The Night Dawn’s House was Blown Down
During the last few days leading up to Christmas 1974 the sky was overcast and the atmosphere unusually heavy. Although we noted and took heed of the frequent cyclone warnings being broadcast, it was only in hindsight that we appreciated the cause of the eerie quiet that seemed to prevail. There were no birds in the trees. My husband arrived home earlier than expected on Christmas Eve, commenting that nobody had any real enthusiasm for the usually boisterous office party and that a lot of the food was untouched.
By seven o’clock that night the wind had picked up quite a lot and by eleven it was up to gale force and raining heavily. During the evening we continually checked to see that everything was secure and that there were no loose objects under the house. All the pictures and ornaments had been removed from the walls and stowed away in drawers as recommended, the refrigerator and freezer were full of our wet season supplies which had arrived only a few days earlier, and the bath was three parts full of fresh water. There really wasn’t much else we could do but wait.
The Cyclone Gathers Speed
As the wind increased in speed the louvre windows couldn’t cope with the pressure of the rain and by just after midnight the floors in most rooms were awash. One of my most vivid recollections, and possibly the only humorous one, is of my husband and father-in-law boring holes in the floor to let the water escape. Gradually the wind swung around to the south-east and at that stage it took three of us all our time to keep the front door closed while the men were busy trying to batten up the dining room window where a branch from the fig tree had broken through several of the glass louvres. By this time, the house was shaking quite violently and as our battle with the front door came to an end it tore away completely from its frame, throwing us back against the lounge room wall. Both the lounge and dining room were now open to the full force of the wind and it seemed inevitable that the roof would lift off. It was clearly time for us all to seek shelter in the bathroom where we huddled together trying to offer each other as much mutual protection as possible. Our only real comfort was the light of a portable gas lantern.
The House Collapses
Unlike most of our friends, who lived in the northern suburbs, we were not conscious of any significant period of calm as the expected eye of the storm passed over, just a sudden change in the wind direction from southeast to southwest. This was the direction to which the house offered not only its broadest face, but also least resistance and it seemed like only a matter of minutes before the whole structure began to sway in harmony with the wind gusts. I think it must have been about 2.30am when the piers finally collapsed, allowing the house to settle, not too gently, onto whatever solid objects lay beneath – two cars, the laundry and toilet walls and, where nothing else intervened, the ground. We of course had no idea how the rest of the house had fared, only that we were still alive, very wet from having a bath full of water dumped on us and protected temporarily by four walls and a ceiling that were threatening to collapse further at any moment. In the final crash, the mantle of the gas lantern broke but, fortunately, the flame continued to burn and give us the benefit of a small flickering light for the remainder of the night.
The wind, which gave me the impression of a steam train racing through the house at top speed, continued unabated for several hours, during which time we could hear things being torn and hurled about, and see flashes of bright light through the small window above the shower recess, which we assumed to be lightning. Then just before sunrise the wind began to abate and by a little after seven o’clock it had calmed down enough for us to take stock of our situation and try to get out.
The doorframe was grossly distorted, and the door jammed in place. With some assistance from his father, my husband managed to break open the small window above the shower and, with a bit of a squeeze, clamber out. After a quick survey of the situation, he managed to crawl under the house and retrieve an axe which he then used to chop a hole in the wall and release the rest of us. It was nearly eight o’clock when we were at last able to stand together outside the house and try to comprehend the scene before us. My first feeling was one of detachment – that I was in a place I could no longer recognise, as though I had been transported to another planet. Then, I began to wonder how many others had survived and was surprised, but nonetheless delighted, to hear the voice of a neighbour calling to my husband to inquire how we had fared.
The most remarkable thing to note about the house was that although its back was broken and most of the external walls were severely damaged, the roof and principal framework remained substantially intact. Broken glass littered the floors and furniture was strewn all over the place, only the piano and organ, which had been securely roped together, remained in almost their original position. The walls and ceilings were literally painted green with chlorophyll from crushed leaves.
Having been fortunate enough to obtain temporary accommodation at a nearby motel, we spent the remainder of the day recovering clothing, bed linen and other materials from smashed wardrobes and drawers and hanging them over a makeshift line to dry. It was a day later before our pet dog crawled out from under the house.