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Exactly 120 years ago yesterday Darwin was devastated by a massive cyclone. The 1897 cyclone hit at about 3:30am on 7 January, with wild winds dumping 292 mm of rain on the tiny town, then known as Palmerston. It ripped off roofs and uprooted trees and telegraph poles, killing 28 people and destroying almost every building in the town. An entire pearling fleet of 18 luggers was wrecked in the harbour, together with the government steam launch and three sampans. A news story a few days later described rain “descending in sheets like the bursting of a waterspout; the torrent lashed into fury by fierce gusts of wind that smite with the irresistible impact of a Titanic hammer, and seem to come from all directions at once, accompanied by the blaze of almost incessant lightning and the deafening crash of thunder”. In this image taken near Bennett Street, locals survey the extent of the damage, which is estimated to have cost £150,000 in 1897 values. Ellen Ryan’s glorious Victoria Hotel stands roofless in the background.

Published: 8 January 2017


Forgotten Territory was a weekly photo column of historic images in the Northern Territory News which I curated from 2016 until 2019 supported by the collections of the Northern Territory Library and other cultural institutions around Australia, as well as local history Facebook groups. 

Click on the images to read the story behind the image.

Warning: May contain images of people who have died.

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