Jeffrey Norton – Surviving Tracy 1974 – Recollections from a 4 year old.

In approximately October 1972 my family (Dad, Mum and 4 kids aged 2, 4, 6 + 8) moved from Victor Harbour South Australia to Darwin, as my Father’s employer, Mr Ian Cocks had tasked him to build a Darwin branch of the Adelaide based concrete production business known as “Direct Mix Concrete” which was established on Bombing Road in Winnellie (now occupied by Boral Concrete).

Our family lived in a rented home at 18 Seabright Crescent Jingili, belonging to Territorian Mr John Nikolakis.  It was a lovely 3-bedroom elevated tropical home with balconies wrapped around the top half of the home which overlooked Darwin General Cemetery.

Dad established the Winnellie based Direct Mix Concrete business, building the steel silo and associated infrastructure including offices, and set about doing business in Darwin and employing staff to help operate the busy production.

Fast forward two years later to December 24th Christmas Eve 1974 and Mum had tucked all the 4 kids into bed, excited to wake in the morning after Santa had been.  Dad drove out to Winnellie late in the evening to pick up the 4 new bikes for the kids Christmas presents, while Mum adorned the other gifts around the tree.  As Dad was driving home towing the trailer load of bikes around midnight, he noticed how windy it was on Bagot Road and listened to the radio announcements about the impending storm on its way, none of which gave anyone the concept of what may happen in the next few hours.

At home in Jingili, we also had a small caravan under the house, in which we had family guests staying, and they helped Dad unload the bikes and take them upstairs to sit around the Christmas tree.

I (the author) was the youngest child aged 4 during this time, slept soundly in my bed in the boys’ bedroom shared by the 3 boys, while my sister had her own room, although on this night she was also sharing with a family friend Lian visiting from Kuala Lumpur.

I don’t know how much time elapsed, but the next thing I remember was being woken by Mum and Dad, gathering us all into their bedroom as the cyclonic winds had started and you could hear it thrashing the house, as we all sat on a single mattress on the floor with a large queen size mattress lent up against the wall capsulizing us into cocoon like zone.  The sound outside of the room became louder and more terrifying as we could hear the destruction occurring in its early phases.

At some point all the windows in the house smashed including in the room where we huddled beneath our mattress cocoon and rain pelted in.  At some point the ceiling collapsed in on top of us, which was possibly the very thing that saved us all, as the rest of the elevated home was left with only bare floorboards except for the room where we had sheltered.

The cyclone persisted for hours, and I think all of us kids when declaring our need to go toilet, were told just go where you are, we can’t get out of here yet.  As a four-year-old I know it went against everything I had learnt to just sit and wee right where you are.

Hours later, after the storm had subsided and dawn was awaking, Dad went out to discover the damage the storm had caused.  I can’t image what went through his mind the first sight of our home and the surrounding homes. It must have looked like a bomb had gone off.

Sometime later I remember being told to step though the bedroom window as Dad grabbed hold of me from the outside stairwell and brought me downstairs to join the other family members waiting below.

Eventually we went out to Dad’s workplace in Winnellie which had not been as severely damaged and just needed some tarpaulin roof repairs to create an all-weather shelter for us to live in for the time being, plus setting up diesel generators to run power.  That time went longer than anyone had expected as although most women and children were evacuated, we stayed on in Winnellie regardless of the state of emergency ruling which declared everyone but working age men fly south until further notice.  The army moved into clean up and help repair critical infrastructure including town power, water and sewerage.  It would take even longer for shops and schools and general businesses to be able to re-open and have the community return.  But we stayed on, even having to hide whenever army or police patrols came by.

My Father’s employer in Adelaide had bought two brand new family size caravans for our family and Dads second in command who also had a wife and 2 young children.  It was an exciting adventure for us kids to move from camping in an office to having a brand-new bed in an air-conditioned caravan in which to sleep.

Around 6-8 months later after the suburbs had been cleared of debris, we moved back to Seabright Crescent in Jingili where our caravan was setup underneath the house.  I started pre-school in Jingili about this time and the older siblings all returned to Jingili Primary School.  We lived like this for about 6 months before moving to a house Dad bought in Alawa even though it still had no roof.

This is a truncated version of my family story of our Cyclone Tracy experience.  My two older brothers have since passed away, Dad is now 86 with dementia that has taken many of his memories and Mum is 81 and recently suffered a stroke which has also stolen her memories.

I had a USB stick of scanned post cyclone photos that were taken, but unable to locate it at the time of submitting this story.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Please feel free to browse but be aware that links may not work and content may not yet have been uploaded.