Cyclone Tracy

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Northern Territory Library Cyclone Tracy Exhibition from our own collections

On 24 December 1974 Cyclone Tracy virtually destroyed Darwin. The next morning, most of Darwin's population of  48 000 people found themselves homeless, due to the largest natural disaster in Australia’s written history.

Northern Territory Library’s Cyclone Tracy collection features original records, photographs and documents, including the full list of evacuees of nearly 33,000 names, recording one of the biggest logistical peacetime exercises ever undertaken in Australia. The Library also holds a copy of the Red Cross list of evacuees that passed through Katherine.

The many other records and dedications on display pay tribute to the victims and survivors of this tragedy. This collection brings to light an unforgettable episode in the Territory’s history.

Queen and Prince Phillip inspect plaque to Cyclone Tracy victims
Queen and Prince Phillip inspect plaque to Cyclone Tracy victims at Darwin Civic Centre entrance, Harry Chan Avenue.
Northern Territory Government Photographer Collection

Cyclone Tracy – The Build up

In the late afternoon of 24 December 1974, Darwin was cloaked by low heavy clouds, with rain squalls and wind gusts increasing in intensity. By about 10pm the winds were beginning to cause physical damage to the city.

Approaching midnight, the damage was becoming more serious.  It had become apparent that Cyclone Tracy was about to pass across the city. Over the next six hours, Tracy substantially destroyed Darwin and killed 71 people - 49 on land and 22 at sea.

Daylight on Christmas morning saw a scene of chaos; Darwin was cut off, with no internal or external communications. There are many theories explaining how the news of the cyclone first reached the outside world.

By lunch time on Christmas Day, the broad details of the disaster were known to officials in Canberra. Later that afternoon, the Australian public had become aware that a cyclone had struck Darwin and that the city’s plight was “grave.”

The previous official figure placed the number of people killed at 65. However, on the 17th March 2005, a new Coroner’s report declared that six people missing at sea were now officially deceased (perished at sea).

Northern Territory of Australia.  “In The Matter Of An Inquest Into The Death Of Raymond John Curtain, Terrence Carew Westwood, Gerald Frederick Thompson, Gregory John Westerman, Graham William Dearden, Ruth Nazmeena Adrione Vincent On 24 December 1974 In Darwin Harbour During Cyclone Tracy Findings” (Delivered 17 March 2005). No. D0034/2004. Coroners Court, Northern Territory of Australia. Darwin: 2005.

debris following Cyclone Tracy
Aerial view of Cyclone Tracy's destruction
A doll lies among other debris following the cyclone.
Northern Territory News Collection
Aerial view of the destruction of homes in the suburb of Moil. Shows area between Parer Drive and Yeadon Circuit. Casuarina High School in distance.
Northern Territory News Collection

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