Father Joe McKey: citizen seismologist and inventor

by Col Lynam.

During my attempts at curating and revitalising the University of Queensland Seismograph Stations’ (UQSS) collection, I came across 1956 correspondence and 2 seismograms from the late Father Joe McKey from St Mary’s Church in Warwick, Queensland. One of these seismograms appears below, and shows how well the 1956 Magnitude 7.1 BIAK (Indonesia) earthquake was captured on Fr. McKey’s home built “Milne Shaw” seismograph. The other phenomena to note is the enlarged microseismic background noise at the top of the seismogram, for which his research is recognised. This was a “Tropical low moving SE from inland NSW, strong high in Tasman Sea, strong NE-E gradient. Complex lows formed near coast”.

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Early History Of Seismic Design And Codes In Australia

AEES members John Woodside and Kevin McCue have written a paper that discusses the early history of earthquake codes, standards and seismic design in Australia including the publication of AS 2121 in 1979 and the first edition of AS 1170.4 in 1993 and how it has impacted on the design community. When AS 2121 was first introduced, it was limited to projects designed by the Commonwealth Government throughout Australia through the Department of Housing and Construction, for buildings and houses in the Meckering area in WA. It was then introduced into SA in 1983 for buildings over 12 m in height.

The Newcastle earthquake in 1989 showed that seismic design for buildings in Australia was urgently required and indeed hastened the work of the subcommittee for the new earthquake loading code AS 1170.4. However, it was not until the publication of AS 1170.4 in 1993 and its adoption in 1994 in the BCA, that structural engineers started to become familiar with the design principles for seismic loads although it was still to take another 10 to 15 years to be fully accepted by the design community. Unfortunately, there is a new generation of owners, designers, and contractors some of whom still believe that earthquake design is not required in Australia.

Download the full paper here.

Vale Dr Jack Rynn

Rynn, John Munro William, 1943-2015

Jack grew up in the Annerley area of Brisbane a student at Brisbane Grammar before graduating from UQ with a Masters degree in Physics under Frank Stacey. He travelled to Lamont-Doherty at Columbia University, where he obtained his PhD in 1976, his first appointment after that was at the ANU, flying there via New Zealand, no doubt to tell the NZ seismologists all they needed to know about NZ seismotectonics – the topic of his PhD thesis. At the ANU in Canberra he was employed as a research assistant to Prof Anton Hales, Foundation Director of the Research School of Earth Sciences, between 1973 and 1978. Whilst there Jack participated in the development and installation of a strain meter at Charters Towers under the direction of Prof Anton Hales. In 1978 Jack returned to UQ as a Research Fellow with Dr Jack Webb to help establish the Wivenhoe Dam seismic network. Much later he was also heavily involved with coordinating the upgrade of this network with Nanometrics instrumentation.

During 1973 he participated in the East Papua Crustal Survey, organised by the Bureau of Mineral Resources Geology & Geophysics (BMR now Geoscience Australia). More than 140 blasts were fired at sea north and south of East Papua to provide seismic data for the project, at a rate of about two per day. Observers, including Doug Finlayson, Clive Collins and Gary Gibson, were required to switch on their seismographs a few minutes before each blast, record for about ten minutes, then switch them off. Jack was stationed on the north coast of Papua at Tufi, and Gary Gibson was at Garaina in the Owen Stanley Ranges about 250 km to the north-west.

Jack RynnPhoto Jack; happy days at Tufi, PNG, 1973, during the East Papua Crustal Survey. Note the “refreshments” lined up on the shelf (photo provided by Doug Finlayson).

Each night the short-wave radio bands were filled with long seismological discussions, and descriptions of the seafood delights that Jack had sampled. Clive Collins commented: “An abiding memory of that survey, still recounted by some to this day, relates to the sacks of crayfish Jack would send to the widely scattered outposts of the survey.”

He did considerable work in running large-scale crustal refraction profiles in Queensland. The fieldwork for this involved considerable driving over long distances with short stops to grab some hot pastries and an even hotter coffee which he then balanced between his legs while he was driving.

Jack collected a significant amount of information on historical earthquakes in Queensland, compiled into BMR Bulletin 222, published in 1987. This data were used to improve the Queensland earthquake catalog for better earthquake hazard analyses there. He travelled to Canberra to work with Gaull and Micheal-Leiba in the mid to late 1980s, and their results were combined to produce hazard maps for Australia that were a significant input into the hazard map in AS1170.4-1993, the Earthquake Loading Code.

After Dr John Webb’s death, Jack left the University of Queensland and, with Peter Hughes, established CERA, the Centre for Earthquake Research in Australia. No small claim there. He was also involved in establishing a seismometers in schools program in Queensland.

Jack conducted earthquake and tsunami drills in numerous countries of the southwest Pacific region as part of the IDNDR Program 1990-2000. He was also very active with Prof Haresh Shah in the World Wide Seismic Safety Initiative, an IAEE program under the IDNDR umbrella.

Jack was very well known throughout Queensland, Australia and more widely, for his work in earthquake seismology. For many years he appeared prominently in the Queensland print media. Over the last few years he had been active giving presentations to Emergency Management groups, and reinstalling the JUMP stations along the coast.

Jack was a larger than life character who had an amazing and infectious enthusiasm for anything relating to earthquakes.  He will be remembered by a lot of people for a lot of things – a lot knew him as Rynny while the media referred to him as “Mr Earthquake”. Jack treated everybody the same – everyone was “mate” – from the local quarry operator where he was timing a blast, the “ambos” and “fire-ies” who he was instructing, through to the departmental head where he was presenting a report.

To the end Jack continued his work on historical earthquakes in Queensland. Dion Weatherley met Jack at this late stage and commented: “Jack worked tirelessly in the past few years to review, revise and update the Qld historical earthquake catalog, returning to raw data and re-analyzing previous catalogs meticulously. His scientific rigour and attention to detail are to be admired. As a result, the Qld earthquake catalog from 1866-2010 is arguably as accurate is it is ever likely to be, as primary data and historical records progressively deteriorate.” As Brian Gaull commented: “he was passionate, exuberant and overall bloody good fun.”

A short summary of references to his research activities is attached. Jack would have appreciated the kind words from appreciative colleagues published on the AEES list server in recent days.

Jack is survived by his sons Michael and Matthew, and several grandchildren.


Fitch, T.J., and Rynn, J.M.W., 1976. Inversion for Vp/Vs in shallow source regions, Geophys. J. Roy. Astr. Soc., 44, 253-267.

Gaull, B.A., Michael-Leiba, M.O., and Rynn, J., 1990. Probabilistic earthquake risk maps of Australia. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 37, 169-187.

Greenhalgh, S., Denham, D., McDougall, R., and Rynn, J.M, 1988. Magnitude-intensity relations for Australian earthquakes. Bull. Seism.Soc. Amer., 78, 374-379.

Greenhalgh, S., Denham, D., McDougall, R., and Rynn, J.M, 1989. Intensity relations for Australian earthquakes. Tectonophysics, 166, 255-267.

Hales, A.L., Muirhead, K.J., Rynn, J.M., and Gettrust, J.F., 1975. Upper Mantle Travel Times in Australia – A Preliminary Report, Phys. Earth Planet. Inter., 10, 109-118.

Hales, A. L., and Rynn, J. M. W., 1978. A long-range, controlled source seismic profile in northern Australia. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 55, 633-644.

Hales, A. L., Muirhead, K. J., and Rynn, J. M. W., 1980. Crust and upper mantle shear velocities from controlled sources. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 63, 659-670

Hales, A.L., Muirhead, K.J., and Rynn, J.M.W., 1980. A compressional velocity for the upper mantle, Tectonophysics, 63, 309-348.

Jones, T. D., K. Granger, L. Cao, J. M. W. Rynn, and S. Houston (1997), Earthquake vulnerability analysis of Gladstone, Queensland: preliminary results, paper presented at AEES 97 Conference, AEES, Brisbane.

Rynn, John Munro William, 1976. Seismotectonics of the Arthurs Pass region , South Island, New Zealand andregional variations in travel time ration. PhD Thesis, Columbia University, USA.

Rynn, J. M., and Reid, I. D., 1983. Crustal structure of the western Arafura Sea from ocean bottom seismograph data. Journal of the Geological Society of Australia, 30, 59-74.

Rynn, J M W, 1986. The seismicity of Queensland and northeastern New South Wales 1866 through 1985.: In: Proceedings of the Eighth

Australian Geological Convention; Geological Society of Australia; Earth Resources in Time and Space. Abstracts – Geological Society of Australia. 15; P170-171.

Rynn, J.M.W., 1987. Queensland seismic risk study. Final report to the State Government of Queensland, Queensland Mines Department publication.

Rynn, J.M.W., Denham, D., Greenhalgh, S., Jones, T., Gregson, P.J., McCue, K.F. and Smith, R.S. 1987. Atlas of isoseismal maps of Australian earthquakes Part 2. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Australia, Bulletin 222.

Rynn, J. M. W. (1989), Commentary on seismic risk estimates and related uncertainties for northeastern Australia, Special Paper Rep., University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Rynn, J.M.W. 1990. The “passive” continental margin of eastern Australia – The myth shattered by the 1989 Newcastle earthquake: The need for more realistic earthquake estimates. Proceedings of the Pacific Rim Congress 90. The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Publication: 679-685.

Rynn, J. M. W., and others (1990), Earthquake risk in eastern Australia – lessons from Newcastle, paper presented at Newcastle Symposium, Advances in the Study of the Sydney Basin, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, 23-25 March 1990.

Rynn, J. M. W., E. Brennan, P. R. Hughes, I. S. Pedersen, and H. J. Stuart (1992), The 1989 Newcastle, Australia, earthquake: the facts and the misconceptions, Bull NZNSEE, 25(2), 77-144.

Rynn, John M.W. 1992. Final report on Project 3/ 91 : Earthquake zonation of urbanised areas of Australia; Phase 1 – 1992 program -Earthquake zonation for City of Sydney and environs. Centre for Earthquake Research in Australia. Indooroopilly, Qld. : Submitted through Commodore C.J. Littleton DG NDO and Chairman Australian IDNDR Co-ordination Committee.

Rynn. J. and Davidson, J.. 1999 : Contemporary Assessment of Tsunami Risk and Implications for Early Warning for Australia and Its Island Territories. Science of Tsunami Hazards, Simkin, T. and Seibert, L, 1994 : “Volcanoes of the World”. 2”d edition, Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program. Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona, USA, 394pp.


Historical Earthquakes in Victoria – A Revised List

by Kevin McCue.


Earthquakes 1855-1945, detailed in this report

Victorian Earthquakes 1970-2014 SRC

Earthquakes 1954 to 2014, courtesy Seismology Research Centre

This paper lists felt-earthquakes in Victoria before 1954 with better-substantiated dates, magnitudes and locations. A significant earthquake and aftershock listed in 1868 actually occurred in 1869. Earthquakes felt throughout Melbourne in 1862 and 1892 and others have been re- discovered; surprising how often earthquakes have rattled Melbourne and suburbs. This and other new information has been mainly sourced from old Australian newspapers using TROVE the Australian National Library’s on-line scans of early newspapers and other sources. A plot of the historical data shows a similar distribution but not frequency of epicentres to the post-1965 data which will lower uncertainties in hazard assessments by improving source zone definitions, activity rates and the magnitude threshold of completeness intervals.

The events described include poorly studied, moderate-sized earthquakes that shook Melbourne in 1885, 1922 and Benalla in 1946, let alone the two destructive Warrnambool earthquakes in 1903, each with one small felt aftershock. More damage was caused by these moderate earthquakes than is generally acknowledged.

Download the PDF: Historical earthquakes in Victoria