Thursday, January 15, 2015


Being  items , with some  comments and updates,  from  the government newsletter produced  for  the  Department of the Northern Territory to keep the  public  informed  of  what was  going on  after  Cyclone Tracy  destroyed  much  of   Darwin when it struck on the evening  December  24, 1974.  Copies were  run off  in large  numbers  and  made available   at   emergency   centres . 

Action  photograph by  Barry  Ledwidge  of  Prime  Minister  Gough  Whitlam holding  sweaty press conference in Darwin. Reporter identified  as "  Flasher  Jim"  is  renowned Jim  Oram  who, on arriving  in Darwin from Sydney in a suit found it so hot ,  cut off  the  trouser legs at the  knee.  A recent  40th anniversary  television documentary   about   Cyclone Tracy contained   what  could have  been  taken as  a   derogatory  statement  that    a person    had  gone  ahead of  Whitlam  spraying deodorant so  that  he  would  not  be  exposed  to  anything odoriferous.  By way of  an explanation ,  the  following  item  led  the  newsletter  on  January 15 : 
During the early hectic stages of  the emergency,the Natural Disasters Organisation’s central control room  in  the Darwin Police Headquarters was an airless,  very hot  area  filled  with people and communications equipment. And , of course,there was no  water in the building for  washing.  In these fetid conditions it was natural that personal freshness  suffered . The situation eased somewhat  when  spray cans of  deodorant  were  passed  about.
In the January  3, 1975  first edition, the  NT Minister, Dr Rex Patterson , explained that the  interim Darwin Reconstruction  Commission would begin planning a new city . It  would  not carry out a patch up  job on the present  cyclone devastated   city . New concepts  in town planning  and building design would be implemented in what  would be  mammoth task, involving large sums of  money. 

The  National Capital Development  Commission (NCDC) was  given the  job of designing  the  new  city,  but there was strong reaction to the new  city proposal from the outset.    Palmerston  was  proposed to be the new  centre of the  city  and   rural   blocks  were  to  be acquired , causing  further  uproar. 
In an attempt to placate rural residents , Federal Minister for the Australian Capital Territory  and the first Minister for the Northern Territory , later the Attorney-General ,  Kep Enderby , whose recent  death  at 88 was announced as  this  item was  being written , addressed  a public meeting. When he went  to cite what  Winston Churchill had said about  how real estate land  values  rose through  no effort  of  the owners , he was  firmly told  by  the  audience it was not interested  in what  Winnie  the War Winner had to say on the subject. Kep,  who went on to become a  NSW Supreme Court  judge, was a firm believer in Esperanto as a  universal language , as was Fidel Castro of Cuba, and they were seen together at an international symposium promoting their  joint  interest .

Darwin was virtually rebuilt in the same area, even in parts  identified as prime tidal surge regions. Indeed, multi storey buildings were being  constructed last  year  in  an  area  which will  undoubtedly flood.

A  Canadian  telegram  sent  to Darwin City Council  said Darwin had been devastated because it was named after Charles Darwin, an enemy of God.  A meeting of 50 representatives of women’s organisations elected Dr Ellen Stack to represent them on the Darwin Relief Trust Fund Committee .The engine of a Navy helicopter operating  from the flagship HMAS Melbourne  cut out  two feet  above  the deck coming into land , nobody hurt .

Magistrate G.D.Joyce of Mackay,Queensland, did not fine drink drivers if they produced proof that they had made a donation to the  Darwin Relief Fund . Donations  totalled  $850.
Chairman Sir Leslie Thiess said Darwin people would be give a say in the reconstruction of the city .A Citizens’ Interim Advisory  Committe comprised of  various organisation  would be   formed .A meeting of the Commission had accepted  an offer from Housing and Construction to redraft   within two weeks . Interestingly, it  said this code  would enable structures to be  be built “which  will  resist  cyclonic winds  up  to  150mph.”

A  couple from Williamstown , Massachusetts ,USA, Mr and Mrs  E. Benoit, sent a  $5 cheque and  blessings  for Darwin  and  Australia . A Sydney woman opened her  150 year old convict built farmhouse , reputedly  haunted by a redheaded woman, to raise money for the cyclone fund.From Hong Kong came four rolls of adhesive tape and 36 aspirins . And from our Kiwi friends arrived  a tin of powdered milk and six  packets  of  vegetable seeds.  

Estimated population of greater Darwin was 10,975 plus 2683 naval personnel. There were 582 children  in the five to 16 age group. Women over the age of 17 made up 23 percent of the population.  Residents were allowed to  go down the track for picnics at the weekend  to escape the tension , roadblocks to be removed.

A couple were married  at the Nighcliff High School by a Catholic priest .The bride then  boarded a bus  and was evacuated south. The groom remained  to  help clean up  the city .

A group of young bucks in Nelson Street,Stuart Park, really looked forward to Christmas. They got a  Christmas tree,decorated it with coloured  lights  and stood a large Santa Claus nearby.After the cyclone went through the  house  about the only thing undamaged was Santa Claus. So they placed a noose  about  his neck and dangled him from the wreckage for  bringing them a lousy Christmas . Each time they walked  passed  Santa they  punched  him.  

By January 10 it was reported that the Navy  had cleared 500  blocks – homes,flats and commercial buildings . Valuables were tabbed and stored . Each day a  list of  homes scheduled for clearance  appeared  so that , where possible, residents could  be present . 

Two Indonesian  Air force  Hercules  flew in to help and were  eventually used to  fly home countrymen wanting to leave Darwin.  
The Townsville City Council sent botanist Neil Thomas to Darwin to help save trees. All trees in the Botanical Gardens , parks and streets  were  inspected . A team of Navy men with eight chainsaws helped  trim  and erect  trees.  

It was reported that southern interests had offered to donate 60 greyhounds  to resume racing  in Darwin. Arrangements were being  made  for the dogs  to be flown north  as soon  as  possible.

 On January 20,Territory Minister Rex Patterson  announced  1500 Darwin public servants  would be relocated  to Brisbane for 12 to 24 months. An assessment indicated that within the next six months  only 3500 habitable  units  suitable for  married  family accommodation  would be available .

At long last, the buffaloes got revenge on safari operator Allen Alexander-Stewart( of  Nourlangie  fame , recently  covered in  Little Darwin ).  He and wife, Pat, and a naval rating were driving along when an oncoming speeding car  ran into a pile of  buffalo dung  and  splattered all three. “I had the admiral  out with me  the day before ; he would have looked a sight  with his crisp whites covered  in dung, ”  he said . He and Pat entertained 350 naval ratings  from the Australian Navy task  force in a camp they set  up on the  Mary River.  

Part of Darwin’s old  Chinatown emerged  during cleaning up operations at Christ Church Cathedral.  A bulldozer  moving a tree  that had been blown down unearthed three unbroken sam sue jars .  

The  Greek liner Patris was  due in Darwin  from Melbourne on February 12 to ease the city’s severe  accommodation problem . 

The Housing and Construction  Department also produced an occasional  newsletter called  Tracy Times  for its  staff. Here are  some extracts of interest :

  • The cyclone reached a speed of 161mph  before  shattering  the anemometer  and was estimated  to reach 200mph , making it by  far the most severe cyclone in Australia’s  history and among the  most severe  in the world . 
    •  Other  high recordings were 206mph  at the island of  Guam , 200mph in Florida   and 183mph at Long Island . Australia’s previous highest recording - 144mph -was  at Onslow, Western Australia, in 1968.
      •  Cyclone Tracy destroyed about 9000 of the 12,000 homes in Darwin, damaged almost every other building , destroyed almost all of the above  ground electrical reticulation.