//
you're reading...
Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin, killing 71 people


Darwin suburb of Wagaman

On 24 December 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin. The official death toll was 71.

Cyclone Tracy, which mostly hit Darwin in the small hours of Christmas Day 1974, killed 71 people and devastated 80 per cent of the city.

In the days and weeks following the disaster, most of the traumatised population left the city.

On 28 February 1975 the Whitlam government established the Darwin Reconstruction Commission, which effectively rebuilt the city within three years. Darwin’s near complete destruction led to the introduction of improved building codes across Australia.

Joan Allridge, Vice President of the Red Cross in Darwin:

The house fell down around us. It was terrifying, the wind roaring and the house smashing. We were freezing cold. The water pouring in on us was icy. And all I had on was a nightie.

Remains of the Gwynne family home in Wagaman, Darwin.
Remains of the Gwynne family home in Wagaman, Darwin

Christmas Day

Darwin, indeed the whole of Northern Australia, is no stranger to cyclones. However, Cyclone Tracy, which hit Darwin in the small hours of Christmas Day 1974, was among the most destructive ever recorded in Australia. Its vital statistics make for frightening reading:

  • wind gusts reached 217 km/h before the anemometer was destroyed
  • gales extended to about 40 kilometres from the cyclone’s centre
  • there was a storm surge of 1.6 metres in Darwin’s harbour; an estimated 4 metres at Casuarina Beach
  • 255 mm of rain fell in 12 hours overnight, 145 mm in the two half-hour periods on either side of the eye of the cyclone
  • 71 people were killed
  • 145 people were seriously injured; more than 500 received minor injuries
  • about 70 per cent of houses suffered serious structural failure
  • total damage bill topped $800 million (a colossal sum in 1974).

Impact and aftermath

The cyclone crossed the coast near Fannie Bay at around 3.30 on Christmas morning. Had it struck during the daytime, the death toll could have been much higher. Most of those who lost their lives were killed by flying debris or crushed beneath their houses.

In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, evacuation of the majority of the population was considered essential given there was no running water, no sanitation, no electricity, little shelter and a high risk of disease outbreaks. More than 36,000 people left Darwin, filling the planes that had arrived with supplies, equipment and specialised personnel.

News of the disaster took hours to reach the rest of the country. The song ‘Santa never made it into Darwin’ captured the poignancy of the cyclone’s arrival on Christmas Day, as most Australians were preparing to celebrate the most significant religious holiday of the year with their families. People donated clothes and money, and opened their homes to Darwin’s refugees.

Voluntary organisations swung into gear, many sending in teams as soon as news of the disaster broke. Joan Allridge, Vice President of the Red Cross who spent the hours of the cyclone under her kitchen table with two other adults, six children, one cat, four kittens, one dog and three birds recalled how essential those early fly-in support workers were.

Most of Darwin’s population, herself included, emerged from the cyclone in a state of shock. These days there is a much more sophisticated understanding of the psychological impact of being involved in major disasters, both for those who live through them and for the staff or volunteers who go in afterwards.

Darwin Reconstruction Commission

On 28 February 1975 the Whitlam government established the Darwin Reconstruction Commission, following the Prime Minister’s pledge to make ‘a determined and unremitting effort to rebuild your city and relieve suffering’.

The Commission’s mandate was to reconstruct Darwin within five years. In fact, it achieved this in a little more than three years. It was only then, in the middle of 1978, that Darwin’s population reached its pre-cyclone levels.

Repercussions

In time, some good would come out of the experience of Cyclone Tracy. The main benefit was the introduction of greatly improved building standards that would apply across the entire country. These included requirements that buildings be clad to protect them against flying debris, and that their roofs be tied to the foundations.

When Cyclones Larry and Yasi both stronger than Tracy – hit Innisfail and Mission Beach on 20 March 2006 and 3 February 2011 respectively, there were no casualties.

The events of 1974 remain indelibly marked in Australia’s cultural memory. The cyclone’s timing and ferocity, the mass evacuations of distressed and injured residents, and the terrible images of destruction shocked many, and reminded them of their human frailty.

The extraordinary official response and public generosity reminds us of our social resilience, of how terrible things can happen, and how we can help each other through them.

Source: National Museum of Australia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,050 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

  • RT @CraigHill01: As Grace Tame's time as Australian of the Year draws to an end, I can honestly say she has been the most worthy and active… 3 hours ago
  • RT @DailyTelegraph0: Barnaby Joyce expresses commitment by proposing to Vicki Campion: "Marriage is for life - or until you met someone you… 8 hours ago
  • RT @DarrenChesterMP: Listen to the experts and ignore George Christensen. If you have any concerns about COVID vaccines for you or your fam… 20 hours ago
  • As Grace Tame's time as Australian of the Year draws to an end, I can honestly say she has been the most worthy and… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 1 day ago
  • RT @TamePunk: With only a week to go ‘til I’m washed-up, I’d just like to thank you all for your support this past year. Although I didn’… 1 day ago

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

China is illegal. The US Department of State even says so. France even reports as such. This won’t exactly improve friendly relations across the Pacific. It’s actually a much larger step to an all out conflict. Just over a year ago, November 2020, Western allies declared that China’s 1984 treaty with Britain, the basis for […]

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

Grey zone is not a fixed concept but a hypothetical place between peace and war. While I was writing this article, a never heard of development was taking place in the Indian state of Punjab. The Indian Prime Minister was stuck on a bridge for 20 minutes since the highway was blocked by the protesters. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Lithuania has become the “Taiwan of Europe”. Since WWII, Americans never again struggled with the concept that a problem abroad is a problem at home. This is how we Americans can vote to interfere around the world that we know so little about. We think every squeal from another continent indicates a personal assault on […]

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Chinese officials have promised that the 2022 Winter Olympics — to be held Feb. 4 to 20 and followed by the Paralympics March 4-13 — will be a “safe, streamlined and splendid” global event. But that won’t be easy. With less than four weeks to go, China is struggling to enforce its strict zero-covid policy […]

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

If we thought 2019 and 2020 presented uncertainties then 2022 is here to surprise all of us. It could be remembered as one of the most complex, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous years in the recent past. COVID-19, oil crossing $100/barrel, Iran-US nuclear talks, Iran-Israel tension, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cryptocurrency, and militarization of outer […]

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan signed on Thursday a new security treaty with Australia, a fellow middle power that is similarly aligning against an increasingly assertive China. The blandly-branded Reciprocal Access Agreement, which was signed virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, marks the conclusion of a process that started in 2014, when […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Taiwan is on the rise. With chip shortages, stock is booming. You know how graphics cards are astronomically high? A lot of that money is going into Taiwan. Meanwhile, China found an excuse to order a real estate developer to demolish 39 freshly, new-built “luxury apartments”—something about the building permit being illegal and violated zoning. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Japan is on the scene in the Pacific. While Japanese athletes will attend the Olympics, Japanese officials will not. China doesn’t want Japan to “politicize” the games. But, consider 2008, the one-hour opening ceremony about nothing but China’s history, with President Xi marching in to a one-world dream at the end. For Beijing, hosting the […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

The US is hitting China hard over treatment of Uyghurs. Nearly all imports from Xinjiang will be banned. At the same time, the US bolsters the call to bolster Taiwan’s military defense. However, Taiwan has the seeds of the same tyranny; it just doesn’t materialize into anything alarming because Taiwan remains small. The most obvious […]

When India goes to war with China 

When India goes to war with China 

It is an open secret that China challenges everything India sets its eyes on, be it cooperation with Quad partners (the United States, Australia, Japan), international organizations like United Nations, WHO, or designating a terrorist organization. India, a Quad member and a close ally of the United States, has become the biggest eyesore for China. […]

%d bloggers like this: