What it's like to live through a horror cyclone

AS another cyclone threatens the coast I see the same mixed emotions of uncertainty, concern and excitement I had when Althea came.

I was 13 and it was a relatively sunny afternoon when I told my father the day before that I hoped the cyclone would come.

My father, however, was acutely conscious of the protection we would need from our house.

A typical old highset Queenslander home, it was well built of timber but he worried it was more vulnerable than bricks and mortar.

That evening the blustering wind and rain began.


By 2am the wind was gusting strongly, slamming sheets of rain against the walls and windows and the house began to shudder.

We rose just after five. My mother prepared an early breakfast in case the power went off.

A beautiful old frangipani tree fell on the side of the house, loosening the first sheets of iron from the roof.

From the back porch we had a grandstand view of the houses on Yarrawonga and Castle Hill.

The wind was gusting with unbelievable ferocity, surging like some gigantic engine.

When our French double doors at the front of the house blew in, the sideshow was over.

Instantly the front living room was filled with water up to our ankles.

You could smell the salt.

It was as much as my father, two elder brothers and I could do to close the doors while planks were nailed to hold the doors.

Next the ceiling in the centre room imploded, the sharp edges of shards of fibro embedding in the floor.

Then the roof went and it was absolute chaos.

We watched in horror as an entire section of roof lifted clear from the walls, crashing against the house next door and disintegrating in a flying mass of timber and iron.

The roof had gone in all but a small section at the back of the house and water was running down the walls.

We dived on to a mattress under a table in the dining room and clung to each other for dear life.

The tongue-and-groove walls shook, groaned and buckled but miraculously they held.

We emerged after 9am to a scene of utter destruction.

It was difficult to know what to do.

We mostly just sat there bemused and soaking wet, eating almonds, nuts and Christmas cake.

We thanked our lucky stars we had survived.


  • 24 December, 1971. Cyclone Althea.
  • $50 million damage (at 1971 value) caused to Townsville.
  • 90 per cent of houses damaged or destroyed on Magnetic Island.
  • 3.66 metre storm surge recorded just north of the area. Three deaths. Hundreds of homes damaged.
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