Early in the year 1918 two great storms visited the coast of North Queensland. One centred off the port of Mackay, four hundred miles to the south of Dunk Island, on 21st January, and the other about ...
Early in the year 1918 two great storms visited the coast of North
Queensland. One centred off the port of Mackay, four hundred miles to the
south of Dunk Island, on 21st January, and the other about twenty-five
miles to the north, on 10th March.
Forty-eight hours prior to the Mackay storm premonitory effects were
observed here, succeeding a memorable tidal jumble. During a breathless
calm a mysterious northerly swell set in. To ears accustomed to the
silence and the musical whisperings of a sheltered bay, the roar and
burst of the breakers of a wind-forgotten sea suggested a confused mental
picture--a blending of black and grey without form.
Heaving, as with deep-drawn breaths, out from the beach the sea seemed to
be both restless and angry, as glistening rollers heaved themselves on to
the strand, to be shattered into spray. They rifled the Barrier Reef,
threw on the sand lumps of coral to which brown seaweed hung, like the
scalps of mermaids, and swept them to and fro with savage persistency.
They brought driftwood from afar, and claimed all sorts of sun-dried
relics from previous depositary moods.
After a time the sea became silent again, with a sparkling, wavering
ripple, while the noise of its assault on the mainland beach had the tone
of distant, unceasing thunder.
Ten days before the second storm, while the sky was cloudless and the air
serene, a change in the quality of the heat was felt. During the first
three months of the year--the period of heavy rainfall--the temperature is
generally humid., Suddenly it became dry and burning, with a tingling
intensity, as rare as uncomfortable. For the time the moist vapours of a
mild steam-bath were dispersed by scorching breath as from a furnace, to
the discomfort of animal life and the injury of vegetation.
Early on the morning of Sunday, 10th March, the sky became overcast. A
fresh southerly breeze had sprung up during the night. A short, confused
sea tumbled in the channel, and the usually placid bay mimicked its
sport. With fearsome steadiness of purpose, the wind developed as it
veered to the east. At 5 p.m. it was travelling at furious speed,
twisting branches from trees and thickening the now gloomy skies with
leaves. Consistently with the strength of the wind the barometer fell
until between 9 and 10 p.m., when, with a conglomeration of terrifying
sounds varying from falsetto shrieks to thunderous roars, the centre of
the cyclone seemed to bore down on the very vitals of the island.
The devastating assault lasted about half an hour; it was followed by a
lull, succeeded by another attack of violence from the north and
north-west; then, as orderly as the storm had developed so it subsided.
With the barometer at 29.90 at 9 a.m., who would have prognosticated a
dangerous cyclone within twelve hours? Mark the regularity of the
derisive finger that, having failed to herald the storm, acted as a
servile registrar of its various phases at the moment of occurrence:--