“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” — Willa Cather (American Author), The Song of the Lark
Yesterday, I sent a rather direct email to Crikey, pointing out that “One of Australia’s major cities was almost wiped off the map on the weekend — and you might want to mention it”.
In true Crikey spirit, “The Ed” politely suggested I get off my bum, and start typing. I quickly collated a few stories from friends and work colleagues, most of whom were lucky.
Anna works for NSW Health. As she drives into Newcastle, the radio reports flooding overnight in Dungog and Clarencetown, about 20 minutes north of Newcastle. Trees have taken out powerlines in ten suburbs and towns. Whilst sympathetic to the news, flooding is just a theoretical concept to Anna. It’s not something you experience in metropolitan areas.
“Newcastle’s peak hour” adds an extra ten minutes to Anna’s trip, and she turns into James Fletcher Psychiatric Hospital. It’s day three of her training course, and she’s just missed out on one of the “better” car spots — resulting in a longer walk, through driving rain, to the classroom.
Pete works for one of the big radio stations in town. Being a Friday, he’ll be working late, crunching the weekly sales figures. The rain beats down as he turns into the radio station and, after dashing to the side door, Pete’s thankful his key opens it “on the first go”. Must be his lucky day.
Lauren leaves her home in Swansea, for work. Her PA role has become more frantic in June, and she was really looking forward to this long weekend.
There’s a monster swell today. Surf reporters are telling radio listeners to “forget about it” — and there are very few ships visible. Novocastrians are used to seeing 30-40 vessels out on the “ocean carpark”, but very few are visible through the rain today. The fleet were warned to move to deeper waters last night. But warnings are not always heeded.
Anna’s workmate Justin, has an enviable view of Newcastle Beach. From his office at Royal Newcastle Hospital he’s watched whales swimming by in Winter, and the world’s top surfers competing in Summer.
But this is something else.
A giant bulk freighter is incredibly close to the beach. “The Pasha Bulker” broke its moorings some time ago, and appeared near Merewether beach, several kilometres South. The ships engines exert zero influence on the 8 metre swell, and instead of heading “out”, it’s drifting north. Justin watches the huge vessel sliding past knocking dramatically into the reef near Newcastle’s ocean baths, and heading towards Nobby’s Beach.
The first photographs hit the inboxes of the Hunter… and spread rapidly. Newcastle’s famous Nobby’s Beach (the local equivalent of Sydney’s Bondi) has a new landmark. A 250 metre-long freighter. While most locals have seen one of these ships in the harbour, no-one has seen one in such a predicament. People are calling friends and workmates to spread the news. Most vow to “see it for themselves” as soon as possible.
In shops and workplaces, the Pasha Bulker is the only topic of conversation. Anyone with time to spare starts to head for Nobby’s Beach. Heavy rain and strong winds continue. Soon, ambulances are called to the site. Families have gone to see the wondrous sight, without dressing for the arctic conditions. Hypothermia is the result.
Anna and Justin emerge from a morning of training and turn their mobiles on. They chirp continuously with text after text telling them of the events at Nobby’s Beach. Later, their mobiles will be useless.
Newcastle’s huge system of open drains has moved an incredible amount of water in the past 24 hours, but the rainfall is still increasing in ferocity. Now, many roads are filling up with water.
Parents begin picking up kids; more than usual due to the atrocious conditions. People at work are rushing to complete their day, and begin their long weekend. Those monitoring the radio hear of roads becoming impassable. Those who are too busy, will leave work unaware.
As the sightseeing traffic heads out of the city, it merges and multiplies with the Friday peak. Very soon, too many cars, and too few usable roads will make a terrible combination.
Anna completes her day of training, and walks outside to see a very different car park. She walks through thigh-high water to her car, which thankfully has only it’s “feet wet”. The car parked in Anna’s preferred car space — won’t be going anywhere. Only its headrests and roof are visible. Anna is very thankful, and starts driving to Charlestown, to pick up her husband.
Pete is on the phone to his teenage daughters. He can’t believe they’re still driving to work in such atrocious conditions. He tries to convince them the roads are too dangerous, but they remain determined. He will call them back again and again.
Lauren says goodbye to her workmates, including Nick, the newest member of the team. She navigates through 2 major flooded areas, including a large blacked-out suburb.
Anna takes the beach road as usual, and sees a power pole come crashing down 20 metres in front of the car. Sparks flew as it hit the water — but thankfully no-one was nearby. Some things are preferably left in movies, rather than real life.
It might be Nick’s 2nd week at his new job, but he’s lived in Raymond Terrace all his life.
That means he’s seen flooded roads before. And … as Nick enters Maitland Road, he drives straight into the water, at full power. Sadly, the liquid-to-vehicle ratio was not in Nick’s favour, so the car stopped. He climbs out of his car, and like other nearby drivers, takes his trousers off. Nick grabs his two shopping bags, holds them above his head, and starts walking home — in his underwear.