As a matter of fact, many Queenslanders at that time were not in favour of scientific weather predictions. “There was this interesting debate about forecasting, about long range forecasting, about whether you were trying to predict God in any way by predicting the weather,” Chrystopher says. Of course, there were also people in favour of setting up weather stations, such as on Willis Island in the late 1920s. This was a big step forward in terms of Australia’s early warning system for cyclones.
The 1934 Cape Tribulation cyclone in literature
In his book, Cyclone Country, Chrystopher also goes into different and evolving perspectives about the relationships between people, place, weather and regional literature. “I was looking for books that spoke of the different kinds of relationship to the catastrophe,” he says. “Vance Palmer, for example, spoke very much of the regional experience of the catastrophe in his novel Cyclone. Because he had been in Cairns just before the 1934 cyclone.” The cyclone had caused a 9.1 metre storm surge near Cape Tribulation, and at least 79 people died during the storm.
Vance Palmer was originally from Bundaberg but had lived on Green Island near Cairns in 1932. “He knew people who had been affected and who lost their lives during the cyclone. He knew exactly what the area looked like. He had that regional experience of the catastrophe and then he wrote about it in his book.”
The modern Aboriginal perspective on cyclones
Successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers are few and far between in Australia. Alexis Wright, however, is an exceptional artist, and her book Carpentaria has a special place in Chrystopher’s book. “In Carpentaria, we go back to the Indigenous experience, and the impact of cyclones as part of the culture in that part of the country,” Chrystopher says. “That is where I’ve got the title from, Cyclone Country.”
Carpentaria is a novel about a mining community and the notion that a cyclone can also be ‘apocalyptic’ in the sense that it offers humans a fresh start. “It is possible for us to have a satisfactory relationship with our environment, with nature,” Chrystopher says. “But we have to listen to it, we have to be ready to learn from it.”