DISASTER ZONE: Clem Hill's house in Marathon St in January 1970 after Cyclone Ada.
DISASTER ZONE: Clem Hill's house in Marathon St in January 1970 after Cyclone Ada. Proserpine Museum

'The flood put it 20 feet up a tree': Ada 49 years on

FORTY-NINE years ago, Darrell and Heather Patullo watched in horror as the fury of Cyclone Ada tore the roof off their Gregory River home.

"When your roof starts going you crawl under the biggest thing you can find," Mr Patullo said.

They fled next door to Mr Patullo's mother's house, with their new baby and only the clothes they were wearing.

"What we didn't lose in the cyclone, we lost in the flood afterwards," Mrs Patullo said.

The cyclone was first detected in the Coral Sea on January 5, 1970 and slowly developed, before it intensified beyond anyone's predictions early on Saturday, January 17, flattening the region and surrounding islands.

The Patullos were trapped on their property for two weeks, unable to leave due to the flooding, and Mr Patullo described 2m waves right outside the front door.

"Water was just roaring past, I've never seen anything like it, it took us years to get over Ada," he said.

Mrs Patullo said, "An army helicopter had to come in to give us food. They landed where the cane used to be, as the cane got washed away, and dropped food off for us."

Mr Patullo said the couple had two cars prior to Cyclone Ada.

"I had a Holden and the flood put it about 20 feet up a tree," he said.

"You wouldn't believe it but hardly a panel was knocked around and the lights were still on.

"The other car washed a couple of hundred metres down the road and it got totally smashed to pieces."

The damage bill in 1970 was estimated at $12 million.

Over the years, the region has rebuilt, survivors have relayed their stories countless times, a book has been written and there have been reunions but there is no official monument to remember the 14 people who perished.

The lack of a memorial to remember the victims has been a talking point for some but Gloria Demartini has been passionate in her pursuit and is heading a campaign to get a memorial in time for the 50th anniversary.

Mrs Demartini said it had taken her a long time to find the right space and that she was working with a small committee and Whitsunday Regional Council.

"They've (the council) been wonderful and we're very privileged to get that support," she said.

Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan has been vocal in his support for a memorial, to remember those who lost their lives.

"I began campaigning for this memorial a few years ago, similar to what we have down in Mackay remembering the victims of the great 1918 cyclone, what they have up in Darwin after Cyclone Tracy and in other places," he said.

"Sadly, the Whitsunday Regional Council has been slow on getting it happening but it's heartening to hear via the media that we now have something happening in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary in 2020.

"Like other locals, I personally know some of the families of the victims of Cyclone Ada and one man in particular who's been known to my family for almost a century.

"Tragically he lost his wife all those years ago whilst holidaying on South Molle Island and his son grew up never knowing his late mother."

According to an Australian Geographic article, Cyclone Ada is ranked as the fourth worst in Australian history, after it claimed 14 lives on January 17, 1970.


Shirley Turner

Del Ryan

Des Ryan

Tony Ryan (5)

Wendy Ryan (7)

Judy Ryan (9)

Captain Colin Clarke

William Howard

Captain Percy Railton

Captain Fred Harris

Stewart McGinness

William (Bill) Howden

Edward Borellini

Graham Brinkworth