Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, is located on Australia’s far north-western coastline.
With its tropical climate, it is regularly threatened by cyclones during the summer monsoon season.
On 24 December 1974, Cyclone Tracy moved in. On Christmas Day, 25 December 1974, the cyclone left Darwin in shreds.
The cyclone passed directly over Darwin just after midnight, with its ‘eye’ centred on the airport and northern suburbs.
The wind gauge at Darwin Airport officially recorded winds of 217 kilometres per hour before being blown away itself. Unofficial estimates suggest that the wind speed actually reached 300 kilometres per hour.
Cyclone Tracy was a category 4 storm whilst still out at sea, but there is some evidence to suggest that it had reached category 5 status when it made landfall.
Officially, 71 people were killed, and 9,000 homes destroyed, out of a city of 43,500 people living in 12,000 residences.
Many buildings were not built to withstand cyclonic forces, despite being in the cyclone belt. Of the people aboard the 22 vessels at sea when the cyclone struck, 16 were never found.
Most of Darwin’s residents were evacuated following the devastation, and many of them never returned.
However, Darwin was rebuilt according to new building codes, and it is now regarded as a modern multicultural city of around 100,000 people.
Another significant development which came from the cyclone was that of the Northern Territory’s self-government.
Until 1974, the Northern Territory had minimal self-government, with a federal minister being responsible for the Territory from Canberra.
However, the cyclone and subsequent response highlighted problems with this arrangement that led directly to the decision of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to grant the Territory self-government in 1978.