Cyclone Tracy Revisited

Fortunately, there are only a few places in the world that have been totally devastated by natural disasters, and Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory is one of them.

In fact, Darwin has hit the jackpot, having been destroyed by tropical cyclones three times, and bombed into oblivion by the Japanese during World War II.

The last time that Darwin was devastated by a tropical cyclone was on Christmas Eve 1974, when Cyclone Tracy absolutely ravaged the town, destroying over 80% of the city’s buildings, leaving 41,000 of the city’s then population of 43,000 homeless, and causing the deaths of 71 people.

Cyclone Tracy was a wretched event, which still lingers in the memories of those who were around when the cyclone tore its way through Darwin.

I recently visited the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory which is a small, but excellent, museum and gallery.

The museum has many fine displays which focus on the Territory’s fauna, its indigenous history, and the maritime history which dates back many thousands of years.
For me, though, the most poignant exhibit was the Cyclone Tracy display, which re-creates Darwin as the city was on the evening of 24 December, 1974.

December is wet season in the Northern Territory. Being a tropical city, it has only two seasons – the wet and the dry. During the wet, Darwinians get used to experiencing major storms as they are a daily occurrence. In fact, Darwin is considered to be the lightning capital of the world, and many scientists visit Darwin each year in order to study lightning and thunderstorms.
The point is, that in December, storms are part of the daily routine of life in the city, so there was nothing unusual about the high rains and heavy rain Darwinians were experiencing on the evening of 24 December, as families got ready to celebrate Christmas Day.

Unfortunately, Cyclone Tracy had no respect for the sanctity of Christmas Eve, and after a bit of a blow it seemed to go away, only to return several hours later with murderous ferocity.
It was a truly terrifying experience for those receiving the full brunt of the 240kmh winds which struck the town, and just blew most of it away.

At the Museum’s Cyclone Tracy exhibit, visitors get to experience the sights, sound and the sheer terror of being caught in ferocious act of nature. The exhibit really gives you an appreciation of the power that was unleashed that night in 1974, and makes you wonder how anyone could have survived such a constant and unwieldy bombardment.

If you ever visit Darwin, get along to the Museum, which has free entry, to discover just how ugly the force of nature can really be.

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