When Cyclone Tracy swept down on Darwin at Christmas 1974, the weather became not just a living thing but a killer. Tracy destroyed an entire city, left seventy-one people dead and ripped the heart out of Australia's season of goodwill.
For the fortieth anniversary of the nation's most iconic natural disaster, Sophie Cunningham has gone back to the eyewitness accounts of those who lived through the devastation - and those who faced the heartbreaking clean-up and the back-breaking rebuilding. From the quiet stirring of the service-station bunting that heralded the catastrophe to the wholesale slaughter of the dogs that followed it, Cunningham brings to the tale a novelist's eye for detail and an exhilarating narrative drive. And a sober appraisal of what Tracy means to us now, as we face more—and more destructive—extreme weather with every year that passes.
I can remember hearing about the sudden impact of Cyclone Tracy upon the small, somewhat parochial town of Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1974. Or rather, I heard about it on Christmas Day, as back then there was no Internet, no Facebook and no Twitter to spread the news of this natural disaster as there is today. Indeed, reading this account of the devastation that hit Darwin on that day made me realise just how much modern communications have changed our world. The people of Darwin didn’t even have functioning radios after Tracy struck and the community was totally unprepared to cope with the devastation and the aftermath of the cyclone.
Sophie Cunningham tells the story warts and all – the mass evacuation of the citizens which saw families split up and piled into planes with no idea of their destination, the shortage of food and fresh water, the lack of simple bedding to sleep in at night let alone houses to go back to, the tragic mass shooting of family pets. It is a heartbreaking story yet an inspiring one too, with stories of courage, nerve and love. She also adds another type of warning for us – to heed the results of climate change which is causing the increasing frequency of such natural disasters.