Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Brisbane looks bleak

Tonight I'm in Brisbane as the remnants of Cyclone Oswald batter Bundaberg.

It's slowly heading south, as these things always do. It's not a good time to be close to the coast, but this wasn't forecast when I planned the trip. The shot from our hotel balcony shows the descending gloom.

There are reports of tornadoes at Bargara. Apparently tornadoes in Australia are very different to what occurs in the USA. Here, they're usually triggered by windshear.

I guess it doesn't matter what the trigger is - if the bloody thing turns your house into splintered wood, it's not good.

I remember that experience - parts of our house being turned into splintered wood - even though it happened a very long time ago. I was 3 years old at the time, (March 13th 1950), but I still have strong and vivid memories.

My parents told the story often, which probably reinforced the memory.

At the time, my dad was principal at Carmila, and our family (my parents, and my 16 month old brother and I) lived in the school residence.

Back then, there was no weather radar, and the radio and the barometer were our warning system. I remember my dad phoning the local copper who had a barometer to get an idea of what was coming. Dad's response to the copper's report of the barometer reading was "the bottom's going to fall out of the bloody thing".

The full force of the blow struck in the early hours. Our neighbours' house was breaking up, so they made their way to our place dodging flying sheets of corrugated iron. They made it. A family about a quarter of a mile from us didn't. The daughter was killed, and her father injured when a tree was uprooted and fell on them as they ran for safety.

We finished up huddled in the kitchen under a sturdy oak table, as mum said the rosary.

In the early dawn light we saw that the gable end had been blown off the house, and there wasn't one sheet of iron left on the roof. Somehow, the school building emerged relatively unscathed, so it became our home for a while, shared with two other families who had lost their houses.

Apparently I was impressed by the waterlogged house, splashing around saying "Dis is da beach!"

We could see for miles as the trees that remained standing were shredded. There were dead animals (mostly possums) lying everywhere. A sheet of roofing iron was wrapped so tightly around a telephone pole that it stayed there for weeks until the right sort of cutting gear became available.

All help had to come in by rail, as the roads were beyond quick repair. A number of injured people were evacuated to Mackay on a special train.

The father of one of the families that stayed in the school with us was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Back then, this meant that all the bedclothes had to be burned. I can remember both the smell of the burning sheets, and my mother's distress at the destruction of her precious bed linen.

From memory, it was over a month before school started up properly again, although I recall dad running classes under the school whilst we (and the other evacuees) lived upstairs in the two classrooms.

Eventually things returned to normal, but I have an abiding respect for what the weather can do up here when it gets cranky.

We lived through a couple of big blows whilst in Townsville, but nothing as nasty as 1950.

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