Darwin Blown Away 40 Years Ago

Darwin Blown Away 40 Years Ago

Cyclone Tracy Flattens Darwin

Victor P Taffa

On Christmas Eve, 1974 Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin, passing over and destroying the City, killing 66 people that caused $837 Million (1974 dollars) or approximately $4.45 Billion (2014 dollars) worth of damage.

More than 70% of Darwin’s buildings including 80% of houses were destroyed that left more than 41,000 people homeless and required the evacuation of over 30,000 people.


20 December 1974

On 20 December 1974, a large cloud mass centred over the Arafura Sea about 370 kilometres (230 mi) northeast of Darwin. This disturbance was tracked by the Darwin Weather Bureau.

21 December 1974

On 21 December 1974, the large cloud mass showed evidence of a newly formed circular centre near latitude 8° south and longitude 135° east. An initial tropical cyclone alert was released describing the storm as a tropical low that could develop into a tropical cyclone.

Later in the evening, the Darwin meteorological office received information showing that the low pressure had developed further and that spiralling clouds could be observed. The storm was officially pronounced a tropical cyclone at around 10 p.m.

On 21 December, it was around 200 kilometres (120 mi) to the north-northeast of Cape Don (700 km or 435 mi northeast of Darwin).

22 December 1974

Cyclone Tracy was first observed on the Darwin radar on the morning of 22 December. Over the next few days, the cyclone moved in a southwesterly direction, passing north of Darwin on 22 December.

Christmas Eve 1974

Early in the morning of 24 December, Cyclone Tracy rounded Cape Fourcroy on the western tip of Bathurst Island, and moved in a southeasterly direction, straight towards Darwin. The bureau’s weather station at Cape Fourcroy measured a mean wind speed of 120 km/h (75 m/h) at 9 a.m. that morning.

By late afternoon on 24 December, the sky over the city was heavily overcast, with low clouds, and was experiencing strong rain. Wind gusts increased in strength; between 10 p.m. (local time) and midnight, the damage became serious, and residents began to realise that the cyclone would not just pass by the city, but rather over it.

Christmas Day 1974

On 25 December at around 3:30 a.m., Cyclone Tracy’s centre crossed the coast near Fannie Bay. The highest recorded wind gust from the cyclone was 217 km/h (135 m/h), which was recorded around 3:05 a.m. at Darwin Airport. The anemometer (wind speed instrument) failed at around 3:10 a.m., with the wind vane (wind direction) destroyed after the cyclone’s eye.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s official estimates suggested that Cyclone Tracy’s gusts had reached 240 km/h (150 m/h).

All Electricity, water and sewerage in Darwin had been cut as a result of the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy.

On Christmas Day, Darwin Hospital treated over 500 patients. However the first casualties did not arrive until 7.00a.m. due to high winds and debris that was strewn on every road and street.

Disaster Relief

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was touring Syracuse, Greece at the time and returned home, flying to Darwin upon hearing of the disaster. Major-General Alan Stretton was given the task of overseeing the disaster relief operation.

Most of Darwin’s population was evacuated and within the first two days 10,000 people went to Adelaide, Alice Springs, Whyalla and Sydney.

Although a Legislative Assembly had been established earlier in the year, the Northern Territory had only minimal self-government, with a federal minister being responsible for the Territory from Canberra that is still the same situation today.

However, the cyclone and subsequent responses highlighted several problems with the way the territory government was set up. This led to the Government of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, granting self-government to the Territory in 1978.

All buildings in Darwin were made cyclone proof following the introduction of new regulations that were introduced following Cyclone Tracy, where Santa never made it to Darwin in 1974.

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles








On this night 40 years ago, the worst cyclone in Australia’s history hit Darwin, tearing the city apart, Chief Minister Adam Giles said.

“For many Territorians the pain of that stolen Christmas 40 years ago remains very real and I know that this will be an emotional few days for many survivors.”

“I would like those survivors to know that just like 1974, your fellow-Territorians are here for you, to support you and help you through this difficult time.”

“Never has our Territory spirit been more on display than in the months that followed Tracy. As a community, we pulled together and rebuilt the great city that we know today. This should be a source of great Territory pride.” Mr. Giles said.

66 people died and 80 % of the city’s homes were destroyed but people decided to come back and help with the rebuilding effort.

“On this 40th Anniversary, I ask Territorians to reflect on the great debt we owe to those who pulled Darwin out of the rubble and laid the groundwork for our great northern capital. Out of the city’s darkest hour came its greatest triumph – a new city that has still not lost any of its Territory charm.”

“I also ask Territorians to reflect tonight also on their preparedness for another such disaster and to make sure they are ready should a cyclone come our way this wet season. We have come a long way in four decades but Territorians will never forget the terror inflicted on the city 40 years ago tonight or those who lost their lives in the disaster.” Mr. Giles said.