Four years ago today, on the morning of November 14 2012, the total solar eclipse was visible over Far North Queensland. As an eclipse chaser, for the first time in my life, all I had to do to get into the path of totality was to go home.
I spent the first 17 years of my life in this region – just outside of the path of totality. I may live far away, but North Queensland is my home, where my family still live, and it is in my blood. I return home as often as I can, often staying months at a time.
North Queensland is an amazing destination of world-heritage and very unique nature experiences – it truly is a tropical paradise. The perfect location to host the most incredible nature show there is – a total solar eclipse.
The locals were quite slow to warm up to the idea that the eclipse was going to be a big thing, and relevant to them. Us North Queenslanders’ are known for out laid-back outlook on life, and resilience and strong community connection in the face of adversity. We are shaped by our environment, and in this beautiful part of the world, nature can be harsh.
The year before the eclipse, the region was hit with a record-breaking category five cyclone – Yasi – that threatened Cairns but devastated smaller communities to the south. The impact of Cyclone Yasi was felt across the north, up and down the coast, as homes were devastated, people were displaced, farming and tourism infrastructure damaged, and livelihoods lost. The 2012 total eclipse could not have come at a better time. This was to be a positive nature event, one that could again unite the community in celebration, as well as draw in tens of thousands of tourists from around the world. It was time to showcase the region again. The eclipse was estimated to bring in 30,000 people, with an estimated $75 million for the local economy. Things were looking up.
The path of totality for the total eclipse in 2012 was 179km wide, from Bloomfield in the north, to Innisfail to the south. Within the path were the coastal towns including Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove; and the inland remote communities of Mareeba, Mt Carbine, Palmer River and Lakeland. Those viewing from inland locations were promised clear skies, and coastal locations were forecast to have patchy cloud.
As the crowds began to pour into the region, the reality and scale of the event was obvious. In the final week, eclipse mania prevailed, and it was all anyone could talk about.
And then the day arrived. It was a double dawn like no other – tens of thousands of people woke up early to experience the total eclipse with their family, friends and loved ones.
Sunrise occurred at around 5.38am on this special day, with the Moon starting its show across the Sun less than ten minutes later. Nature arose, to only be confused again moments later. The main event – totality – occurred at round 6.40am. At that time, the ever-present noise of nature in this tropical paradise was suddenly silenced, replaced by the delighted screams of the locals and visitors seeing this natural wonder for the first time in this location in over one thousand years.
Some were luckier than others. Those of us viewing from inland were indeed greeted with clear skies. Those viewing from the coast, however, had a mixed experience; with cloud patches spoiling the view for people even just hundreds of meters apart. Clouds may have spoiled the view for some, but it certainly did not spoil the mood, the excitement and the buzz.
The buzz was fever-pitched for about a week afterwards. Everyone wanted to know – “where were you? What did you see?” People shared their stories, their photos, their memories, and their renewed ideas.
But soon, life started to slowly return to normal. Tourists began to leave, and the slow pace of life returned. Yet life seemed different.
The benefit to the region was significant. Visitor numbers were over double what was initially estimated. The economic boost to the region was estimated to be at least $130 million, with a longer-term benefit for the regional tourism sector. But for every person there on that day, standing in the shadow of the Moon – no value that can be placed on that experience. To witness a total solar eclipse in your own community is unique, intense, profound, and will be with you for a lifetime.
My book Totality: The total solar eclipse of 2012 in Far North Queensland tells the story of this eclipse, from the perspectives of many locals and visitors observing all across the north. And the images are gorgeous!! Order the ebook for just US$12.