Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Of Cyclones and Family

Pic courtesy Brisbane Times

Cyclones have been in the news, which is scarcely surprising, given it's Queensland in February/March.

My family has had a number of close encounters with these things, as we lived most of our lives as kids North of the tropic.

The most dangerous of these, on March 11th, 1950, still comes up in family conversation, although only my brother and I were around at the time.

This memory was jogged by my brother the other day when he sent me a newspaper report he found on Trove, from the Cairns Post of the day. Here it is reproduced in full -



BRISBANE, Mar. 12.

Telephone communication with Carmila, the small sugar town 65 miles south of Mackay, which was flattened by a cyclone on Saturday morning, remains disrupted. A train from Rockhampton with Post Office repair men on board has been delayed by track washaway between Rockhampton and St. Lawrence.

Four persons injured when the cyclone struck Carmila were taken to Mackay Hospital today. They are. Wilmer Bahr (67), who has a probable fracture of the arm and ribs and injuries to the face. He was struck by the branch of a falling tree, which killed his 18-year-old daughter, Evelyn, on Saturday morning. Five-year-old Beverley Russell, of Carmila, who has a probable fracture of the collarbone and leg. She was struck by a falling tree. James Randell (31), who has a deep punctured wound in one foot. It was cut with broken glass while he was inspecting cyclone damage at his cane farm near Carmila. Michael Mandrusiak (35), of East Funnel Creek, near Sarina. He was struck by a sheet of roofing iron and suffered a deep cut on one arm.


Not one building in Carmila escaped damage. Three cottages and a dance hall in the town were completely wrecked and 15 cottages and business places are uninhabitable, including the school residence. The balance of the buildings in the town are without verandahs, roofs and steps.

Homeless families and a teacher are occupying the school, while six families are in Anglican and Catholic churches.

Twenty farm houses, within a 10 mile radius of the town, have been extensively damaged and cane crops flattened and wind- mills blows down. It is estimated that 50 per cent of the cane harvest would be lost.

Only the railway telephone line from Carmila is open. All other phone wires have been cut to ribbons and mixed up with timber and furniture from wrecked houses.


A relief train from Mackay arrived at Carmila today in light rain. The train took relief supplies of building materials and skilled tradesmen, including five Mackay plumbers who responded to a call from their union secretary to go to Carmila with him and give their services free to the stricken townsfolk.

Over 50 homes and buildings were damaged in and near the town and it is believed that the damage will. exceed £50,000.

Plumbers and Works Department employees worked throughout today to restore the damaged buildings in case further torrential rain should fall. Twenty P.M.G. officials, still working tonight to restore communications to the town, said Carmila seemed stunned but not dejected. Townsfolk walked about today and talked and talked.

Kalarka, Flaggy Rock. Eulalie, Karloo West, and Orkabie, between Carmila and Sarina, suffered heavily. Railway buildings and farmhouses were seriously damaged for 20 miles from Carmila.

One of the "homeless families" was ours, and the "teacher" was my father. I still have memories of the noise, the gable end of the house ripping away, and the sight of dead possums blown out of the trees.
At daybreak you could see for miles through what once had been dense scrub, as all that was left of most trees was the trunks.

The interior of the school residence was awash, as the roof was completely gone, and my brother was sloshing about saying "Dis is da beach". That story was told for years.

The reference in the newspaper report to the unionized plumbers helping out is interesting. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the place of unions in our history, especially given the orchestrated demonization of the union movement recently.

I remember my mum and dad saying the rosary whilst we huddled under a sturdy dining room table in what was left of the school residence. It worked - we all survived without a scratch.

I also remember living in the school for a few weeks after the blow with another family whose house was destroyed. The father of the family became ill and was soon diagnosed with TB, which meant my mum was instructed to burn all our sheets and pillowcases because of the risk of infection.

Much of this bed linen was wedding gifts, and my mother was pretty distressed, but that was what was done back then. I can still recall the smell of the burning bedclothes.

I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone caught in a tropical cyclone. So far, at least, TC Marcia hasn't killed anyone.

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