A strange thing happened to Nanna Margaret early in the morning on April 20. For the first time in her life, the Reedy family matriarch couldn’t ‘feel’ the granddaughter she’d raised since she was 10 – and that sent a shiver down her spine.
‘I can always feel her, but on that morning I couldn’t,’ says Margaret, 62, acknowledging her Maori spiritual abilities.
And it was for good reason. An earthquake had just rocked the tiny West Australian town of Boulder, where Marshall worked, and the teenager was in trouble.
‘I was on the verge of ringing her to find out if everything was alright when I got a call telling me Marshall was being rushed to hospital,’ Margaret says.
Just an hour earlier, it was business as usual at Goldfields Physiotherapy in Burt Street, Boulder, Kalgoorlie’s historic sister town. In reception, Marshall Reedy, 19, was sitting at her desk when a sudden jolt threw her office chair from side to side.
‘I didn’t know what it was but I stood bolt upright because I knew it was serious and I wanted to be ready to run,’ she recalls.
‘A few seconds later I heard this big bang and the whole building shook violently. As the walls went from side to side, the roof was like the lid of a boiling pot, bubbling on itself. It felt like I was in one of those films about the end of civilisation.’Shaking all over
Kalgoorlie folk are used to the ground shaking. The earth’s moved 52 times in the past 20 years, not counting the daily blasts from the Super Pit open mine, Australia’s largest hole in the ground.
But this was different. A five on the Richter scale, this was the most significant earthquake to hit the mining town in the past 100 years and its epicentre appeared to be smack bang in Burt Street. Many local buildings that were more than 100 years old crumbled as a result, along with Marshall’s workplace.
‘I had no time to get to a door frame for safety,’ Marshall says. ‘So I bent down to hide under my desk and closed my eyes because I was so afraid. At no stage did I think the roof would come down on me.’
Physiotherapist Gavin Corica, 39, was treating a patient in an adjoining room. He says: ‘I don’t know how I stayed standing. The floor was moving violently from left to right. We tried to get to a door frame, but the door opened inwards and we didn’t have time. The scariest part was hearing the building crumble around us and not knowing if our room was next.’
When the rumbling stopped Gavin raced to Marshall’s room but couldn’t see through the dust cloud. He called her name several times, but there was no answer.
‘I knew she was under the debris, but because she didn’t respond for several minutes I thought she was dead,’ he says. ‘Eventually I heard her moan.’
Marshall adds: ‘When I woke up I had no idea I’d been in an earthquake, I thought I’d been in something like 9/11. It was pitch black, I couldn’t breathe because of the dust and I was crying. I had the worst headache – it was like somebody had smashed my skull onto the concrete.’
So quick was the cave-in that the New Zealand-born teen never made it under her desk, exposing her to layers of falling plaster, steel, bricks and ducting as the roof fell.
‘I moved a bit and could feel that the ceiling had an imprint of my head on it, but I was in so much pain that I just lay there waiting to be dug out,’ she says.
Knee-deep in bricks, an unharmed Gavin and his client began madly digging. ‘She’s lucky to be alive,’ winks the reluctant hero, whose Superman credentials debuted years ago when he wrestled an armed robber to the ground single-handedly.
Marshall, who’s recovering from a concussion, sprained ankle, minor spinal injuries and bruising, says it’s ‘hilarious and frightening’ to be the only local admitted to hospital after the earthquake.
‘I feel like the laughing stock of Kalgoorlie, but it’s pretty much in keeping with what seems to have been a life of bad luck for me,’ she says. ‘But I’m treating it as a wake-up call. This is how Maori people think. Even my nan asked me if I’d been doing anything bad lately, as if to say karma had caught up with me. I’ve decided to go back to uni, teach gymnastics again and tell my boyfriend I’m serious about him, because life’s too short.’