The Meckering Earthquake

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the backdrop of the book. How many do you remember?

The Meckering quake, on October 14th 1968 may not have been the largest earthquake to hit Western Australia, but it was certainly the most devastating. In less than a minute, the 6.9 quake had all but destroyed the small town of Meckering, damaging the hotel, hall, bank, three churches and 60 of the town’s 75 houses. Roads were split open, railway lines twisted like spaghetti and the steel water pipeline was compressed into itself.

A massive crack opened the earth, a terrifying rupture almost 40 kilometres long, parts of which are still visible today.

The Meckering Fault Line, 1968, aees.org.au

The earthquake was felt across the state, from Geraldton to Albany and neighbouring towns Northam and York suffered damage of their own. Perth, only 130km from the epicentre, experienced shaking and damage and many stories of the day have been shared on the Lost Perth Facebook group.

According to one contributor, on the day of the earthquake, the Junior French oral exams were taking place in the Arts Building at the University of Western Australia. The tea-room was full of staff and examiners taking a break between sessions when the quake hit, prompting cries of ‘tremblement de terre!’ and everyone dashing downstairs to safely.

It was an anecdote too perfect not to share, and so on the day of the Meckering Earthquake my main character Cordelia happens to be sitting in a quiet space in the Arts Building courtyard just as the French examiners come tumbling out of the doors, exclaiming in French.

meckeringPub-Hall_27 aees.org.au

Meckering Public Hall 1968, aees.org.au

The quake not only devastated the town physically, but socially, with 45 families leaving Meckering on the day, never to return. Many more were to follow.

One thing which surprised me when doing research for my book, is discovering that Western Australia is home to one of the largest fault lines in the world, the Darling Fault, an (oxymoronic) monster stretching 1,000 kilometres from Albany to Shark Bay.

Despite its size, the Darling Fault has not experienced a significant event in recorded history. However to the west of the Fault lies the South West Seismic Zone. This area boasts the majority of Australia’s seismic activity, with more than 6,000 recorded earthquakes in the past 50 years, including the horror of the Meckering quake.

In Perth, the impact of the Meckering quake was significant despite the distance. Houses and buildings across the city shook, the Kwinana Freeway cracked, and there was damage to the Physics Building at UWA.

Do you have memories of the 1968 Meckering quake?

Thanks to the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society for providing permission to use the images in this article.

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Meckering Anglican Church 1968, aees.org.au

 

 

The History of Daylight Saving in WA

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Researching this time frame has brought back many memories – how many do you share?

For anyone who believes daylight saving was invented in the 1980s just to torture children, you may be surprised to learn that the concept of turning the clocks forward to extend the hours of daylight into the evening was first introduced uniformly across Australia during the first World War (1917).

It was used again across the nation during WW2 (1942-1944) but from the 1970s onwards, states have had free reign to decide.

Looking back on my childhood, with the dubious blinkers provided by decades of distance, I thought daylight saving was a constant. I have strong memories of being sent to bed in what seemed like full sunlight, my roller blind always jamming a few inches above ground level, the bright orange sunset bleeding around the edges of my curtains. If you had pressed me, I would have said that we had daylight saving every summer of my childhood during the 1980s, so strong are the memories of fighting with my parents about the unfairness of being sent to bed while the sun was still up.

Naturally, I’d be wrong.

During the research for my book, which is set in Perth during the 1960s to 1980s, I discovered that Western Australia only had daylight saving for two years of my childhood: 1983-84 (when I was six) and 1991-92 (when I was fourteen). There was an enforced trial for three consecutive years from 2006-2009, but by then I had grown up and my bedtime was no longer dictated to me by my mother, but by my newborn daughter.

Perhaps the reason daylight saving is so strong in my memory, although in reality it only directly affected me twice, was because it was constantly being debated in the press and around kitchen tables across the state.

Western Australia has held no less than four referendums on the issue of daylight saving, in 1975, 1984, 1992 and 2009. (As a side note, the only other state referendums carried out by Western Australia were in 1933 which was about seceding from the Commonwealth of Australia, and two separate referendums in 2005 about retail trading hours1.)

