Cyclone Tracy is forever lodged in the minds of not only the almost-40,000 souls who experienced her fury, but of the many thousands more who helped traumatised evacuees.
They made their presence known on the long road out, helping survivors as they punted their damaged vehicles south or set themselves up at interstate airports awaiting the arrival of those who were evacuated by air in the greatest peacetime evacuation in Australia’s history.
Others set up relief operations in Darwin to help those who were away at the time of the cyclone and were able to later return, only to find their homes and possessions spread to the four winds.
Then there were the many who provided comfort, accommodation and succour to those evacuated and those who arrived in Darwin within days to take part in the massive cleanup, making ramshackle repairs until, finally, the full official reconstruction began in earnest.
Cyclone Tracy was a small but intense tropical cyclone formed in the warm seas north of Darwin and as it travelled on a familiar south-westerly path was expected to by-pass Darwin until, unexpectedly and perversely, on Christmas Eve 1974, she swung south, then south-east and late in the night began a slow motion demolition of Australia’s northernmost outpost.
Compact but fierce and slow-moving at just six kilometres per hour, at times stationary over Darwin, she battered the city for about six hours from late evening until just before sunrise on Christmas morning.
In her wake, 71 lay dead on land and at sea, more than half of the city’s buildings were destroyed and most of the rest severely damaged.
As soon as it was light enough to be stunned by the scenes of devastation, as many as 9000 men, women and children climbed into battered, sandblasted vehicles, with damaged panels and broken windows, some of which were clearly not roadworthy, to make their escape from a place they thought might never emerge from the wreckage.
But Darwin did emerge, rebuilt as promised by the Prime Minister of the day, Gough Whitlam, and next year the 50th anniversary of that momentous event will be commemorated by a range of activities to be coordinated by the City of Darwin.
Remembering Cyclone Tracy Inc., an incorporated association has been established to ensure the voices of the survivor community are heard and respected in those commemorations. We are part of the City of Darwin’s Cyclone Tracy Commemorations Advisory Committee, but separate from it.
The main task we have set ourselves is to establish how many survivors there are spread across the world, where they live and how many plan to take part in the commemorations.
To do this we are inviting survivors to register either through the Facebook page Cyclone Tracy Survivors, using forms available from the electorate offices of all MLAs or using the QR code attached to this article, which links to a Survey Monkey questionnaire.
PO Box 1976, Darwin 0801
0439 999 683