Darwin destroyed? ... an exaggeration

by Bryan Pulham
(Auckland, N.Z.)

I was one of the few who slept through much of the cyclone (although awoken at regular intervals by my excitable room mate) and awoke in the morning with a roof still over my head and not even a pane of glass broken in the sleep-out of the guest house where I was staying close to the business centre of Darwin.


I viewed for myself, whole suburbs that were largely flattened but I also know of a two storey house that had a demolition order placed on it and was still standing after the cycle.

Most buildings in the business district survived with moderate or superficial damage.

I don't wish to detract from the horror night experienced by those who were in the suburbs, but to say that "Cyclone Tracy destroyed the City of Darwin" is a huge exaggeration.

Interestingly, it appeared that many a suburban roof lifted off in one piece (before shattering when it hit the ground or something solid) and then the walls fell apart at the corners. I suspect that a number of contractors and carpenters took less care, then they should have, with the numbers and types of fastenings that held the factory built frames and roof trusses together. I suspect that large numbers of Darwin's building tradesmen are holding on to guilty secrets.

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Re: Darwin destroyed?...an exaggeration.
by: Anonymous

Whilst Bryan Pulham has his thoughts on the devastation of Darwin I think the majority of us know the truth and clearly Bryan was surrounded by guardian Angels that night!

I was 14 when Tracy hit and I will NEVER forget the sounds of that night! We lived in Larrakeyah along Lambell Tce between Mitchell and Smith Sts, opposite the then Nurses Quarters and Darwin Hospital. We adjoined the "Business District" as they say.

Look at any photos of the devastation and you'll likely see a house or building that was still standing amongst hundreds that weren't. And that was all over Darwin, not just in or about one area. This is the pattern of "natural disaster", where the winds pick up and drop back and move this way and that way, and the business district is a little higher in altitude too so this has an impact on airflow and velocity.

Our house was still standing on Christmas morning. Minus a roof, minus many walls, but still with a framework that was able to be salvaged and rebuilt. It was a house that was built during the war years and had an enclosed concrete staircase that returned on itself and created a warbunker underneath (not underground, just under the lower stairs) and it had a small glass louvre window for ventilation.
My family sheltered there from near midnight to about 6am when winds finally died down and light was coming up. We took it in turns through the night to hold an old rug up to the glass louvres in case it got hit and shattered on us (as had happened upstairs at around 11pm when the already life threatening winds threw a roofing sheet straight into a 4x2 window frame and the power went out).
Everything we owned was either lost or damaged that night and my family memories prior to that day are now recorded in a couple of dozen water damaged family photos and the memories I still have.
My Dad was a Ham Radio operator and until that night had a massive radio antenna on the roof but more importantly was Manager of the OTC coastal radio station based in Gregory St Parap. At first light all he wanted to do was radio someone down south, anyone, just to get word out about the devastation (which he did when he got into the station). His own rig was down so he headed for the station (usually about a 5-10 minute drive from home) which took over an hour that morning by the time he'd stopped many times to clear debris from roads. When he finally arrived he discovered all the other OTC homes surrounding the station were devastated and families were scrambling about looking for anything they could salvage. Until we were evacuated, a couple of dozen of us lived in the OTC station which the men had thrown tarps over and set up as temporary accommodation with some camp stretchers. Men in one area and Mum's and kids in another. Living conditions were awful. No water, no electricity and very little food.

Everyone suffered in some way, everyone was affected whether long or short term, some suffered family loss or loss of belongings (or both) and many left and never returned, EVER!
But the fact remains that in that one night the Darwin that once was, was completely destroyed, never to be the same again.

Even the homes that were left standing and considered 'habitable' needed some kind of work, whether that be new walls and a cyclone proof roof or more major work. Nearly everyone's gardens were flattened and had to be started all over again too and Darwin began a new life, much of it built with Insurance money and by South East Investors.

To sum it up, 70 to 80% of homes and gardens were flattened and the rest were seriously damaged. I consider that to be a city destroyed. Yes, it was rebuilt, but the Darwin that exists today is nothing like the Darwin that so many of us once knew and have fond memories of.

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It was mostly 'flat' as far as the eye could see
by: Anonymous

I I was there and they are some of the most terrifying memories of my life! My father built our double brick home to high standards....and there was nothing left when Tracy finished!

