When nine-year-old John Elferink had his first cold drink three weeks after Cyclone Tracy smashed its way through Darwin, “it was like ambrosia from the gods”, he said.
He bought a soft drink from a vending machine at Cashman’s Newsagency powered by a generator, and 40 years on, he has launched a book about the key role businesses played in sustaining the city and helping it to rebuild.
Tracy Tales: How the Darwin Business Community Survived the Great Cyclone is full of stories of how family companies coped during years of reconstruction.
In the days after the storm, Napoleon Pantazis sent food from his Parap Fruit and Vegetable Suppy store to a nearby evacuation shelter.
“All day I gave whatever I had free – soft drinks, I give everything away,” he said on Sunday.
The storm of Christmas Eve 1974 is also being commemorated in the weeks leading up to its 40th anniversary with a $100,000 facelift to the iconic Cyclone Tracy exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT.
“It was a terrifying night, and the carnage we saw the next day has almost led to the exhibition becoming a shrine to the victims and the memory of what happened,” Mr Elferink said.
An eight-metre railway signal tower, bent in half by cyclonic winds, now stands almost like a sculpture as part of the exhibit, along with the replica of a destroyed ship and interactive search tables to find out more about the 66 people who died and the tens of thousands who were sent south in Australia’s largest civil evacuation.
“We found that after 40 years a lot more people are willing to talk about their experience and to hand objects and images to us that tell their own stories, and not just stories of what happened to Darwin,” curator Jared Archibald said.
And although NT emergency services are better prepared than they have ever been to face a disaster on a similar scale, Mr Elferink warned against complacency.
“Some cyclones are excited thunderstorms; other cyclones will destroy cities,” he said.
“I would urge people to remember that what happened (during destructive cyclones) in the late 1800s, 1937, and 1974 can and in every likelihood will happen again. Protect yourselves and protect your families.”