The first three referendums were held following a single year trial of daylight saving, and each time the voters returned a vote of ‘no’. Unconvinced West Aussies didn’t want daylight saving, the government then enforced a three year trial from 2006-2009 followed by the fourth and final referendum, which returned the highest ‘no’ vote of all.

The final vote was 54.6% no, 45.3% yes. Interestingly, it showed many of the people living in the coastal and inner suburbs of Perth supported daylight saving, but this was overshadowed by the overwhelming rejection of daylight saving by people living in the eastern suburbs as well as rural and regional areas.

It was decided by the Premier at the time, that the issue would not be raised again for another twenty years2.

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Sunset over Elizabeth Quay, which actually didn’t exist when I was a child

But even if Western Australia does not participate in daylight saving itself, we are still affected by it every year the Eastern States takes part. Daylight saving in the East increases the time difference between Perth and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to three hours – sufficient to make it challenging for businesses, confusing when you need to call friends and family, and enough of a difference to wreck your sleep when you travel interstate.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that daylight saving formed a major part of my childhood, a brief straw polls among friends also showed many thought battling with parents about bedtime was a fixture growing up.

Turns out we were just being annoying kids, fighting with parents for the sake of it, and daylight saving had nothing to do with it.

 

Further reading: A recent National Geographic article looking at Daylight Saving in the US and its history around the globe.

 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_in_Australia#State_and_territory_referendums
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20090521204833/http://www.thewest.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=77&ContentID=142031

Why writing a first draft is like having a baby

Writing the first draft of a novel is a bit like having a baby. Hidden from view, the most amazing creation is being formed inside of you, and then one day, a small slimy, mass emerges – and you instantly fall in love with it.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful pink, chubby, smiling baby? Even though your baby doesn’t quite look like that yet, you also know babies grow. You have faith in your baby, and can already imagine what it will look like in your head.

So you assume that everyone else will love your wrinkly, red newborn, which cries incessantly and smells strange – because that’s not what you see. You are already looking at your baby with the benefit of birth hormones and nitrous oxide. You know it is the most beautiful baby in the world and everyone will agree with you.

In short, you are deluded.

Writing a first draft, I have discovered, is a bit like that. Growing a book inside you is like being pregnant. So much is going on inside your head that it can begin to take over your entire life, you live and breathe it, think about it during the day, dream about it at night. But it’s all going on inside you – so no one can really understand what’s happening, or appreciate the magnitude of what is taking place.

Then one day you announce you have written a book. Plop.

Some friends will immediately ask to read it. They’re either ignorant of all of the slime and blood still covering your creation, or they just love books (or you) so much, they want to read it, even if it means having the literary equivalent of meconium dribbling onto their laps and never being able to get the smell of sour milk (and poorly formed, clichéd characters) out of their noses.

You can give your stinky newborn book to your best friend or sister or partner or mum to read, but beyond this circle, it’s best to at least wash and dress the baby book before passing it on to the next visitor. After all, you’d like your visitor to come back again and not slink away in embarrassment, wiping vomit from their shoulder, never to look you in the eye again.

And while you may be convinced your book will grow up to be as handsome as Orlando Bloom, this does not give you permission to thrust your infant novel, still in nappies, at the nearest publisher demanding they agree ‘how good (looking) it is.’

And so as writers we must allow our newborn books to grow, to develop. We must wait for them to move through the stages at their own pace, and never be impatient for them to run before they can walk, or indeed, before they can even crawl.

Personally, I am hoping it won’t take 18 years for my freshly delivered, still mewling newborn book to develop to the stage where it’s ready to take on its own life, but I am fascinated to see what happens from here, and how it will grow and change.

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Coles Cafeteria in the CBD

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the back drop of the book. How many do you remember?

Many a trip to the city in my childhood with my Mum or Grandma ended with lunch at the Coles Cafeteria.

Located upstairs in what is now the Target building in the Hay Street Mall, we would mount the steep and narrow escalator to arrive at the large open cafeteria. It will forever be associated with a time when a trip to the city was considered a treat, usually dressed in our best clothes and on our best behaviour.

