Christmas Eve 1974 – Cathryn Doney

My story is not particularly spectacular, and no different from anyone else who went through that black, howling, ripping wind.

There were 7 of us kids, ranging from 15 to 3. I remember I’d spent the day, Christmas Eve, picking up rubbish from the yard and putting stuff inside, but no-one else seemed quite bothered by the cyclone warning. “It’ll never happen”, my dad said, “It’ll go west, straight past us”.
That night, I’m not sure what we had for dinner, but my folks, very unusually went out for drinks with friends, The Woods, though for years I thought it was The Brittons.

There was a Christmas Tree in the corner of the lounge room, presents piled around it – overflowing. I think we kids decided we could take a sneak peak, one each, a deceptive and tactfully torn corner … a preview, if you like.

The wind picked up. The rain started. It was about 9pm. “It’ll never happen”, my dad had said. “It’ll go west, straight past us”. He used to live in a lighthouse and had been through cyclones before so he knew. Right?

We watched TV. The siren warned every hour or so, it was expected to pass us by. But the rain kept coming. It sliced sideways at the louvres.
11pm. The sound of a car door slamming. My parents are home. My sister Clare, 2 years older than me, “Water’s coming down the walls”….
We get towels. We try to mop the puddles but they keep coming.

Blank, I can’t remember.

Under the dining table, all of us sitting there. Thuds. A crash, maybe an earthquake. BAM! No power. It’s dark. It’s cold. Water streams down the walls, we are paddling in water.  The noise. The howling wind, on and on and on and on.

And then it’s still.

“Get downstairs” my dad says. Chris, my older brother goes out towards the porch, the front door. I wonder why we have to go downstairs when it’s over. It’s quiet now.  “Can’t” my brother calls back. He’s 15. “Can’t open the door, something’s in the way”. My dad goes to look. There’s a transformer, from the power pole, fallen, planted on our porch. The piano is soaked.

“The back” says my dad “We’ll go the back stairs”. We paddle down the hall, stopping at the linen cupboard on the way, we take what we can, sheets, towels, blankets. Actually, I don’t think we had blankets, no-one had blankets then.

My dad opens the door.  I have never seen anything like it in all my life. Trees, smashed, houses, smashed, corrugated iron all over the place. Glass everywhere. The neighbours’ house with no roof. Tinsel strewn and glistening.  “Get downstairs” urges my dad, “It’ll come back in a minute”.  I’m 12. I wonder why he thinks this. Isn’t it over? It’s quiet now.  I can’t recall, I think we were going to go to the shed under the house, but it was full of stuff. “Snoopy!” said someone (the dog), and “the cat!” – they were in the shed, someone, I think Chris my older brother got them out.

9 people, 2 cars. Mum and the “little kids” in the station wagon, Dad, Chris, Snoopy, and the cat in the ute. Between pylons. My sister Clare in the front? With Mum and Michael our little brother I think. Me, Geraldine, Louise, and Libby in the back. Maybe. It’s a dim memory.

Black. Noise. Unbelievable noise. It comes roaring at us like a lion. Like a train. I look up. A stove flies past just inches in front of us, sheets of iron, a sewing machine. A gust picks up the car and slams us against the pylons. I see the ute, it slams against the pylons too.  We pray. Hail Mary full of grace the lord be with you, blessed by thy name and oh my god the noise, the wind, the cold the screeching sound of tin and ripping and broken bones and is there a God??
Another gust, slam, we’re in the car, another sheet of iron rips past, I duck, we all duck, it misses us and bam, bam bam, it goes on, and on, and on.
Michael is crying. My mother is crying. I think I peed myself.  We Hail Mary again. All night, amongst the cries for help we can do nothing about, amongst the screeching of metal, amongst winds that cannot exist in anyone’s imagination, we hail Mary.  Sometimes I look up and the ute is still there. I am relieved. I am numb.

It’s morning. It’s cold. The wind has eased, perhaps I fell asleep. It’s an eerie dawn. Dad emerges from the ute. He opens the door on the station wagon. He tells us the cat had kittens. Literally, there are 6 premature kittens on the ute seat. I remember being scared to open the car door, as if I did that it might start up again.  Slowly we emerge from the car.  It’s impossible to describe after that. I thought the world had ended. Our Christmas tree remained standing throughout.

I can’t write any more.

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