My sad story
(Darwin, NT, Australia)
RAAF Base Entrance 2013
I was 8 years old when cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974. My family and I lived on the RAAF Base in Cooradilla Street.
I remember my mother waking me and my sister up late that night. When I put my feet on the floor there was water already mid way up my calves. For the first part of the cyclone we hid in our kitchen, I remember at one stage my mother let my brother, sister and I open 1 Christmas present each, at the time I just thought how lucky I was getting to open a present early. It wasn’t until years later I realised Mum let us open that present in case we died during the cyclone.
The roof of our house blew off and it was getting wetter and wetter no matter where we hid, but we had to manage. As the eye of the cyclone went over it became deathly quiet and still, we all went out into the street to see what was happening. Our neighbours from across the street said for us to come into their house as it had sustained virtually no damage in the first part of the cyclone. Mum, my sister and I did go to shelter in the neighbour’s home, my father and brother stayed in our house as we had a dog and Dad didn’t want to “inconvenience” the neighbours – what a 70’s sentiment!
The calm was over and the wind and rain began to hit again, in my neighbour’ house we were all in the small bathroom. There were the 2 adult neighbours, my Mum, my teenage sister and myself. Being the smallest I got to lie down in the bathtub to try and sleep, I don’t remember getting much sleep. Some time later the wind calmed down a bit and we all went into the lounge room, my Mum went over to the wall of louvered window’s to try and see across the road to our house as she was worried about my brother and Dad. Our neighbour told Mum she should come away from the windows. She did manage to see a small light over at our house, so she walked back to where we were waiting near the hallway entrance. Just as she had walked about ½ ways across the lounge room, every louver in those window frames blew in and shattered. If Mum hadn’t moved when she did, I doubt she would have survived the night. We spent the rest of the night in the bathroom; I remember either being in the bathtub or on my mum’s lap.
The next morning we went out to discover what damage there was. Our house had lost it’s roof, ceiling and most of the kitchen. My dad was so happy that his pride and joy Mercedes Benz hadn’t even gotten a scratch. The neighbour’s house where we sheltered hadn’t received much damage at all, except that the caravan that was parked at the side of their house had been blown into the backyard and wrapped around the clothesline.
The house behinds our next door neighbours had been totally destroyed, all that was left was the concrete pillions, some floor boards, the metal stair railings and a few steps. Our neighbour told us how he had heard a woman screaming for help during the cyclone, looked out and saw her holding her baby in one arm and had the other arm around the top of the stair railing. He managed to get up to her to rescue her and her baby; they spent the rest of the cyclone with our next door neighbours.
Later that morning, women and children whose houses were too damaged for living in were taken to the singlies (single men’s) quarters. When we arrived I saw at the end of the dormitory style building there were bunk beds. Being an 8 year old who’d never had a bunk bed, I wanted to make sure I had dibs on a top bunk. I bolted down to the end area, not noticing the broken glass from the louver windows all over the floor. I managed to slice open the bottom of my right foot well and proper. I was taken to the medics who strapped my foot up and everything was fine.
Back at the singlies the men were at a bunch of bbq’s cooking up meat that everyone had rescued from their fridges and freezers, we had an outdoor feast for Christmas lunch. During the afternoon my older brother and sister went for a walk around the RAAF Base taking photo’s of some of the damaged houses. As they were taking a photograph of our house, the spits (Service Police) pulled up and at rifle point, demanded to know who they were and what they were doing. They quickly explained it was their home and who our father was. It seems the spits were having problems with people coming onto the RAAF Base and looting.
My mother, brother, sister and I were evacuated on Boxing day, Dad had to stay in Darwin for a further 6 months to help with the clean up. Mum decided we would go to Brisbane as my eldest sister already lived there with her husband and children. I remember walking up into the Hercules plane and sitting in the webbing cradle like seats. It was very loud, uncomfortable and crowded. We had a stopover in Mount Isa where the lovely people from Red Cross were giving out blankets and food. I was given a red tartan patterned blanket that I kept for years.
When we arrived in Brisbane we were taken to a huge shed where everyone was being processed. I remember insisting that my cut foot wasn’t that bad – they were trying to give all injured people tetanus shots and no way did I want a needle. Even though we had my sister to stay with, they made us go to the refugee’s camp in Eagle Farm? We ended up being there for about a week I think. Finally we were able to move into my sister’s house while Mum found us a house of our own. As Mum had worked for the Department of Education in Darwin, the commonwealth government found a position for her at the Taxation Department in Brisbane, with Mum working; a new home and a new school for me, life began to be normal again.
We didn’t return to Darwin until July 1978 when Dad was posted back to Darwin. I’ve lived here ever since and even though cyclones scare me, I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else.