Cyclone Tracy

About four months prior to Christmas 1974 we had moved into a ground level two bedroom flat belonging to John Maretti in Eden Street. Well this was because while I had the Arandel, Thien was pregnant, and I didn't want her on and off ships, in and out of the dinghies and so on. So we rented a flat off John, who was a friend of ours. When I went on a voyage anywhere I could leave Thien there. We had friends who lived close by.

We had just started to get the Indonesian consulate properly organised - I was helping Alan Wilson with that and I used to stand in with Thien in the consulate and deal with people. When the cyclone came Alan had rented a section of the old Commercial Bank; the back section where the accommodation was, so we moved into there. It had a reasonably waterproof roof, though a lot of it was gone, and we had no roof at all on the flats - they were gone completely.

We had plenty of warning of the cyclone because I had a good barometer. I talked to the harbourmaster, and we checked his barometer in between mine, and the results were similar - below twenty-nine inches of mercury, which was very dangerous. Oh, and Tom Milner - I met Tom Milner the early morning of the cyclone, and he said: 'Something's going to happen'. There wasn't much publicity over the radio, strange to say. It did come over, yes we were all warned, but not on the stage that we'd be warned today.

I had been through several cyclones before! One was at sea, and I think two were in Darwin. I used to go up with the ship - up Sandgrove Creek - and up there, there are three branches. Well I used to go up the middle one, which was more or less facing due north - a bit north-east - which meant that I didn't have the same roll-over business that many ships had, if they were tied there. I took it head on.

And on one cyclone I took a man in a yacht - a very small yacht - an overseas man. He went up with me, and tied up astern of me, and nothing happened. Another time we took the Custom's launch up there; he tied up astern. And Bluey - who is still in Darwin working for the Port Authority - was in charge of it, and nothing happened to us. There was a piece of corrugated iron came across, from Winnellie, obviously, and it broke a stay on the yacht; that was the only damage. We were tied up fore and aft with two lines - two to the stern and two to the bow. And in one case there were two big trees there, I just put two more lines up on the bow.

In the evening, about five or six o'clock, I went down to the wharf because I knew there was a man - a Japanese man I knew - on the Demon, a trawler. And I'd seen him tied up to the wharf, and I was going to tell him to get away from the wharf, to go up Sandgrove Creek like I did. But he was on board, and as I went down to the wharf there were - I think there were seven girls, walking. And they were going to a party on the Demon. And I said: 'Well, I'll give you a lift down', and I could only get five in the car - there was somebody else in the car with me - we only had a little car, a Morris Eleven Hundred. And the others had the umbrellas and they walked. But I never heard anymore of those girls. When I got there there was only the skipper on; the Japanese man wasn't there. And I said: 'You'd better get out of this. This is no place to be, near a wharf. The wharf's harder than you. I'd advise you to go'. And he said: 'Yes, the harbourmaster has told me that' - Captain Woods had told him that, he was the assistant harbourmaster.

However, he did take notice of this later on, because the Demon was found just slightly the other side of Mandorah, after some months. It had apparently shifted, because it didn't show at low tide. Well, at one time I went over to have a look, because a man was interested in salvaging and he wanted some advice. So I took him over, and we discussed it. And it was two feet above water level - you could walk on the deck. Well, they only gave credit to two people lost on the Demon- but were the girls on there, to the party? I never knew, and neither did anybody else. They wouldn't've been counted in the count.

I don't know why he didn't go up Sandgrove Creek! I had heard somebody said: 'Old Sid was chicken', and he didn't head up the creek. But I had several of those turnouts, and I never lost a ship. As a matter of fact I slept through one. I'd had a couple of drinks of whisky. But anyhow, they thought that it was chicken to back off, but you're not being chicken to a cyclone, you're dealing with something that nobody in this world can overcome.

After the Demon I came back to the flat, and stayed there as it was a bit stormy. A bit stormy, and like when I was down at the Demon it was rolling a bit, but not bad. You wouldn't take any notice of it. But when you look at the barometer!

