THE 30th anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake was formally observed by about 60 people at a commemorative service at Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday morning.
At the Newcastle workers club site, SES volunteer Paul Carter stood quietly watching his "ground zero" from across the road, while on Beaumont Street, the closest thing to a memorial moment was a man nearby reading that morning's Herald earthquake lift-out.
READ MORE: All of this week's 1989 earthquake coverage
Our files show that anniversary gatherings at the major sites dropped off so quickly that Nina Bailey of Tighes Hill, who was rescued from the workers club, said fives year later in 1994 that: "Everyone's forgotten the quake, except those who were directly affected."
By then, Mrs Bailey had lost a leg after a series of failed operations. She died in 2008 but her daughter, Helen Harper of Wallsend, and granddaughter Jennifer Clulow from the Central Coast, paid tribute at Christ Church on Saturday.
The cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquake, and the order of service on Saturday said "it came close to being destroyed in the immediate response of local authorities".
It took until 1995 for an insurance battle to be settled, and by the time it had finished in 1997 the cost was reported as $15.3 million, with a long-running cathedral appeal and a property sale needed to cover the total amount.
Reports noted that scaffolding had become a familiar part of the soaring interior. Crucifixes and steeple peaks lay in the churchyard, with temporary supports on the building's flying buttresses.
Newcastle heritage architect Barney Collins oversaw the restoration using an innovative reinforcing system hidden inside the brickwork. The service order notes that it took 3700 metres of stainless steel bar and pioneered new building techniques in Australia while setting construction records along the way. The cathedral tower had only been built in the 1970s and further repairs were finished in 2017.
We recall with thanks those who were called into immediate action, as well as those who over the following years worked to restore the Newcastle communityOrder of service, commemorative service, Christ Church Cathedral, Saturday
Christ Church had been the venue for an emotional gathering three weeks after the earthquake, with governor general Bill Hayden and prime minister Bob Hawke among a reported 1000 people at an ecumenical service on the evening of Friday, January 19, 1989.
"Young and old wept openly in the cathedral, people bowed their heads or closed their eyes in reflection," the Herald's Linda Doherty wrote.
"The relatives looked straight ahead with tears in their eyes to the altar as 13 candles were lit and a name read out to commemorate those who had died."
That ceremony has been replicated down the years, and there were again tears on Saturday as relatives, rescue personnel and civic leaders including the present lord mayor, Nuatali Nelmes, and her quake-era predecessor John McNaughton, with his lady mayoress wife Margaret, lit their respective candles with tapers.
A section of the service was "a celebration of earthquake heroes who saved lives and restored buildings in our community".
It thanked "those who were called into immediate action, as well as those who over the following years worked to restore the Newcastle community: the police and emergency services, the fire brigade and ambulance services, the medical teams, the community service organisations, the chaplains and counsellors, the welfare associations, the governments at local, state and national levels, the council officers, the building industry and associated trades, stonemasons, drillers and electricians, the architects and engineers, and all those members of our community who worked to bring healing and restoration".
Meanwhile, on King Street, one of those who answered the call was wiping away a tear as he stood watching the site he calls his own "ground zero".
Paul Carter was raised in Newcastle East and was an SES volunteer who had moved with his wife Vicki to a new job on the Gold Coast in 1986. Once he learned of the quake, he knew he had to come home, and caught an overnight bus to Newcastle, arriving at 8.30 on the morning after.
"The first radio reports said there were dead and injured everywhere in Newcastle," he remembered yesterday. "At work people said it must be Newcastle in England. We don't have earthquakes in Australia. But it was us."
The SES operated out of old weatherboard buildings on the eastern side of Nobbys Road under Fort Scratchley in those days. Carter said he was at the workers club and other jobs for eight days until the demand for volunteers slowed. Back in Queensland, traumatic jobs continued, including a bus crash in September 1990 at Mount Tamborine, about 30km inland from the Gold Coast, that killed 11 people.
His dark moments then included a vision of his wife and their young child reaching out to him from a rubble-strewn building block as the first anniversary of the quake approached.
Carter says he fixed himself emotionally by burying into the study of earthquakes with a Brisbane expert. Back in Newcastle with his family since 2012, he says the earthquake affected a lot of people physically and emotionally.
"I go back every year, just to acknowledge it," he says. "Before 10.27 it was a normal day, and then in that moment, the whole world has changed forever for everybody involved."
As the quake itself, moves out of memory, and into history.
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