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by Little Wal
(Doreen, Melbourne, Australia)
"One Year" - 1974
Litle Wal only ever had "One Year" in Darwin and it was in 1974 age 13.
Little Wal was my nickname down south but it was changed to Big Bird when playing Hockey for Nightcliff under 14's in the build-up of the Wet that Year. It was the most fun I'd had in a sports competition up to that time. Still have fond memories of the only goal I hit into the net that year. Rough and tough but yeck it was fun!
Our family took about 6 weeks to arrive in Darwin after traveling from Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, where there was flooding around the Murray River area at the time, and then onto my Nana's in Hervey Bay Queensland. After a short stay there, we traveled through Outback Queensland. Waited for many days in various outback towns for the "Black Soil Plains" to dry out between the major outback towns. Most of the roads back then were highways of boggy mud for hundreds of miles and many were no better than tracks, even though the Official Maps said different!
The old man's car auto blew up trying to assist an ex-army Humber 1 ton four-wheel drive out of a bog. That was meant to be assisting us with, as they were part of a small convoy all helping each other. Dad's car & 19-foot caravan then had to be towed onto the next Town. Parts had to come in from Brisbane via a mail run, which took a few days. Dad then refitted all the new parts and oil. Once it all checked out. We were off to Three-ways only to find out large parts of inland NT around Newcastle Waters up to Daily Waters was an inland sea. And it was going to be a long time for all that water to subside. Dad diverted off up the Tablelands Highway and across to Daily Water that way from the Barkley Homestead Road House.
At Daily Waters, the Car & Caravan completed a very long water crossing, which was about one yard deep. Just lapping front bonnet. At Katherine and Adelaide River Dad drove across the Railway Bridges, as the lower bridges designed for vehicles were completely covered in flooding waters. Eventually, one exhausted family drove into Darwin about six weeks after we'd left home in Victoria. Dad started his new job at the time at the new Darwin Community College (DCC) a few weeks after the Offical Opening.
We all settled into our Caravan Home and lifestyle at the Old Bagot Caravan Park near the Old Bagot Park Speed Way, stayed there for a couple of months before relocating to the Old Nightcliff Caravan Park. While I was in Form 2 -Year 8 at Nightcliff High School. We had many trips and adventures bush or beach during that year, which was fantastic, loved it. Hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and camping.
The academic year was over and Dad wanted to see his Mother in Hervey Bay as she was terminally ill. So we pack up the car and caravan once more and drove off about three days before Christmas eve. As Dad was driving long days, he pulled over on the side of the road for a few hours' sleep. Just Cyclone Tracey was starting her deathly run through the suburbs, as we had all been listening to the ABC radio in the car for many hours before leading up to its run.
Dad woke up early and so we were all off once more towards Nana's while listening to any radio reports about the situation in Darwin. We later realised this coincided with the wind-down of Tracey as she marched inland and southward. We arrive Christmas Morning at Nana's and stayed for about seven to ten days, all the while watching everything of news about Darwin. Christmas at Nana's was a very sad and sober time, as by this time we had lots of our friends in Darwin who had not gone south or east like our family for Christmas and had lost everything!
We watch on TV as Darwin had mass evacuations going, with thousands being flown to other states, and by this time communications with Darwin had been re-established. Dad was making phone calls to DCC daily and friends. After a couple of days; he was asked to return and help with the College Buildings, due to his extensive trade background at the time. So we packed up again and off we went back to Darwin without all the inland flooding dramas of the first time travel up north to the Top End.
Dad unhitched the van about a hundred yards away from the main DCC Food Hall and that's where it stayed for about six weeks on a bitumen area. One bright moment happend in the DCC Mess Hall about ten days to two weeks after Cyclone Tracey on the first day the caravan was parked outside. Was watching for the very first time in my life the very best of the technology of the time. Countdown presenting "Horror Movie Right There On The TV" by Skyhooks in - COLOUR! Wow - remember it, like it was yesterday.
During those early days back in Darwin, I was able to ride around on my push-bike through many of the obliterated northern suburbs taking lots 36mm pictures with one of Dad's old film cameras. (Sadly those photos have been lost amongst all my junk.) The place was a total mess as compared to the way we left had left it only a couple of weeks before. But hey, there was one upside to all this chaos. No Dogs! - Running out to attack your legs, as you rode your bike down any road or street. Which had been out of control in some streets before the cyclone. As I found out one day when two Doberman Pinschers, thought this southern boy's legs looked like a nice meal. Until I jumped off my bike a swung it around in a full circle to scare them off a couple of times!
After about a week to ten days both my sister and I were enrolled into Darwin High School and in her case the primary school for an early start to the new year. As there were only a few dozen kids left in all of Darwin after the evacuations south. Amazing, I met up with an old schoolmate (A girl) from Rosebud Primary School whose parents had come over from Papua New Guinea on holiday to Darwin just before the Cyclone and had to stay there for a while. Her parents had been missionaries over there and that had been the reason for leaving Rosebud a few years before.
Dad was asked to relocate to Alice Springs to help with the opening and development of a new TAFE College down there, which was an extended arm of DCC at the time. So off we drove south to the other end of the Territory, to start our life all over again!
That was my "One Year" in Darwin.
P.S. Have been back multiple times over the last 48 years, as my sister still lives in Darwin with her family to this day! Although the CV19 crap has curtailed lots of that!
Later this Year I will self-publishing on Amazon my "One Year" before it's too late!