We spent Tracy inside the flat, and right inside, according to how the wind was blowing. When it turned round we moved over to the other wall, and keeping as low down as possible. Oh yeah, we had five girls - Indonesian girls - who were a bit out on their own, and all friends of Thien, and so they were at a dinner with us.

I think by nine o'clock it was really screaming. The power was off quite early. The power was off before nine - long before. Yes, it came on before nine, but it would have been at the peak by then. And then - I've forgotten the time that it went off - but it went quiet for a little while, there was a deathly silence. No wind, nothing, because we were in the eye of the cyclone. And then the wind came back. And that was when I went to get the desert boots, because the wind came through, it smashed the window on the other side.

Before nine. You could hear your iron flapping on the roof, up and down, because they were the days of spring head nails - they came out easily - not screws like we've got now. After a while the roof went. You could hear it going a few sheets at a time, and then the fan started going round and round, and that became dangerous. They were tearing round with the wind because they coming through one set of louvers that were all smashed out, and going out through the other side. It was like a tunnel. The fan turned round and round, and I thought the blades'll fly off any minute. But that didn't happen; the fan tipped in the ceiling and it bent the blades around, and they jammed there.

We did pull things over ourselves, beds and tables and things like that. But that didn't help, because this flat was made of pre-fabricated slabs, and I figured that if they came down, well, you would - whether there was a bed over the top, or a table, or not - you would be flattened. And so I thought we'd better be able to bolt out someway or other.

We all lay down. I was envy of many people - laying down with six girls. But the Indonesian girls were terrified. One of them was crying and going on. And Thien said to her: 'You don't have to cry Fincher, Poppa's here' - like as Poppa could put his hands up and stop it.

But my new desert boots, that I'd bought the day before, for hopping around in on board ships and the likes, were near the door where I'd taken them off. And I said to one girl: 'You shine these on there, and I'll get the boots'. And I crawled along on my belly to get the boots, because the window was open, and there was things flying through the window. And when I got there, there were no boots - they had gone. And the torches started to get a bit dim after a while, and so we just had to do without them. But they recover a little bit; after they've had an hour's spell they recover slightly.

Before the cyclone I nailed the cupboards up for a start, because cupboard doors got sucked out and all your belongings sucked away. And I parked my car as close as I could to the house, to prevent it being blown away in one direction. But it was a foot away from the house, and it used to bang up against the side of the house like that. So it got a bit bruised on one side; you couldn't open that side's doors, but it was still driveable.

Dick Muddimer, who was next door to us, he parked his jeep similar - we'd talked about this - and his ute was completely upside down. And we turned it back on its feet, and did a little bit of buggering about, and it went. But Dick got out of there at - I think before six o'clock. And he couldn't drive the Moke of course - it looked hopeless - and he couldn't get it back on its feet on his own anyhow. And so he walked up to the A.B.C., and he was the first man to get word of the cyclone out from Darwin. One receiver wouldn't go, and the transmitter wouldn't go, and he did a bit of swapping around, using this receiver here to hear with, and that receiver over there to send with - and he used to hop over to the next one. And he got the message out to Canberra, or Melbourne or somewhere.

The next morning I got out and I walked into town. I was somewhere near Daly Street bridge, and along came a Landrover, and in it was a lawyer that had Marakai Station, and they lived on the Esplanade. And so, they'd been hidden up somewhere, not at their home; their home was on the Esplanade a little way away from Admiralty House. And: 'Hello Sid, do you want a lift?' And: 'Yeah'. They gave me a lift, and we went up to their house.

They were right on the Esplanade road facing seaward, and seawater had been through their house. You know how high that cliff is there, and how far the water'd have to come - but there was seawater all through there. And he couldn't make coffee - he wanted to make us a drink of coffee. And so he got a gas bottle from somewhere and we hooked it up with a hill-billy rig, and we made ourselves coffee. Oh, windows were blown out and seawater had been right through and blown a window out the other side, but his house was still - you could have done it up, you know. It still had the roof on, but knocked about badly. And all household gear scattered everywhere.

