WHERE IS DARWIN?
The Northern Territory is a huge area of 1.35 million square kilometres with a population of only 209,000 and Darwin is the Capital city situated in the far north of this territory. Although Darwin is the least populated of all of Australia’s state capitals it is by far the most populated city in the Territory. This part of Australia is known as the Top End and this includes Arnhem Land (which is Aboriginal Land) and the Kakadu National Park (Crocodile Dundee country).
The Stuart Highway starts at Darwin and runs in an almost straight line to Alice Springs (The red Centre) and then continues on to Adelaide in South Australia. The Highway covers a distance of over 3,000 km and no map would be needed as there are no turns to take!
This tropical area has only two seasons the wet and the dry. The wet season from Nov-Apr has high temperatures with humidity and often severe tropical storms and this is the reason for the lush green landscape. The dry season is from May-Oct and has warm, sunny and dry days with low humidity. This is the time that many Southern Australians ( The silver haired, non- working ones) come up North to enjoy the pleasant warm climate in the winter – the summer or wet months are less attractive.
Darwin city is a sea port on Fannie Bay which was originally called Palmerston but was renamed after Charles Darwin in 1911 by I’m not sure why really. The aboriginal people native to this area are the Larrakia people and there are still people of this language group living in the area. Darwin was first settled by white people in the 1860s but about half the present population has arrived in the last forty years and includes people from over 50 different countries.
Darwin city has suffered a lot over the years. Those who have seen the film "Australia" will have an idea of how the city was bombed and attacked by the Japanese in WWII. Indeed Darwin is the only city in Australia to ever be bombed and there were 64 attacks in total and although there was a lot of damage t was not as destructive as Cyclone Tracey in 1974. It is a tribute to the strength of character of the Australian people that Darwin was able to recover during and after the war despite being so damaged and so cut off from the rest of Australia.
The last time I was in Darwin was in 1976 for my Christmas holiday when I was living and teaching in Australia. It was only two years after Cyclone Tracey when almost 90% of the city was destroyed and at that time there was still a lot of evidence of the cyclone. Many houses were just floors and stilts and sometimes people had built a small shelter on this as they did not have the money to rebuild. It was even smaller then than it is today both in physical size as well as population.
When we arrived in Darwin we were given a bit of a tour of Darwin just to orientate us. Although the population is quite small – only 110 000 but it seemed much busier than Perth. We came in along the coast road from the Airport and then into the city. The harbour was virtually empty as most boats are taken out of the water and stored on land for the rainy/hurricane season. It is not a large cit, more like a town really but it does have a bit of a buzz about it. There a several large hotels, a small shopping centre with Coles and Woolworth supermarkets as well as other shops. There are quite a few pubs and bars and also several restaurants of various kinds – Chinese to Australian as well as two Irish bars – the one we went into even had two Irish people serving behind the counter!
We decided that we would follow in Bill Bryson’s footsteps and go and visit the Darwin museum .Bill Bryson recommended the museum for the stuffed crocodile ‘sweetheart’, an enormous crocodile which had attacked small boats and was becoming a danger to the people of Darwin. They arranged to have this croc caught and relocated somewhere away from populated areas. During the capture ready for his move ‘Sweetheart’ had a heart attack and died so they stuffed him and put him in the museum! Also of interest was a tribute display to the people who went through cyclone Tracey. This included recreations of bits of houses, photos and most horrifying was a darkened room where a tape played a recording that someone had made on a recorder the night ‘Tracey’ hit Darwin, Christmas Eve 1974. Finally Bill suggested looking at a display of ‘Animals that could kill you’ which included preserved box jellyfish. Just out of interest, Australia has the largest number of animals that are dangerous in some way to humans of any country in the world.
As we left the museum it started raining and we had quite a walk to get to the bus stop so we got out or kagools and then rushed on. We were nearly at the bus stop when we saw the bus coming so we ran and the driver very kindly stopped the bus and waited for us – it would have meant a 20 minute wait had we missed it. Luckily we made it and sat back to enjoy the ride back to the city. The return fares on the bus from outside our hotel to the museum and back was $8 for both of us. Local pensioners travel free.
PLACES TO EAT:
There were a huge number of places to eat in the city centre area offering a variety of cuisine. Many of these eating places are along Mitchell Street we ate at one of the Irish pubs, Shenanigan’s on one night and then we found a lovely Thai restaurant called Thailicious which was upstairs and you could sit outside on another night. We had Thai green chicken curry; jasmine rice and Holy basil stir fried beef which was spicy and very tasty.
Heading south along the Stuart Highway, we stopped at the small townships of Batchelor and Adelaide River.
The Adelaide River war cemetery is Australia’s largest war cemetery and a sombre reminder of the Northern Territory’s role in World War II. . It was extremely neatly kept and had a section for the armed Services and one for civilians as well as foreign troops too but some of those had been taken back to their own homelands. There were several peacocks wandering round and one was particularly interested in us.
The Adelaide River pub is a traditional outback bar very similar to the one in ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and we stopped here for a beer. On the bar was the buffalo that starred in Crocodile Dundee called Charlie – stuffed and looking very real. It was a surreal experience to enjoy a drink with a stuffed buffalo and I felt as though we could expect Mick Dundee to pull up a stool beside us at any moment. Just near the pub is a caravan and camping park and this pub served excellent ‘barra and chips’ so there were a lot of happy campers eating there. (Barra is of course the local tasty barramundi fish)
Darwin is a really Aussie city; it still has the laid back, casual attitude but has embraced tourism in a big way. When I was there in 1976 it was a government town really but now tourism has brought in a variety of job opportunities and the town has expanded rapidly.
It is really a base from where tourists move on to explore The Kakadu National Park with jumping crocs and Yellow waters as well as the Nitmiluk National Park with Katherine Gorge and Edith falls. Nearby is pine creek and of course it is the start of the Stuart highway south to Alice and then on to Adelaide.