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Fact Sheet One Hundred and Seventy Six

Cyclone Tracy, Darwin

Events of December 1974

On 20 December 1974 the Bureau of Meteorology monitored the formation of a tropical depression in the Arafura Sea, 700 kilometres north-east of Darwin. Within 24 hours it had intensified and winds over 63 kilometres per hour caused the depression to be upgraded to the status of a cyclone. The Bureau gave it the next name in the register – Tracy.

For the next few days Tracy moved south-west and while closely watched it did not appear to pose a major threat as it would pass well to the north of Darwin. During an evening broadcast on 22 December ABC news radio was able to report: Cyclone Tracy poses no immediate threat to Darwin. However, early on Christmas Eve, Tracy passed the western tip of Bathurst Island, north of Darwin, turned around and began to accelerate towards the city. From midnight until 7.00am on Christmas Day, the cyclone passed directly over Darwin, with its 'eye’ centred over the airport and northern suburbs (Coconut Grove, Nightcliff, Tiwi, Moil, Wagaman, Nakara). The rainfall was torrential and winds were officially recorded at 217 kilometres per hour (unofficial estimates placed them as high as 300 kilometres per hour). Houses and other buildings disintegrated under the onslaught, accompanied by the sounds of flying debris and breaking glass.

With the cyclone’s passing, 49 people had died in the city and another 16 were lost at sea. Many more were injured. In all, 70 per cent of Darwin’s homes were destroyed or suffered severe structural damage. All services – communications, power, water and sewerage – were severed.

Rescue, recovery and reconstruction

Once word of the disaster reached the southern states, Major-General Alan Stretton, Director-General of the Natural Disasters Organisation, was placed in charge of the rescue effort. He arrived in Darwin late on Christmas night and remained until 31 December. Emergency committees were established to deal with such matters as accommodation, clean-up, clothing, communications, evacuation, food, law and order, sanitation and health and social welfare. The defence forces played a major role in cleaning up the city and suburbs.

At the time of the cyclone, Darwin’s population was estimated at about 48,000. With essential services all severed, together with the risk of disease, and with food and shelter at a premium, a sizeable part of this population was evacuated. While many people left of their own accord by road, others were evacuated compulsorily by aircraft. The airlift began on Boxing Day and over the next six days more than 25,000 were evacuated to southern cities. Darwin’s population was reduced to little more than 10,000. For the next six months access to the city was regulated by means of a permit system.

Darwin Reconstruction Commission

The Darwin Reconstruction Commission (CA 2276) was formally established on 28 February 1975 by the Darwin Reconstruction Act 1975. It had the principal task of planning, coordinating and undertaking the rebuilding of Darwin. Between 1975 and 1978 the Commission let contracts worth more than $150 million and coordinated the construction and repair of more than 2500 homes as well as other construction projects.

Records relating to Cyclone Tracy held by the National Archives

As Commonwealth records do not generally become publicly available until they are more than 30 years old, most of the records held by the Archives about Cyclone Tracy (including records of agencies such as the Natural Disasters Organisation and the Darwin Reconstruction Commission) will not be released until after 2005.

Records that are available now include weather-related information of the Bureau of Meteorology, news reports and program material of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and photographic records. Details of relevant records in our offices in Sydney and Darwin are listed below.

Title or description of records


Series no.

Department of the Media

Tape recordings of ABC news reports, emergency warnings and programs relating to Darwin cyclone disaster



Australian Information Service press clippings relating to the Darwin cyclone disaster



Photographs of Darwin cyclone disaster



Department press releases relating to the Darwin cyclone disaster



Bound volumes of edited transcripts of ABC radio reports relating to Darwin cyclone disaster



Films of the Darwin cyclone disaster



Magazine and newspaper issues relating to the Darwin cyclone disaster



Bureau of Meteorology

Case history material for tropical cyclones



Darwin Reconstruction Commission

Books of press cuttings



Photographs of Darwin taken after Cyclone Tracy



Miscellaneous photographs of Darwin taken after Cyclone Tracy



* Copies of these records are also held by the Darwin Office

Other sources of information about Cyclone Tracy available in our reading rooms

Other records relating to cyclones

Further information about records relating to cyclones is included in Fact Sheet 90 – Cyclones and the Northern Territory.

For more information

You can obtain more information about the record series listed above (and the items within the series) from RecordSearch, the Archives database. Follow the links in the series lists to go directly to information on that series. You can also use RecordSearch to find out about the agencies that created the records and to locate more records on your subject. You might also explore PhotoSearch to find out if there are photos pertaining to your subject.

RecordSearch and PhotoSearch are available online or in all Archives reading rooms. Reference staff are available in the reading rooms to help you, or email

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updated September 2000

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