Researching sonic boom times at Werona

August 2nd, 2023Researching sonic boom times at Werona

THE world is a strange place. Even after most of the earth has been explored, mapped and explained there is always something weird which can rattle our peace of mind.

Words & image: Tony Sawrey

THE world is a strange place. Even after most of the earth has been explored, mapped and explained there is always something weird which can rattle our peace of mind.
Take for example the occurrence of mysterious sonic booms also known as Sky Quakes. Often perceived as far away cannon or heavy artillery fire, they have unsettled people across the world.
In the regions where they have been reported, the phenomena has acquired different names. These include Fog Guns and Seneca Guns in the United States, Barisal Guns in Bangladesh, Cape Barren Island Guns in Bass Strait and in the rolling countryside between Werona and Campbelltown, Pat Hanley’s Guns.
One person who has been intrigued by this local sonic mystery is Patrick Stokes, pictured above. By day he serves as an associate professor of Philosophy at Deakin University, Melbourne but in his downtime he has been researching the phenomenon for an upcoming book.
“I am not an historian by any means,” says Patrick, “but when we bought a place up at Werona I started looking into the history of the area and came across a reference to Pat Hanley’s Guns.
“I suddenly remembered reading that name in a book I had when I was maybe 10 years old called Amazing Mysteries by Carol Odell. So I started digging into it out of interest. It is really quite fascinating because it is a hyper-local piece of history that has been almost entirely forgotten.”
Though little known today, Pat Hanley was a notoriously combative Werona farmer living at the turn of the 20th century. He also served on the Newstead Shire Council before it was amalgamated with Mt Alexander Shire in 1916 and during his tenure spent much of this time fighting with other councillors and the editor of the Newstead Echo, the local paper of the day. Unfortunately for history buffs no confirmed photos of him are known to exist.
“The phenomena became associated with him very early on because Hanley appears to have had a really combustible personality and a quick temper. He also seemed to have enjoyed some of the notoriety around him. He was quite active discussing the sounds and also using them a little in his political campaigns.”
The explosions were certainly not isolated incidents separated by months or years, they came in rapid sequence and were heard as far away as Daylesford and Guildford. All of which prompted investigations by journalists and government geologists. One D. Maclaren of Yandoit in a letter to the Melbourne Argus in April 1911 stated that: “For the last six months they have been more numerous and intense than at any other former period known of. Last Saturday at midnight three very severe explosions occurred and in quick succession.”
While there may have been lots of conflicting opinions as to the sources of the disruptions, ranging from weather anomalies and volcanism to meteors and mining blasts, a general agreement was the noises were centred around Hanley’s farm at Werona. In time the term Pat Hanley’s Guns ended up being used to describe any form of mysterious explosion or boom in the region as far afield as Beaufort.
“With the proviso that I’m not a scientist,” Patrick says, “it is interesting that there were some similar noises heard around Maldon in late March this year and they did apparently correspond to some very light seismic activity. The Campbelltown fault runs through the area.
“It is possible that it is something to do with swarms of very shallow earthquakes and I’m told that those swarms can last a very long time, but it is probably something we will never really know. However it does have some interesting lessons to teach us about our relationship to place, landscape and our relationship to sound as well.”
For anyone keen to learn a little more about this curious piece of regional folklore, Patrick will presenting a talk about his research on Pat Hanley’s Guns, alongside historian David Waldron and author Johanna Craven, at Goldfields Gothic: Festival of Dark Ideas being held at Maldon from August 4 to 6.

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