Eileen Welch at the 1918 Cyclone Centenary Exhibition launch held at Mackay's Jubilee Community Centre.
Eileen Welch at the 1918 Cyclone Centenary Exhibition launch held at Mackay's Jubilee Community Centre. Zarisha Bradley

100 years on from 1918 Cyclone

SHE'S the last remaining survivor of the 1918 Cyclone and 100 years on, Eileen Welch, 105, said "it was meant to be" that she's still here to tell the tale of the disastrous event.

Eileen, who was five at the time, remembers her house at the end of George St collapsing and fleeing to her neighbours.

The disastrous weather event killed 30 people and is still considered the most devastating cyclone to cross the coast in the populated areas of Australia.

Eileen considers herself "lucky".

"After all, there were plenty worse off," she said.

Eileen is the widow of Thomas Welch, who wasn't one of those lucky ones. Thomas lost six members of his family in the cyclone.

"I lost Mum, four sisters and a brother in 1918," he said in an interview recorded before his death and included in a short film that is part of the 1918 Cyclone Centenary Exhibition open today at the Jubilee Community Centre.

The film, created by Mackay Regional Council's Heritage team, gives an overview of the disastrous event from local historians Berenice Wright and Terry Hayes.

Descendants of those who witnessed the cyclone attended the exhibition and passed on their stories.

Eileen Lake, who is Eileen and Thomas Welch's niece, and the daughter of Thomas's only surviving brother, Edwin Welch, said their "mother was found on the southern side of the bridge towards the old airport. She was found there caught up by the hair in the fence still with the baby in her arms". She recalled her father writing about his experiences and said he "cried the whole time".

Only seven years of age, she said, "it was such a dramatic experience for him at such a young age".

Mrs Lake said he remembered floating on a door and being pulled through a window of St Mary's Catholic church by a man, and approaching him years later saying, "you don't know who I am but I'm that little boy you pulled through the window in the cyclone and tidal wave".

"It left a terrible mark on him," she said.

Hazel Ramsay, the niece of the late Jack Vidulich, who was praised as a hero of the event, said he saved the town and the people.

Jack was 16 at the time and was the first person to signal from the roof of the Grand Hotel, using a Ford car head lamp and Morse code, the details of the disaster to the Flat Top Island lightkeeper.

"Cyclones, floods, tidal waves, loss of life, 14 bodies discovered, all walls had collapsed and only 10-day supply of food' were among the words of the first "drastic" message," historian Terry Hayes said.

Mr Hayes said Jack grew up on the seas and his father taught him Morse code.

 

The exhibition is a joint initiative of Mackay's regional Museums and Mackay Regional Council Libraries' Heritage team.

Queensland Museum's Dr Melanie Piddocke worked with the teams.

The 1918 Cyclone Centenary Exhibition is at the Jubilee Community Centre from Saturday, January 20 until February 16.

It will be open: January 20 - 9am-4pm; January 21 -10am-2pm; then Monday-Friday from 8.30am-5pm (to February 16)


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