Wednesday, 20 June 2012


“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last night in Melbourne at 8:54 pm we felt an earth tremor. We were sitting in our living room and suddenly we felt the armchairs move beneath us and the house shudder, while a low rumbling noise, as if a distant train were passing, could be heard from outside. We shot up and felt the floor shake slightly beneath us. It was all over in 3-4 seconds, but it was enough to immediately make us aware that we had been through an earthquake. Although it was not a major tremor, it still was an earthquake. This is unusual in Australia, which has quite a stable geological profile and where medium to strong earthquakes are quite rare. We had no damage to speak of in our house, save only a few cracks here and there in the plaster.

The Geoscience Australia website reported that the quake that rocked Victoria was the biggest in the state for 109 years.  Geoscience reported the earthquake had a magnitude of 5.3 on the Richter scale, down from their earlier estimate of 5.5. It was almost 10km deep with an epicentre between Trafalgar and Moe in the southeast of Melbourne, about 130 kilometres from the CBD.

This caused me some concern as my father lives in the area worse affected by the quake. Speaking with him I was able to get his first-hand report of how he experienced the earthquake: He was lying in bed reading and said that he felt three or four strong jolts, moving the bed quite noticeably, this being accompanied by a low growl or dull roar. He sat up and felt more rocking for about 20-25 seconds. Having experienced earthquakes many times before he immediately knew what it was, but did not panic. He got up and went outside where many of his neighbours were also in the street wondering what had happened. A less severe aftershock shook the area slightly about 10-15 minutes later. A quick inspection of his house showed there was no major damage, so after a while he went back to bed and slept well for the rest of the night!

Social media like Facebook and Twitter were the first to carry the news of the earthquake. It was interesting that nothing was on TV until much later and even the online news sites were lagging behind the buzz of posts on social media. It really does show how technology is changing the world as we know it. It explains why Fairfax media is winding down its operation in the print media and why 1900 jobs will be cut in its newspaper business…

The world is changing, and even here in relatively prosperous Australia we are seeing the effects of the change brought about by the financial crisis. Nothing can be relied upon as immutable. The small earth tremor is a warning that even in the rock-solid, geologically stable Victorian locale, earthquakes are possible. In the good economic climate of Australia, 1900 people are about to lose their jobs because of changes in our lives brought about by progress. From one moment to the next, we can never be sure what will happen. We can never take for granted the prosperity we enjoy, nor can we depend on our jobs being assured, not even can we be certain that the people we love will not betray us.

A small pebble thrown in the waters of a still lake will generate waves that will travel for hundreds of metres. A tiny change in routine can have dire consequences in the flow of our daily lives. A new technology can alter the status quo in unpredictable ways and have immense effects. A careless word, an unconsidered action can wreak havoc with relationships. It is a an uncertain world we live in and we should be grateful for all the good things that we usually take for granted…

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