The January 1942 dust storm covered much of Victoria in a blanket of red Mallee topsoil. The Age newspaper suggested wryly that the red dust was the cause of something troubling Melbourne residents
The “blackout blues” referred to the blackout preparations in Melbourne, in place as a defence against bombing raids, that increased nervousness and anxiety, and reduced opportunities for normal socialising in the evenings.
7 January 1942 saw the town of Beaufort battered by the worst dust storm in memory.
By mid-morning the temperature had already reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). Strong, unpredictable gusts of wind were making outdoor work more and more difficult.
Did Jane Duncan have Eurambeen homestead laundry drying on the line that morning? The day had started out as good drying weather, but changed into something more worrying. She would have run to her six clotheslines as the wind threatened to whip the sheets away.
Once back inside the house, perhaps Jane and her daughter Rene began the major task of folding six rows of laundry. As the wind rose to gale force Jane would no doubt have been relieved that she had brought the washing in, just in time.
The gale continued for the rest of the day.
One minute the air would be perfectly calm, the next a gust of wind would race from zero to almost 50 miles an hour
Extract from ‘Queer Weather.’, The Age, 9 January 1942
Within a few hours huge, red dust clouds rolled in from the northwest and swallowed the town. People covered their faces with handkerchiefs and struggled against the gale. It was hard to see more than a few metres ahead through the thick dust.
Andy, Jane, Rene and Jane’s father John Stewart would have spent the day sheltered inside their small miner’s cottage. The wind whistled through any gaps in the weatherboards, bringing with it the red dust. The windows rattled. Debris from fallen trees and damaged buildings clattered and crashed against the cottage’s tin roof.
The heat and wind sparked bushfires across the state. Not far away Ararat district firefighters battled to save four townships around Lake Bolac. Forestry Commission officials were vigilant for outbreaks on Crown land. Perhaps this was on Andy Duncan’s mind, too, because of his work for the Forestry Commission at Mount Cole.
The storm reached its peak near nightfall and continued to batter the town until around 11pm. Then the wind dropped, the dust subsided and everything was still. The temperature remained over 90 degrees.
Finally around midnight a cool change blew through, bringing rain. The red Mallee dust that had choked and blinded now became red spatter on cars and buildings, and mud on the shoes of those who ventured outside.
The Stewart cottage had weathered the storm without any significant damage, but Jane’s beloved garden would not have survived.
The day will be long remembered as the gale swept through huge trees and the snapping and crashing branches were observed. The presentable gardens of citizens showed a “scorched earth” appearance after the storm had subsided. Housewives yesterday had the busiest time for many years; it was their big “at home” day as they were kept steadily cleaning up inches of dust inside and outside their homes
Extract from ‘A Day of Dust and Wind.’, The Horsham Times, 9 January 1942
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 10 January 1942. State Library of Victoria