ABC Radio Darwin 8DR on Shortwave

In December 1974 Cyclone Tracy slammed into Darwin, the main city of Australia’s Northern Territory.

A picture taken by the ESSA-8 satellite that shows Cyclone Tracy on December 25, 1974. Image: NASA, Public Domain, Link

Cyclone Tracy was a tropical cyclone that devastated the city of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia from 24 to 26 December 1974. The small, developing easterly storm had been observed passing clear of the city initially, but then turned towards it early on 24 December. After 10:00 p.m. ACST, damage became severe, and wind gusts reached 217 kilometres per hour (134.84 mph) before instruments failed. The anemometer in Darwin Airport control tower had its needle bent in half by the strength of the gusts.

Residents of Darwin were celebrating Christmas, and did not immediately acknowledge the emergency, partly because they had been alerted to an earlier cyclone (Selma) that passed west of the city, and did not impact it in any way. Additionally, news outlets had only a skeleton crew on duty over the holiday.

Tracy killed 71 people, caused A$837 million in damage (1974 dollars), or approximately A$6.85 billion (2018 dollars), or $4.79 billion 2018 USD. It destroyed more than 70 percent of Darwin’s buildings, including 80 percent of houses. It left more than 25,000 out of the 47,000 inhabitants of the city homeless prior to landfall and required the evacuation of over 30,000 people, of whom many never returned. After the storm passed, the city was rebuilt using more stringent standards “to cyclone code”. The storm was the second-smallest tropical cyclone on record (in terms of gale-force wind diameter), behind only Tropical Storm Marco in 2008.

– Wikipedia

A City Devasted

Most of the city was devasted and most major infrastructure was left out of action.

Cyclone Tracy damage in the northern suburbs of Darwin, 30 December 1974. Beat Eiselman Photographer: Northern Territory Library Coburg Collection PH0377/0113
The destruction in Darwin after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy. Image credit: AAP/AP
Electricity pole, bent and twisted by Cyclone Tracy, 1975. Bert Wiedermann Photographer: Northern Territory Library Bert Wiedermann Collection PH0611/00

Shortwave Radio Fills the Communications Gap

With most local services out of action, the authorities urgently needed a means to coordinate the mass evacuation of the city.

To help with this the local Darwin ABC station, 8DR, was relayed on shortwave via Radio Australia transmitters in Victoria.

Our Collections contain the following QSL card for one of these relay transmissions, and an audio recording made by a listener in New Zealand:

QSL card and audio recording of relay of ABC 8DR Darwin via Radio Australia.
© Radio Heritage Foundation: QSL – David Ricquish Collection, Audio – Chris Mackerell Collection


Poignant images of the evacuation of Darwin from the Library & Archives NT website, where you can find many more historical images relating to Cyclone Tracy.

Registration Centre after Cyclone Tracy, 1974. Bert Wiedermann Photographer: Northern Territory Library Bert Wiedermann Collection PH0611/0020

The majority of Darwin’s population was homeless. Planning immediately began for the largest civil evacuation in Australian history. This image was taken at Casuarina High School, the registration centre for evacuation.

Evacuees boarding a TAA plane at Darwin following Cyclone Tracy, 1974. National Archives of Australia – Natural disasters – Cyclones – A6180, 7/1/75/54

More than 35,000 people were evacuated from Darwin in the week after Cyclone Tracy, by air and by road. One Boeing 747 flight had a record-breaking 674 people crammed on board. It is estimated that as many as 60 per cent of evacuees never returned to Darwin.

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