24 December 1974

Cyclone Tracy devastates in Australia.

IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE, 1974. Rain had been falling heavily from about lunchtime and the wind strength had picked up during the day. The residents of Darwin were busy being cheerful.

Radio announcements about an incoming tropical cyclone could be heard, but faded into the background, drowned out by the crinkling sounds of present wrapping and the delicious smell of Christmas food.

It wasn’t until the dark of midnight, on Christmas day, 25 December 1974, that Cyclone Tracy really began to make an impact. In the seven hours it took for the cyclone to pass over Darwin roughly 70 per cent of the small capital city was destroyed.

Up to 71 people were killed in the chaos, 16 of them lost at sea. A bill of $500-600 million dollars was also racked up, as planes, cars, powerlines and structures were whipped across streets destroying buildings and infrastructure.

Cyclone Tracy’s path
Cyclone Tracy was just an unnamed weak tropical low about 700km north-east of Darwin on 10 December when it was first detected. Eleven days later the low developed into a cyclone that wasn’t moving directly towards Darwin.

Today it’s widely suggested that an earlier cyclone, Selma, had also left Darwin with a false sense of security. The Category 2 cyclone had been on course for the city in early in December, but skirted the coastline, only touching Darwin with wind lashings and rain.

The last significant storm event to hit Darwin before Tracy had been a Category 3 or 4 cyclone in March 1937, almost 40 years before.

On December 24, at midnight, Tracy changed direction and moved around Bathurst Island headed straight towards Darwin.

The first cyclone warning was issued at 12.30pm and the storm made landfall at just after midnight that evening. Winds reached their known peak at 3:05am at 217km/h, before the only recording device was destroyed.

The electricity in Darwin failed entirely at around 3.30am. At 4am the eye of the cyclone, measuring 8km in diameter, passed across the city. All essential services including power, communication, water and sewerage went down.

Theoretical calculations based on based on the central pressure of the cyclone suggested the wind would have peaked at 280km/h. These winds tore the small town apart. Adding to the impact, Tracy only crept along at 10km/h, hovering over the city for several hours.

In a 1999 story by the ABC’s ‘7:30 Report’, Mike Hayes, a former ABC journalist, described the sound as like “the whole world screeching; a giant’s fingers on every blackboard in the world, as all this rubbish just slowly took off and scraped along the surface of the road.”

Tracy would eventually be classed as a Category 4 cyclone, in a range from 1 to 5. It’s still considered Australia’s most damaging cyclone to date.

After its catastrophic passage, roughly 30,000 people were left homeless and only 6 per cent of the houses were considered more-or-less intact (apart from their windows).

Between 26 and 31 December, a total of 35,362 people were evacuated from Darwin by civilian and military aircraft, while others drove away with their own vehicles.

Roughly 10,500 stayed to help clean up the city. The Aussies pulled together and less than 24 hours after the catastrophic event, the tiny population of the second-largest city in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs, raised over $100,000 worth roughly $700,000 today to assist the victims of Darwin.

In February 1975, then-prime minister Gough Whitlam announced the creation of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission.

It rebuilt key infrastructure and many homes between 1974 and 1978, and city grew with the arrival of construction workers and their families. By 1975 the population had already recovered to roughly 30,000.

The reconstruction of Darwin officially wound up in mid-1978, by which time it could again house its pre-Tracy population numbers. However, it was a city that looked very different.

“A lot of the old buildings in Darwin in 1974 were constructed in what we would call Queenslander style, where the main body of the house is elevated and underneath you would put the car or the rumpus room in or something like that,” says Kevin Walsh, an associate professor at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

“The problem with those houses is that they don’t hold particularly well during tropical cyclones. The types of buildings that were built after that were much lower set.”

24 December 1865

The Ku Klux Klan is formed.

The white supremacist group was founded on December 24th, 1865.

In the hood: two members of the Ku Klux Klan, c.1870

The war between the States ended in 1865 with the North victorious and the Confederate South defeated. Slavery in the South was now illegal, the former slaves had the vote and groups of white Republicans started collecting batches of them and escorting them to the polls. The situation was resented and small white terrorist groups formed at various places to keep the blacks down and white supremacy intact. Far the best known would be the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan began in Tennessee, in the small town of Pulaski, near Memphis. It was founded by Confederate army veterans at a drinking club there and the strange but memorable name was a combination of ‘clan’ and the Greek word kuklos, meaning ‘circle’ or, in this case, social club. Dressed up in scary costumes with hoods and masks, members rode about at night threatening and frightening blacks. They demanded that blacks either vote Democrat or not vote at all. They met defiance with beatings, whippings and sometimes murder. They burned blacks’ houses down and drove black farmers off their land and they extended their hostilities to southern whites who opposed them and the so-called ‘carpetbaggers’, white infiltrators from the North.

The Klan loved weird titles, Grand Dragon and such, and a former Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest, is said to have been for a time the Klan’s leader as Grand Imperial Wizard. In 1868 he said that the Klan had well over 500,000 members in the southern states, but that he was not involved.

The original Klan faded away in the 1870s after the federal government had taken action and many members had been arrested and punished, but it had helped to make the South a Democrat political stronghold. It was refounded in 1915, inspired by the film The Birth of a Nation by the pioneering Hollywood director D.W. Griffith, which shone an admiring light on the original Klan. It has existed with very slowly declining influence ever since.

24 December 1865

The Ku Klux Klan is formed.

On this day in history, six Confederate veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee created the original Ku Klux Klan. The name was formed by combining the Greek word for circle kyklos with clan. The group was known for a short time as the “Kuklux Clan”.

The Klan began as a “Christian” social club of like-minded individuals, quickly evolving into an action society dedicated to “demonstrating” its opposition to blacks later expanded to Jews, immigrants, Communists, gays and lesbians and, until recently, Catholics. The Klan is still active, and was estimated in 2012 to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members. It is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

More recently, the fortunes of the Klan seem to have been revived by the successful presidential race of Donald Trump. David Duke, longtime Klan leader, neo-Nazi, and international spokesman for Holocaust denial, claimed  credit in part for Trump’s win, tweeting “make no mistake about it, our people played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”

Save