Today is January 19th a date that I always remember as being the day that the city of Adelaide was not destroyed by a tsunami.
It all began with a self proclaimed clairvoyant named John Nash. Mr. Nash was originally a housepainter from Victoria who had moved to Adelaide but then became concerned that the city which had always been considered somewhat conservative was changing into a modern day Sodom or Gomorrah due to some of the progressive changes that were happening in the state. He claimed to have had a vision that the city would be destroyed by a huge earthquake and tidal wave. The story got way more attention in the media than it probably should have, mainly because it was January and there wasn’t much news because it was the summer holidays, the silly season in other words.
Adelaide people reacted in various ways. It was said that some, especially those from non English speaking backgrounds did become really frightened and made plans to leave the city, there were stories of people who sold their homes. There were also those who made a point of going about their daily routine, even cancelling trips away because they didn’t want to look as if they believed the rumours. However, I think that the vast majority of people realised that the guy was a bit of a nutter and refused to take it seriously.
On the morning of January 19th some people decided to play it for laughs wearing beach wear or wetsuits to work. One group of people took their surfboards to Mount Lofty just outside the city to wait for the big wave. The Premier, Don Dunstan bravely travelled to the beachside suburb of Glenelg to reassure the public that the tsunami would not come but that if it did he, like King Canute, would hold back the waters and keep us all safe.
Needless to say there was no tsunami and Adelaide still sits on the shores of the St Vincent Gulf. Mr Nash left South Australia and it was reported, but not confirmed that his new home in northern NSW was inundated with flood waters some time after. He never returned to South Australia.
Where was I on 19 January 1976 you ask? Well as it happens I was not in Adelaide although I kind of wish I had been. David and I had been dating for a few months then and his family had rented a holiday shack at Victor Harbour, south of Adelaide as they did every summer. I had been invited to stay down there with them for a few days. It was still on the coast but I didn’t feel particularly anxious about it.
Listen to the radio interview at the end between two Adelaide radio personalities who where there at the time.