52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 16: Storms
The week 16 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is Storms. I chose to write about Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin in 1974. There is a small connection to my family from this storm.
Week 16 – Storms
Australia is not unaccustomed to cyclones. Northern Australia – Queensland, Darwin, and Western Australia are well practiced in preparing for them from November to April.1 It was December 1974 and Darwin, Northern Territory was busy preparing for Christmas like the rest of Australia. However, this would be a Christmas that Australia and Darwin would never forget.
On 21 December 1974 the Darwin Weather Bureau identified a tropical low that had the potential to form a cyclone.2 Warnings were issued but many believed it would pass Darwin city.2 They were wrong and after some serious wind gust brought damage in the evening of 24 December 1974 the residents realised they were in trouble.2
At 3.05am 25 December 1974, wind gusts of 217km/hour were recorded at Darwin Airport.2 The wind gauge was destroyed at 3.10am with estimates the damaging winds eventually reached 240km/hour.2 The rapid expansion of the city to 43,500 people in the years prior to 1974 meant many buildings had been built unable to withstand the cyclonic force.2
Cyclone Tracy killed 65 people and Darwin Hospital treated over 500 hundred people.2 In the aftermath, the city had to worry about lack of shelter, food, and the real threat of disease with no water, electricity, or sanitation available.2 The majority of the population was evacuated – 35,362 people in total with the elderly, sick, women, and children going first.2 Just over 10,000 people remained to assist in the cleanup.2
My grandma and granddad answered the call to take in refugees from Darwin, taking in a young family. They told me the story of the young boy arriving holding his kitten. He had kept hold of it throughout the cyclone and the subsequent evacuation. They were all saddened when shortly after the family moved into their own accommodation in Perth the kitten was hit by a car.
As you can see a small link to my family in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy. I was still living overseas when it happened but my childhood upon arrival in Australia was punctuated with the Cyclone Tracy story.
- 1. World Meteorological Association, FAQ’s Tropical Cyclones, https://public.wmo.int/en/About-us/FAQs/faqs-tropical-cyclones, Accessed 16 April 2018.
- 2. Wikipedia, ‘Cyclone Tracy’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Tracy, Accessed 28 March 2018.
- a. Wikimedia, ‘Cyclone Tracy’, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b3/Cyclone_Tracy.png/551px-Cyclone_Tracy.png, Accessed 16 April 2018.
- b. Wikipedia, ‘Cyclone Tracy’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Tracy, Accessed 28 March 2018.
The poor boy to lose his kitten. Many years after the Cyclone we met a couple in Canberra who described their experience. They left Darwin with nothing and they never returned. When we visited Darwin last year we visited the museum which had an area on the cyclone. You could listen to the storm. It must have been terrifying.
I know! I always felt sad for the little boy – he had protected his kitten and then for it to so tragically die. Being in Queensland I know many people who have been through a cyclone in the northern part of the state – they tell of the absolute terror. It’s great that the Darwin Museum pays homage to it and lets people not in cyclone prone areas gain an understanding of the ferocity of them.
Sad story especially for that family and little boy. Storms don’t care what damage they do or who they kill. I know I lost a aunt in 1933 in a tornado, which destroyed my grandparents home. In your case this storm happened right at Christmas time which would be devastating. I hope none of your family were hurt.
You are right – storms are so arbitrary. I am sorry to hear about your aunt. My family lived over 4,000km away but took in survivors who were evacuated. It was such a tragic part of Australian history.
I was only 18 at the time of the storm and living in Sydney. I don’t know an Aussie family that didn’t feel heartbroken for the victims of cyclone Tracy when they woke up on that Christmas morning. I know that my own parents organised clothing, bedding and non-perishable food donations from our church members to be sent to Darwin in the week after the tragedy.
I was saddened when I read that the little boy’s kitten had died. What a devastating time it must have been for his family – too loose so much, and then to loose the little kitten.
Well done with the post though.
I moved to Australia six months after Cyclone Tracy and so grew up hearing the stories. Heartbreaking. So many never returned to Darwin. Many lessons were learned though and building standards tightened in cyclone prone areas – so some good did come out of it.
You have given a very vivid account of your families involvement in reaching out to others in desperate need as a result of being hit by this severe storm/cyclone which was more tragic that it occurred around the festive season of Christmas By giving a breakdown of population figures of those affected you clearly demonstrate the strength and impact that this cyclone had on the local community. The story about the boy seeking to save the kitten made it all the more personal and had a deep impact on how I responded at the emotional level . I note that you made and important reference to the rapid expansion of Darwin City prior to 1974 to 43,500 meant that earlier buildings suffered worse because they had not been built to withstand cyclones. This is a very significant statement in the light of all that occurred at the time. Your account of these events and the significant involvement of family albeit small clearly shows how the local community including some of your family pulled together to assist others in the recovery and support needed afterwards.
In reading the history of Cyclone Tracy it is amazing to hear how the entire country pulled together to help the town. Given how far to the north Darwin is from all other capital cities it is a testament to the mateship this country shares when the times are hard. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post.
I find amazing how much there is to discover from someone’s family, and many times that comes with tragic stories like this one.
I remember reading about cyclone Tracy while doing some research a while ago…mother nature can provide but also take in unimaginable ways.
The story of the kitten made me sad…after going through that and to loose him that way.
But thank you for sharing this stories, i look forward to more!
When the topic of storms came up in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge I was stumped as to what to write about. I then remembered the boy and his kitten story I had been told. It would have been such a tragedy for the little boy to have made sure his kitten was okay throughout the cyclone when he would have been so scared himself, to lose him when they were safe.