Early in the year 1918 two great storms visited the coast of North
Queensland. One centred off the port of Mackay, four hundred miles to the
south of Dunk Island, on 21st January, and the other about twenty-five
miles to the north, on 10th March.
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Forty-eight hours prior to the Mackay storm premonitory effects were
observed here, succeeding a memorable tidal jumble. During a breathless
calm a mysterious northerly swell set in. To ears accustomed to the
silence and the musical whisperings of a sheltered bay, the roar and
burst of the breakers of a wind-forgotten sea suggested a confused mental
picture – a blending of black and grey without form.
Heaving, as with deep-drawn breaths, out from the beach the sea seemed to
be both restless and angry, as glistening rollers heaved themselves on to
the strand, to be shattered into spray. They rifled the Barrier Reef,
threw on the sand lumps of coral to which brown seaweed hung, like the
scalps of mermaids, and swept them to and fro with savage persistency.
They brought driftwood from afar, and claimed all sorts of sun-dried
relics from previous depositary moods.
After a time the sea became silent again, with a sparkling, wavering
ripple, while the noise of its assault on the mainland beach had the tone
of distant, unceasing thunder.
Ten days before the second storm, while the sky was cloudless and the air
serene, a change in the quality of the heat was felt. During the first
three months of the year – the period of heavy rainfall – the temperature is
generally humid., Suddenly it became dry and burning, with a tingling
intensity, as rare as uncomfortable. For the time the moist vapours of a
mild steam-bath were dispersed by scorching breath as from a furnace, to
the discomfort of animal life and the injury of vegetation.