For Jane Tickle the death of her brother Phillip Gascoigne, as a 24-year-old rigger in October 1990, was a tragic blow.
“I was raised by a single mum and he was basically like my dad,” Ms Tickle said.
Ms Tickle spoke about her brother earlier this year for the exhibition Earthquake Then and Now at the Newcastle Museum.
Her brother was working at the Junction Public School during the demolition of an earthquake-damaged wall.
“It was the last demolition that was going on for the earthquake,” Ms Tickle said.
“Phillip was an experienced rigger who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was crushed under a wall.
“He had been working since he was 17.”
Ms Tickle’s story is one of 25 gathered by the Newcastle Museum in 2015 to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake .
Earthquake Then and Now was re-hung in July to mark the 30th anniversary, and to bring the story to audiences who are yet to understand its profound community impact.
Among our worst disasters
At 10:27am on Thursday, December 28, 1989 an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale struck Newcastle.
Museum director Julie Baird said the exhibition told the stories of how everyday people were affected.
“I believe that this simple exhibition is the best thing that I’ve ever done in my career … and it’s the only exhibition that I have ever signed,” she said.
With photographer Luke Kellett from creative agency Headjam, she interviewed 25 people from all walks of life for the exhibition.
“What I love about this exhibition is it’s not the famous people, it’s not the people who are really significant,” Ms Baird said.
“Everyone said to me, ‘I just did what I did, you just carried on’.”
Mr Kellett said collaborating on the earthquake exhibition with the Newcastle Museum was a pretty special project to work on.
“We showed [the interviewees] the image just before we took the photo,” Mr Kellett said.
“There was a nice little moment where they were, potentially for some of them, looking at the image of themselves on that day for the first time in maybe 25 or 30 years.
“I think that approach worked and that was Julie’s insight to implement that, so it was good.”
He said bringing the exhibition back five years after the original showing had proved its longevity.
“The interesting thing about the project coming back five years later for the next anniversary is re-seeing those stories, re-seeing the emotions re-meeting everyone from that time,” Mr Kellett said.
“And seeing how it’s aged and seeing how it still stayed relevant to telling those stories; hopefully it continues to have relevance for another 10, 15 or so years.”
Everyone’s earthquake experience was different
City of Newcastle planner Geoffrey Douglass, who is depicted in the exhibition, said his professional life took a major turn after the earthquake.
Like many Novocastrians he was on leave when the earthquake struck, during Christmas and the New Year break.
Mr Douglass was assigned to two army engineers from Holsworthy to assess building damage, predominantly in Hunter and Tudor Streets.
“The photo that I’m holding in the exhibition is a photograph of the old Junction Motor Inn,” Mr Douglass said.
“We didn’t really understand it as well at the time, but it’s known as a soft storey failure, because the columns weren’t robust enough.”
The Newcastle earthquake became a trigger for a significant reworking of the Australian Standards for earthquake design, Mr Douglass said.
In 1989 Justin Collins, pictured holding an image of signage outside an earthquake-affected music venue, was the singer in Housequake.
“[Our name] was based on a song by Prince, and we’d been going for a year before it happened,” Mr Collins said.
“I don’t know if someone took [the photo] with an ironic twist, but there’s all sorts of [band names] like Housequake and Big Bam Boom.”
Julie Baird said, while some of the images such as Ms Tickle are sad, the images represent how everyone’s earthquake experience was different.
Mr Matthews said it was a “really big thing for me to go to the Earthquake Relief Concert”.
“All the big bands were playing: Angels, Midnight Oil, Crowded House,” he said.
“I especially wanted to see Split Enz, because they had just re-formed. I was too young to see them the first time around.”
Another memorable image from the exhibition, according to Ms Baird, shows an 18-year-old police officer, Simon Joice.
“It was his first day on the job, and they were giving him the talk, like you do to new people,” Ms Baird said.
“And they said, ‘nothing ever happens in Hamilton’, and then the whole world shook.”
Simon Joice said at first he thought the earthquake was a gas explosion.
“An elderly man was deceased where Gloria Jeans is now. I was told to stay with him to preserve the scene. I was all by myself with no radio and I had been a policeman for two hours.
“People were evacuating banks and jobs. It was pretty chaotic and they kept asking me what they should do. I wanted to say don’t ask me, I have no idea.”
Portrait images produced by Luke David Kellett from Headjam, using archival images courtesy of The Newcastle Herald, Newcastle Libraries, The Australian, and Simon Joice.
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