At 10.27 am on Thursday 28th December 1989, Newcastle was struck by the first significant earthquake to affect an Australian urban area. The earthquake, registering 5.6 on the Richter scale, had an epicentre approximately 14 km south west of the Cathedral.
During the earthquake high set stone crosses and other decorations fell to the ground and flying buttresses were dislodged; cracking occurred in all walls and windows were broken and dislodged.
Work on a building such as Christ Church Cathedral is governed by State heritage legislation which invokes the principles of the ICOMOS “Burra Charter”.
The aim of the repair and reinforcement work was to turn the building from a brittle to a ductile structure, able to resist future earthquakes, but using materials and techniques which were compatible with the expected long life of the building and not visually intrusive. After considerable research a system of building reinforcing developed in Europe was chosen as the only practicable option. The specially imported “Cintec” system was used to reinforce walls and piers, horizontally and vertically, with a total of over 3700 metres of high strength stainless steel bar being used. Some steel strengthening frames were also used where they cannot be readily seen, behind the parapets and in the tower. The project pioneered many building techniques in Australia. All the reinforcing was inserted in holes drilled in the brickwork and techniques were developed which allowed the holes to be drilled without cooling water, as the escaping water could have damaged other areas of the Cathedral. The horizontal reinforcing of the nave walls, at 32 metres long, was a world record for this type of work.
Work on the restoration of the Cathedral commenced in late July 1995. It was decided that, as well as repairing the earthquake damage, other necessary restoration and enhancements would be undertaken including:
- New marble flooring was laid over the Narthex, Nave and crossing and special floor heating was installed.
- The Nave Altar Platform was redesigned so as to be raised or lowered creating an alternate performance area with added room for seating during special services and great public occasions.
- The Cathedral building was completely re-wired. An internal and external lighting plan was commissioned which included new lights being installed, highlighting the magnificent interior roof.
- Much of the 19th Century Cathedral furniture was also restored including the three magnificent chairs in the High Altar Sanctuary area.
- Old asbestos exterior roofing was removed and copper sheeting was put in place.
- The Cathedral toilets were upgraded.
- New furniture and fittings were provided in the Choir Room and Vestries and a new meeting room provided.
- Louvres were placed in the bell tower protecting the bells from water damage and other weather elements.
- The Restoration Walk, which surrounds the Cathedral, allows for individuals, families, clubs and companies to make their mark in the history of Newcastle.
- Surrounding Gardens and lawns were landscaped.
- Paving of parking area with kerb and guttering.
- The Access Ramp was restored on the north side of the Cathedral.
- The organ was repaired and upgraded.
Friday, 31st January 1997, was the day for the Re-Hallowing of the Cathedral following the completion of the earthquake restoration. The day is significant for Newcastle Anglicans as it was on that day (31st January 1848) that the first Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Rev’d William Tyrrell, was installed in the old Cathedral.
Some one thousand people joined the Governor-General of Australia and the Governor of NSW, the Archbishops of Sydney and Brisbane, the 10th Bishop of Newcastle (The Rt Rev’d Alfred Holland), the 11th and 12th Deans of Newcastle (Archdeacon John Falkingham and Bishop Robert Beal) to witness the solemn ceremony presided over by The Rt Rev’d Roger Herft, 11th Bishop of Newcastle.