The title of this blog is one of the comments written in dust on the back of the mangled wreckage of a car photographed in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy. Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery has a great array of interesting photographs and personal accounts of what happened when the tropical cyclone hit Darwin on Christmas Eve in 1974.
When Cyclone Tracy hit in 1974 it killed 71 people and cost A$837 million in damage. It destroyed more than 70% of Darwin’s buildings, including 80% of houses. There were more than 41,000 out of the 47,000 inhabitants of the city homeless and it caused the evacuation of over 30,000 people.
Whilst travelling through the Kimberley two years ago I met a Grey Nomad (travelling retired person usually with a caravan in tow) who had survived Cyclone Tracy. I want to recount the story he told me. I can not recall his name so for the purpose of this post we shall call him John.
It was Christmas Eve. John had been living in the local caravan site with his dog whilst he was working in Darwin. He had gone out to a Christmas party with work and was looking forward to a few Christmas Eve drinks to wind down after the intense working week he had had.
The weather had had been pretty windy and stormy and on Christmas Eve it had really begun to pick up. John wasn’t too worried as the forecast had warned about a cyclone passing near to Darwin but it wasn’t on course to hit Darwin itself. A bit of wind and rain and tropical storms were nothing for the wet season in the Top End. What John didn’t realised, along with many others was the cyclone had changed direction at the last minute and was going to hit Darwin head on.
As the weather got wilder John began to get more and more concerned and decided to travel back to his caravan to collect his dog, then return to a safe place to wait out the storm.
By the time he managed to get to the caravan the cyclone had started. Knowing that he would not have enough time to get back to the safe place he decided to wait the cyclone out. Placing a table on top of the sofas in the caravan he sheltered underneath holding his dog. He had tied the flapping skylight on the roof of the caravan to the heaviest thing he had….his fridge. He watched in horror and shock as the cyclones’ strong winds ripped the skylight out and took the fridge with it. It was then he began to realise he might be in trouble. Shortly afterwards a piece of twisted tin sliced through the caravan cutting it in half and devastating the other side to the one he was sheltered in.
As the winds began to die down John realised that he was in the eye of the storm and had limited time to seek proper shelter before it all started again. Climbing out of the rubble he pushed his dog through a hole first and climbed through after him. There were a few people were milling around looking confused and helping others. John’s thoughts immediately went to an elderly man called Tom who lived in a make shift tin hut on the same plot of land. John ran to Tom’s hut only to find it completely flattened, folded neatly in on itself. After calling the Tom’s name he heard a faint reply and they began to move the debris. Amazingly the elderly man was safely hidden underneath his flattened house. John pull him to his feet and they made their way to a concrete shelter where a few others were also sheltering.
The second round of Cyclone Tracy started. The winds picking up, sheets of tin from houses and buildings flying past. John stood in the doorway of the concrete building as there was limited space, feeling it swaying and rocking in the strong winds with his dog safely tucked beside him he held on tight and waited for it all to stop.
This amazing story is one of many reminding us of the power of mother nature, as well as the kindness of neighbours.
All photographs in this post are displayed in Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery.