My story of Cyclone Tracey-40 years later
I was 20 years old looking for adventure and had just moved to Darwin in September 1974 after just coming back from traveling around Europe for a year.
On the 24/12/1974 we went to work as normal, all the staff knocked off a little early as it was Xmas Eve and we were having a Xmas drink. One of the employees suggested we go to his house to have a Xmas party which many of the employees took up. His house was a brand new Housing Commission house that had been build in a new area of Darwin- Wagaman - in Vanderlin Drive.
About 10.00pm everyone was leaving and I had to catch a taxi but the rain had started to get heavy, I had to walk to Casuarina Shopping Centre to call a taxi so we said we would wait for the rain to ease up! But alas it did not it only got worse.
By 11.30pm water was coming in the windows of the brand new house, under the doors & my friend said he would be making complaints to the Housing Commission come the next work day. I am not sure what time it was but I think about 12.00/12.00pm there was howling and blowing like I had never heard before. The person whose house it was had his two sons already laying on mattress in the bathroom as a precaution.
My friend had earlier gone around the house putting masking tape on his windows to be on the safe side. It was about 12.30am on Xmas morning when he was trying to open his sliding windows on either side of the house to create a cross flow for the wind that the first window of the house exploded. He yelled out to me "run to the bathroom". And that was the last time I heard or saw him until about 6.00am that morning.
I had never meet his two sons aged 7 & 9 prior to that night but we were sitting together in the bath tub for the next 6 hours or so while the house came down around us. The house was a ground level house, and within a few minutes windows were smashing and crashing, the roof got sucked off, we could see the lightening flashing all night long, we were getting wet from the pouring rain. I dragged one of the mattresses for shelter to cover us while sitting in the bath tub. When the lightning was flashing I could see all the electrical cables in the ceiling of the house which was scarey, bits of wood/roof truss. I was not wanting anything to fall on us. I had to keep reassuring one of the boys all night long his dad was safe hiding under a table, the other boy actually went to sleep in the bath for most of it. The father was trapped under a door that came off its hinges in the hall way as he was running down the hall way.
The whole time I was sitting there trying to block out what was happening I kept imagining a tropical island with palm trees swaying in the wind thinking it would all be over any moment.
The eye of the cyclone only came over the area once and in the early hours of the morning 6.00am (i am not sure what time) everything had calmed down. The person renting the house yelled out to his sons " Its Xmas Day, why arn't you boys singing Xmas Carols" so he started to sing Jingle Bells so the boys would not feel so scared.
The devastation of the area was unbelievable. Not one house in the area was standing in tact. Men had started walking around the area going from house to house calling out to see if people were ok. People all started to come out,of their houses and someone suggested we all walk to Wagaman Primary School. The school became a shelter for some time after that until people were evacuated south and it also became a workers village to the men cleaning up.
I left Darwin in a car convoy via Woomera Rocket Range (the Federal Government had opened this up for Cyclone Tracey victimms) on the 28 December 1974. Heading to Brisbane was not possible as the highway across Qld. was closed due to heavy rains.
The one thing I will never forget even though I was young is how the Australian people pulled together to help one another. The kindness and generosity we received by the public was amazing where ever we went. Free petrol, clothes, Broken Hill Hospital was open to us for food, showers and to sleep.
40 years later I still live in Darwin though I have left and came back a few times.