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Cyclones, dunnies and a belated confession

By John Mikkelsen - posted Tuesday, 2 January 2024

As far north Queensland mops up after the flooding and mayhem largely resulting from unpreparedness in the wake of Cyclone Jasper, anyone who has lived there would know it has nothing to do with “catastrophic climate change” despite the usual alarmist headlines.

Cyclones are not a new phenomenon, and Jasper couldn’t hold a candle to Cyclone Althea which caused three deaths when it devastated Townsville and some other northern centres on Christmas Eve, 1971.

As a kid growing up in Stuart, a bush village near Townsville, they were just another chapter in life’s adventures - unless one actually hit your house.


Let’s take a trip in the mind’s Tardis back to February 1954, when that almost happened.

 My Dad Garnie was the headmaster at Stuart State School,  and after the day dawned wet but not too windy, he gave us the news -  the ABC radio had broadcast a warning that a cyclone was approaching down the coast, and all schools in the region would be closed. Well, any day with no school was as good as a holiday in my book.

“Beauty!” I yelled, but I’m not sure my enthusiasm was shared by my older siblings, who would normally be preparing to travel into Townsville State High School on the Railmotor.

During the day, the wind steadily increased and the rain became almost horizontal.  That afternoon, we stood on the front enclosed verandah of the schoolhouse which was protected from the howling northerly, and watched as big trees toppled, branches whipped off and competed with sheets of roofing iron flying by.

Wow! It reminded me of the opening scenes to The Wizard of Oz and we had a front row seat without having to buy movie tickets…

Telephone lines were knocked down but we didn’t have to worry about power. There wasn’t any, and night time settled with the norm of carbide lights and kerosene lamps which attracted the usual swarms of mossies and other flying insects.


The radio crackling in the corner on battery power delivered news the cyclone was still on its way but in those days they didn’t give them pet names and there was no army of reporters  recounting every wind gust tousling their hair if they stepped outside. We eventually went to bed, knowing there was probably worse to come.

The next day dawned and I awoke early with the house still standing. I can only blame cabin fever, boredom and a warped sense of humour for what came next.

I sneaked under my sister Janette’s bed and kicked as hard as I could on the wire frame beneath the mattress.

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The above is based on some boyhood misadventures recounted in the Amazon Books Memoir, Don’t Call Me Nev.

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About the Author

John Mikkelsen is a long term journalist, former regional newspaper editor, now freelance writer formerly of Gladstone in CQ, but now in Noosa. He is also the author of Amazon Books memoir Don't Call Me Nev.

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