Major-General Allan Stretton had recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Major-General Allan Stretton had recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo: Chris Lane

Family and associates of Major-General Alan Stretton, who died on Friday, and is best known for leading the recovery operation after Cyclone Tracy smashed Darwin, are remembering his compassion for others.

General Stretton, who practised law in Canberra for many years, died at Batemans Bay Hospital.

His children are finalising funeral arrangements, which are likely to involve a full military funeral.

Major-General Alan Stretton, while the head of the Natural Disaster Organisation (right), makes a point to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during his visit to Darwin following the 1974 cyclone.

Major-General Alan Stretton, while the head of the Natural Disaster Organisation (right), makes a point to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during his visit to Darwin following the 1974 cyclone. Photo: John Hart

General Stretton had recently celebrated his 90th birthday, surrounded by family and friends.

His son and Canberra barrister Greg Stretton, SC, said his father had spent much of his later years looking after his wife, Valda, who is now deceased.

"One of his greatest achievements was caring for my mother at Batemans Bay when she was an invalid and suffering from partial dementia, having to provide nursing care for her, before she died."

General Stretton was named Australian of the Year in 1975 for his efforts over six days in Darwin after a cyclone struck on Christmas Eve, 1974, and oversaw the evacuation of 36,000 people.

Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James said the former Canberra legal practitioner who practised well into his 70s, embraced many causes which did not necessarily mesh with his previous life.

"He did a great job in Darwin. I quoted one of his experiences in a seminar recently, discussing the law and natural emergencies and I gave the example of how, as the supremo running Darwin, his actual legal powers only worked because everyone thought he had a lot more power than he actually did."

He turned up at a magistrate's court and tried to intervene when an Aboriginal youth was being jailed for looting.

"He would have been exhausted. He hadn't had much sleep for the week by that stage."

General Stretton is survived by daughters Virginia and April, and Greg, who is president of the ACT Bar Association.