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Saviour’s Day Yuletide show set in 1974 Darwin

CYCLONE Tracy, the devastating storm that hit Darwin on Christmas Day in 1974, might seem an unlikely setting for an uplifting Yuletide show.

Actor-writer Theo Rule, however, sees the impact it had on relationships – bringing people and communities closer together – as reflecting the spirit of Christmas.

He has written a play, Saviour’s Day, that combines comedy, drama and song to give audience members a good time, while encouraging them to think more about the nature of Christmas.

And the timelessness of the festive celebration is shown by the fact that the title song, Saviour’s Day, by Cliff Richard, which looks at the importance of Christmas, was a No 1 hit when released in 1991.

Saviour’s Day is being staged by The Grainery Theatre Company at St Philip’s Christian College Theatre, Waratah, from December 18 to 20.

The songs are a mix of traditional Christmas numbers, such as O, Come All Ye Faithful, and Mary’s Boy Child, and hit parade works including Andy Williams’ It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad.

Director Sue Irwin has cast Theo Rule as the story’s central character, postman Warren, with the story beginning just before the Darwin post office where Warren works closes on Christmas Eve and moving through to the afternoon of Christmas Day.

The postal workers get together for an office celebration after finishing deliveries of cards and presents, ignoring warnings about the approaching cyclone because a similar storm weeks earlier had petered out before reaching the town.

But after Cyclone Tracy strikes Darwin early on Christmas Day, Warren sees a need to get on his bicycle and ride to a community in nearby Arnhem Land to see how people he knows there have fared.

The storm also leads Warren and others to face issues in their life.

Warren, for example, wonders whether he needs to get back together with his former lover, Daphne (played by Kristen Andrews).

The other central characters include Barry (Stuart Brown), who runs the Arnhem Land mission, Barry’s wife, Rhonda (Melissa Attia), Mick (Lynden Baker), a postman who doesn’t get along with Warren, and Daphne’s friend, Jemima (Meg Palmer).

Sue Irwin directs the large ensemble cast, with musical director Lindy Connett conducting a 10-member band.

Theo Rule notes that Saviour’s Day is a family show, with a lot of funny, sad and uplifting moments between the songs.

And, as he points out, the title of one of the Christmas songs, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, is ironic, given that Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin on the late afternoon of December 24 and by midnight heavy rain was falling.

While the cyclone was compact, only covering a small area centred on Darwin, the wind gusts reached an estimated 240km/h around 4am on Christmas Day (the weather bureau’s measuring device was destroyed by the wind an hour earlier), before beginning to ease around 6.30am.

A total of 71 people in Darwin and on vessels offshore died in the storm, and more than 70 per cent of Darwin’s buildings, including 80 per cent of the houses, were destroyed. The cost of the damage was $837million in 1974 values, equal to $4.45billion today.

More than 41,000 of the town’s 47,000 residents were left homeless, with 30,000 having to be evacuated by road and air to towns and cities as far away as Adelaide and Sydney. Many never returned.

Most of the people who remained in Darwin were men who helped repair damage and begin the rebuilding process. The new homes and other buildings were stronger and designed for a climate which suffered from cyclones.

The reaction of people in other parts of was in keeping with the Christmas spirit.The people of the small town of Alice Springs, south of Darwin, raised more than $105,000 aid money within 24 hours of the cyclone striking.

And at a Boxing Day cricket test match between and England in Melbourne, members of the two teams moved around the boundaries with baskets which quickly filled with money as the spectators reached into their pockets and purses.

Theo Rule said Saviour’s Day has a hopeful ending, in keeping with that spirit.

The show includes excerpts from ABC radio files, including warnings on the approaching cyclone and interviews with people who experienced the storm, as well as projections showing its impact. ​

DELIVERING THE MESSAGE: Kristen Andrews, Theo Rule and Stuart Brown are in Saviour’s Day. Picture: Supplied.

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