Cyclone Tracy, Darwin – Fact sheet 176

Events of December 1974

The northern Australian city of Darwin was devastated early on Christmas morning 1974 when hit by the tropical weather depression that was given the name Cyclone Tracy. As the eye of the cyclone passed over the city between midnight and 7.00 am on Christmas morning torrential rain fell and the winds were officially recorded at 217 kilometres per hour prior to the Bureau of Meteorology anemometer being destroyed. Houses and other buildings disintegrated under the onslaught, accompanied by the sounds of flying debris and breaking glass. With the cyclone’s passing 65 people were killed (including 16 lost at sea) and many more were injured, 70 per cent of Darwin’s homes were destroyed or suffered severe damage, and all public services – communications, power, water and sewerage – were severed.

Rescue, recovery and reconstruction

Major-General Alan Stretton, Director-General of the Natural Disasters Organisation, was placed in charge of the rescue effort. Emergency committees were established to deal with such matters as accommodation, clean-up, clothing, communications, evacuation, food, law and order, sanitation and health and social welfare. The defence forces played a major role in cleaning up the city and suburbs.

With essential services all severed, and with food and shelter at a premium, many Darwin people were evacuated and in the week that followed Darwin’s population was reduced to little more than 10 000. For the next six months access to the city was regulated by means of a permit system.

Darwin Reconstruction Commission

The Darwin Reconstruction Commission (CA 2276) was established on 28 February 1975 by the Darwin Reconstruction Act1975 to plan, coordinate and undertake the rebuilding of Darwin. Between 1975 and 1978 the Commission coordinated many construction projects including the building or repair of more than 2500 homes.

Records relating to Cyclone Tracy

Selected records relating to Cyclone Tracy held by the National Archives in Canberra, Sydney and Darwin are listed below.

The Darwin office holds a range of published sources about Cyclone Tracy, including the four annual reports of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission.

Searches on RecordSearch, the Archives collection database, using keywords such as ‘cyclone tracy’ and ‘Darwin reconstruction’ will identify records of interest. RecordSearch is available online and in all reading rooms.

Use our online image bank, PhotoSearch, to identify images taken in Darwin in the days following the cyclone and during the clean up and reconstruction phases.

Canberra

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files (search using keywords ‘Darwin cyclone’)1957–A1209

Australian Overseas Information Service

Sydney

Department of the Media

Darwin

Bureau of Meteorology

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCase history material for tropical cyclones1956–E490

Department of the Northern Territory, Central Office

Darwin Reconstruction Commission

Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Fund

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1975–76E1604

NT Administrator’s Council

Department of Social Security

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesLists relating to Darwin evacuees post-Cyclone Tracy (Microfiche copy held as E1095)1975–77E1487

Australian Valuation Office

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesDarwin post-Cyclone Tracy building condition survey1975–76E953

* Copies also held in the Darwin Office of the National Archives.

Other records relating to cyclones

Fact Sheet:

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014