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Mum, I need to go to the toilet; please mum I really have to go.
The day had started like any normal day in the tropical city of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. Blue skies, not too much humidity to cope with, in other words it’s another day in paradise. We are German immigrants and having moved to Darwin, after 3 years in Adelaide, in 1968 we anticipated an evening full of music, joy and present giving as is the custom on Christmas Eve in the old country. Our little family has five members. There is Mum, Peter (9), Adam (8) and Sonja (5) and me (dad).
The Christmas tree had been put up a long time ago; the presents have been bought and lovingly wrapped by Mum and put under the tree. All is in readiness for the big moment. We live in a new 3 bedroom brick ground level house with a nice garden, a few trees that are just over a year old, and some beautiful coloured bushes. We are trying to make a home for our family.
It is Christmas Eve and the radio is playing, we didn’t have television then, and the weather bureau is warning that there is a possibility of a cyclone threatening Darwin in the next few days. We are used to this by now as we had a cyclone warning two weeks earlier and followed all the preparation advice that was given to us.
I am in the building trade, sort of a Jack of a few trades and I am laying bricks, building the walls for a house in the northern Darwin suburb of Wanguri. So, instead of having the day off, I had to go to the building site to make sure that all my equipment like cement mixer, wheelbarrow, scaffolding, door and window frames and all that stuff were securely stowed away, sand and cement covered up and so on.
I made sure that all the camping equipment that is normally in my long wheelbase Landrover 4x4 was ready, complete with topped up gas bottles and enough wigs for the gas light. I was lucky as the motor had just been reconditioned and I’d only just picked the car up yesterday so I would have it for the Christmas break. Anyway it would be a good time to run the motor in over the break.
All loose material in our yard was stashed away safely; our freshly planted bushes against the 3 foot high fences along the footpaths got tied to the fence and so on. I had staked our first crop of tomatoes as well, the above ground swimming pool in the backyard was as secure as I could make it. We were prepared and we thought we knew what to expect because of a cyclone we’d been through a few years ago.
By late afternoon Tracy had done a bit of a change of direction and the weather bureau issued the advice that it was possible for the cyclone to affect Darwin. That changed our plans for the evening a bit, we rechecked all our preparations and decided that we would have an early dinner and our Christmas gift presentation straight after.
I went down to the shed next to the swimming pool and checked on the present for Sonja. In the last 3 month I had painstakingly built a 2 story dollhouse with handmade furniture to scale, carpet on the floors and the stairs, wallpaper on the bedroom and living room walls. There were doors and drawers on the kitchen cupboards that actually worked and a toilet, a bathtub with a shower over it.
Mum had made the bedding, the curtains, the clothing for the dolls, the tablecloth and the napkins in a Christmas motive. I even had working lights with lampshades made by Mum. It looked terrific and we could hardly wait to see the look on Sonja’s face when we’d give it to her.
In the meantime it had started to rain and that was very welcome as it cooled us down a bit. We had a wonderful dinner, a bit earlier than we would otherwise, and washed that down with some sweet punch; helped Mum with the dishes and then it was time for the presents to be opened. The Christmas tree was lit up and the music played, the boys were happy with their presents and Sonja was gobsmacked and overjoyed with her doll house. We had a happy time, shouted out Happy Christmas to our Dutch neighbours, the policeman and his family on the other side and all was well.
The next cyclone warning estimated that Tracy would make landfall early morning on Christmas day and would surly affect all of Darwin. As the cyclone was not expected until morning we retired to bed at about 10pm to get a bit of sleep before all the noise started.
We woke at 11:30 pm got out of bed and --------------stepped into ankle deep water. The wind had picked up by then and the water was being driven in under the louver blades. Mum started mopping but soon realised the futility of that and we put towels along the bottom of all the windows on the windy side.
We got the kids out of bed and dressed them in wet weather gear. We started to put as much gear as possible onto all the beds just in case. The doll house was on Sonja’s bed. We filled the bathtub with water and a few pots and bowels. The kids (and us I suppose) looked real funny walking around in the house with their raincoats and sand shoes on. In the living room we had a built in linen cupboard with an open space under it. We put a mattress on the floor and put the kids down for a bit more of a rest and to keep them out of harm’s way.
Slowly but surely the wind and rain increased in intensity and at about 12:30am there was I mighty bang outside. I went to investigate and found to my astonishment that the metal walls of an above ground swimming pool had been wrapped around the power pole outside our yard just below the powerlines. I went back inside and rang the power company so they would be aware of this hazard. As I was speaking to the person on the other end there was a sudden, howling increase of wind speed the phone went dead and our roof disappeared. Completely disappeared, roof trusses ceiling, lights and fans. Except a small bit of ceiling above where our kids and the dog were sheltering and above the lounge and the Christmas tree.
It was now time to put all of us into the safest place left in the house which would have been the toilet or the bathroom, except that the wind was blowing a gale from that side of the house and the first glass louvers where shattering already. We had an area of 3 foot by five foot in front of the bathroom and toilet that was the next smallest room and seemed the safest place under the circumstance. Straight ahead was the door leading into the toilet opening into the toilet, on the right was the door opening into the bathroom. We took shelter in that small area hoping for the best. The dog kept going back on to the sofa which was under the bit of ceiling still intact. I had to keep getting her back to where the rest of us had hunkered down. The wind was shrieking by now and there was tremendous thunder, lightning and rain. And the doors to the bathroom and toilet kept on opening as the wind pressure kept increasing. I could not keep holding the 2 doorknobs forever, they were too far apart.
What to do?
In my shed I had rope; in the car I had my hard hat. If I could get both we’d be better off. By now a large percentage of the glass louvers in the house on the windward side had smashed and my dash to the car would still be in the leeward side of the house. Torch in hand off I went to the car first, put the hard hat on, that made me feel better, back into the house.
Where is the shed key? It’s hanging on the hook in the kitchen that’s facing the wind. I’m dashing around the corner grab the key and what’s this? The dog is back on the sofa and I decide I’ll get her later.
Out the front door again to the shed, fumble with the key, the force of the wind is that great now it’s almost blowing me over. I’m in the shed grabbing the rope and out, put the lock on so the door will stay shut and back into the house. My heart is racing like mad as Mum is holding the torch for me so I can tie up the doors. The water is now ankle deep and the rain is almost horizontal, we can see the lightning flashing overhead and stuff flying around in the torch light. Get the dog now but the doors are still not staying shut. So I grab the rope while I’m standing over the top of the kids and pull the doors shut again. Mum grabs my hardhat and makes a dash for the dog comes back with her and gives the hardhat back to me.
Everyone is wet despite the wet weather gear we are wearing and we are cold and weary. We have been in this tiny little space for about two hours now and suddenly there is this tiny frightened little voice:
“Mum-----I have to go to the toilet; I really have to go now!”
Just pee in your pants it doesn’t matter now.
“I can’t do that Mum.”
Why not darling?
“Because I’m all grown up now and I don’t wet my pants anymore.”
That’s good darling, but you can’t go in there because there is all the glass and rubbish in there and you could get hurt.
“Mum but I can’t!”
Just do it Sonja we all did it.
It goes like that for a while longer but finally Sonja agrees to relieve the pressure of nature:
“But don’t look!”