SO MUCH TO DO: Close-ups of the work ahead of the little town of Killarney to rebuild in 1968.
SO MUCH TO DO: Close-ups of the work ahead of the little town of Killarney to rebuild in 1968. SUPPLIED BY KILLARNEY ST

Killarney calls on spirit on anniversary of deadly disaster

NOVEMBER 22 is not a day to celebrate in Killarney, but it is a day to give thanks to all those who helped the town survive the storm that almost destroyed it 50 years ago.

On that day a 10-year-old girl was killed and 200 of the town's 247 houses were decimated.

To mark the event, residents will meet this Thursday, November 22 at the Uniting Church in Eucalyptus St, at 5.30pm.

Storm Committee secretary Angela Phillips said the service, and sausage sizzle to follow, was a chance for the community to show the spirit that got it through that disastrous day, and hopefully bring closure to some who still suffer from its effects.

Angela is involved with the Heritage Centre, and while she only moved to Killarney in a "tree change" four years ago, said the tornado that blew through all those decades ago was "still very much part of the town's fabric".

It was speech night at the school, and the majority of the population was gathered for the event in the Capitol Theatre, when the storm hit at 8pm.

 

SO MUCH TO DO: Close-ups of the work ahead of the little town of Killarney to rebuild in 1968.
SO MUCH TO DO: Close-ups of the work ahead of the little town of Killarney to rebuild in 1968. SUPPLIED BY KILLARNEY ST

Miraculously, it was one of the few buildings not destroyed.

"Everyone says it felt like the building was going to blow away," Angela said.

The men held the doors of the theatre closed as the 10-minute storm wreaked its havoc, reducing much of the town to rubble and leaving it without power and with inches of hail on the ground.

The Girls' Brigade had been rehearsing Christmas carols at the then-Presbyterian Church (now Uniting) when the storm struck, and 10-year-old Susan Ballard was killed by the fall of a loose brick.

Her mother, Shirley Ballard, will unveil a commemorative plaque in Canning Park at 10am on Sunday, November 25.

"Most of the houses and shops were affected - it hit every family, and some moved away never to return," Angela said.

"It was the start of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era and he flew in and was instrumental in diverting troops, who were coming back from Vietnam for Christmas leave, to come and help the town rebuild.

"But it was very much a grass-roots effort."

 

DEVASTATION: An aerial view of the aftermath of the tornado which devastated Killarney in 1968.
DEVASTATION: An aerial view of the aftermath of the tornado which devastated Killarney in 1968. BRUCE POSTLE

Tradies from across the region lent a hand and, across the state, toys, clothing, other goods and even holidays were donated to families, many of whom had been left with nothing.

"Some people have kept those things as family treasures, and they will be part of our display on the night," Angela said.

From Brisbane, buses took electricians, plumbers and builders out to Killarney to help reconstruct the town.

"We really want people who helped in the rebuilding to come back and be part of this, so we can thank them ... because we survived, and it's thanks to you," Angela said.

A dinner will also be held at the Recreation Centre at 6pm on Saturday, November 24, with former representative Lawrence Springborg as guest speaker and other entertainment ($30).

Angela admitted there were mixed feelings in town about the commemoration, with some people still traumatised by the event wanting it to be left in the past, while others felt it was fitting to mark the anniversary.

"At the 40th anniversary, people wrote their stories of that time, and we are reprinting that and adding pictures of what Killarney is like now," Angela said.

They will also play a video of past interviews.

"We really hope that this will get people involved in talking about Killarney in a positive way, because it was touch and go for a while but the town did survive, and it thrived."

Killarney Area Promotions Association has recently created an impressive new website at killarney.org.au, detailing the area's spectacular natural attractions and country hospitality, which make it popular with cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers, horse riders, 4WDers, and tourists in general.

To find out more about Back to Killarney: 50 Years Since the Tornado, go to killarney.org.au, or phone (07)46644289 or 0499767907.


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