Cyclone Tracy, 40 years on

For many locals it’s a night they’ll never forget.

Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974. The Category 4 storm was expected to pass quietly by, but instead took a nasty turn and headed straight for the city.

Tracy killed 66 people, injured hundreds, and eventually led to the largest civil evacuation in Australian history. Many never returned.

The 40 year commemoration is a chance for survivors to reflect on this traumatic chapter; on how it changed their lives and the city they love. This series of interactive then and now images, carefully blended together, show the extent of that change and tells the story of a city’s resilience.

Christchurch Cathedral after Cyclone Tracy Christchurch Cathedral today
Now Then Christchurch Cathedral after Cyclone Tracy Christchurch Cathedral today

Christchurch Cathedral

2 Smith St, Darwin Map

Cyclone Tracy destroyed a number of historic stone buildings in Darwin. One of these was the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral in Smith Street. The original building was constructed in 1902, and in 1944 the Defence forces, who were occupying Darwin at the time, built the portico and entrance gates as a remembrance to the servicemen who lost their lives in the Darwin area. During the cyclone, the main building was reduced to rubble but the portico survived. This was incorporated into the new cathedral using an award-winning, modern design, and was consecrated in 1977. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Then photograph: National Archives of Australia: B6295, 3837P

Now photograph: Paul Arnold

Smith Street Mall after Cyclone Tracy Smith Street Mall today
Now Then Smith Street Mall after Cyclone Tracy Smith Street Mall today

Smith Street Mall

27 Smith St, Darwin Map

Smith Street is in the centre of the Darwin business district. Following Cyclone Tracy, rubble from the façade of the Victoria Hotel covered the footpath and road, and debris and damaged vehicles were strewn everywhere. The Smith Street Mall was built in 1978, between Knuckey and Bennett Streets, to try and counteract the influence of large air-conditioned shopping centres taking shoppers away from the heart of Darwin. It continues to provide a pleasant environment for locals and visitors.

Then photograph: National Archives of Australia: A6180, 2/6/76/5

Now photograph: Paul Arnold

Mandorah Jetty after Cyclone Tracy Mandorah Jetty today
Now Then Mandorah Jetty after Cyclone Tracy Mandorah Jetty today

Mandorah Jetty

Mandorah Map

In the mid-1960s the Postmaster-General’s Department constructed a large Radio Australia shortwave transmitting station on Cox Peninsula, located on the western side of Darwin Harbour. The Mandorah Jetty was built to service this complex as it was a 300 kilometre round trip by road to the site from Darwin, but only 15 minutes by boat. The jetty and radio complex were extensively damaged during Cyclone Tracy. The Mandorah Jetty continues to service the growing community of Mandorah and is a popular land-based fishing location.

Then photograph: PMG Dept, South Australia: S9575/341

Now photograph: Paul Arnold

MLC Building after Cyclone Tracy MLC Building today
Now Then MLC Building after Cyclone Tracy MLC Building today

MLC Building

81 Smith St, Darwin Map

In Smith Street, an upturned HK Holden against a fence line illustrates the destructive power of Cyclone Tracy. The building at right was constructed in 1972-73 and housed the MLC insurance company for many years. It was recently refurbished and is now operated as a hotel.

Then photograph: National Archives of Australia: A618, 31/12/74/42

Now photograph: Paul Arnold

Cyclone Tracy by the numbers

Area affectedArafura Sea, Tiwi Islands, Darwin area
Overall average speed of movement6 kilometres per hour
Eye diameter (average)12 kilometres
Radius of maximum winds7 kilometres
Radius of gales50 kilometres
Central pressure on landfall950 hectopascals
Wind StrengthMaximum gust of 217 km/h recorded before equipment failure
Rate of decay after landfallWinds below gale force within 24 hours
Rainfall250mm in 12 hours
SeasRough to high seas in the Beagle Gulf
Storm Surge1.6m at Darwin Wharf, approx. 4m at Casuarina Beach
Lifetime as a tropical cyclone4 days

A history of Cyclone Tracy exhibitions

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) has been telling the stories of Cyclone Tracy for more than 40 years.

Our much-loved exhibition first opened in 1994 and has since become an important site for remembrance and the preservation of stories and objects related to this traumatic chapter in Darwin’s history.

Over one million people have visited the exhibition.

See other exhibitions on the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory website