Cyclone Tracy 40th Anniversary Reflections.
Cyclone Tracy Memories…by Amanda Stevens (nee Christensen)
I was 8 in 1974 and when Tracy struck we were living at 17 mile with Ronnie and Maureen Hills (formerly of NT Engineering). We lived in a large caravan on the Hills property with them living in a demountable while they were building the house. I remember the very windy and bumpy night Tracy struck. It seemed like the middle of the night that My Uncle Ronnie came to the door to tell Dad we needed to take shelter in the demountable together. I guess it was because he witnessed the van being picked up and dropped back down repeatedly. Ron and Dad (Arthur Christensen) carried each of us kids (4 of us) and then mum over to the demountable in weather I had never experienced before.
We Children sat under the dining table (4 of us and 2 Hills kids Shane (special needs kid) and Jamie) as the adults ran back and forwards to keep the demountable from tipping over. I remember being so scared that I wet my pants under the table.
The next morning was quite eerie, not a sound could be heard and the giant tree that was next to our van had fallen parallel with the van whilst we were still in it. We found our washing about 500mts away attached to a barbed wire fence that ran along a beautiful creek at the property edge.
The shop up the road gave away ice cream to the local kids as the power was out and it all started to melt. The drive into town was very long and difficult with having to stop and shift debris so as to continue along the road. As kids it was extremely unreal looking at the buildings and twisted power poles, the trees all gone and hardly a house had been untouched.
I will never forget the fear I felt as that 8 year old looking at all the places we once knew and loved, that were not there anymore. The devastation of the houses was beyond understanding for a child. We registered at Darwin high school and collected food and ice like most other people who were in the same situation as we were.
At some point they gave us children injections to protect us against cholera or some such thing, however my brother had a reaction to it and it caused a massive asthma attack and he had to be evacuated out. So Mum and us 4 kids had our first flight ever, it was nothing too fancy just a giant Hercules as the RAAF was operating the evacuations at that point and we were headed for Brisbane as we had relatives in Ipswich to stay with for a time.
I remember sitting on the floor of the Hercules packed in like sardines with no seats or seat belts, feeling the turbulence and us bouncing around like rubber balls in the back.
When we arrived at Brisbane airport we were escorted to a big shed where the red cross was set up and we filed in, in lines collecting clothing and personal items that had been donated. In particular a lovely lady was handing out toys to us kids, as we had lost all our Christmas gifts, well most of us had…I was the only one out of my family whose gift survived, it was a small battery operated organ that I just loved, probably because it was all I had left.
We stayed in Ipswich for approx. 2 weeks and then returned to Darwin after getting permission from Harold “Tiger” Brennan the then Mayor of Darwin who was in Canberra at the time, no doubt fighting for the people of Darwin. We were allowed back because we were living outside the city in 17 mile with septic tank, tank water and generators.
My Mum recalls:
“Seeing a couple of people having a shower stark naked on the pipeline along the road as we were making our way into the city. Ronnie’s pet crocodile got out during the cyclone it was about 2 and half foot, never to be seen again. Ronnie and dad had dug a big hole to sit in and watch the cyclone as it hit. They had a big piece of corrugated iron to pull over them whenever something came along. I am not too sure how long they lasted out there before having to come inside. The pet Galah had not one feather left the next day, not sure if it was from being blown off or the Galah was so frightened that it just dropped all it’s feathers”.
Through the clean up Dad drove Porters haulage trucks removing debris for the army, one story dad told was when they had buried the beer, grown men had cried, of course that is until some of them went back later and dug it up again. The Army guys taught my little brother how to pee like a man (he was in pants and kept wetting them).
We settled into a demountable home at 88a Adcock Cres Nakara for a time as building was going on all around us. It would be a good 6 months before the schools were open again my older sister and I were given the choice of staying back a year in school or living with my Grandmother in Cloncurry for 6 months, as hard as it was we chose to go to Cloncurry. By the time we came back near the end of 1975 we had a house in Henry Ellis Street in Alawa where we settled and started school the next year. We stayed in Darwin for another 3 years but circumstances would have it that we moved to south -east Queensland and that is where I have been ever since.
I did return to Darwin in 2004 with my husband for a short holiday. The most amazing thing for me was the trees and plants that had grown back in the time I had been away. It looked beautiful and had come a long way since that fateful night in 1974 when a big wind blew it all away.
It is a rather difficult subject to discuss due to the trauma that is still very real for many survivors, I for one am aware that in my own life I do things that might reflect the still very real PTSD that many of us survivors live with in one form or another. There is healing to a degree but this is something that remains forever in our minds, only to come to the forefront when a big wind blows or a bad storm hits.
I wish nothing but peace to my fellow survivors where ever in the world you may be, how ever you are continuing to survive.