South Australian Earthquakes 1950-1959

by Kevin McCue


This is the first or last of a series of reports discussing the seismicity of South Australia by decade prior to the establishment of a useful seismograph network there from 1958 to 1963. The 1950s was a most important decade for the science of seismology and the practice of earthquake engineering in South Australia. The Adelaide earthquake of 1 March 1954 was the most destructive earthquake in Australia as measured by insurance loss from 1788 to 28 December 1989, and it was only by good fortune that no lives were lost.

In the decade 1950-1959 shown in the histogram in Figure 1 the number of earthquakes observed per year, and that we have located, varied between 1 and 10 with a mean of 5/year, similar to the previous decade. The magnitude of completeness was about 3.4 to 3.5. Unfortunately TROVE can only scan newspapers to the end of 1954, for later earthquakes we are reliant on the work of Dix (2013) who visited libraries to examine printed newspapers to complete Figure 1 up to 1959. At this time David Sutton began installing a network of 1Hz seismometers in the State.

Figure 1 Numbers of felt earthquakes located in each year of the decade (from this paper and Dix, 2013).

There were no great, shallow, magnitude M≥8, earthquakes on the plate boundary north of Australia in 1950 to 1959.

This report of felt earthquakes in South Australia for 1950 to 1954 has yielded 27 earthquakes, 23 of them listed by Dix (2013) in the same period.

Where useful or necessary, we have drawn maps of felt areas to demonstrate the extent of shaking reported and the intensity or strength of shaking, whether damaging or not, frightening or not, and the cause: earthquake, meteorite or man-made events such as mining induced, sonic booms, military exercises, quarry blasts or other explosions.


Magnitude is computed as per Richter’s (1958) suggestion that magnitude scales with felt area, using McCue’s (1980) equation derived from Australian earthquakes in the range 3≤ML/Ms≤6.8

M= 1.01ln(Rp) +0.13

where M is the Richter magnitude derived from the radius of perceptibility Rp (the radius of a circle equivalent to the area in sq km enclosed by the MM3 contour). 

Figure 2 Recurrence relation for earthquakes in South Australia, 1965-2020, blue diamonds. The red squares are those observed in 1950-1959, slightly below the average numbers of the instrumental period. Both are converted to cumulative number per year. The single magnitude 6 earthquake at Adelaide skewed the plot for M5.5 and above. 

The cumulative earthquake frequencies in the decade-long study period 1950-1959 using data from Dix(2013) and from this study are shown in the graph, where Nc is the cumulative number of earthquakes per year above magnitude M. The recurrence relation for the best fit to the data covering the instrumental period from 1965 to 2020 is:

log Nc = 4.1 – 0.98 M

This equation predicts a once-per-year earthquake of about magnitude 4.2 and a one-in-100yr event of magnitude 6.2. The slope of the best-fit line or ‘b’ value in the magnitude range 3.0 to 6.0 is 0.98. Obviously we are missing smaller earthquakes below M4 in South Australia, too small to bother mentioning in the newspapers or too remote to be felt in the 1950s. 

On Time

A certain amount of care and judgment has to be made in corroborating the reported time of an observation with a particular earthquake, the reported times can vary an hour or even more, from newspaper to newspaper, or may be expressed as sometime between 11 and 12 pm. Dates can be out by a week or two (last week’s earthquake ……). Occasionally an earthquake may be reported at similar times at localities hundreds of kilometres apart, with no reports from towns in-between, or reported by a single person from a suburb in Adelaide but nowhere else. Such reports have mainly been ignored.

Figure 3 Revised isoseismal map for the 1954 Adelaide earthquake, SA reports from Dix (2013) showing interstate reports for the first time (map compilation by Clive Collins). From this map the location and magnitude have been revised.

The Earthquakes

The largest earthquake in the decade in South Australia, revised up to M6 based on the felt area in Figure 3, occurred on 1 March 1954 near Darlington in Adelaide. This earthquake is discussed in more detail in an accompanying paper. In contrast with the large 1897 and 1902 earthquakes and multiple aftershocks at Kingston and St Vincent’s Gulf there were just 2 small aftershocks in 1954.

Small earthquakes occurred in the Mt Lofty and Flinders Ranges down to Kangaroo Island, the South-East was remarkably free of felt earthquakes but a magnitude 5 earthquake on Eyre Peninsula caused tall buildings to sway in Adelaide. These are all recognised SA earthquake zones.

The former Professor of Geology at the University of Adelaide was often quoted in local newspapers after a local earthquake as saying that Australians need have no worry about damaging, life-threatening earthquakes as he did after the September 1953 earthquake. But only 5 months later after the March 1954 Adelaide earthquake that caused so much damage and only by luck no fatalities, he is quoted as saying it was most unlikely that SA would experience another earthquake or tremor of the same severity in 50 years. In fact it took just 32 years till the Marryat Creek earthquake ruptured the Earth’s crust of Northern South Australia in March 1986

Other earthquakes felt in Adelaide in the decade 1950-1959

Apart from the 1954 Adelaide earthquake and its two small aftershocks, no other earthquakes were felt in the city between 1950 and 1959. 

Aftershocks and swarms

There were no reports of swarms in the decade, nor of lengthy aftershocks. The question of why some earthquakes have extensive aftershock sequences, like those in South Australia in 1897 and 1902, whilst others like those near Adelaide in 1954 and Marryat Creek in 1986 have virtually no aftershocks has not been resolved.

Primary and Secondary Effects of Earthquakes

There were no reports of surface faulting or liquefaction in the decade; only the February 1954 Adelaide earthquake had the potential to cause such effects and despite geophysicists and geologists on the ground looking for them from the beginning, none were observed.


It is interesting to see the variability of earthquakes in plots such as Figure 1, irrespective of magnitude. Figure 2 is remarkable in that the magnitudes from seismograms are similar to those from felt area with similar return periods. Lastly, the locations of earthquakes in South Australia are mostly stationary with only occasional outliers, earthquakes are not randomly distributed throughout the state, at least in the recent time period since European settlement.


Dix, Katherine. 2013. South Australian Historical Earthquakes in the Pre-Instrumental Period 1873-1963: A Comprehensive Chronicle and Analysis of Available Intensity Date. A thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy, The University of Adelaide, September 2013.

Everingham, I.B., Denham, D., and Greenhalgh, S., 1987. Surface wave magnitudes of some early Australian earthquakes. BMR Journal, 10(3), 253-260.

McCue, K., 1975. Seismicity and seismic risk in South Australia. University of Adelaide Report, ADP 137.

McCue, K.F.  1980.  Magnitudes of some early earthquakes in South-eastern Australia.  Search 11(3), 78-80.

Richter, C. F. 1958. Elementary Seismology. Freeman

Figure 4 Revised numbers of earthquakes per decade in South Australia, including aftershocks.


1950 03 14 at 21:45 UTC, Booleroo Centre

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Thursday 16 March 1950, page 10

Severe Tremor At Booleroo Centre


An earth tremor occurred at 7.15 a.m. today. Though tremors are not uncommon to the Mt Remarkable region, this was the most severe ever known. It lasted for eight seconds at maximum intensity and approached from the south-west. Walls, architraves, ceilings and furniture rattled, and worshippers at Mass in the Catholic Church reported that pews and the whole altar were perceptibly vibrating. 

The Government Astronomer (Mr. G. F. Dodwell) said that the Observatory seismograph had shown a faint registration at 7.15 a.m. The disturbance was probably confined to a relatively small area.

1950 05 02 at 14:25 UTC, Mount Lofty

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Wednesday 3 May 1950, page 1

Earth Tremor Reported At Mount Lofty

Bottles in his shop rattled, and chairs “vibrated” in an earth tremor at Mount Lofty, just before midnight, Mr. H. Quayle, of Mount Lofty, reported early this morning. Mr. Quayle, who was working in the shop with his wife and son said that the tremor lasted about 15 seconds. The Government Astronomer (Mr. G. F. Dodwell) said that the tremor was probably a local disturbance, one of many which occurred in the hills.

1950 06 05 at 18:30 UTC, Spalding

Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), Wednesday 7 June 1950, page 12


Earth Tremor. — There was an earth tremor at Spalding at 4 a.m. on Tuesday 6th June. I heard it myself and was audited and found correct by Professor Shane, who stated that he could not sleep in the same room as the earth-tremor so he had to get outside. Others have also verified it. 

1950 09 27 at 10:30 UTC, Not an earthquake

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Thursday 28 September 1950, page 6

Some Bridgewater residents felt a slight earth tremor about 8 o’clock last night. Miss Frances Thornhill, who lives opposite Bridgewater Hotel, said today that when she was washing up last night “the whole place seemed to move.” The tremor lasted only a few seconds, she said, but all the family felt it. “Mother was carrying a jug of water, and she stopped dead,” she said. A neighbor who was outside gardening at the time also felt the earth move. The Government Astronomer (Mr. Dodwell) said the tremor was not recorded on instruments at the Observatory. “Often local earth tremors in the hills are not strong enough to reach our instruments,” he said. “This one probably was very localised. Such movements are fairly common.”

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Saturday 30 September 1950, page 2

Tremor ’caused by engine’ The “earth tremor” felt by Bridgewater residents on Wednesday night is now claimed to have been caused by a train engine slipping on a wet rail. “After 40 years in the railways, I know what happens when an oil-burning engine slips on a greasy rail,” Mr. W. H. Bartlett, of Bridgewater, said today. Mr. Bartlett, whose home is adjacent to the railway line, said there was a heavy dew on Wednesday night, and the engine merely slipped, labored for a while, and then travelled on. There was a shuddering noise and a trembling sensation over the ground near the line.

1950 12 18 at 23:30 UTC, Baldina

Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 19 December 1950, page 6

Earth Tremor

There was a slight earthquake within the vicinity of Baldina at about 9 a.m. to-day. It appeared to be travelling South.

1950 12 19 at 15:20 UTC, Kapunda

Kapunda Herald (SA : 1878 – 1951), Thursday 21 December 1950, page 2


A very distinct earth tremor was felt in Kapunda at about 10 minutes to 1 on Wednesday morning, and awakened many of our residents. It was accompanied by a loud rumbling noise and appeared to be travelling from south to north. It was of short duration.

1950 03 1421:45-32.9138.43.5Booleroo CentreDix, this paper
1950 05 0214:25-35.0138.72.5Mount LoftyDix, this paper
1950 06 0518:30-33.5138.63.0Spaldingthis paper
1950 12 1823:30-33.7139.12.5Baldinathis paper
1950 12 19 15:20-34.3138.93.0Kapundathis paper
Table  Earthquakes in South Australia, 1950


1951 09 02 at 09:55 UTC, Jamestown

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Tuesday 4 September 1951, page 14

Earth Tremor At Jamestown


A severe earth tremor was experienced at approximately 7.25 p.m. yesterday accompanied by loud rumblings.

1951 09 02 09:55-33.20138.63.0JamestownDix, this paper
Table  Earthquakes in South Australia, 1951


1952 01 02 at ? time, Warooka

Pioneer (Yorketown, SA : 1898 – 1954), Friday 11 January 1952, page 5

Earth Tremor on Peninsula Coast

On Wednesday, January 2, a slight earth tremor was felt along the western side of Yorke Peninsula. It was felt at Corny Point, Warooka, Port Victoria, Point Pearce, and as far inland as Curramulka. It sounded like a particularly large load of stone travelling over the road, but there was no load anywhere about, nor was there any blasting. Chairs appeared to move, and crockery rattled. At Port Victoria, a little child sitting outside on the verandah went into her mother asking “What is the matter, Mummie,” and women went outside because they were too afraid to stay within walls.

Figure 5 Felt area of the January 1952 earthquake in Spencer Gulf offshore Yorke Peninsula.

1952 02 05 at 13:30 UTC, Clare

Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), Wednesday 6 February 1952, page 11


AT exactly 11 p.m. on Tuesday night Feb. 5, an earth tremor was heard in Clare, travelling from North North East to South West. Several people reported crockery and ornaments moving slightly on the shelves and tiled roofs of some residences rattled strongly.

1952 06 18 at 01:00 UTC and 18:50 UTC, Earthquake or mine subsidence?

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Saturday 21 June 1952, page 9

Earth Tremors At Moonta

MOONTA, June 20.

On Wednesday between 10 and 11 a.m. an earth tremor occurred which lasted about five seconds. A second tremor was felt about 4.20 a.m. yesterday. The tremors were felt within a two-mile radius of Moonta Mines. Various buildings shook and rattled. It is thought that the old mine workings in Taylor’s shaft have subsided, due to the very wet winter. Several inspections have been made of the old workings on the surface, but no subsidence is visible.

Kadina and Wallaroo Times (SA : 1888 – 1954), Thursday 29 October 1953, page 3

Damage to Moonta School

About two years ago Moonta was affected by an earth tremor which shook one of the main walls of the school. Consequently the children were not allowed to attend that school because it was unsafe and they were transported to Moonta Mines—a distance of just over two miles. Many walked to the Moonta Mines school, although there were many dangerous concealed shafts along the track. The Minister promised an investigation and for two years that investigation proceeded. Finally I was notified that the school board had resigned and I took up the matter again with the Minister. Within a fortnight tenders were called to build a school and I believe the work is now almost complete. The fact that it took two years to get the Government to act shows the way in which my district is treated. I do not want to say anything personal against the Minister, but I am sure his district would not be treated like that. 

1952 07 31 at 09:30 UTC, Nairne

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Friday 1 August 1952, page 3

Earth Tremor At Nairne.

An earth tremor, which was felt at Nairne about 7 p.m. yesterday, lasted for three or four minutes and rattled doors, windows and crockery. It appeared to move along the ridge of Shepherd’s Hill where pyrites deposits are being worked. A resident reported that about 8.30 p.m. she heard a low rumbling from the direction of Shepherd’s Hill. It was stated last night that a tremor could have been caused by a local geological change following heavy rains.

1952 07 31 at 18:00 UTC, Quorn

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Thursday 7 August 1952, page 3

QUORN, Thurs.: An earth tremor this morning caused homes to vibrate alarmingly. Residents were awakened about 3.30 a.m. by a loud clap as of thunder. The tremor lasted six or seven seconds and was accompanied by loud rumbling. Many people thought an atomic explosion had occurred near Woomera. Small quantities of plaster fell from some ceilings, but no serious damage was caused. The tremor is believed to have been the most severe experienced at Quorn.

1952 09 29 at 19:30 UTC, Peterborough

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Thursday 2 October 1952, page 3

Earth Tremors At Peterborough


Peterborough residents were awakened at 5 a.m. today by the rattling of windows and slamming of doors caused by an earth tremor. The tremor, which lasted only a few seconds, shook small fragments of plaster from some ceilings. Professor Sir Douglas Mawson said yesterday that areas around Spencer and St Vincent Gulfs and north as far as Lake Eyre were subject to minor earth tremors.

Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 7 October 1952, page 7

Flood and Earth Tremor at Mount Bryan East

Around 5.30 a.m. on Wednesday morning an Earth Tremor made things rattle a little. Its pathway was from North to South. 

1952 11 23 at 12:10 UTC, Jamestown

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), Thursday 27 November 1952, page 8

Earth Tremors In North

JAMESTOWN. — At 9.40 p.m. on Sunday a severe earth tremor was experienced here for about seven seconds. Reports state that vases and flowers, ornaments, refrigerators and furniture rattled and floors vibrated, accompanied by a loud rumble.

PETERBOROUGH.— Peterborough experienced an earth tremor at 9.40 p.m. on Sunday accompanied by a loud rumbling, for 15 seconds. Walls vibrated and ceilings creaked.

1952 01 02-34.68137.353.8Yorke Peninsulathis paper
1952 02 0513:30-33.83138.603.0Clarethis paper
1952 06 18 01:00-34.07137.573.4MoontaDix, this paper
1952 06 1818:50-34.07137.573.0MoontaDix, this paper
1952 07 3109:30-35.04138.912.5NairneDix, this paper
1952 07 3118:00-32.35138.053.0QuornDix, this paper
1952 09 2919:30-33.20139.03.1PeterboroughDix, this paper
1952 11 2312:10-32.20138.613.0JamestownDix, this paper
Table Earthquakes in South Australia, 1952


1953 02 11 at 01:00 UTC, Mount Browne, Milparinka, NSW

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Thursday 12 February 1953, page 3

Earth Tremor Breaks Homestead Windows


An earth tremor at Mount Browne station, about 150 miles north of Broken Hill, this morning broke windows at the homestead and shook the wireless mast. The tremor lasted for about a minute. The noise could be heard more than 15 miles from the station. At Milparinka, about 35 miles from Mount Browne, iron roofs rattled.

1953 04 12 at 00 UTC, Cowell

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 13 April 1953, page 2

Earth tremor COWELL, Mon.: An earth tremor has occurred at Capra, 10 miles from Cowell. A farmer said the tremor rocked furniture in his house.

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), Thursday 16 April 1953, page 8

Earth Tremor At Cowell

COWELL. — An earth tremor at Capra, 10 miles from Cowell, at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday was reported by several people. Mr. Story, a farmer of that district, said that the tremor rocked the furniture in his house.

1953 09 08 at 20:47 UTC, Whyalla

Whyalla News (SA : 1940 – 1954), Friday 11 September 1953, page 3

The story is going around that between 6.15 and 6.20 on Wednesday morning Whyalla was shaken by a slight earth tremor. Whyalla South and Whyalla West residents report that windows shook and kitchen utensils rattled.

1953 09 18 at 00:30 and 00:35 UTC, Mount Pleasant

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Saturday 19 September 1953, page 1

Two earth tremors that slightly rattled windows at Mount Pleasant yesterday were reported today. They occurred with a five-minute interval about 10 a.m., each tremor lasting a few seconds.

1953 09 23 at 06:30 UTC, Eyre Peninsula

Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), Thursday 24 September 1953, page 1

Earth Tremor Shakes Adelaide

ADELAIDE.—Although city buildings swayed slightly, and windows of houses rattled, no damage has been reported from slight earth tremors felt in Adelaide and on Eyre’s Peninsula yesterday.

It was stated by Sir Douglas Mawson last night that the tremors were “nothing to get excited about,” as Adelaide was not likely to suffer any severe shocks. Tremors were adjustments of stress and strain in the earth’s crust, he said.  Australia was less subject to serious shocks than other parts of the world. However, there was a line of adjustment in the Adelaide region, parallel with the gulfs and running north, which caused occasional tremors.

The tremor was not felt at Mount Gambier. The last one to be experienced here, which, lasted only a few seconds, occurred on August 6, 1948.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Thursday 24 September 1953, page 16

The earth quakes 12 ways (SA tremors are in the beginner class) LAST night the seismograph at Adelaide University recorded a slight earth tremor on Eyre Peninsula.

Port Lincoln Times (SA : 1927 – 1986; 1992 – 2002), Thursday 24 September 1953, page 1

Earth Tremors Felt Here

Slight earth tremors which were felt on Eyre Peninsula and in Adelaide yesterday afternoon caused windows to rattle at Port Lincoln. The tremors shook furniture in a home at Lock, and were noticed at Cleve, Kilroo, Tumby Bay and other centres. No damage has been reported.

Figure 6 Felt area of the Eyre Peninsula earthquake on 23 September 1953, based on very limited information. Other towns that reported the earthquake were not specified in contemporary newspapers. MM intensities are plotted, ‘F’ if it was only mentioned as ‘felt’. It shook tall buildings in Adelaide, attesting to the magnitude of 5 computed for this felt area

An isoseismal map was cobbled together on these sparse reports, an example of the shoddy reporting in the post WW2 period, were noticed at ….. and other centres, without mentioning the  names of the centres. Their total focus was on the coming visit of the Queen and Prince Philip.

1953 10 20 at 15:15 UTC, Orroroo

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Thursday 22 October 1953, page 6

Earth Tremors At Orroroo

ORROROO. Oct. 21.

Earth tremors occurred at Orroroo at 12.45 a.m. today. They lasted for a few seconds and no damage has been reported.

1953 12 13 at 06:15 UTC, Whyalla

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Monday 14 December 1953, page 3

Earth Tremors In Country

What was thought to be an earth tremor was reported at Paskeville at 3.46 p.m. yesterday, by the postmaster (Mr C. H. Sexton) and his assistant (Mr John Rowe). They heard a rumbling sound from underneath the building. Sir Douglas Mawson of the department of geology at the University of Adelaide said last night that Paskeville was not far from a well-defined line which could give rise to earth tremors. An earth tremor felt throughout Whyalla at about 3.44 p.m. yesterday shook windows. The tremor at first seemed like an explosion.

What the Scientists Said

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 14 December 1953, page 5
4 towns here get tremors Windows rattled and articles on shelves shook when a slight earth tremor was felt at Kadina yesterday. Tremors were also felt at Paskeville, Ardrossan and Whyalla. At Kadina it came at 3.48 p.m. and lasted only a few seconds. Many people heard a rumbling, but few realised its cause. Some people thought a heavy truck was passing their homes. Not recorded At Ardrossan, a tremor, lasting about five seconds, was reported by Mr. K. C. Wood, who lives on a farm about eight miles from the town. The tremor was not recorded on the seismograph at Adelaide University. Mr. A. Shephard, of the physics department, said the instrument showed a slight tremor at 3.22 a.m. on Saturday. “Local earth tremors seem to be getting more frequent,” he said. “It may mean the earth is getting slightly restless.” The tremor probably was caused by shifting of rock formation below the surface.

What the Scientists Said

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 14 December 1953, page 5
4 towns here get tremors Windows rattled and articles on shelves shook when a slight earth tremor was felt at Kadina yesterday. Tremors were also felt at Paskeville, Ardrossan and Whyalla. At Kadina it came at 3.48 p.m. and lasted only a few seconds. Many people heard a rumbling, but few realised its cause. Some people thought a heavy truck was passing their homes. Not recorded At Ardrossan, a tremor, lasting about five seconds, was reported by Mr. K. C. Wood, who lives on a farm about eight miles from the town. The tremor was not recorded on the seismograph at Adelaide University. Mr. A. Shephard, of the physics department, said the instrument showed a slight tremor at 3.22 a.m. on Saturday. “Local earth tremors seem to be getting more frequent,” he said. “It may mean the earth is getting slightly restless.” The tremor probably was caused by shifting of rock formation below the surface.

What the Scientists Said

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 14 December 1953, page 5

4 towns here get tremors Windows rattled and articles on shelves shook when a slight earth tremor was felt at Kadina yesterday. Tremors were also felt at Paskeville, Ardrossan and Whyalla. At Kadina it came at 3.48 p.m. and lasted only a few seconds. Many people heard a rumbling, but few realised its cause. Some people thought a heavy truck was passing their homes. Not recorded At Ardrossan, a tremor, lasting about five seconds, was reported by Mr. K. C. Wood, who lives on a farm about eight miles from the town. The tremor was not recorded on the seismograph at Adelaide University. Mr. A. Shephard, of the physics department, said the instrument showed a slight tremor at 3.22 a.m. on Saturday. “Local earth tremors seem to be getting more frequent,” he said. “It may mean the earth is getting slightly restless.” The tremor probably was caused by shifting of rock formation below the surface.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 6 April 1953, page 7

Crust of earth “is moving” Persistent reports of volcanic activity north of Australia suggested a fairly widespread movement of the earth’s crust, Prof. Arthur Alderman said today. Prof. Alderman is geology professor at Adelaide University. He said. “All these volcanioes, said to be erupting, may or may not have something to do with each other. “But, from the news reports, I would think there is a fairly widespread crustal movement going on. “It’s difficult to say whether we, in Australia, will feel any earth tremors or any other signs of the volcanic activity.” Prof. Alderman said he felt confident SA’s long dead volcano at Mount Gambier would continue to rest in peace.

Whyalla News (SA : 1940 – 1954), Friday 18 December 1953, page 3

SUNDAY’S TREMOR The earth tremor which shook Whyalla at 3.45 p.m. last Sunday caused comment but little damage. The tremor seemed to be most noticeable about Whyalla West. One housewife there reports that it shook her iron off the kitchen table. The police say that the station shook and two loud cracks were heard. Nothing more. 

This earthquake was widely felt at Whyalla, Paskeville, Kadina and near Ardrossan making it a magnitude 4.5 event with an epicentre in Spencer Gulf. The reports at Whyalla are indicative of a higher intensity than the 3 plotted but there is a lack of reports from Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

More data usually increases the estimated magnitude, in this case from 3.6 (Dix, 2013) to 4.5.

Figure 7 Felt reports for this earthquake on Sunday afternoon 13 December 1953 were reported from only 4 towns, widely separated. The magnitude had to be about 4.5, the epicentre was in Spencer Gulf.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Tuesday 6 October 1953, page 3

Big Telescope For S.A.

The telescope, the fifth Mr. Shepherd has made, will have a barrel 12 ft. long and will magnify approximately 600 times.

Among Mr. Shepherd’s duties in the physics department at the University of Adelaide is to look after the 8-in. reflecting telescope previously at the West Terrace Observatory, and the seismograph for recording earth tremors.

 Photo Mr. A. Shepherd, of Hillside, tests the mounting for the 12¼-inch mirror of his home-made telescope, which will be the most powerful in the State when completed soon

1953 04 1200:00-33.67136.772.5Cowellthis paper
1953 09 0820:47-33.0137.52.5Whyallathis paper
1953 09 1800:30-34.8139.12.5Mount Pleasantthis paper
1953 09 2306:30-33.8136.25.0Eyre PeninsulaDix 3013, McCue 2012
1953 10 2015:15-32.72138.662.5Orroroothis paper
1953 12 1306:16-33.6137.84.5Spencer GulfDix 3013, this paper
 Table Earthquakes in South Australia, 1953


The February 1954 Adelaide earthquake, Australia’s most destructive earthquake in the period January 1788 to December 1989, is discussed in an accompanying paper. On the basis of the felt area, Dix (2013) and the attached map suggest a magnitude closer to 6.0.

 Figure 8 Isoseismal map by Dix (2013) with additional intensities in Victoria by the author. Map compiled by Clive Collins). The felt area suggests a magnitude of about 6.0.

Figure 9 Inner isoseismals from Kerr-Grant (1955). A is the ISS solution, B marks Bolt’s epicentre and K is the Kerr-Grant epicentre and that favoured in this paper.

The epicentre was near Darlington, (K in Figure 8) and any suggestion that it was on the eastern side of the Adelaide Hills should explain how that at Mt Barker:

1  not all residents were awakened and many children slept through the shock.

2 There was no damage to the hospital building.

3 Mr Howard’s fine glassware display was undamaged.

1954 03 12 at 15:50 UTC, Kangaroo Island

Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), Saturday 13 March 1954, page 68


An earth tremor which shook the western end of Kangaroo Island early today was a local disturbance, and was not connected with the March 1 quake, an expert said today.

The expert, Mr. Colin Kerr Grant, Mines Department senior geophysicist, said he based this opinion on the absence of reports of the tremor being felt elsewhere than at the western end of Kangaroo Island. “Today ‘s tremor was probably from a relatively minor settlement of internal rock masses beneath the vicinity of Kangaroo Island.” Mr Grant said “It may have been under the ocean bed.” Today’s earth tremor occurred at 1.20 a.m. today, waking residents on and near Flinders Chase and slightly damaging the light at Cape du Couedic lighthouse.

Head lightkeeper Mr. George Tanner, said it was as bad as the big quake in SA last Monday week. The Kangaroo Island tremor broke the mantle of the main light in the flashing apparatus of the lighthouse dimming the light for a few moments But a new mantle was quickly inserted by Mr John Ditcham, lightkeeper on duty in the tower at the time. The light is fueled by vaporised kerosene.

There are three married couples and five children at the lighthouse, and all were awakened by doors and windows rattling and the building’s shaking Mrs. Tanner told her husband that when she woke she saw a yellow flash in the sky. Mrs. J. V. Lonzar whose husband is curator of the Flinders Chase flora and fauna sanctuary said: “I woke up to hear a terrific roar like thunder ”The room shook a little, then the sound seemed to trail away.” 

Sgt. C. A. Nash, of Kingscote police, said no tremor had been reported there. Kingscote is about 50 miles from Cape du Couedic. Nothing was heard or felt at American River farther down the coast from Kingscote. The tremor does not appear to have reached the mainland opposite. The harbormaster at Cape Jervis, eight miles across Backstairs Passage from Kangaroo Island heard nothing, and Sgt. E J. Opie of Victor Harbor police, said he had received no reports.

In Adelaide suburbs early yesterday morning a loud rumble similar to that experienced in Monday week’s earthquake is reported to have awakened people from sleep. No need for fear Sir Douglas Mawson, former geology professor at Adelaide University, said today: “I don’t think people need get touchy about the possibility of further quakes. “When there are slippages such as we’ve apparently had it usually means stresses have been relieved and there will be no more trouble for perhaps 50 years.”

1954 05 15 at 15:10 UTC, Lockleys, Adelaide – unlikely to be an earthquake

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Monday 17 May 1954, page 1

Tremor Felt At Lockleys

A slight earth tremor was felt in the Lockleys district early yesterday. Mr. V. A. Brittain, of Whaddon road, Lockleys reported that he and his wife were awakened at about 12.40 a.m. by a distinct tremor. “It was accompanied by the same rumbling noise as the March earthquake, but it was not anywhere near as intense,” he said. “My wife and I, both heavy sleepers, immediately got up. We found three pictures slightly awry and several flakes of plaster on the floor.”

“I listened carefully, but could not hear any traffic.” Mr. Brittain said. “Anyway, I have never known passing traffic to make the house vibrate in the least.” Mr. F. Brougham, who lives in the same street, said that he had not heard or felt any tremor, but had been surprised yesterday morning to find plaster flakes on the kitchen floor of his home.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Tuesday 18 May 1954, page 26

Earth Tremor “Not Recorded”

The earth tremor reported in the Lockleys district on Sunday had not been recorded on the seismograph at the University of Adelaide, the Professor of Physics (Professor L. G. H. Huxley) said last night. “These local tremors do not travel very far,” he added. “They become very weak at only small distances from the centre, and in this case our seismograph recorded nothing.”

1954 06 07 at 02:12 UTC, Appila

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Tuesday 8 June 1954, page 7

Northern towns shaken by earth tremor An earth tremor moved furniture, shook buildings, and rattled windows at Appila, in the far North, yesterday. It was also felt in the surrounding towns of Hornsdale, Tarcowie, and Yandiah, at 11.42 a.m. Appila postmaster, Mr. L. J. Clarke said today: “We feel slight earth tremors every few months, but this was the most severe I have experienced. The post office shook and the floor moved. “I was standing up at the time and I could feel my legs shaking. “It lasted for about half a minute.” Mrs. J. A Heaslip, wife of the Member of Parliament for the district, said chairs jumped round on the floor at their home, about a mile out of the town. It was one of the most severe tremors in the district. The tremor was not recorded on the seismograph at Adelaide University.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Wednesday 9 June 1954, page 18

EARTH TREMOR Wirrabara, 154 miles north of Adelaide, had an earth tremor at 11.50 a.m. yesterday, lasting about three seconds. No damage was done.

1954 09 01 at 19:05 UTC, Adelaide Hills – 2nd aftershock

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Thursday 2 September 1954, page 1

Houses shake, roofs creak ; little damage

A rumbling earth tremor awakened hundreds of people in the Mount Lofty Ranges and Adelaide suburbs about 4.35 a.m. today. Damage generally was negligible. Some houses shook slightly, beds rocked, windows rattled, and roofs creaked. It was felt in an area of about 300 square miles bounded by Blackwood and Meadows in the ranges and Glenelg and Christies Beach on the coast.

More than 40 people rang the Weather Bureau to report the tremor. One man said cracks which appeared in his house after the earthquake on March 1 had reopened Some people thought the rumble was thunder and went back to sleep. Lightning flashes were reported at the time. Don Connor, 15, on night duty at Meadows Post Office was first to report the tremor He said: “There was a rumble and the building shook. “I timed it, and the vibration lasted about 40 seconds.” Mr. J. Benson of Richmond avenue, Melrose Park, was up at the time. He said: “I thought it was thunder, but then I felt a sudden movement of our house “I waited anxiously to see if there would be any more. “Cracks which appeared after the last earthquake have opened up. A signalman at Blackwood Railway Station felt the tremor pass through his signalbox. He heard the rumble echo eerily back from the hills. Mr. G. D. Hambling, of Prosser avenue, Norwood, said he heard a rumble which he thought was thunder. It lasted only a few seconds. A Dulwich resident felt the tremor distinctly. Mr. E. Braendler, of Echunga, said he felt a severe jolt and the whole house shook. “I was in bed and felt it rock. I could hear the cracks from the last earthquake grating in the walls,” he said. Many people including residents of Christies Beach, Brighton, Glenelg, and Enfield Heights, rang the News to report the tremor.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Friday 3 September 1954, page 3

Earth Shock Damage Only Slight

An earth tremor shook parts of the city, some suburbs, and portions of the Mt. Lofty Ranges at 4.34 a.m. yesterday.

It followed almost the same path as the severe shock which rocked Ade-laide on March 1. No serious damage was reported yesterday. Many householders were awakened by a rumbling sound. Others said their homes ‘shivered,’ but that they blamed the strong wintry gale. The Senior Geophysicist at the Mines Department (Mr. C. Kerr Grant) said the movement might have been a ‘settling down’ following the March 1 shock. Yesterday’s tremor lasted only about half a minute and did not compare in intensity with the violent disturbance on March 1. Equipment Professor L. G. H. Huxley, Professor of Physics at the University of Adelaide, said, “Adelaide is not prone to earthquakes but if the rumblings continue we definitely need more modern equipment. “Our seismograph is one of the oldest types. It was acquired when the Obser-vatory was closed down years ago. “More up-to-date equipment and essentially a most modern seismograph would provide far more on-the-spot information than is obtained now,” added Professor Huxley. The Weather Bureau was rushed with telephone calls from various metropolitan areas and some hills districts after the disturbance. Insurance companies have received very few complaints of damage. Sir Douglas Mawson said last night that the tremor was probably caused by a periodic slippage along the face of faults which outline the western margin of the Mt. Lofty ranges. These slippages were responsible for most of the State’s tremors, he said.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Thursday 9 September 1954, page 1

Minor Earth Tremor

The minor earth tremor last Thursday was probably less than one-twentieth as severe as the March 1 earthquake, the Senior Geophysicist at the Mines Department (Mr. C. Kerr Grant) said yesterday.

Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954), Wednesday 8 September 1954, page 1


Although the earth tremor, last week apparently extended over a wide area very few people in Hills districts heard it. Fortunately the tremor was of a minor nature and there was no suggestion anywhere that it reached the proportions of the violent shake experienced on March 1st. Our many correspondents have failed to report any persons in their areas being aware of the tremor. One Echunga man said he felt it and that it lasted only a few seconds. A handful of Mount Barker residents have said they felt a slight shaking accompanied by a low, quiet rumbling.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Wednesday 8 September 1954, page 19

MAIN TREMOR SHOCK LASTED 4 – 5 SEC. The intense part of last Thursday’s severe earth tremor lasted only four to five seconds, Mr. Colin Kerr Grant said today.

Mr. Kerr Grant is the Government’s senior geophysicist. But recordings of waves from the tremor lasted for up to 40 seconds, he said. Mr. Kerr Grant said the scale of intensity of the tremor was four, compared with eight for the March 1 earthquake.

An intensity of 12 caused total destruction to buildings at the centre of the earthquake. “Last Thursday’s disturbance can be called a severe tremor or a very mild earthquake,” he said. “It was not severe enough to do damage, but could aggravate existing damage.” Mr. Kerr Grant said the centre of Thursday’s tremor was probably near the Victoria Hotel on Tapleys Hill. That was very close to the centre of the March earthquake, which was most intense near Darlington.

1954 09 15 at 20:50 UTC, Cadell

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Saturday 18 September 1954, page 3

A slight earth tremor was reported at Cadell at about 6.20 a.m. on Thursday. It lasted for about five seconds. Professor Sir Kerr Grant said yesterday that the Adelaide University seismograph recorded a very slight earth tremor about 75 miles away, at 6.19 a.m. on Thursday.

1954 11 06 at 15:00 UTC, Mt Gambier – unlikely to be an earthquake

Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), Tuesday 9 November 1954, page 11



A man living in the eastern part of Mount Gambier reported an earth tremor at about 2.30 on Sunday morning. He said windows in the house shook. He had experienced earth tremors before and knew what they were like. He checked with a night watchman, who said he heard a sound like someone wheeling a barrow through through the building at that time.

Neither the Police Station nor the Meteorological Branch, where men are on duty all night, had any report of a tremor.

The Meteorological Bureau stated that there had been a lot of rapid changes in pressure late Saturday night and on Sunday morning. It had thundered from 10.10 p.m. Saturday and throughout Sunday morning. Rain started to fall at 2.25 am.

1954 12 16 at 04:30 UTC, Spalding

Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 21 December 1954, page 4

Earthquake At Spalding

At about 2 p.m. on Thursday, 16th December, 1954, a strong earth tremor shook Spalding township and district causing damage to the local hotel, railway cottages, and other residences in the town. The main quake accompanied by a loud report, was followed shortly after by two lighter tremors, each of which continued for some seconds. At the hotel plaster was shaken from the walls and ceiling, and damage is estimated in the vicinity of £350. The Bank of Adelaide premises also suffered considerably, and the roof and ceilings appeared to have shifted slightly. The home of the District Clerk sustained fractured walls, as did most of the railway cottages. The shock caused some electric motors to cut out in the various shops. Some incidents occurred at the time, which later caused quite a bit of amusement, but at the time could have been serious. At the railway cottages one lady rushed out of the house to gain safety in the open whilst the dog had other ideas and rushed inside to escape the unknown terror. Lumpers on a wheat stack at Andrews leaped for safety as the stack moved and quivered with the shock. A group of lumpers in the Spalding yard wondered whether they had had too much jelly for dinner, whilst they were walking across the station yard and one of their number fiercely clutched his hat. At the local quarry a party had just placed approximately three cases of gelignite in a hole to blast out the face of the quarry when the quake occurred. All thought it was a premature blast, and threw themselves against the face of the quarry for safety. The local switch operator must have thought the people of Spalding were playing a joke on her, as with the post office building doing a fandango, nearly all the shutters fell in the exchange. A plasterer working on a building near Spalding dropped tools and bolted for the open spaces as the walls danced about him. Practically the whole of the male population of the town called at Mr Walpole’s hostelry to tell of their experiences, and by watching the glasses as they were raised, one could imagine the quake still in progress as froth and liquid swayed inside the glasses. Later inquiries showed that the tremors were felt as far afield as Jamestown, Gulnare, Booborowie, Andrews and Clare. At Clare the Matron was preparing to weigh one of the new arrivals when the scales commenced a jitter-bug. Although it appears the greater shock was felt in the vicinity of Spalding no record of it was made at Adelaide on the seismograph.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Friday 17 December 1954, page 6

Tremor Cause Was Earth Fault Line

A subterranean earth fall along one of several fault lines in the mid-north of South Australia is believed to have caused the earth tremors and “explosions” centred near Spalding yesterday afternoon.

It was South Australia’s third tremor since Adelaide’s earthquake in March. Geophysicists of the Mines Department who are attempting to assess the intensity and extent of the tremors, believe the fall could be termed a “severe tremor” or “minor earthquake.”

The last two were associated with the Adelaide earthquake but that in the Mid-North is not considered to have any connection. Tremors were felt over an area of about 600 square miles. Spalding had the severest. Practically all of the town’s 300 population believed the centre of the “shake” was beneath their home. Booborowie (12 miles east), Yacka (15 miles south-west), Munduney Station (8 miles north east), Andrews (6 miles south), Gulnare (15 miles north-west, and Jamestown (22 miles north) all reported tremors, but no damage. Estimates of the durations of the tremors varied greatly. Some thought they lasted up to a minute, and others said only a few seconds. Only minor damage was reported.

Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 21 December 1954, page 8

Earthquake Felt At Booborowie

The earth tremor that appeared to be centred in the Andrews, Spalding, Jamestown area last Thursday was distinctly felt by many residents of Booborowie. There appeares to be one first main shock followed about 10 minutes later by a shorter milder tremor. In John Harris’ Store, groceries were tipped from a shelf to the floor and windows shook vigorously in the Bank of Adelaide. Mr Ron Baker reported noticing the first shock at 1.55 p.m. whilst working in his implement shed, and Mr Alan Pennifold also noticed the quake, on his farm North East of Booborowie. Other residents felt the shock, and some reported hearing a sharp rumble like fast moving thunder, but generally it was all over before people realised what was happening. No damage has been reported.

Figure 10 Isoseismal map of the Spalding earthquake, 16 December 1954, magnitude 4.2

Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), Wednesday 22 December 1954, page 10

Earth Tremors at Spalding, Clare, Andrews, Barinia, Hilltown, Yacka, Booborowie, Jamestown and Peterborough.

EXACTLY at 2 p.m. (the wireless time had just been broadcast) on Thursday, Dec. 16, Earth Tremors were experienced in Clare and other Mid-North Towns, North of Clare. Our ‘Northern Argus’ Weather Observer predicted on Oct. 27 that Earth Tremors would likely be recorded in early December.

