures at the time.
Others, like the manager of the earthquake recovery unit, Brian Eastoe, played pivotal but more behind-the-scenes roles.
Some of the fire, ambulance and police personnel at the club and at Beaumont Street have spoken many times over the years about their experiences, knowing they were doing truly important work.
As was everyone that day, helping a city in uncharted circumstances hold itself together.
Many have died in the intervening years. Don Geddes, deputy mayor and SES controller during the quake, died of a heart attack in 1992 at just 55.
Greg Heys, lord mayor from 1995-1999 in a period that spanned earthquake recovery and the steelworks closure, died in 2007 at the age of 62.
Time has thinned the ranks of those who survived the club, too.
Although recent earth tremors have reminded us again that Newcastle can be prone to earthquakes, most of them, thankfully, are minor.
Still, a 5.2-scale quake hit Cessnock in August 1994, rocking underground miners at Ellalong colliery and being felt on the Victorian border.
Seismologists noted after the shock of 1989 that the city had been hit with relatively sizeable quakes in 1868 and 1925.
Indeed, I'm told the large forged steel "S"s seen bolted to the sides of some of our older inner city buildings were added to strengthen buildings after the 1925 quake.
The evidence had been staring us in the face along.
With 59 years between 1868 and 1925, and 64 years until the 1989 quake, some experts have suggested that the relatively rare "intra-plate" quakes in this part of the world could recur every 60 or so years.
If that's the case, we could be half-way to the next one right now.
Are we ready?
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