UWA Student Protests Stops Traffic

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?

In my book, Cordelia and her friends start their degrees at the University of Western Australia in 1965. At the time, the Uni was more than half a century old, having grown from 184 students when it opened its doors in 1913 to 3,800 students in 1962.

As the student population grew, so did the need for off-campus residential halls. St George’s College was the first to open in 1931 and within the next two decades four more colleges had opened. Located directly across the road from the university, the string of residential colleges were often referred to as ‘College Row’ hosting inter-college events and competitions.

Separating the colleges from the main campus was busy Stirling Highway, a multi-lane road which still acts as one of the main thoroughfares between Fremantle, the western suburbs and the Perth CBD.

By the mid-60s, it was estimated the 750 students of College Row made as many as 4,000 crossings every day, and while there were traffic lights, they were for cars only, and not designed to assist pedestrians.

In 1967, a 19 year old student was hit and killed by a car on Stirling Highway as she attempted to cross back to her residence at St Catherine’s College. She was the second student to die in as many years and many others had been injured.

Students began to lobby the authorities for a safe underpass crossing, but no progress had been made when another student was almost killed two years later in 1969. Tired of waiting for formal lobbying to bring results, the students of UWA took a different approach and staged a sit-down protest on the afternoon of Friday 28th March, 1969. Hundreds of bodies created a major roadblock for peak-hour traffic and an even bigger headache for university officials and police. Apparently, some students even brought along shovels and tools and began digging their own tunnel to further hammer home their point.

The subsequent furore and widespread support from both the media and community led to an underpass beneath Stirling Highway being constructed and opened for use by September 1970.

The underpass was built too late to be of any help to the characters in my story, so they had to run the gauntlet of peak hour traffic when heading to the bus stop, but it was an interesting piece of history that deserved to be shared.

Have you ever used the UWA Underpass?

Image of the UWA underpass circa 1975 sourced from https://www.web.uwa.edu.au 

 

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. The Subiaco pub originally had a spire on top of the corner tower, but damage caused by the quake forced the owners to have the top removed.

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.

EPSON scanner image

Meckering Anglican Church 1968, aees.org.au