Australia gets a history lesson on Cyclone Tracy

In Attractions, Australian Cultural Exports, Australian Domestic Tourism, Community, Government, Media and Communications, National Headlines, Northern Territory

TTN: For the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy hitting Darwin on Christmas Eve of 1974, the ABC has presented a powerful documentary with eyewitness accounts from survivors. Particularly interesting are the administrative factors – how so much of the population was evacuated, apparent inaccurate recording of top winds and death tolls, and the practicalities of shooting scavenging dogs, clearing patients and treating the hundreds of people who fronted the destroyed hospital for treatment.

Notable is the high-quality graphics within the documentary (a sample pictured).

Watch the entire documentary (57m)  on ABC’s viewing service iView here.

Cyclone Tracy: ABC reporter Bill Fletcher had the story but no way of telling the nation

From, 23rd December, 2014

ABC reporter Bill Fletcher returned to the broadcaster’s Darwin studios the morning after Cyclone Tracy to find the transmitters destroyed.

He had the biggest story in Australia but no way of telling the nation.

“The TV transmitter was out of action, the radio transmitter was out of action. A big cable that actually goes to the transmitter was severed by debris,” he recalled 40 years later.

By incredible coincidence a tenuous microwave link had been previously established to relay the Queen’s Christmas message via Darwin and Mt Isa to the eastern states bureaus.

“Luckily all the connections to enable that to happen was still in place,” Mr Fletcher recalled.

“The head of the Telecom facility in Gardens Hill was there and he helped [ABC reporter Dick Muddimer] get the message out. It went to a Telecom operator in Mt Isa who then phoned the ABC in Sydney.

“I think initially the message he passed on simply wasn’t believed. Understandably.

“Eventually he convinced them that it was true and then the news got out.”

‘Town destroyed, help needed’

The ABC’s first message out of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy was that “basically the town had been destroyed, there were a large number of deaths and we needed help,” Mr Fletcher said.

The ABC staff brought their families into the intact office “where it was at least dry” and cooked up the food they had taken from their fridges and freezers.

“We didn’t have a home anymore, We had nothing except basically the clothes we were wearing.

“We were in the biggest story in this country at that time. How did you you communicate? How did you get the message out?

“It was very difficult to work.

“You knew you had to go and do your job but at the same time you wanted to look after your family.

“Later in the afternoon I ran into an assistant harbour master Colin Wood who told me one of the WA state ships had come in after the cyclone and it had docked. They had radio communications.”

He and fellow reporter Mike Hayes wrote a story and the ship’s captain agreed to sent it to a capital city over the radio.

“We did that a couple more times over the next 24-48 hours to get the message out,” he said.

“It was very stressful. Very hard.”

‘The wind in the wires will be with me until I die’

Within a couple of days new phones and telex machines were flown in and installed.

The ABC staff acquired a truck and began salvaging the possessions of the members of staff whose homes had been destroyed while they were away on holiday, and were now unable to return.

“Within a couple of days the 8DR radio came back on air at around lunchtime,” he said.

“From that point we were able to tell the people what was going on. That became a full-time mission.

“The rumours around Darwin were unbelievable. People had this fear Tracy was going to do a big U-turn somewhere south of us and come back and give us another belting.”

Mr Fletcher said he and the other cyclone survivors he knew did not speak often about their experience.

“I can’t stand the sound of tin hitting or flapping,” he said. “It sends shivers up my neck.

“That will be with me until the day I die – the wind whistling through wires. It brings it back.

“We lived up on Gardens Hill near the TV tower. The noise of the wind through the tower at 6:00am when the cyclone was easing off, I couldn’t work up why an aircraft would be up there.

“It sounded like a jet.

“I couldn’t work it out for ages and it dawned on me. It was the wind through the tower. Those things never leave you.”

Bill Fletcher

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