Institutional response and Indigenous experiences of Cyclone Tracy

Authors: Katharine Haynes, Deanne K. Bird, Dean Carson, Steve Larkin and Matthew Mason
Year: 2011

At the time of Cyclone Tracy in 1974, Darwin’s population included a substantial number of both permanent and transitory Aboriginal people (members of the Larrakia people and the Stolen Generation). This retrospective study collated the experiences of 37 people (23 Indigenous, 14 key government officials). In general, Indigenous people did not appear to have been treated substantially differently from non-Indigenous people in terms of evacuation procedures, health care or resettlement. Some Indigenous study participants discussed how they had been aware of traditional knowledge, but due to their cultural heritage being mixed with a more contemporary Australian education they had not taken the Indigenous early warnings seriously. The interviews revealed that in many ways Indigenous people considered that they were better better able to cope and recover from the disaster than non-Indigenous people, a they were often more self sufficient than their non-indigenous neighbours. Their resilience came from not being as reliant on material possessions, their ability to rely on the land for food, and the many family connections and people whom they could get help from. This research has demonstrated that much of the Indigenous population living in Darwin is fairly urbanised and although they retain indigenous cultural heritage, they are able to work with standard Australian emergency management warnings and procedures. The exception to this is the transient itinerants indigenous people and those living in rural areas outside of Darwin who may be without shelter and connection to communities. There is a need for emergency management protocols to also consider the particular vulnerability of such transient itinerant individuals.

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