We had coffee, boiled with this hill-billy rig on the gas. And then I walked up and had a look at where we'd just started the consulate in Bennett Street - 7 Bennett Street. And that little house where they had the cook-house for the staff, was still intact, but blown about. And most of the windows in the back of the General Credits building - Commercial Bank building - were blown out, most of the glass.

By this time I'd got back to the flat and recovered things and shifted carloads of them into the consulate, through Bishop Street. And I think it was Gus Trippe I saw - and I was looking for bags, you know those sacks made out of plastic? He gave me a whole bundle of them, as much as I could carry. I then tacked them with tacks into the window frames; they were transparent and let the light in, and they kept the wogs out, and the intruders.

And I got three Indonesian boys who wanted shelter, and I said: 'Alright'. We agreed on that - I gave them shelter, and: 'You help me repair the roof'. And so two of them and I went down with a hammer and a chisel, and I cut holes in - there were long roofing off the museum just round the corner, the original museum, the Original Town Hall. I didn't ask any permission. I was dragging them back, and a policeman pulled me up on the way where I was going, and I said: 'I'm borrowing some iron to put on the Commercial Bank'. And I gave him my licence, and I said: 'Here, you can identify me'. 'Oh', he said: 'Its alright', and away I went. I did three loads of that. And I got up there, but those blokes were no good when they got up there on their hands and knees and all that. And Jenny Chadderton came along. One man said: 'I want to look for my pussycat', and another wanted to buy cigarettes. And I said: 'Well you'd better piss off altogether. You're not going to help me'.

But the five girls came back. They all turned up, including Susanah - Johnny Andrao's wife now. Jenny Chadderton and I were up on the roof, and the girls were passing the iron up too- it would have been fifteen feet long or so. We only had to give them a hook - we had two hooks on the end, and they hooked it on each side, and we pulled the iron up and dragged it up onto the roof, and nailed it with spring head nails, back onto the roof. And in some cases I used a batten - we could pick up battens and all sorts of things anywhere - we nailed that on first.

And we got that done and made in reasonably waterproof, and that's how it was for about a month. And along came a team of government men and they screwed the roof on, which was there until the place was re-roofed by the new building being put on it. And Jenny and I got down, and the girls had dinner cooked on a gas stove that I already had - a good one. And we had dinner and went back to work up on the top, and finished it.

But her brother, John, arrived back in Darwin the end of the day, from Port Essington. He had just taken a hundred cartons of beer up on a beer charter, he called it, to Port Essington about three days, or four days before, to about twenty trawlers that were holidaying for Christmas in, I think - oh, I've forgotten the name of the bay in Port Essington with a good quiet shelter. They hardly felt the cyclone there. And they had a bit of a party, and John came back when he heard there was - he had a flat here with a wife and his kid in it. He arrived back to see the desolation.

We finished moving to the bank the same day. Because there was a bit of thievery going on you know. Yes. I went into the bank that same day, and I'd been away for a while. Thien was hidden up at John Maretti's house, down near Kahlin Terrace somewhere, John lived. And she was there with his family. It was in a big solid concrete house - no damage at all - that speaks somewhat for Maretti's building.

However then, when I got back, there were a lot of people in the bank, and there's two blokes working on the vault with a crowbar. So I went back into our accommodation where I'd seen an old style rifle with a rifle barrel on top, and a shotgun barrel underneath, and a lot of cartridges - but nothing to fit the rifle, not even twenty-two bullets did I have. I had no rifle of my own, only a pistol, and I'd given that in to the police after I'd finished with the ship. It became a liability you see, in case somebody stole it. And so I got that old rifle, and I stuck a lot of cartridges in my belt with the ends sticking out, and went in and said: 'What are you people doing here?' And there were some women there too, one was with a typewriter under her arm - a lightweight portable typewriter. And: 'Where are you going with that?' 'I'm taking it,' she said. I said: 'No, you're not. Put it down'. And she just lifted her arm up like that, crash on the ground - finished typewriter I guess. And there's others there dismantling things, and I said: 'Now, all you people' - I stood there and gave them a general talk: 'you get out, because General Stretton has just said you may shoot looters, and I've got a gun here loaded, and plenty of ready ammunition. What are you going to do?' And some of them left, they thought - and one of them said to the other: 'The old bastard's mad'. And I took that as a compliment. The people working on the vault were looking on still, and I said: 'Now look you blokes, I know what's in there. There's only old records. There's no money, no diamonds, so leave it alone, get out'. And they threatened me a bit, and I said: 'Alright. Don't say I didn't tell you you're doing all this work for nothing, and after all, Stretton's order still works you know. I could give you a blast in the guts with this gun and birdshot. You wouldn't like that'. And they put the crowbar down and had a bit of a talk, and picked the crowbar up, took it with them, and left. And that's the last of looters I had. This old gun belonged to an old bloke named Gibson who'd been a bank teller there years before, I learned later.

The only other trouble I had was an attack about a week later, when things were getting organised, including the ladies who were running a little bit of a cat house in that small arcade next to the bank, and there's flats upstairs. Well a bunch of girls had two flats there, and apparently they were charging a hundred bucks a time, or something, and were making a bit of money - a bit of petty cash. And we'd heard about this. And all of a sudden there was some pounding on the door. And these people's window opened and looked down on the yard where the girls used to hang out the washing - these five Indonesian girls were living with us - and they'd seen all these five girls there and reckoned it was on too. And one bloke turned up there and started putting on a turn. I went away and got a claw hammer, and thought I'd be ready for the first bastard who breaks the door down. And he just grabbed me through the window - through the side which they wrenched open, and he grabbed me by the hand. So I only had one hand which I was trying to bash his hand with the hammer, but I hit my own hand too a little bit. Just then Johnny Andrao turned up - well you know the size, and for all his twenty stone he's very agile, and very strong. He said: 'Unlock the door. I'll deal with these bastards'. And he opened the door, and they caught one sight of Johnny. 'Alright big boy,' they said: 'We'll talk about it'. And they talked about the girls, and he said: 'There are no girls here. These girls are young girls, they are nothing to do with that firm upstairs'. And they took it like that. I'd only met Johnny once before, and so while I had him there I said: 'We'll have a ' - got this business over with these people. And they all walked down the path out onto the road and were gone. We locked the door again and went back and I think we had a beer.

And while I had him there I talked about what his intentions were towards Susanah, because Susanah had been left in Thien's charge by her mother. And I said: 'We regard her as an adopted daughter, and anybody that she keeps company with, we want to know. And we want to know what are your intentions - playboy or genuine?' 'Oh', he said: 'Not playboy, we will marry'. I said: 'When, which day?' 'Oh,' he said: 'I can't say that. I must get my mother's permission'. I said: 'Bullshit, you're what - thirty years old?' 'No', he said: 'I'm twenty-eight'. Well I said: 'When are you going to get your mother's permission? There's a telephone will be working very soon in the office. You come here and ring your mother'. 'Oh,' he said: 'I've got to ring Cypress'. I said: 'This telephone can get to Cypress. If you want to ring, you're welcome, free of charge'. So, when the telephone came on, he came back and he rang his mother in Cypress. And he said: 'No good. My mamma's talked to me. I must take a photograph of the girl'. So a week's time he had his fare booked and paid for to Cypress, and he got to work, went to Cypress, came back with permission. And I was giving-away father, walking behind the priest in the church, swinging the lantern, making smoke round and round the church - to drive the devils away I take it. And then Susanah was properly married. And today they've got three fine children, a very good family - Johnny's a reasonably wealthy man.

I went to John Roe, and I saw Mary Roe, and she had people knocking on the door, and she told me to go round the back and come in and help her. And I went in and gave her a bit of a hand. And while I was there I said: 'I'm looking for a generating set, Mary'. And she said: 'Go and take your pick'. And that was it - seven hundred and fifty dollars, bang - and I gave her a cheque. No, she said: 'Bring me a cheque later, I haven't got the books'. And some people arrived outside the door, and I trapped them. I said: 'We've got four or five men in here, and we'll come out and shift you if you don't move'. And they were government people, they got really annoyed with me. And they went and got higher government officials and Mary dealt with them for all the generating sets in the place.

