Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Reflections on Darwin

Cullen Bay esplanade at dusk

Now that I’ve had a bit of time to think about it, I’ll post about Darwin – the city. 
I'd been here twice before. Once in December 1970 on an RTA flight from Vietnam.

The second time was on a camping holiday when I was single in 1972. That was pre-Tracy, and it's changed a bit.

First up, it’s a great place to visit. You need to pick the right time. September is OK, but starting to warm up. The humidity is high and it gets into the mid thirties.

May – July is probably optimum. On the other hand, if you have a hankering for the tropics you could do worse than get there at the height of the wet. I’d like to see those waterfalls at Litchfield in full flight, and I reckon Kakadu would be awesome that time of the year, if you could get in and out of there.

The city reminded me very much of Townsville on steroids. There’s plenty of money around, people are laid back and friendly, and the streets are full of new cars and young well (if casually) dressed people.

The racial mix is amazing. Darwin is a real melting plot. Given its history, many of those not of Anglo Celtic origin are fourth or fifth generation Darwin residents.

There’s a strong Irish contingent, many of them tradesmen who migrated because there’s not much being built in Ireland right now. Darwin, on the other hand, is bristling with cranes.

There’s plenty of good food about, if a little expensive. Perhaps I’m biased, as we ate Asian food most of the time, and I found myself comparing the prices (unfavorably) with Vietnam. I did this subconsciously, as the feel of the place (including the smells, the humidity and the accents) is Asian.

When you look at a map, that’s hardly surprising. Darwin is almost equidistant from Singapore and Melbourne.

That proximity to Asia has had a defining influence on the history of the place. It meant that before air travel, Darwin was only readily accessible from the sea, and the sea was to the North and the track to and from Asia. Hence the wave of immigration, starting with the Malaccans who traded with the aborigines before white settlement, and continued with Chinese, Indians and Japanese – the last group with the pearling industry.

Sunset on the Timor Sea

Darwin is a phoenix, being destroyed twice during the Japanese bombing (which lasted from February 1942 until November 1943) and when Cyclone Tracy wrecked it on Christmas Day 1974. The story of wartime Darwin is a sadly neglected part of our history. I doubt most contemporary Australians are aware of the ferocity and duration of these raids, and the many men and women who died on Australian soil in Darwin’s defence.

It also has an interesting industrial history.

How many of you are aware of the Darwin Rebellion in 1918? It all started with the nationalization of the pubs in 1915, and ended with the administrator being run out of town, and having to be rescued by a gunboat.
He completed his term of office from Melbourne. Now that was a punishment.

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