IT was a sight that confirmed the harsh economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic for the region.
Queues of people more than 100 metres long formed outside most Centrelink offices in the Hunter on Monday as those out of work or culled of hours began applying for welfare payments.
The scenes were replicated across the country after the federal government shut a variety of non-essential services, including hotels, registered clubs and gyms.
The MyGov website, used by Centrelink customers, also crashed amid unprecedented morning demand.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said 94,000 users had been on the website at 9.40am, well above its capacity of 55,000 users.
More than a million people are expected to be out of work across Australia in coming weeks despite the government pouring billions into the reeling economy.
"I just hope I don't lose my house," 54-year-old Louise Maizen said outside the Wallsend Centrelink office.
Ms Maizen lost her job in the computer industry about two weeks ago and went to Centrelink with her son, Jake, who lost his job at a Newcastle nightclub last week.
The 23-year-old worked 20 hours a week in the role to supplement his main source of income derived from playing in the now suspended Newcastle Rugby League.
The Cardiff duo said they had previously obtained employment with ease and never expected to be lining up in a Centrelink queue.
Ms Maizen said she had only ever received welfare when she had her first child more than 30 years ago.
"I've applied for 15 to 20 jobs in the past week and I'm not getting anything back because no one is putting anyone on," she said.
They waited for an hour to speak to a Centrelink staffer.
"You'd wait all day if you had to," Jake said.
"What else can you do? I thought we were going to be here most of the day."
The Newcastle, Charlestown, Wallsend and Maitland Centrelink service centres were inundated from their 8.30am opening.
There was still long lines at those sites about midday and other centres are understood to have been just as a busy.
Federal Labor described the online and face-to-face delays as "entirely foreseeable", but Mr Robert said Australians would be able to register their interest in applying for a payment online, rather than at an office, despite the delays.
Those out of work aged between 22 and the Age Pension eligibility age can apply for Centrelink's JobSeeker payment, which has now been increased to $1100 a fortnight.
Those aged between 16 and 21 in similar circumstances can apply for Youth Allowance.
Services Australia has urged people to start Centrelink applications online to prevent service centres from becoming overwhelmed.
"If you don't currently get an income support payment and you need help because you've lost your job or had your income reduced, please start your claim online," the department said.
"If you need to provide proof of identity and you're in self-isolation or feeling unwell we can do this over the phone - but please defer until later if you can."
Newcastle federal MP Sharon Claydon said it was "heartbreaking" to see "queues of anxious people" lined up outside Centrelink.
"I haven't seen anything like this in Newcastle since the early 1980s when there were mass retrenchments from the BHP steelworks," she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday that up to 5000 workers would be recruited by Services Australia, which runs Centrelink, to handle the increased demand.
Ms Claydon said "any additional staff" employed in the region would be "absolutely welcome".
Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the federal government's coronavirus assistance package was not as generous as it seemed, because the income test for a spouse or partner had not been changed.
Speaking before a vote on the government package, Mr Fitzgibbon said: "I'm really concerned about the spousal income test for those who'll be looking for support under the new jobseeker allowance, or the rebadged allowance.
"This is a very big mistake, and it has to be fixed.
"Very few people who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own are going to be successful in securing the jobseeker allowance if their modest spousal income is taken into account. It just won't happen.
"The hairdresser working casually who now loses her job but has a husband earning a modest income will not be able to access the support unless this matter is addressed, and it must be addressed."
Mr Fitzgibbon was one of a number of Labor speakers to describe the government's "increased and accelerated income support" as "too little too late", with coronavirus payments not starting until April 27.
Windermere Park resident Chris Craig, who raised the matter with Mr Fitzgibbon's office, said his wife was a council librarian, and his only income was from an ABN-registered market stall business he had run for some years.
He was also worried that if two people were thrown out of work because of coronavirus, only one of them would get assistance, including the $550 coronavirus payment, unless the income test was loosened.
"The Services Australia web site I'm looking at says that if you earn $993.50 for a couple, per fortnight - earn more than that and you are not eligible to receive the Job Seeker Payment," Mr Craig said.
"If one person, half of a couple, is receiving the Job Seeker Payment and the coronavirus supplement, that adds up to $1100 a fortnight, or $106.50 more than the cut off point.
"So, take your pick; which one of you wants the dole?"
Mr Craig said his stall was booked to run for 63 days this year and he had hoped that turnover was getting back to a reasonable level after the drought and bushfires.
"Now, all the markets I was scheduled to attend have been cancelled,' Mr Craig said.
"As a sole trader who now cannot trade, I was heartened to hear the government claim that they were extending financial support to sole traders and job seekers affected by the coronavirus.
"I was shocked, however, to learn that, although my income has been reduced to zero, I am not eligible for a single cent because my wife earns more than $496.75 a week working in a library.
That's a ridiculously small amount to expect two people to live on.
"It's a bit rough. The government is promising to spend $66 billion to help people affected by the coronavirus but my income is reduced to zero and I'm not eligible for a cracker? It's a bit hard to take, to be honest.
"If they were fair dinkum they would remove the combined income test for carona-victims, or substantially soften it, at least."
Mr Craig said it was ironic that the government's business.com.au webpage had an example of a married sole trader named Chris - an architect - who would receive $1068.70 a fortnight.
"There's no mention of his wife working, because if she was, he wouldn't be getting anything as far as I can tell," Mr Craig said.
"I don't know whether its accidental or deliberate, but I suppose we will find out when they respond."
The Newcastle Herald is seeking a response from the office of Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston.