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Our story of Cyclone Tracy 1974
by Jan Ganley
(Darwin N T Australia)
We emigrated from the U K in 1969 my husband, one year old daughter and me.. We came up to Darwin in 1970 we then had another daughter...We came for a look, and to meet up with family who had also emigrated.
We loved the place, the weather, the town ( it was a town then ) the people were friendly..we decided that this was the place for us.
Life was good..we had another daughter..and settled into a brand new house in the Northern suburb of Moil.
My husband worked for Qantas airways. In October 1974 I discovered I was pregnant again.
6 weeks before Christmas 1974 we had so much rain, it was not the usual Wet season rains like previous years. It was torrential all the time...We were over the rain....
About a week before Christmas, we heard that there was a low off Darwin with the possibility that it could turn into a Cyclone...Coming from the U K we had no idea of what to expect..We were told that it would fizzle out and just be a rain depression....I was unnerved by all the talk around town,
We were due a cyclone...
Don't worry it will be nothing.
I had three girls and being pregnant I was worried.
The lounge room looked amazing...all the decorations, the tree..the new Santa lights that we HAD to have to make it complete... Presents all wrapped...Dispite the heavy rain it was going to be a good Christmas.
I was going to cook the turkey and pork overnight as we had a few people coming for Cristmas dinner.
The warnings were coming every couple of hours that a storm, now a cyclone called Tracy was heading our way. The siren that proceeded the warning were spine chilling ( I will never forget that siren )
Talking to long standing residents that day was still the same
It will go round us and fizzle out.
Then someone said that just incase it does come to fill the bath up with water.. This I did.
We got the girls into bed early they were excited..the warnings were coming every 30 minutes or so now and I was getting frightened trying very hard not to show it.
We lost power about 10 ( I think)
The next thing was that a metal rubbish bin came through our bedroom window and we knew it was REAL
Cyclone Tracy had arrived.
My husband Philip ran and got the girls out of bed and into the bathroom..he also got a mattress to shelter under.our cubby house
The wind was picking up, getting stronger and making a noise like a train..the rain was now torrential.
We huddled under that mattress close together, trying to make light of things for the girls sakes, but in the torch light I could see the terror on their llittle faces..one minute excitement for Santa's visit, next terror for Tracy's .
All of a sudden our roof (tin) peeled off like a tin of sardines..we were terrified.. The rain was coming in and we were sitting in water..next the ceiling fell in on my husbands back, with it came the rain ,we were exposed to the elements and no where to go for shelter or safety.
Thankfully my husband was not hurt..he removed the ceiling now in pieces..he went to the lounge room to check on the rest of the house but it was Gone. The roof, ceiling gone...the huge concrete bond beam at the top of the walls had swung in and smashed everything...( I had suggested that we move under the built in cupboards as there was a recess that we could have sat under) Thank God we didn't as the bond beam had smashed through the cupboards.
Phil got some dry clothes from a drawer...We had been to the Qantas ball a few weeks or so before, and I had bought the best ball gown...that was now keeping us dry..plus other garments that were for special events. Nothing mattered only that we survived this nightmare. The rain was so cold and the lightening frightening..the noise of the wind was deafening..I prayed so hard that night, for my little family..for our extended family and all the people of Darwin.
The wind was so strong inside our house I was frightened that the wall in the bathroom would blow out and we would all be sucked into oblivion. Still the raim hammered us..I think I must have fallen asleep for a minute as when I woke up I had these surreal sense of peace.. Strangest feeling I have ever had.
The girls were quiet..I spy didn't cut it any more. We must have looked a pitiful sight.
Suddenly the winds ceased..I wanted to get out of our "cubby" but Phil said not to as it was the eye of the cyclone and that the winds would resume..and they did..How much more of a battering could we take?
More of the same, wind rain lightening..it went on and on...
I was so worried about my Mum and Dad in the U K they would be so distraught once the news got out.
