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Adelaide’s Tidal Wave. The One That Never Happened

Adelaide made world headlines briefly back in 1976 when Melbourne house painter and amateur clairvoyant John Nash, reported he’d had a vision in which Adelaide and its 800,000 inhabitants were obliterated by an earthquake and tidal wave. Mr Nash claimed that doomsday would be between 10.30 a.m. and noon on 19th January. He was so convinced by his own vision that he sold his house and moved to another state.

Don Dunstan waves from the Pier Hotel balcony to the big crowd waiting on Glenelg beach for the predicted tidal wave

The media got hold of the story and the following widespread publicity caused panic in some sections of the Adelaide community, particularly many non-English speaking migrants, who were reported to have sold up and actually moved out of the city.

People sold off beachfront properties at bargain prices and hotels in the area reported a drop of 75% in occupancy. Many staff members working in seaside establishments either refused to work or took a sickie on the day. There were reports that some parents kept their children home from school and drove to the Adelaide hills with all their posessions in the car and others left town, driving as far as the Riverland.

The BBC from London despatched a television crew to Glenelg to record the predicted catastrophe and media arrived from interstate in their droves, including one Sydney radio station that sent their entire morning programme staff for a ‘live’, on-the-spot broadcast.

Newspsper clipping from that day. There was a mostly fun mood within the crowd, some carried banners calling for everyone to repent their sins.

Newspaper clipping from that day. There was a mostly fun mood within the crowd, some carried banners calling for everyone to repent their sins.

When the big morning of the tidal wave arrived, thousands headed to the beach. There was a mostly fun mood within the crowd, some carried banners calling for everyone to repent their sins as the end was nigh, others were dressed in bathers with flippers and goggles, prepared for a swim, still others carried surfboards  while one wag dressed in tails and announced that he wanted to ‘go in style’.

South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, well known for his theatrics, arrived at the beach about mid-morning, ready to do a ‘King Canute’ and turn back the tide if necessary. He assured the gathered multitude that nothing would happen and there would be no disaster. He received a warm welcome from the crowd and a cheer when he said that Mr Nash was not welcome back in Adelaide.

As the clock ticked down to midday, somebody started a countdown and the thousands who had gathered all looked out to sea…..and nothing happened.

There was no tidal wave.

Gradually the crowds began to wander off, some to the nearest bar, others took advantage of the summer weather and stayed at the beach for the day and still others drifted off home.

Next morning ,The Advertiser in its editorial said: “Hopefully, the lesson we should all have learnt from yesterday’s pathetic anticlimax is to rely more on our common sense and less on the silly and unscientific speculation of self-appointed soothsayers.”

What are some of your memories of that day in Adelaide in 1976?

12 Responses to Adelaide’s Tidal Wave. The One That Never Happened

  1. Graeme October 21, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    It was a Monday for memory, my girlfriend was ill but turned up to work because she didn’t want people thinking she thought there would be a tidal wave.

    A workmate and I turned up to the office dressed in our wetsuits and armed with surfboards. I think the tidal wave was due to hit at 12 noon, and about 5 minutes before that an older work colleague walked past my desk and said, “I need to go to the men’s room. If the tidal wave doesn’t come, I’ll see you in 10 minutes. If it does hit, I’ll see you on top of Mount Lofty”.

    Very funny day.

  2. Lorraine Gregory October 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    What a an opportunity this provided for our thespian Premier, and how he played it to the hilt! A great performance which provided lots of entertainment, and one which made him even more popular.

  3. jay bee October 23, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    my memory tells me it was a Sunday I’ll check that.

  4. David Newport March 24, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    I remember this from my childhood when I was 9 and staying with my sister at Warren. They did a great parody on the news that night in which they showed the city clock in Adelaide striking noon to a background sound of rumbling and rocked the camera to imitate shaking. A fun way to end the report. A great childhood memory.

  5. Shirley Gavranich May 20, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    I remember it well.. I was in the Modbury hospital having my third child. I was petrified to think I was going to bring another child into the world when all this was going on. My other 2 little boys were with their grandparents at the annual wharfies picnic not to far away from where all the commotion was about to happen. I was only 26 years old at the time and the 19th of January1976 a Monday.. the memory of that fateful day still haunts me …with the birth of my 3rd son I can at least be greatful it never happened…

  6. Bernie Bradford August 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Can’t remember what day, but definitely a weekday as I recall joking about taking the day off work, even though we were at Murray Bridge. 50 miles away! Great website…. What a legend Don Dunstan was..

  7. Joanne September 8, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    You say many parents kept their children home from school on that day. Well they wouldn’t have been at school anyway because the 19th January was in the school holidays.

  8. David September 23, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    It was on the Easter long weekend I remember it well as I was not happy that the family was on a long planned vacation at Victor Harbor and some of my friends thought we had made a run for it! We are a family of skeptics so it was unfortunate that we missed out on such a great “proof” of Psychic ability.

  9. David September 23, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

    Opps! If it was the 19th of Jan…. then it must have been the summer, school holidays and my parents each had a week off work to take us camping! [oh the horror]. and of course it was booked months in advance.

  10. Joseph August 3, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    I have an old diary from 1976 where I wrote about this Doomsday prediction..and I said nothing happened and that people were in the city ignoring the premonition. I mentioned that people even went to the hilltops and thought it all very weird..I was 17 at the time..

  11. KJ Jenkins October 16, 2018 at 12:52 pm #

    This story reminds of the climate change hoaxers of today..Doomsday is coming..they tell us.. events like the John Nash incident have become an everyday story..problem we stupid fools are taking it hook line and sinker..voting in idiots who charge an arm and a leg for power & gas..when we live in the most abundant energy countries in the world..it’s an insidious concept.and it has relevance to South Australia today re: power blackouts..WAKE UP AUSTRALIA a political theory and boatloads of cash wont stop it raining or from being too sunny….it only lines the pockets of the fools who espouse such stupidity..

  12. Bev December 14, 2019 at 8:12 am #

    There was a fabulous graffiti at the top of , I think, Greenhill Rd on a concrete retaining wall. Simply a horizontal line and ‘ high tide Jan 19 1976’ written in large letters.

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