To All You Amazing, Influential, Inspiring, Winners:
This may upset many, especially those who were there and experienced it worse than me. I apologise in advance. What is written below is from my experience during and after the clean-up.
I recently remembered these events, why, I have no idea. My emotions got bad again. I decided to write this, for me to release these emotions, but also share my experience.
This is the main reason why I don’t like the Christmas/NY season.
Many people were looking forward to spending the time with loved ones and maybe catching up with long lost friends and/or relatives.
Christmas, I was working, but then had several days off. I was working in Sydney.
The day of the Earthquake, I was celebrating a belated Christmas with other colleagues when there was an interruption to the radio, announcing what had happened.
My first thoughts were, hope everyone is safe and well.
We all sat stunned about this, but we were concerned about everyone there.
We turned the television on to see if there was anything. There was, but sketchy reports coming in, both about the scale and damage, but also injuries.
Suddenly the phone (Landline) rang, then mobile (cell) phones had not reached us.
My friend picked up the phone and talked, then advised who was with him. We were all asked if we could head up to help with the clean up.
We all said yes. We were advised to be at the depot by 4pm and to pack old clothes, enough to last about 4-7 days.
I called mum to advise her, and she packed for me. I advised I could take several of my colleagues with me, to save taking up too many spaces, we agreed. Other colleagues did the same then we all parted ways.
The drive home was surreal, because it was unexpected and I was still reeling from the train disaster in 1977.
Once I got home, had a shower, then dressed and rang my first pick up. Hugged my parents and left.
I drove to the first person, he called the 2nd, then we left, upon arrival, 2nd called 3rd and 4th, they lived almost next door to each other.
Once they were on board, we headed to the depot.
Upon arrival, I was guided to a secure area of the depot to park. I knew my van would be safe.
We headed inside for a briefing.
There were refreshments laid out for us.
The briefing was to update us on events up there. We were told we would not be anywhere near the Workers Club, which had borne the brunt of the damage.
We were told we would be concentrating on the transport depots.
Afterwards, we would be sent elsewhere, at the time, no one knew.
Once the briefing was over, we all headed to the bus and boarded.
The drive up was sombre as everyone was thinking the worst upon arrival.
When we arrived, it was getting dark. We were driven into the depot.
We headed inside to join the other volunteers, some of whom I knew.
Our sleeping arrangements were allocated, then we all headed to get some much needed sleep, maybe the best sleep for a few days.
Strangely enough I slept well.
We all woke early the next day to breakfast and job allocations.
The depot and vehicles sustained some damage, so we all got allocated our jobs:
My depot colleagues were allocated cleaning up inside.
There were chairs, tables, display boards, and rubble all around us.
We worked well as a team and within a couple of hours, had removed the rubble and right the chairs and tables. The display boards were all smashed, but repairable, which got put aside to be repaired.
Once we had finished and the depot looked sort of workable, we had lunch.
After lunch we were advised of being needed elsewhere.
We boarded the buses and were driven to the location.
I finally started seeing the carnage and was amazed so little people were fatally injured.
There was rubble everywhere, bricks, street signs, awnings, several cars had been pushed into the middle of the roadway.
It was an eerie site because I had never seen it so quiet.
I started feeling weird, still don’t know why.
I looked at the rest of my colleagues and they too were shocked by the site.
We soon arrived at our allocated area.
Again, we never went anywhere near the Workers Club site.
We alighted and handed gloves, disposable overalls face shields and hats, then led to our clean up area.
Teams of 4 plus a supervisor were announced. To allow for better communication, each person was from a different location, which suited me.
Each team then headed off to start clearing the road.
This was not easy as it was by hand. The reason for this, all the heavy machinery were at the club site. Thankfully we were instructed to pile the bricks along the side of the road, which we did, but any other rubbish, like street signs, awnings or store stock, yes there was a lot, was to be placed in the middle of the road.
Again, I felt weird. Something, I still can’t explain.
We all worked well, and within 6 hours, had the area cleaned up and honestly, it looked great. Of course, we were all hot, sweaty, tired and in need of cold refreshment, even I wanted a beer. We were handed a cold can each and gulped the contents, which for me was a mistake as it caused me to get sick.
After we had rested a bit, we headed off to do some more clearing up.
Once it got dark, we piled back into the buses and headed back to the depot.
We all had showers, then dinner.
Our debrief was talking about today’s jobs and how well we all did.
Despite the heat, we all sat outside to relax and drink some more beer.
We were told, for New Years Eve, there would be a barbecue laid on for us and January 1st would be a rest day, if we could get the street finished.
This was the incentive we needed, not we needed one, we were there to help clean up and get Newcastle back to its glorious heyday.
FYI: I have had an affiliation with Newcastle since I was a child and the region has always been a favourite destination of mine, well until 2018.
Around 10pm we all started getting tired and started heading to bed. Strangely, I fell asleep quickly. I didn’t know a thing until I was woken at 5am.
Again, we went to have breakfast, then boarded out buses.
We heard on the grape line, the workers club had multiple fatalities, but at the time were not told how many.
We worked hard that day, clearing and sorting rubble out, despite being hot. FYI: This time of year, it’s Summer.
The street looked like a bomb had hit.
Late afternoon, we were all able to go and have a swim in the river, didn’t need to any of us twice, we stripped to our briefs and dove in. It felt good.
Suddenly, there was a scream, and we all looked to see a colleague tangled up in something.
We all swam over to untangle him, which we did. We found it was a fishing net.
Where it came from, no one knew.
After a while, we got out and dressed, then headed back to the depot for dinner and today’s debrief.
We were told about the devastation in detail.
Please check this link for more information.
Sleep didn’t come easy, knowing there were fatalities, and I was concerned whether I knew any, or even those injured too.
The next day, we all woke up and showered, had breakfast, then advised, we were taking the day off to rest up.
The reason being, there was more after shocks expected and it was safer to keep us at the depot.
I felt restless and useless because I wanted to get out there to help.
This was the first time in my life, I started accepting:
The day was spent, either reflecting on how long it would take for Newcastle to fully recover from this, but also the psychological effects of the residents.
In my opinion, had it not been the Christmas and New Year period and a Bus Strike, I feel the death toll could have been much higher.
I joined in with the others playing pool, pinball machines, cards, and some of us decided, with permission, to go for a walk.
This allowed us to see what homes and businesses still stood unaffected by the Earthquake.
Surprisingly, there was little damage, that we could see, of course, each home had been sealed off until declared safe.
The following day was New Years Eve, and honestly, I didn’t want to be there.
We were able to perform some cleaning up, which was good.
Around 3pm, we finished and headed back to the depot to shower and get ready for the barbecue.
Despite being with many old, and now new, colleagues, I felt strange, something as I’ve already said, can’t describe.
The food was amazing, but we all sat around in disbelief.
FYI: Christmas and New Years have never been the same for me, as I always think back to this time.
Many people have assumed I despise this time, it’s not, its because I remember being in Newcastle and just how eerie it was then, and it usually brings tears for me.
After another week of helping out, we all started dispersing back to our own depots.
Each of us, from my depot were given a week off to rest up.
I was happy as I needed time.
Despite others trying to find out what happened, I never divulged to them. This was because I was a man and knew if I said anything, would break into tears, and as my father would say: “Men Don’t Cry.”
Once I returned to work, all seemed ok, until one afternoon, I was driving home and my emotions exploded.
I pulled over and let them out, but I also screamed so loud someone called the Police.
The Police arrived not long after and investigated. I realised I scared someone.
I was spoken to about what happened, and for the first since leaving Newcastle, I released my feelings. My parents were called and they drove to the location.
I never fully revealed to anyone how this event affected me.
Writing this blog has been hard, but I feel better now that I’ve told my story about being there.
As it was the late 1980’s, early 90’s, counselling was not offered, or rarely was. I feel if I had been offered it, I would have accepted and would not be the mental mess I am today.
To anyone reading who was either in Newcastle at the time and/or lost anyone:
PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCEREST CONDOLENCES.
Thank You All for reading.
You Are All Amazing, Influential, Inspiring, Winners.