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30th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy -

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30th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

MAXINE McKEW: This Christmas marks the 30th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, the devastating storm
that killed 65 people and left tens of thousands homeless. Survivors are travelling to the Top End
from interstate and overseas to attend a commemoration tomorrow night. And three decades on, there
is still argument in the town about who did what after the disaster. Murray McLaughlin reports.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Morrie Maloney now lives in Queensland. He returned to Darwin this week to check
out the city he was living in 30 years ago when Cyclone Tracy wrecked the place. His old
neighbourhood of Alawa, 15 minutes from the central business district, is green and serene these
days. On Christmas Day 1974, Alawa and most of the city was flattened.

MORRIE MALONEY: You couldn't drive a car down the street. There was just rubble everywhere -
roofing iron, timber, bits of houses, fibro.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Morrie Maloney's house was blown apart like the rest of his street. His tale of
his survival as his house collapsed is as prosaic as thousands of others.

MORRIE MALONEY: We got the two children, then we put them in a cupboard. But then a bit later on it
got worse, so we went up into the hallway, got a mattress out and put it on the floor, so we sat
there.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Morrie Maloney's family were among 25,000 residents who were flown out of Darwin
in the week after the cyclone - the biggest airlift since World War II. Another 10,000 left by
road. The evacuation was directed by Major-General Allan Stretton, who had just been appointed to
head the new Natural Disasters Organisation.

MAJOR-GENERAL ALLAN STRETTON: We had 45,000 people in the ruins of Darwin with no water, no
reticulated water, no electricity, no sewerage and a great danger of an outbreak of cholera and
other diseases.

JOHN MEDCALF (FORMER QANTAS CREW): I still get emotional.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: John Medcalf was flight service director on one Qantas jumbo jet which evacuated
nearly 700 survivors on one flight in the week after Tracy. That number stood as a world record for
many years.

JOHN MEDCALF: It has this effect on me. What must it have done to those people?

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Qantas was at first reluctant to join the airlift out of Darwin.

MAJOR-GENERAL ALLAN STRETTON: Qantas sent a senior pilot up. He had a look at the airfield, which
was still pretty ropey, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't on to fly a jumbo jet out. I then
showed him some of the refugees - women and children - still in a state of shock, and he then
virtually changed his mind and decided it was worth the risk.

JOHN MEDCALF: We just filled every possible nook and cranny that we could on the aircraft. The
mothers - I just remember the mothers, who probably really understood what was happening. You can
just imagine - "Am I going to have a home again? Am I going to have to start all over again?"

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: General Stretton's service as el supremo in Darwin is marked by a permanent
display at the NT museum. But there is criticism that he credited his service too highly.

PETER FORREST (HISTORIAN): All of the essential decisions, all the ground work, had been done by
local people before General Stretton arrived.

MAJOR-GENERAL ALLAN STRETTON: There seems to be some sort of a campaign to establish that the local
officials carried a great part of the evacuation. Of course they did. I've been saying that for 30
years.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: In fact, General Stretton did give credit to the locals from the moment he
landed in Darwin.

MAJOR-GENERAL ALLAN STRETTON (NEWSREEL): I'm getting tremendous support from all local officials.
The people here are marvellous.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Tracy's impact was traumatic for most. For some, it was more relaxing. Linda
Hassall now runs an inner Darwin cafe. Christmas Eve 30 years ago, she managed a suburban pub and
closed up around midnight.

LINDA HASSALL (FORMER HOTEL MANAGER): The Aborigines had been outside, but now there were windows
broken - they'd gone with the first onslaught of the cyclone - they were in the pub.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: John Ah Kit, now a Territory Government minister, had also been drinking at same
hotel.

JOHN AH KIT (NT MINISTER): There was a few people that found the best and safest spot, and that was
in the coolroom in the fridges. They had a beer and waited for the cyclone to subside. They came
out a bit tipsy, but nevertheless, it was a fortress for them.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Linda Hassall and her staff were relegated that night to the kitchen coolroom,
while her customers crowded the big bar fridges.

LINDA HASSALL: All we had was vegetables; they still had a bar full of booze to carry on with! It
must have been about 6 o'clock after, and we came out, and I was just absolutely awestruck. I
couldn't believe it.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Darwin's official wind recording instrument had been destroyed at 3am when there
was a gust of 217km/h. This new instrument should withstand speeds up to 370km/h. And the weather
office now has sophisticated computer modelling and receives better satellite and radar pictures.

JIM ARTHUR (BUREAU OF METEROLOGY): All this enables us to more accurately pick the current
position, pick the current movement, pick the future movement. Mind you, the performance that we
provided 30 years ago for Tracy was very good at that time.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Morrie Maloney will be joining other Cyclone Tracy survivors for a commemoration
tomorrow night.

MORRIE MALONEY: The time thing's before or after Tracy. So yeah, there's a bit of emotion tied up
with it, that's for sure.

MAXINE McKEW: Now you know - when in doubt, head for the coolroom! Murray McLaughlin there.