Where We Were, by Adam T Murphy / by Newcastle Discovered

“Where were you on that day?” I was on the bus to school, same as ever. It was exceptionally wet and exceptionally slow and the aggregated body heat of fifty teenagers fogged the windows so I couldn't see much outside. Mum was in New Zealand that weekend because granddad was dying and Dad was at work. I sat in maths class in first period and tried to figure out how to solve quadratic equations. Later on that morning, I heard that a ship had run aground on Nobbys Beach. Our school had a view, but the hospital building - remember that? - was in the way, obstructing our line of sight. We were perhaps a kilometre from the centre of the action, but for the whole day I barely saw anything. We didn't even get to leave early.

That storm was the meteorological equivalent of being kicked while you’re down. The city had not seen a lot of sunshine, in the metaphorical sense, since the steelworks closed. Perhaps my memory is unreliable, but it seemed like a hard time to get excited about what was going on in Newcastle. The hottest food in Hunter Street Mall, in both the literal and figurative senses, was an Oporto outlet. The lockouts were looming, but the stories about after-dark violence didn't sound like much fun either. The city and its citizens were in no mood to confront a storm which was going to turn our homes into a disaster zone.

The Pasha Bulker drove onto Nobbys like a red ramrod in the midst of this uncertainty. When Dad took my brother and me to get a look at it the following Monday (and he parked all the way back at Tower Cinemas; it was the most popular thing in town), it was hard to know how to react. I had seen plenty of ships in the harbour, and I had been to the beach more than a few times, but I was thrown by the scene; a perfectly mundane component of international commerce transformed into an intimidating monolith, so close to the assembled crowd that you felt like you could touch it. Every time I looked at it, I shouted the words LAURITZEN BULKERS to myself in my head. I stared from Shortland Esplanade and wondered how it could ever be moved. It was yet another problem for us to solve.

Except that it was solved and, for the last ten years, has been a part of local history. I doubt there is a single person who lived in the Hunter region in June 2007 who has never heard of the Pasha Bulker. That collective memory is a special thing which cannot be found just anywhere. It is a part of the culture of this place, a shared understanding of overcoming undeserved hardships of many varieties, be they earthquakes, floods, layoffs, recession. The Pasha Bulker reminded us that we are a community with a strong heart and soul bound together by the knowledge of what it means to fight against, and prevail over, adversity.

 

That night, I was not in my own bed. I had gone next door, where some close family friends lived, after a massive bolt of lightning instantly knocked out our power. I fell into an uneasy sleep. At the height of the storm, I awoke, and quickly became terrified. The wind was gusting powerfully through unknown trees with threatening moans and screeches. During an especially strong gust, I could no longer bear to remain still. They call it a ‘sympathetic response’ - the fight-or-flight urge. I rushed out into a long corridor with a solitary lamp; glanced outside and dimly perceived the trees, flailing and rolling in the wind as though engaged in a conscious act of self-destruction. I heard the thousand-splinters crack of a falling branch somewhere close and took three paces up the corridor without thinking, ready to run, ready to hide. The lamp flickered off - then on..! - then off for good. Then, in this moment of panic, there was a hand on my shoulder and a soothing voice - one of the parents of this house, although in that moment she might as well have been my guardian angel. I do not remember exactly what she said, but I do remember being led back to bed, heart pounding at first, then slower as I lay down under the covers and realised, as sleep enveloped me once more, that everything would be OK.

Sure enough, it was. And a month later, they towed the Pasha Bulker off.