On this day: First picture of a tornado in Australia

By Natalie Muller 7 November 2013
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On 27 September 1911, a violent Australian tornado was captured on film for the first time.

MR C. HOSKEN JUST happened to be in his backyard with a camera when a large tornado tore through the town of Marong, central Victoria, on the 27 September 1911.

As the tornado approached his property from the northwest, he began taking photographs. These images are believed to be the earliest photographic records of a tornado in Australia.

“It’s almost unbelievable that in 1911 someone had a camera there…and this thing touched down virtually in his backyard,” says Clyve Herbert, an avid tornado researcher from Melbourne Storm Chasers.

“I’ve searched for years and I’ve never found a photograph of a tornado in Australia as early as that.”

A trail of tornado devastation

The storm lasted no more than half an hour. By the time the tornado had passed through Marong, and the thunder and falling hailstones had stopped, one person was dead and dozens more injured. In the nearby outback town of Lockwood, every building was levelled, trees were stripped of their bark, and hundreds of metres of fencing was carried away.

These scenes were also captured on film by Hosken, providing lasting evidence of the scale of damage.

“They found a six-tonne gold crushing machine carried three to four miles into the forest, which gives you some idea of the strength of [the tornado],” Clyve says. “There are not a lot of entries about how many were injured in Lockwood, but the entire town was almost obliterated.”

At the time, the Bureau of Meteorology called the Marong Tornado one of the most violent and destructive events in Australia’s meteorological history. 

The Ballarat tornado of 2007 was one of several large storms to hit the “tornado triangle” in recent years. (Credit: Clyve Herbert)

Tornado rating scale

The Fujita Scale – which rates a tornado between F0 and F5, depending on intensity and destruction – wasn’t around in 1911, but Clyve says Hosken’s photographs, and a 1911 BOM report, suggest it may have been F3. This same rating was given to the 1976 Sandon Tornado, which touched down a few kilometres to the south of Marong and, according to Clyve, had a similar path and lifespan.

He calls the region bounded by Daylesford, Seymour, Bendigo and Maryborough the “tornado triangle” because of the many extreme weather events that have occurred there.