The Meckering earthquake

“I thought the ground was going to open up and that I would fall into it … it was horrifying” (resident of Meckering, reporting his experience of the earthquake to The West Australian, 15 October 1968).

The earthquake that shook the wheatbelt town of Meckering on 14 October 1968 was a terrifying event for those that experienced it and remains deeply etched in the memories of many 52 years after the event. This week Damien Hassan, Senior Archivist at the State Records Office, looks back to this event and what the government archives reveal about this natural disaster.

Between 1900 and 1968, the government files record six severe earthquakes in Western Australia at different locations throughout the State, although newspaper accounts record additional tremors throughout the 20th Century. An earthquake offshore of Carnarvon in November 1906 is considered the largest known Australian earthquake, measuring a magnitude of over 7 on the Richter scale, and could be felt as far away as Albany.

Slight ground tremors were felt in Meckering early in the morning of 14 October 1968 and then just before 11am, there was a severe earthquake that lasted about 40 seconds. Many of the buildings in Meckering, a town that had a population of 600 people, were reduced to rubble with other properties made structurally unsound. Nearby country towns were also affected, with extensive damage and cracking sustained in buildings. Twenty people were injured as a result of the earthquake but there was no loss of life.

The effect of the earthquake was also felt in Perth with older buildings affected (newer buildings suffered little damage). Newspaper accounts of the time reported in sensational manner “tall buildings shook, masonry fell into the street and people fled in terror.”

Meckering soon became a place for sightseers, with people travelling to the town to view the damage caused. While initially, outside sightseers were considered a nuisance, enterprising local groups in Meckering began charging visitors ($1/vehicle) with support from the local police and this helped raise funds for rebuilding efforts. While initially it was thought that Meckering may need to be abandoned altogether, the townsite was partially rebuilt and remains a tourist attraction to this day.

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Recorded live on ABC Radio Perth on 13 October 2020.

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