Fifty years on, Alice Snooke, 74, can clearly recall the horrific noise and earthy smell in the collapse of her farmhouse when, nine months pregnant, she snatched daughter Debbie, 2, from her cot in WA’s worst earthquake.
Nature was ruthless and Meckering, 130 km east of Perth, copped it between the eyes. The fault in the earth’s core literally split the town. Every shop, commercial building and town home was demolished. And many farmhouses as well.
Alice, whose hubby Graham out in the paddocks on his tractor, was walking from her clothesline to the house when the 40-second quake struck. The house, with baby Debbie inside, collapsed before her eyes.
“The earth moved under my feet. I had no idea what it was,” Alice told Have a Go News.
“I couldn’t get through the rubble into the house so I went around the side and found a way in. I picked up Debbie from her cot and got outside and just stood there.
“I was holding her in my arms. The birds started to sing and Debbie just said: “Birdie, birdie, birdie”.
Dashing in from the paddocks, Graham couldn’t get his tractor and towing gear across the 37 km-long fault line where the earth rose higher than two metres. So he unhitched the gear and found a spot where he could just ease the tractor over the scarred earth.
Seventeen locals were injured with, remarkably, no deaths.
The townspeople’s dramatic experiences will be relived and revived at Meckering’s 50th earthquake anniversary in October. Visitors from all over the State are expected.
The quake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, shook WA as far away as Albany, Kalgoorlie, Esperance and Perth where there was minor damage to some city buildings.
The Mundaring to Kalgoorlie Pipeline was severely damaged and a section can be seen in Meckering at the Gazebo in Gabbedy Place. There is also salvaged section of the damaged railway line.
A 1km stretch of the fault line is visible 12kms south of the town on the York to Meckering Road. The ruins of ‘Salisbury’, an original homestead, can be visited.
Meckering’s reconstruction began soon after the quake but to the south-west of the original site.
Meckering acquired a new town hall, infant health clinic, primary school, sporting club, shopping precinct and inter-denominational church.
But 45 fearful families left Meckering never to return. The town’s population plummeted from 650 to 296.
A “new” resident, Rebekah Burges, wasn’t born when the quake struck but married a local farmer and happily moved to the town a decade ago, raising their two kids.
The thought of another damaging quake – despite continuing district tremors (15 a year) – doesn’t cross Rebekah’s mind. One scientist told townspeople there probably wouldn’t be a serious quake for another 1,000 years.
A public gala dinner is planned for 13 October inside a marquee in the town centre which was rebuilt and moved after the damage with tickets at $100 each. (www.meckering.50yrs.com.au).
On Sunday, 14 October at 10.59am – exactly 50 years on – locals and guests will stop for a moment of reflection. Cunderdin shire president, Dennis Whisson, will open proceedings.
There will be entertainment, market stalls, paddock-to-the-plate food and a one-off, local beer brewed from barley grown by the Snookes (whose son Jeffery came into the world 10 days after the quake. Debbie, 52, lives and works in Perth).
There will be free guided tours, a new walk trail opened, inspections of the fault line, ruins and the showgrounds where people congregated in the quake’s aftermath and where, in the wool pavilion, school classes were held. Electric carts are available for disabled visitors. Lotterywest stepped in as sponsor.
Do you have a memory of feeling the earthquake? As a young reporter, I felt the footpath in Albany’s York Street move eerily under my feet.
The editor of this newspaper claims she was still in a cot in 1968 but felt it sway in Perth.
Meckering organisers are encouraging visitors to bring their stories or come to learn more and add to the atmosphere to give respect to the town and the fighting spirit of its people in what could have been a far greater tragedy.
“This is a wonderful community to live in,” chirped Alice, dashing off to watch her grandson play footy.