Tropical Cyclones in Queensland

Today, as I write  a number of North Queensland coastal communities and island resorts are being evacuated and ports closed ahead of the imminent arrival of tropical cyclone Yasi, which is threatening to develop into one of the worst storms the state has seen.

Damage to road at 14th Avenue, Home Hill after Cyclone Charlie, Queensland, 1988j. John Oxley Library, Image Number 203202 Cyclone damage to the RSL Memorial Hall, School Street, Babinda, Queensland, 2006. Cairns Libraries, Image Number cai00015. Destruction of banana crops outside Innisfail after Cyclone Larry, April 2006. John Oxley Library, Image Number 6462-0001-0004 Gould’s residence after cyclone damage, Babinda, 1956. Cairns Libraries, Image Number cai00030. Cyclone damaged home in country Queensland, ca. 1925. John Oxley Library, Image Number 120443.

Tropical cyclones in the Queensland region mostly form from lows within the monsoon trough, between November and April. These destructive weather events have always posed a serious threat to Queensland communities and industry.

Of course, as a result of the rainfall that cyclones generate, flooding occurs. The 1974 flood burst the banks of the Brisbane River after Tropical Cyclone Wanda caused heavy rains across South East Queensland.

On 20 Jan 1918 Mackay experiencd its worse natural disaster when a violent cyclone flatened the town killing 22 people. At the height of the storm a tidal wave 25 feet high submerged the township as far as Nebo Rd.

River Street, Mackay, after the 1918 cyclone. John Oxley Library, Image Number 00912. Sydney Street after the 1918 cyclone, Mackay. John Oxley Library, Image number 01930. Refugee tents at Mackay after the cyclone, 1918. John Oxley Library, Image number 132580. Building damaged in a cyclone in Mackay, 1918. John Oxley Library, Image Number 5107. Two ships aground at Mackay after the 1918 cyclone. John Oxley Library, Image Number 5331.

Perhaps the most deadly tropical cyclone to strike Queensland occured on 4 March 1899 when Cyclone Mahina hit a pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay north of Cooktown causing a storm surge accounting for over 400 fatalities.

Bowen Railway Station after the 1899 cyclone. John Oxley Library, Image number 25589. Clement Wragge, ca. 1901. John Oxley Library, Image Number 161210. Louisa, Mohara, and Mary Wacando of Darnley Island in the Torres Straits. Mohara was awarded the Queensland Medal for bravery shown during Cyclone Mahina. John Oxley Library, Image Number 49780.

Mahina, named by Government Meteorologist for Queensland Clement Wragge, was a category 5 cyclone, the most powerful of tropical cylone severity categories. It is said to be the most intense cyclones ever observed in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 2005 ABC jounalist Ian Townsend was awarded the John Oxley Library Fellowship for his research into this cyclone which resulted in his historical novel The Devil’s Eye. Ian drew on Oxley collection items including newspaper articles, reports, images, diaries, and first hand accounts to create his story.

Cyclone Larry hits Babinda, Queensland, 2006. Cairns Libraries. Image Number cai00013. Building wrecked during Cyclone Larry, Bruce Highway near Innisfail, April 2006. John Oxley Library, Image Number 6462-0001-0002 Cyclone damage at Bowen, 1903. John Oxley Library, Image Number 203921. Lunn’s Hall, Mossman, after the 1911 cyclone. John Oxley Library, Image Number 127085. Ruins of the Roman Catholic Church in Innisfail after the 1906 cyclone. John Oxley Library, Image Number 6670-0001-0068

If you type the word cyclone into the State Library’s One Search catalogue you will discover over 300 images recording the destruction caused by cyclones in Queensland.