Geoff Bamber remembers Christmas Day 1974; the night Cyclone Tracy swept into town. His young family, consisting of six children aged between 13 years and just one month, spent most of the night in the narrow hallway of their single story brick home.
It was Christmas Eve, another cyclone warning was on the radio this morning, same as the dud one some days before when we had taped up all our windows, tied the boat to the Hills hoist clothes line on a long rope, and followed all the cyclone instructions, only to have it come to nothing.
Pre-Christmas shopping had been done except for a few odds and ends I would buy on the way home. Our building sites had closed down at lunchtime and we were having Christmas drinks at the Dolphin with the subbies. I had bought a collapsible pool cue with a red band in it the day before and we were having a few games of pool. An aboriginal bloke was really taken with it and pestered me for the cue until I sold it to him for what I had paid for it. So much for my Chrissie present.
We, being in the office, had not been aware of the cyclone warnings during the day and at the pub. Time to go. I called in to a couple of shops to buy some odds and end but they were closed. I thought what a stupid thing for them to do closing early on Christmas Eve.
When I got home I was told about the Cyclone warnings that had been on the radio all day. Some bright spark had changed the sounds of sirens that used to go with the warnings to “ding dong ding dong... A cyclone’s coming” because they thought that the sirens would scare people! Of course they scare people! I spent the next few days wishing I could find the f*#! who made the change so I could shove the ding-dong up his arse.
The seriousness of the situation was only starting to become clear as darkness set in and the wind and rain increased hour by hour and, when the power failed and the lights went out we moved the family into the hallway. We still had a battery-operated radio and kerosene lamps.
We’d moved into the passage, by midnight, as the wind arose, we had lamps lit, the lights had gone, the radio will follow I suppose.
We could see the clouds go spinning by with every lightning flash and the howling winds were terrifying. I checked the window in the kitchen where there was a louvre blade missing and the wind was howling in through the gap. I got a pillow and tried to seal the hole but the glass blades bent like crazy so I dropped the pillow and ran back to the passage. We let the kids have their Christmas presents to take their minds off the storm.
Wind intensity increased, then a sudden silence fell. Hard to believe, we’re in the eye, due for the second side of Hell.
I went outside to the back garden and in the lightning flashes saw that the clouds were racing one way across the back fence and the opposite way at the front. The 30 foot high tree had been blown over and was lying flat to the right.
The family came out thinking it was over in the relative silence but I told them that it would be coming back and got them all back to the passageway. The radio had gone off some time ago and we settled in to wait.
There was a screeching as the roofing began to be torn off. I tried to play it down.
“Dad what is that noise?” As the roof began to tear. “Hush child, you mustn’t worry ‘Tis just the wind giving us a scare”.
The passage ceiling light filled with rain and fell to the floor amongst the kids with a mighty smash.
“Dad what’s that bang at our feet?” As water filled the ceiling light. “Hush child, you mustn’t worry, the rain’s come in but it’ll be all right”.
The rain began to puddle on the passage floor the kids were sitting in the water so we moved the cartons of drinks for them to sit on out of the water.
“Tell me are we sinking Dad, what's the water doing at our feet?” Hush child, you mustn’t worry, sit on this carton, it’ll make a seat”.
The volume of the howling wind had increased beyond belief and more of the roof had disappeared.
“Dad the noise is terrible, it is really scaring me!" “Hush child, you mustn’t worry ‘Tis but a wild Banshee”.
As piccanninni dawn broke I checked through the louvres on the street side, much to the abuse of my wife, who was scared that the wind would blow in again like it did with the kitchen window the afternoon before.
I could start to see things now. The elevated houses opposite weren’t there anymore, at least above the floorboards. They had simply blown away. As the day brightened I went out to the back yard again.
The big tree had been picked up and was lying the opposite way on the chook pen. The above ground pool lining had disappeared and the water sucked away but the liner was settled neatly on the sand base in a perfect circle. The boat had blown away to the extent of the long rope and the clothes drier had been blown into the car smashing the window.
And on it went ‘til 6 a.m. In drizzle, dawn arrived
Christmas Day had come
And we had survived!