With no natural light, it seemed somewhat dark but never gloomy to a child who loved the crinkly chips with gravy, pikelets wrapped tightly under plastic wrap or the ubiquitous green jelly with a chocolate frog and swirl of whipped cream.

The first Coles Café opened in the Melbourne store in 1930, taking up an entire floor of the building and seating more than 1,000 people. Its immediate success meant replicas were soon opened across the country.

Coles Cafeteria Melbourne Glen H flikr

This is actually the Melbourne Coles Cafeteria, but I remember the Perth one looking very similar, even down to the lemon yellow salt and pepper shakers on the table. (Image credit Glen H flikr)

Food was served from long counters around the perimeter of the room, while a great expanse of chairs and tables filled the space in the middle. On arrival, you would collect a tray and slide it down the bench, collecting plates of food from the displays as you went. A glass of icy choc milk from the dispenser was the ultimate treat for us (Mum didn’t like us having the green lime coola).

The Coles Cafeteria in Perth remained open until at least the late 1980s. Apparently you can still see some of the old pink and yellow lino flooring in the back passages of the new Target building, but for most of us, it will simply remain a fond memory of childhood.

What was your favourite treat from the Coles Cafeteria?

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s

Atlantis – Abandoned Marine Park

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the back drop of the book. How many do you remember?

Atlantis Marine Park was built in 1981 as part of an ambitious plan to turn a tiny town at the northern end of Perth’s sprawling metropolis into a standalone satellite city. Established in Two Rocks, 60 km north of Perth, Atlantis became a must-see destination for the people of Perth – for a short while at least.

The image of an enormous carved head of King Neptune smiling down on the park became part of a collective childhood, surrounded by many more limestone sculptures of dolphins, mythical creatures and even celebrity heads (Di and Charles, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles and more).

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s, Julia Leat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Six months before the park opened, six local bottlenose dolphins were captured and trained to perform together. Images of the dolphins performing in unison and jumping to touch a ball suspended high over the pool, drew crowds in, but ironically it was partially the dolphins’ fault that the park failed.

The birth of three babies and a tightening in regulations meant that the pools built to house the dolphins were too small. The owners were already facing financial issues due to smaller crowds and so the decision was made to close the park in 1990. This often comes as a surprise to many people who grew up in Perth at the time – the fact that Atlantis was only open for 10 years.

Many of the limestone sculptures were transported off site to the Club Capricorn Resort (which itself closed in 2015), while the dolphins began a long rehabilitation project to ready them for a return to the wild. It was only partially successful. Five dolphins were returned to the waters off the coast of Yanchep, to be seen happily frolicking for a number of years. Sadly, one dolphin died and three were unable to be rehabilitated. They were transferred to AQWA (then known as Underwater World) which had opened in 1988 in the Hillarys Marina.

King Neptune from Atlantis Marine Park

KIng Neptune, 2012 Tor Lindstrand (CC BY-SA 2.0)The park itself was left abandoned. It became overgrown and a place for vandals until recently, when a group of volunteers cleaned up the site around King Neptune, where it is now open to curious visitors and dog walkers.

 

100 Days of Writing

Almost six months ago I made myself a deal. Wanting an incentive to sit and write every day, I promised myself that if I wrote for 100 days between that day – the 18th of February – and my birthday, which falls mid-August, I would let myself get a Little Street Library.

I love Little Street Libraries. I keep my eyes peeled for them when I am driving around. I have seen them at churches and in laneways, outside shops and homes. My favourite is one that looks like a small red phonebooth, brimming with books and stories. I wanted my own, partly as a way of recycling books I no longer needed, and partly as a source of new reading. I didn’t even know where I would put it, I just wanted one.

I had no goal with regard to how much I would write, just the simple act of climbing out of bed at 4am or 5am or even 6am, regardless of how much light was in the sky, or how cold my legs were under my robe, and sitting at my desk and placing my fingers on the keys.

I started strongly, writing almost every day for the rest of February, and was thrilled when I had put almost 10,000 words on paper in only ten days. This was a new story, and it flowed easily. I had reached my halfway point of 50 days by the start of May, and with it a count of over 46,000 words.

Today, on August 1st, a fortnight before the deadline, I ticked off my 100th day of writing. It’s been harder to write during the winter months. It’s just harder to get out of bed. And as I have neared the end of my novel, the story has slowed down, and uncertainty of how to find closure has decelerated my speed of writing.

But I now have a first draft – an enormous first draft at 93,000 words – that is 99% complete. And in theory, I have earned myself a Little Street Library.

Except about three months ago, as we were driving past my neighbour’s house, I could see her painting a beautiful, hand made little library that she had fixed to her front wall. My heart sank. Later that afternoon I walked to her house, carrying the two big bags of books I had been saving for when I got my own Street Library. There was only a matter of metres between our houses, and even I with my deep love of books, could not justify two Little Street Libraries right next to each other.

It turns out it didn’t matter. The reward for my writing, was the story itself. It spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s and is full of both my childhood memories growing up in Perth, stories I had heard, and research gleaned from the internet. It is rich with history, from the Meckering quake to the change to the metric system. The old Coles cafeteria in the city makes an appearance, as do the swans at Perth airport.

I don’t know if the story will ever be more than just 500 pages of a Word document on my laptop. I hope so. But even though I probably will never get my own Little Street Library, I feel so proud today of my 100 days of writing. I think I might buy myself a cupcake!

Perth Modern School

What’s In a Name?

It’s amazing the things you can learn from unexpected places and people. Writers always need to be ready for their next inspiration, because you never know when it will happen.

I was shopping for tea-towels – not something I do regularly – and naturally, started chatting to the lady behind the counter. The tea-towels were gifts for my daughters’ teachers, and so the conversation moved from teachers to schools, and then we then got to chatting about a school she worked at in New Zealand. She mentioned the name of the school – Papakura Normal School.

I had heard this term before – in researching my novel I had come across Perth Normal School, which was in operation around the turn of the 20th Century. I had always noted the unusual name, but hadn’t investigated any further.

The woman explained that in New Zealand a ‘Normal’ school is one closely linked with the teacher training colleges, and while an average state school might have one or two trainee teachers, the Normal Schools, of which there are more than twenty in New Zealand, are considered the primary training grounds, and are where most of the trainee teachers are based.

We laughed about this; if these were the ‘normal’ schools, then by reasoning, all other schools were ‘abnormal,’ but then she mentioned that the name actually came from a French word.

I came home (with my bag of tea-towels) and went straight into research mode.

The concept of Normal Schools actually come from the French idea of ‘ecole normale’ (literally school normal) which was to establish specific schools in which the best practice of teaching was ‘normalised’ for student teachers. They have been around the 16th century and you can find Normal Schools in the US and Canada, across Europe and also in Australia and New Zealand.

These days there are dedicated tertiary colleges and training institutions for those wishing to become teachers, but many older schools across the globe still retain the term ‘Normal’ in their title to show the historical significance of the role they played in teacher training.

It led me to research the meaning behind another of Perth’s educational institutions – Perth Modern School. Today ‘Mod’ is known as one of the states best high schools, fully selective and catering only to students who pass strict academic entrance exams. It has produced Rhodes Scholars, Prime Ministers, Governors and more.

Despite its name, Perth Modern is actually very old. It opened more than a century ago, in 1911, with just over 200 students. At the time, there were only eight other high schools in Perth and all were single-sex (five for boys, three for girls). The ‘modern’ philosophy that the school took its name from was two-fold.

First, it was the first public co-educational high school in the state accommodating both male and female students. Second, it would not allow any authoritative corporal punishment that was both common and expected in schools at the time. This very modern school, would instead expect students to manage themselves with self-discipline, not by teachers administering the cane and paddle. At the time, Mod was ground-breaking in its attitude to learning, a truly modern establishment.

It goes to show that the unusual names we hear on a daily basis, often have a deep historical basis that have become forgotten over time, and it’s just those chance conversations, in random places that shed enlightenment.

Where have you found your most unexpected inspiration?