It was early morning when the winds finally eased off...
It was over !!!
We heard banging on our bathroom door but could not open it, the bricks had blown in and blocked the whole door...our neighbours seeing the damage to our home ( one wall had completely blown away) thought we were all dead.. They cleared the bricks and got us out..oh what a reunion that was...someone made us a hot drink it was the best coffee I have ever tasted.
We looked at our beautiful home and there was nothing..the tree and the new lights gone,presents gone blown to who knows where...furniture smashed to pieces..our large above ground pool filled with water blown away leaving a hole in the ground.
What wasn't blown away or smashed was sodden..
All these things did not matter they were material things that could be replaced lives couldn't.
We were so grateful that we were spared. Phil's family was also lucky and we all made sure that everyone was O K we had all been through the worst experience and come through it.
It was strange as our house was almost totally destroyed yet next door had minimal damage.
Moil was one of the worst areas, although 98% of Darwin was destroyed..what a powerful storm.
They say that the wind reached 298 miles an hour before if blew off the scale, and I beleive that. The damage that was done was like something out of a war zone..terrifying was the wrath of Mother Nature.
My beautiful husband trying to lighten the mood got out the lawn mower and proceeded to "cut" the lawn amongst all the rubbish and rubble, it did make us all laugh for that split second.
We were all evacuated to Moil School...Phil as he worked for Qantas joined the civil defense doing what he could to help...digging the latrines ( there was no water or sewerage )
There were a lot of people coming to the school and tempers were raw, people were just taking over classrooms and cooking whatever they could salvaged from fridges in the class room.. Phil's sister helped sort things so that cooking was to be done in the assembly areas and sleeping was in the classrooms.
It worked well.....Phil and the guys from the civil defense went to Casuarina shopping Square (as it was called at the time ) and stocked up with food from the supermarket. There had been people in there just helping themselves...but not just essentials but luxury items....the Police soon manned the shopping centres against looters...
People were getting concerned as there was a rumor that dysentery had broken out...not surprising with all the rain and now heat, no facilities for washing or showering...but in the end it was just a rumor.
As I said Phil worked for Qantas and it was decided that the wives and chikdren would be evacuated so that the men could stay and help with the evacuations and civil defense duties.
The girls and I flew out 4 days after the cyclone.. We were taken to Sydney. It was the saddest thing to leave Phil here as we were still in shock of what we had been through, but we knew also that he had to stay and help.
The girls were sad that we ad to leave our cats behind. ( all animals were destroyed unless taken south )
Because of the risk of disease.
We arrived in Sydney to a wonderful welcome, we were now refugees...we're given a card and money on arrival.
Taken to the Endeavour Hostel in Cogee... Given lovely accommodation...a room full of clothes that we could take whatever we wanted..the show of kindness was overwhelming.
The whole of Australia donated so much money to the Tracy appeal
The Charities were amazing.
The girls and I were given a little unit with 2 bedrooms , but of course we were all still traumatized so the three girls slept with me.
That night I got called to the office and my lovely Dad from the U K was on the phone. They had been eating Christmas dinner when the news broke in the U K..my Dad was taken ill on hearing the news.of course Darwin was completely isolated and no communication was available..there was one phone in service in Bishop Stree a carpet company, and through this one phone was how the news of Cyclone Tracy got out to the rest of Australia and the world.
It was so good to speak to Mum and Dad and reassure them we were O K.
We did many interviews with the press. The girls and I went on the Telethon with Barry Crocker to raise money for the cyclone appeal. That was scary but awesome.
Our daughter is in the cyclone Tracy magazine and the same pic was in the Ansett Airlines cabin booklet
We also appear in the documentary " when will the birds return" in this film I was asked
WILL YOU EVER RETURN TO DARWIN ? My reply was
"OF COURSE..IT'S OUR HOME"
Well 40 years on we are still here
Love you Darwin
P.s we had a son born July 1075