When Maurie Burke took the job of Katherine police commander in 1997 he told his wife Maggie they would be here for two years tops.
“We had just been in Alice Springs for seven-and-a-half years when they asked Maurie to take the job in Katherine, we foolishly said we would only come for two years. That was 20 years ago,” Mrs Burke said.
The couple recently sold their Gorge Road home for more than $1 million and are leaving town.
The pair are packing their bags and heading to Cradock, South Australia for a while, but think they will eventually end up back in the Territory.
“We have had really good neighbors and made a lot of friends in town we are not leaving with any dissension but it is time to move on. All we can say is our time has been interesting and the NT has been good to us,” Mrs Burke said.
Mr Burke said the Australia Day floods in 1998 showed them what a great community Katherine was.
“The floods provided a unique circumstance, the people we met and were working with were people we ordinarily would never have met. We then came to the realisation that we could live here,” Mr Burke said.
“Before that we had no intention of staying in Katherine.”
Mr and Mrs Burke were doing some shopping in Darwin when the floods hit Katherine.
“I got in contact with police headquarters as soon as I heard and they said get yourself down here quickly. The police superintendent for Katherine was also in Darwin at the time so they flew us both down in the police plane,” Mr Burke said,
“It was a bit bumpy coming in.
“Then the flood waters came through with a vengeance the next day.”
Mr Burke said people were complacent about the rising water levels because it hadn’t flooded since 1957.
“It was Australia Day so people were in a party mood and reluctant to move, and there was also a cricket match on between Australia and South Africa and we were winning,” Mr Burke said.
“I think the people who declined to move were eventually plucked off roofs by helicopters.”
Mr Burke said the nearby RAAF base was an essential asset to the flood recovery effort.
“The RAAF was here and living here. We were side by side up to our waists in water. We were all in the same boats getting our bums wet,” Mr Burke said.
“The armed forces helped a lot with the clean up. You couldn’t imagine the smell, it was the middle of the wet season and it was hot,” Mrs Burke said,
“We would have been lost without them,” she said.
Mrs Burke said she was stuck in Darwin while her husband spearheaded the disaster control effort.
“They were flat strap for about five days, and then all of the dignitaries arrived like the prime minister John Howard,” Mrs Burke said.
“We were just running on adrenaline, we probably got a couple of hours sleep but it was pretty much non stop,” Mr Burke said.
Mr Burke said there was a celebration even before the recovery efforts were completed.
“It was a celebration of survival, tenacity and true grit in the face of what turned out to be in some cases, seemingly overwhelming odds,” he said.
“Preparedness is key to survival. Bottom line, we weren’t prepared for the magnitude of what impacted us on Australia Day 1998. April 2006 also created huge problems.
“We are certainly better prepared now. People understand what can happen now,” Mr Burke said.
The couple said Katherine had been through a lot of changes since they first moved to town 20 years ago.
“There is definitely a larger police presence and a lot of businesses have come and gone,” Mrs Burke said.
“Police have probably tripled, if not more. It is sad to see so many shops closed in the main street now,” Mr Burke said.
Commander Maurice Burke received the Australian Police Medal for distinguished police service and for his leadership during the 1998 floods.