I remember being huddled in the bath surrounded by blankets, whilst my mother sat on the closed toilet and sang Christmas caroles. The roof was already torn off, as my sister was hit in the head by flying debris causing a large gash. My mother stood from her seat and took 3 steps and the toilet exploded, sending porcelain shrapnel flying everwhere. Then slowly the walls fell one by one until we were completely trapped.

When it was all over neighbour's dug to get us out. After coming out into the street bloody and bruised...everything was gone! As is the case with cyclones and how cruel they can be there was one house in our street still standing looking mostly unaffected?!
As children in shock of course our concern was in fact 'santa really didn't make it to darwin'! I like others have photo albums full of the destruction and it WAS devestation!when all you can see around you is rubble I think that term is applicable.

Your comment regarding 'guilty tradesmen' does not explain the heavy metal stobie poles twisted into pretzels! Then the hundreds of people with my family in a shelter before being airlifted by military aircrafts (because there was nowhere to go and nothing to stay for!) You may not have meant to negate people's experiences but you did.
Darwin was total devestation, no power, no fresh water, no contact with the outside world for what seemed like an eternity (remember it was 1974!)

My sisters friend was one of those killed (the only miracle is that there was not more loss of life). Tracy took just about everything from a large majority of people and their lives would never be the same again.

Please don't discuss it like it is an urban myth...it was very very real!

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Tracy vs Yasi
by: Anonymous

I tend to agree with him actually...look at the news reports on Tully during Yasi...that town only has about 2500 people and most of the buildings needed to be blown away anyway...

Townsville suffered more damage than Tully did...there were no suburbs untouched in Townsville and many of us had to get out our chainsaws and generators to help our neighbours. You couldn't get food anywhere and there were trampolines swing sets wheel barrows etc in paddocks and fences were leaning against neighbours houses.
The Strand was a mess and there were powerlines down trees down etc...then Townsville copped a tornado that only affected the suburbs in it's path but didn't affect surrounding suburbs...like Tracy.

The house I was in that night was in Nightcliff and yet the house I went to for food was a brick place with ordinary windows...it was unaffected.
Years later I spoke to a schoolfriend of mine who was there...I never let her or my half brother know I was there as I felt like a coward not staying to help. They at least had somewhere to stay where as I didn't. So I asked them how they fared...(I knew they fared well as my half brother was still in the Childrens home and my friend was living with her mother)...they said everything was an over-reaction..
I silently disagreed because of what I experienced and saw but could never tell them that. My half brother never mentioned that mum was in Darwin so I'm guessing he didn't know.

But what this fella is saying is that it didn't "Destroy" Darwin...it destroyed many lives although I don't know how the hell he could have slept through it...that part I don't understand...it was loud like a screaming banshee..but then there is another survivor who also doesn't remember the noise despite only being 3yrs old...

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To B Pulham and supporters
by: Anonymous

Reading Pulham and his supporters comments made me want to vomit.

I was 17 the night Tracy hit and I don't know where the hell you tosspots were, but it clearly wasn't Darwin.

I still have our family photo album dedicated entirely to photos my parents took of the absolute - I repeat, "ABSOLUTE" - devastation that occurred that night. Come take a look at them and then restate your pathetic claims that 'it wasn't that bad'.

And contrary to comments by other outsiders who claim "it all happened in just a few hours", nothing could be further from the truth.

I was married at 17 (no, it wasn't an unusual age to marry back then), we lived in Nightcliff - and I can tell you mongrel dog detractors that it hit at exactly 11pm on Xmas eve and didn't let up (but for a few minutes during the 'eye') until 7am Xmas morning. I'd hardly call that "just a few hours" or a walk in the park.

I know this because my husband plus another young couple (who lived next door to us and crawled to our place to seek shelter with us at one point because their own home had just been sliced in half by lightning) were all huddled together under a bedspread to protect ourselves from flying glass and debris for at least 6 of those 7 hours.

And yes, the four of us pissed ourselves waiting to die. We knew we had no hope of surviving the terror of that night - so the four of us clung to each other, huddled together on the floor, under a bedspread, the roof gone from over our heads, and waited to die.

Several of my father's patients lost their lives that night. In fact, for one if his patients - a man and his wife who were trying to escape their house in search of shelter (because their home had just been wiped from the roof to the floorboards) - it was a night of devastation and tragedy that poor man would never forget; he had the horror of feeling his wife go limp in his arms as they ran searching for cover - she'd been sliced in half at the waist by a sheet of flying corrugated iron.

So you tosspots who like to 'downgrade' what really happened that night - the loss, the utter devastation, the horror, and what the majority really suffered - may you choke on your words and crawl back under the rocks you clearly live under, and may you never to see the light of day again.

People like you are a sickening disgrace to the very concept of 'humanity'.

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Poorly constructed Darwin pre and post Tracy
by: Diana and Greg

We were there too. Both in separate places. We agree with B Fulham. There should be quite a few tradies with bad consciences. Many of the government-built houses were poorly-constructed and they were destroyed. The only house that we know that imploded was a solid brick one in Coconut Grove with no louvres - built for southern conditions. Certainly houses that had all their windows closed built up pressure and were more at risk to implode. Talk to the builders today in Darwin and they'll tell you that the houses now are no better than pre-Tracy. Also now the government authorities say people can take themselves and pets into underground carparks. Any underground structure filled with water during Tracy. Imagine the chaos of that with these directions for a higher category cyclone - which WILL come.

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The Bigger Picture...
by: Girl from the country

Look, I'm only 15 and wasn't even born when this cyclone happened and destroyed the majority of Darwin. I don't even live in Darwin, yet, I can tell that it would have been terrible. Out here on the Far North Coast we don't get cyclones, but we do get storms. Lots of them. And from my limited experience I can tell that it would have been hell to have to go through that cyclone. Out here, we don't get the worst of the weather, but we can imagine...
We still get floods and droughts and severe storms. Even though the general population was badly affected has anyone actually thought of the bright side of this? Building laws are now stricter, people are more prepared(or at least I hope so) and take weather warnings more seriously. The loss of lives is tragic and it obviously cost a heck of alot of money to "rebuild and reshape" Darwin but maybe it was for the better. Otherwise, if the cyclone hadn't happened and hadn't devastated the lives of so many people... more lives could have been lost in the long run all over Australia, not just Darwin. I think that people should look at the bigger picture here, not just one tragic event. Think of how the means have justified the result... It has improved Australia for the better.
And if people can't accept that, if they can't let go of the past, then what hope is there for the future?... I may be young but I can see it. Can you?

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Darwin was massively damaged and suburbs were flattened but Darwin was not "destroyed".
by: Bryan Pulham

To use the word "destroyed" is rather "over the top"; I wasn't disputing the damage caused by Cycle Tracy (I saw it for myself). I'm questioning the use of inaccurate reporting. "Destroyed" was more applicable to cities like Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

From memory, something like 10,000 people (including myself) stayed on in Darwin after the majority left; if Darwin was destroyed, where did we live, shop and work?

For a more factual account try Wikipedia: -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Tracy

The posting states that 80% of houses and buildings were destroyed: that's different to suggesting that the whole of Darwin was destroyed.

I also asked the question, "Why were whole suburbs flattened?" and I suspect that it was as much to do with slack construction as it was to do with the strength of the cyclone.

I wasn't trying to detract from peoples personal experiences or downplay the extent of the disaster: I was making a couple of valid points.

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You Muppet
by: Anonymous

Nothing Angers me more the these words Written By Bryan Pulham (Auckland, N.Z.) I was 5 and living in the Suburbs and we lost everything. Have a REAL good look at the photos Pal they ain't photo shopped. Luck you to be sleeping in one of the Lucky Building i just hope NO Australians ever say the Destruction in Christchurch is a Exaggeration..! you should think well before you comment on pages like this as MANY people not only lost everything a lot also lost thier LIVES think about that next time you think its EXAGGERATED..
And i wish those in Darwin today 24/12/2011 a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year and may the Cyclone that Stalks my Old home town pass you by with just a cool breeze over Christmas ;o)

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Darwin destroyed? ... correct!
by: Peter Lyster

Yike, to say that the reports were an exaggeration is a bit much. I'm guessing you weren't actually there? I was, and not too far from downtown in the Asti Hotel. It was bad. Very bad.

On the other hand you probably read accurate reports that rooves lifed off whole and crashed to the ground. That did happen. I saw it. I saw rooves lifting off houses which then exploded and the rooves spin up and crash in to the side of the Asti Hotel. Ridgy Ridg.

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The facts being frequently omitted.
by: Bart

Tracy was one of the most compact storm on record which cause the wind speed to vary over the relatively small area.The suburbs laid next to the eye of the storm, and were very likely to receive much stronger winds than the Bussiness Centre you were sheltered in.

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