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 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.
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 made it unstable and forced the owners to have it 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.