JUST over 31 years ago, a shocked but farsighted Islington man began filming history with his bulky home video camera in Beaumont Street, Hamilton.
His name was Ray Standen and he'd been inside a store when it suddenly shook. He dashed outside to see what had happened - and to record it for posterity on video tape.
For those too young to remember, it was mid-morning on December 28, 1989, and an earthquake had crippled Newcastle.
But, before the truth was realised, bewildered residents wildly speculated that there had either been a massive gas blast or BHP Steelworks had exploded.
The region resembled a war zone with the quake taking 13 lives, injuring 60, partly destroying up to 50,000 homes and causing $4billion damage.
About 300 buildings, including some prominent Newcastle landmarks, had to be demolished after the quake, which registered 5.6 on the Richter scale.
Initial rescue operations focused on the horrific collapse of the Newcastle Workers Club, in King Street, Newcastle, as well as Hamilton's main street.
Ray Standen, then aged 64, had been making a video of Hamilton. About three years before, Ray had suffered a heart attack and stroke. He took up filming as a hobby and he said it had given him a reason to live.
Earlier, he'd been shooting some extra footage for a rather jolly amateur video of Christmas/new year celebrations on Hamilton's shopping strip.
But what he ended up filming - all 2 hours and 34 minutes of it - has become a raw, but invaluable, historical document of the Newcastle earthquake moments after it struck.
In Hamilton's main street, bloodied, dazed and confused people wandered about the debris and dust. Buildings were badly damaged, shop awnings had collapsed and bricks were strewn over footpaths. People had died. Sirens were soon wailing as emergency crews quickly responded.
Before the street barricades came up, Ray walked about capturing the raw drama and tragedy of the scene on video, then continued videoing for more than nine hours.
"Everybody was in a state of shock," Ray, of nearby Fern Street, Islington, said later.
"The police did an outstanding job. Looking at the level of destruction I saw, I never want to go through anything like that again.
"At the time, my first thought was to grab my camera and start recording."
My first thought was to grab my camera and start recording.
Ray edited his tape, refusing offers, he said, from people who wanted to buy it. He didn't want to make money from the tragedy.
A little later, unhappy at people still suffering around him, Ray made a second video from interviews he conducted with victims. He put the two videos together and sold 200 copies at $40 a set, although it was costing him money.
After his death, his master tape was to go to Newcastle city as a record of what people had gone through in the quake.
To those who experienced the 1989 earthquake, most of the stories of the heroism and selfless acts of bravery, especially at the Newcastle Workers Club site (where nine people died after falling floors pushed the building's ground floor into the basement) are well known.
But now, here are some random, personal thoughts about the whole calamity. One memory is of an odd sight witnessed by a doctor on a veranda on one of the top floors of the old Royal Newcastle Hospital at the ocean end of King Street, Newcastle.
Moments after the quake struck, as he looked west towards the epicentre deep below Cardiff, all he could see was a long line of city homes shaking as the tremor below earth sent ripple after ripple of trembling buildings advancing towards him, like a wave.
Were many of the inner-city's older buildings, especially 19th century terraces, largely spared (unlikely, I know) from greater damage because their bricks were laid with more 'flexible' mortar, not concrete, which tends to abruptly crack?
As well, did the city's flooded mine tunnels honeycombing the city, play a key role? Did they help us escape much more serious damage, allowing the quake shockwave to pass through easier?
Certainly, Newcastle was very "lucky" that the earthquake lasted only six seconds. Had it gone on much longer, the ground might well have liquified, causing far greater damage than it did.
And why was the damage so severe in Hamilton's shopping precinct? Maybe it was because a lot of the underlying soil beneath Beaumont Street had actually been a big base of river sand, created apparently millions of years ago by being the original route of the Hunter River before entering the sea at Merewether.
Later that summer, a big earthquake relief concert (attracting 40,000 people) was held to celebrate the resilience of the battered citizens of Australia's sixth-largest city.
But another noteworthy aspect was that, within five to eight years of the earthquake, the number of people at anniversary memorial services every December 28 declined markedly. Everyone seemed to want to forget the pain and the misery involved in rebuilding their lives after dealing with shonky repair men, wrangling with insurers, or dealing with red tape, including controversies over distribution of relief funds.
The Newcastle earthquake even inspired a thriller in 1991. It was fictional, but based on fact from the pen of the late Aussie crime writer Peter Corris.
Aftershock was the 14th in his series of books featuring Sydney-based private eye Cliff Hardy. The gumshoe was investigating the death of a man crushed under rubble, but was he murdered earlier?
The novel was full of local colour, as Corris had a weekender in Bombala Street, Dudley. He was living in the cottage when the quake hit.
"I thought a tree had fallen on the house," Corris later told The Herald.
"It was fairly alarming. You know, the things shook and the dogs barked for miles around. We're not used to this in Australia, these sort of blitz conditions . . . it made a fairly big impression on me the next time I sat down to write a Hardy novel."
But back to video-maker Ray Standen. Last year, former colleague Greg Ray came across the same two now rare videos and had them digitised and posted online as a tribute.
I don't know what happened to Ray Standen after I did a news story on him in The Herald in early 1990. But I do know he was very glad his work was appreciated.
In late March that year he sent me a hand-written note along with his two video cassettes to express his gratitude. I still have them both. He ends his note with: "Please excuse my writing and mistakes as I was never a good writer".
But, of course, as a film historian of the 1989 earthquake, recording it as it happened, he is without equal.
The city is in his debt.