Forty years ago next Christmas, a cyclone devastated Australia’s northernmost city, Darwin. It is a disaster still clear in the living memory of most Australians over fifty, but it also belongs to the past, the time before we had become aware of climate change. At the time, it was the kind of natural disaster to be expected in summer in the Top End, even if its festive timing appeared ominous in some mysterious way. There have been government reports, memoirs, books, and documentaries about Cyclone Tracy. Forty years appears long enough for an event to become history, but the cyclone has not yet become integrated into a significant national narrative.
Sophie Cunningham suggests that Cyclone Tracy does have a message for contemporary Australians, who should expect more of these devastating weather events as the seas increase their temperature. She writes that her main motivation in writing about the cyclone ‘is the fact that the human race is transforming the land, the seas and the weather’. The recent hurricanes of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly those assaults on the world’s most affluent nation, Katrina and Sandy (as Cunningham explains, cyclones belong to the Southern Hemisphere, hurricanes to the Northern one), certainly confront any complacency about the capacity of modern cities to resist extreme weather events. Darwin’s cyclone provides an Australian example, and a relatively small-scale comparison with these more devastating recent catastrophes.