Three Mates

by John
(Darwin River)

Rodney, Bob and I were in an elevated house in Wagaman in 1974. On Christmas eve Rodney and I went to the Berrimah Hotel and Bob went his own way. We got home after getting chico rolls from the Airport Gates Servo to find Bob asleep in bed, well primed.


We went to our rooms but the buffetting from the wind kept us awake. I got up to find Rodney mopping up water that had come through the louvers. I said that we could worry about that in the morning and that I was getting back into my panelvan and driving to the school where I was sure to find some protection from the wind. There was no damage at this stage so we left Bob snoring and headed for the school. I drove up 3 steps into a covered lunch area and settled down.

A roller door on the tuckshop broke loose and made enough noise to wake us. The wind had shifted so I moved the car to a better position. From here we were able to see the street, illuminated by lightning. There wasn't a house standing. What fate had befallen our mate, Bob?
Shortly later there was a banging on the drivers door and a now sober, drenched Bob climbed in over me. We had never been so happy to see a mate as then.
A neighbour joined us because he couldn't locate his wife or kids and needed help. I fired up the PV and started for his house. It was ok initially with the wind, but we couldn't turn. We were now in the open and roofing iron soon piled up at the back of the car. The rear window smashed showering us with glass. I offered the neighbour 2 choices. Sit it out with us or head home alone. He stayed.

At the first glimpse of daylight we drove from our cocoon of iron and headed for the neighbours wreckage. His wife had been in the car and was ok. The kids went into a wardrobe which blew over onto the doors, and they were ok.

We then did a door to door and everyone we located was fine. No injuries. We organised the neighbourhood to head for the school which was in reasonable nick. We broke in and got people as comfortable as possible. The alarm was sounding at the flattened Wagaman shop so we got some necessary supplies for everyone. We pooled our resources and food was prepared. 2 Sao biscuits with a slice of tomato was Christmas lunch.

My parents and siblings were in Fannie Bay so I let it be known that I was heading there if the roads were open. Two blokes joined us, Ali and George and off we went. After surviving Tracey, nothing seemed impossible.
We got there and some of my family had been injured but were ok.

Rodney was killed in a speedway accident in 1977, and Bob now lives in Chareville. I moved to Darwin River in 1981 and am still here.
I spoke to Bob on the phone the other day, as I do every Christmas day.

27 December 2009.

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Phone Call
by: John

Well the 42nd anniversary of Tracy has just passed. As has been the tradition since Tracy I rang Bob in Charleville. His emphysema is a little worse and he was short of breath but we managed a good old chat. I didn't ring till mid afternoon and he was worried that something was amiss. I had just been a bit busy with 22 breakfast guests and 15 at lunch.

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After the Blow
by: John

Rodney had a unit at Ross Smith Hostel that was totally intact. Bob and I moved in and slept on the floor. The manager gave us keys to two more rooms and offered us free meals in the cafeteria. In return we cleared all the debris from the concrete paths which connected the accommodation blocks and cafeteria.

Desperate for fuel we visited service stations all over Darwin. We were turned away at gun point from Shell Casuarina by a police officer but had more success in Smith St. We called in to a BP which was also guarded but were offered free fuel in return for digging a police vehicle from the collapsed garaged at the back. The car had been serviced but was stuck fast under the fallen roof etc. We got it out and filled the 21 gallon tank of Rodney's Valiant ute.

Bob and Rodney lost their jobs as a result of CT, so teamed up with my brother Morgan and started working at one of the food distribution points at one of the schools in Nightcliff. Rodney drove there each morning and parked in the same spot before returning to Ross Smith each evening. The Valiant had been observed each day by some locals who assumed that it was abandoned. Rodney interrupted them while they were removing unwanted items, including two motorbikes, and put them straight regarding the ownership. No problems, they were even persuaded to lift everything back into the ute.

I went to my workplace at NT Govt Stores in Armidale St. The new warehouse was intact but the wooden framed one had collapsed. The office lost it's roof and all records were destroyed. It took about two weeks to transfer everything from the flattened storehouse to the security of the new one.

Several of us stayed at work overnight as security. Those who I remember were, Jim Neil, Stewy Stephensen, Bill Searby and me. There were others but I can't remember their names. Many coffees were drunk and many decks of cards were worn out. Most nights a Suzuki 4x4 being used by the police as a patrol car would call in for a coffee and a chat. They were doing the rounds enforcing the curfew.

The warehouse was accepting plane loads of portable generators and gas stoves which were distributed to those who needed them. There were also plane loads of blankets for which there was not a great need. The generators needed final assembly, oiling and fueling before being issued. This became my job for several weeks.

As things 'normalised' and the office became operational again Harry Lowe and Patrick became the designated cooks. Each lunchtime huge pots of food were cooked for all the Supply workers. Terrific meals they were too. Fried rice, curried lamb, steaks just to mention a few.

Free concerts around Darwin and films at the Darwin Cinema provided much needed entertainment.
They were tough times but keeping busy and being surrounded by good people made it a great time.
I took my two weeks R&R leave and on returning to work was offered a transfer to Brisbane where many sections of the NTA, including Stores, were setting up temporary offices. After about 20 months in Brisbane, most of us returned to Darwin. We brought some extras with us who had been recruited there and left some friends behind who transferred to jobs mainly in Brisbane or Canberra.

Hard to believe that the 40th anniversary is here.

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