Here’s another reason I love my job. It is the third anniversary of the June 2007 long weekend storm, a tempest that left us with an 80,000 tonne coal carrier on one of Newcastle’s main beaches. The coast around the city beaches is littered with shipwrecks, the Sygna – half of which remains on Stockton beach after a similar storm in 1974. The Adolphe, wrecked on the Oyster Bank in 1904. The Cawarra in 1866, also wrecked on the Oyster Bank. 62 people died, only one survived. The Susan Gilmour in 1884 – the beach is now named after the ship. There’s a great list online here.
At the ABC we went into three days on continuous emergency broadcasting, providing updates on road closures, accidents, emergency information from the SES and utilities … it was quite an amazing time and I’m glad I was a part of it. The sense of community, the participation of our community, was incredible. From distressed people calling us for help or advice, to others calling in to offer help or information.
On the Friday afternoon, I received this call from Jim in Maryland – and it chilled my heart. A child on his way home from school, had been washed away:
I’d already received a call from the NSW Department of Education to tell us that ALL schools in ALL local government areas in our region were being closed and evacuated. ALL children were being sent home, or were to be collected. I will be forever grateful to the anonymous person who rang the radio station with a message telling me that my own children were safe. I don’t know who you are, but thank you.
That young boy was Alex, and in a weekend in which there were nine tragic deaths, Alex was lucky. His story had a happy ending and I got to speak with both Alex’s mother, Kirra, and one of his rescuers, Mark:
Funnily enough, it was a privilege to be able to do my job over those three days. Like many others, we had no electricity at our home for a few days, but our gas supply wasn’t cut so we were warm, we could cook and heat water. My sons still get a little antsy whenever we have storms – not surprising given they listened to their mother talk about doom and gloom and pretty scary stuff on the radio for three days straight – but they’re resilient little beings and I think are proud of their mum – particularly when she was thanked at school assembly for the work she did in helping keep people safe!
There is also a Walkley Award that goes with this story – but it seems to me that there are plenty of other journalists who deserve a Walkley ahead of me. I think I have a photo of it somewhere …