Spalding, Yacka and Andrews seemed to be the chief centres, where three quakes preceded by loud explosions rattled the equilibrium of residents and farmers. Highlights of the phenomena were: — 

At Spalding — 2 p.m.  Heavy explosion and tremors lasting 10 seconds: 2.05 and 2.10 followed by minor tremors. Shutters on the Telephone Exchange fell down and the roof of one house lifted. 

At Andrews workers on the wheat stacks observed the wheat bags lift. 

At Barinia (near Clare) all three tremors were noted, plus loud rumblings like thunder (sky clear) fifteen minutes after-wards. This was an uncanny experience. 

At Clare it was heard and noticed by many business firms in Main Street. In the “Northern Argus” Building the counters and doors rattled; the two linotypes, Heidelberg Press and Printing Presses and Folding Presses and Guillotines, and other printing machines swayed; A man seated in the barber’s shop felt his hair curl as the barber’s chair moved. In the E.S. & A. Bank and the National Bank coins rattled; Clare Hotel patrons saw the bottles sway and heard the rattle of the glasses. In residential areas of Clare — Many folk were amazed to see a gentle swaying motion. Lids fell off containers; a tea caddy cover obligingly rattled off ready to put several teaspoonfuls of tea in the tea pot. REPORTS ABOUT EARTH TREMORS. Our first report a few minutes after the event was obtained by Telephone from Mr. J. Chapman, Postmaster at Spalding. Mr. Chapman said the Town was rocked by a heavy explosion at 2 p.m. Small patches of plaster fell from the Post Office ceiling; he rushed to see if the clock had stopped (it hadn’t). The explosion was followed by two minor earth tremors at five min-utes intervals. People were only just recovering from the shock, he said, when we rang. Miss J. Hohmuth, one of the telephonists on the Spalding Exchange stated that Telephone Shutters fell; the building rocked under a heavy explosion; the roof of the Bank of Adelaide lifted sharply and fell back again slightly out of alignment. The District Council Clerk (a former resident of Clare) — Mr. Charles Swan, and his family, who occupy the residence of the District Council of Spalding, all felt the impact of the explosion and two later tremors. The Building was rocked on its foundations and the walls and ceilings were badly cracked. A strange feature of the disturbance was that there was no recording at the Adelaide Ob-servatory seismograph, and it has been deemed of local origin in consequence. So stated reports over the air and in the metropolitan Press. 

At Barinia (White Hut) near Clare, Mr. L. M. Day was shaving at 2 p.m., getting ready to visit Clare with his wife for the Xmas shopping, when the house swayed gently and loud rumblings occurred. Mr. Day found his wife in the passage way of their home greatly excited, as she had previously had vivid experiences of the Earth Tremors which devastated parts of Adelaide earlier in the year. A strange feature here was that Mr. Day said fifteen minutes later, a loud rumbling as of thunder occurred, and he went outside in an uncanny silence to note the sky was clear. At the store and Post Office at Andrews bottles on the shelves rattled after the first explosion, and a second lighter tremor felt. Yacka reports indicate that houses were shaken. Similar reports emanated from Jamestown, Booborowie, Munduney Station (Spalding) Peterborough, Hilltown, and Blyth. Further reports from Spalding state that besides cracks, several concrete tanks were cracked. Electric Power failed at the Spalding Hotel, at the Spalding Bakery and at Spalding Engineering works. A check by us with the Postmaster at Auburn indicated the tremor had not been felt in that area. So it would seem the disturbance was only confined to Northern areas. 

DAMAGE TO PROPERTY A lady from Spalding called in from Spalding to tell us that: At Mr. Bert Gill’s residence a lot of damage resulted including a kitchen cabinet overturned and crockery broken. At Messrs. Dieckmann’s and Frank Clarke’s tanks were busted and cracked and all the water lost. Every room in the old Spalding Hospital was badly cracked — now used by the District Clerk (Mr. C. F. Swan) and family. Many residents thought the earthquake was right under the town.

A list of earthquakes over past 15 years (from the News)

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 1 March 1954, page 6

SA has two a year In the past 15 years SA has averaged more than two earth tremors a year.

The intensity has varied from a slight earth quiver to those causing plaster to fall from walls. The area most subject to tremors has been a wide section stretching from Port Augusta, almost parallel with the gulfs, down to Adelaide. Port Augusta was reported to have had seven tremors in 1939. Main tremors have been: 

February 6, 1954: Jamestown. Severe. December 13, 1953: Kadina, Paskeville, Ardrossan, Whyalla. September 24, 1953: City and Eyre Peninsula. 4 p.m. Tall city buildings swayed. November 23, 1952; Jamestown – Peterborough 9.40 p m. Severe. October 2, 1952: Peterborough. August 7, 1952: Quorn. August 1, 1952: Nairne. March 14, 1950: Booleroo Centre. May 14, 1949: Crystal Brook, Port Pirie. Moderate. May 10, 1949: Port Pirie. December 2, 1948: Oodnadatta. October 2, 1948 : James town, Gladstone, Port Pirie. August 3, 1948: South East generally, centred at Beachport. Severe. February 18, 1948: Brighton-Semaphore. October 1, 1947: Jamestown. July 6, 1943: Stirling, Crafers. June 21, 1941: City and Strathalbyn – Kangarilla area. Moderate tremor. May 17, 1941: Cleve. June 6, 1939: Port Augusta. May 3, 1939: Port Augusta. March. 28, 1939: Parachilna. February 10, 1939: Saddleworth-Riverton.

1954 02 2818:09-34.93138.696.0Adelaidethis paper
1954 03 0220:17-35.0138.72.6AdelaideDix, this paper
1954 03 1215:50-36.1136.63.8Kangaroo Is.this paper
1954 06 07 02:12-33.04138.423.0Appilathis paper
1954 09 0119:04-35.0138.73.5AdelaideDix, this paper
1954 09 1520:50-34.06139.763.0CadellDix, this paper
1954 12 1604:30-33.50138.594.2SpaldingDix, this paper
Table Earthquakes in South Australia, 1954 (The last year newspapers were scanned by ANL)