Pitching In: The Kent Hotel after the 1989 earthquake. Picture: Darren Pateman. TheHerald reported on Wednesday about the anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake in 1989.
The six-second earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale killed 13 people, including nine at Newcastle Workers’ Club. A total of 160 people were injured, with about 50,000 buildings damaged and 300 demolished – including 100 homes.
We were talking about this story to a contact, who handed us a book titled Earthquake Tremors Felt in the Hunter Valley Since White Settlement.
The book, written by historian Cynthia Hunter, was published in 1995.
It allows us to jump back in time to 1925.
Over to you Cynthia: “The end of a working day, the end of a working week. At 9 o’clock in the evening of Friday, December 18, 1925, the halls and theatres of Newcastle were crowded with patrons enjoying the movies. This was the heyday of silent films. The city, suburbs and country towns all had their picture theatres. Crowds of people were confined together in the dark in these halls.”
An earthquake hit, causing “alarm in every theatre and a sudden rush of panic-stricken people wanting to get out”.
The most dramatic response was from patrons at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.
“When the earthquake struck, the Theatre Royal building swayed. There was panic among the audience, a rush for the doors and several women fainted,” Cynthia wrote.
She continued: “Shops in the city and suburbs were decorated for the festive seasonbut, when the quake struck, the startled Friday night shoppers did not wait to notice the hanging decorations dancing on the Christmas trees.”
In the Hunter, earthquakes meant danger for miners:“Many Novocastrians first fears were explosions or cave-ins in coal mines”.
The quake was felt far and wide, including Boolaroo, Toronto, Swansea, Morpeth, Singleton, Cessnock, Kurri, Nelson Bay, Greta, Branxton, Abermain – even Forster, Sydney and Bathurst.
“The quake was felt severely in East Maitland. Prisoners in the gaol became excited, fearing that the stone walls would fall,” Cynthia wrote.
The origin of the quake was thought to be off the shore of Newcastle.
Mary Ironman being rescued from the Newcastle Workers Club after the 1989 earthquake.
The 1868 QuakeThe book takes us back further to the year 1868. That year, an earthquake hit Newcastle shortly before midnight on June 18.
“The oldest residents of the Hunter Valley could recall no other earthquakes since those of 1841 and 1842,” the book said.
“In west Maitland, there was widespread falling of ceilings and chimneys. Everywhere, some buildings withstood injury while others were affected. The more lofty buildings suffered most and brick buildings sustained more damage than wooden ones. New cracks appeared in some brick walls several days after the quake.”
At the Trades Hall in Maitland, a bloke called Mr Gulley“sprang out of bed moments before the ceiling collapsed and fell on his pillow”.
Locals gave accounts of the earthquake to local newspapers. Quotes included: “The earth lifted me up and down” and“Our house shook like a tree”.
Bedsrocked, throwing out sleeping people. Drawers fell from chests. Lamps swung.
“Most lamps in the Lower Hunter would have been extinguished by midnight. Had the shake occurred earlier in the evening, the risk of fire would have been much greater.
“East Maitland was said to have suffered agreat deal. The office of the police superintendent, an old building, sustained severe damage.
“Every room in a new home in William Street sustained cracked walls and falling ceiling plaster, while in the hall below the stairs an archway collapsed.
“In Newcastle and suburbs there was widespread alarm, with people rushing out into the streets, not wanting to return indoors in case of further disturbance.
“The publicans were ready to sell them a nobbler [a shot of liquor] to help allay their fears.
“At Nobbys, 30 to 40 tonnes of earth was shaken down.
“The building which sustained the most damage in Newcastle was Mr Alcock’s dwelling in Scott Street.”
Topics likes to occasionally stepback in time, even to read about earthquakes.