We had plenty of food because I had a generating set, and I had a hundred pounds of prawns I'd just had given to me by a trawler skipper, for something I'd done for him. I think I taught him navigation, or part of his navigation, and he always brought me a lot of prawns. And they were in there.

The telephone was working on S.T.D. down at the post office for quite a long time - quite early in the piece - but you had to wait hours and hours. But it came back so that it was good within a week; you could get through without long waits.

Thien had got out one and a half days after the cyclone. Mrs. Doctor James saw Thien and me together, and we'd been to see her for advice, and she said: 'On that plane for you, straight away'. They were going to take her there and then, without letting her get a change of clothes or other things - I said: 'I'll bring her back, I promise. I'll bring her back, I'd sooner she was down there'. I'd thought Thien would be a caesarian job, because the caliper in her - I'd been told by a sister, it was very close. They were undecided. And luckily she was eighteen hours when she got to Kyneton hospital. And the doctor said: 'she'll have to be caesarian'. So they did. And that was James. I sent her to Melbourne because I knew Geoff Batchelor from many years ago. We were old friends and he was the one that built the trailers and things that I had for the transport business. (Thien recalls that she was accompanied to Victoria by an Indonesian friend Etta. After staying overnight in Melbourne they were picked up the next morning and driven for about one and a half hours into the country. They did not know the driver and their english was limited, the longer they traveled the more convinced they were that they were being kidnapped. Eventually they arrived to stay with Graeme and Joyce Sempe at Kyneton because Geoff Batchelor was away; Graeme was Geoff’s accountant.)

We were at the bank for three years. And we paid no rent for two years. The bank allowed me to keep the place for the things I'd done for the bank, you know like hunting the people out and all that. But I enjoyed doing it; it was no great reward for me over that. We then moved to our house in Ludmilla. We moved in when it was half-repaired. We purchased the house because it was for sale for seventeen thousand five hundred. McGreggor had it. But Porky Everingham was my lawyer, and he said: 'I think that house is clear Sid, but I'll make sure that its clear of all encumbrances.' He rang McGreggor: 'Yes. My term on that disappeared at four o'clock yesterday'. And so it was clear. There you are, they could have said: 'No it doesn't appear until tonight', and I would have owed the seventeen hundred dollars for the sale. But they dealt with me very honestly, and Porky said: 'Oh, two hundred and fifty for transfer fee.'

The house was occupied by motor bike men. I went around then and had a look at them. I said: 'Well I've come to tell you that I'm moving into this place in two days time with a team of contractors to pull it down.' One bloke said: 'Did you ever hear of motorbike chains?' And I said: 'Yes, but did you ever hear of an old bastard like me?' 'Not yet'. I said: 'But that's to come'. And it did come - I moved in with Dino Kynetic, who was a very big man, and Johnny Andrao. And we were going to take those blokes to pieces, but they cleared out. They had trailers out the front, loaded up and gone.

Sid and Thien continued living at this house that has remained much the same since his initial renovations. For many years Sid conducted a framing business from his downstairs workshop and undertook small mechanical repairs. Thien worked at the Indonesian embassy until her retirement.
A Freemason since joining his Father’s Lodge in New South Wales in 1939, Sid continued in the Craft until his death; as recognition for his service to Freemasonry he was granted ‘honourary membership’ of Leichhardt Lodge of Research in 2003. He was a member of the Australian American Association. He was a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth, and in 1980 the Legion awarded Sid ‘The Australian Medal of Merit’. He spent many hours as a volunteer with the East Point Military Museum, for which the Royal Australian Artillery Association (NT) in 1992 bestowed ‘life membership’ in recognition of long and distinguished service. With Thien he attended the Uniting Church in Smith Street and more recently at Karama. Sid and Thien’s friendships included people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds; but Papa Sid and Mama Thien had a very special relationship with the local Indonesian community.

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