NERVOUS memories of cyclones this morning as I listen to the news from Queensland and Northern Territory. My younger brother has been in Bundaberg on a camping adventure with his partner, just south of where Cyclone Marcia is predicted to hit the coast. I rang him yesterday and he'd just packed up camp and was on the road heading down to his partner's son's place on the Gold Coast. They are near the Tallebudgera River, which is prone to flooding so it won't be smooth sailing there either – but at least he'll be safe from potentially 250-plus-kilometre winds.
We would keep the computer on the Bureau of Meteorology site tracking the cyclone's path - not shutting down the computer or you probably wouldn't get back onto the site - everyone was on it. By the time the cyclone was close and you'd done everything you could do, it was a waiting game.
It was either Cyclone Ingrid or Monica (both Category 5) that came closest. She was tracking just 100 kilometres out to sea and after two days of nervous preparation we'd done everything we could do. It was 6pm and it seemed she was most probably going to cross the Tiwi Islands and just miss Darwin. But this is what happened with Tracy. She tracked from the east across the Tiwi Islands and then made a radical turn to the south and bore down on Darwin.
We couldn't stand waiting around any more so we got in the car and headed for the Dripstone cliffs to look out to sea at what was happening. To our surprise, it was like a Sunday afternoon picnic. Everyone was doing the same thing. They had to get out. There were young couples pushing strollers, older couples standing side by side looking out to sea, teenagers walking along, families and friends milling about. It was surprisingly calm where we were but the sky was black and ominous above the water to the north.
There was almost a party atmosphere there at the Dripstone Cliffs. We bumped into several friends, chatted with people we'd never met. Everyone was bound together by this one event. We were all part of the same tribe there together.
As the sun set behind the black horizon, we all made our way back to our homes hoping for the best. We felt for the communities on Melville and Bathurst (Tiwi) islands and the communities at Elcho Island, Milingimbi, and Maningrida that had already been smashed.
The cyclone kept moving westward and we woke the next day with relief that we'd been spared.
Other times a category 2 had come through and in the morning we'd walk around to assess the damage in the neighbourhood. Huge branches crashed on roofs. The saddest for us was the loss of the magnificent banyan tree in the park next to us.
There was always the brooding memory of images of Tracy but we were lucky never to go through anything like that.