Earthquake tremors in the Hunter Valley are surprisingly common. Records compiled since European settlement have reports of earthquakes as far back as 1842.
On August 6, 1994 it was Ellalong's turn. Just after 9pm a magnitude 5.4 quake struck, the largest in eastern Australia since the 1989 Newcastle earthquake.
In geological terms it was quite close to this devastating Newcastle event, only 30km west of the 1989 epicentre. The earthquake was felt over a radius of more than 220km, as far as Taree in the north, Nowra in the south and Orange in west.
Power and lights went out and landlines went down as the strong earthquake was felt at Ellalong, Paxton and Wallaby Gully.
Many thought the earth movement was a result of blasting at Singleton Army Camp, but it was in fact part of the natural shaky history of the Hunter Valley.
Seventeen underground miners at Ellalong No. 2 Colliery reported a frightening scene and a first-hand description of the moment the quake hit paints a vivid picture: "...a loud noise...my whole surroundings shook for about five seconds. Coal fell from the headings sides and dust immediately filled all the headings and cut throughs... I suspected a gas explosion in nearby longwall excavations".
One miner had coal lodged in his eye as coal dust fell from the roof and he needed hospital treatment.
Over at the Ellalong Hotel patrons were enjoying a Saturday night at the pub when the earthquake struck.
New licensees of only three weeks Michael and Debbie Potts heard a deep rumble and a cracking noise as the hotel shook violently.
The power went out; the building was plunged into darkness and patrons screamed in fear and confusion as they attempted to escape. The impact of the rolling earth threw the barman back into the fridges behind the bar and the historic building was extensively damaged.
The most extraordinary aspect of the quake was the observation by local residents of the rarely seen 'earthquake lights'.
A woman at Paxton recalled looking southeast into the bush before the earthquake struck. A frightening red glow appeared; she described it as being like a 'big red ball' low to the ground, moving rapidly toward her. It emerged from nowhere just as the ground began shaking.
There have been many reports of such strange lights accompanying earthquakes overseas, but this is one of the rare reports in Australia.
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