Monday, December 22, 2014


We went to Darwin last weekend for a birthday party.

It's a strange place to classify and come to grips with as it celebrates being so named after you-know-who when the Beagle sailed in from the Timor Sea 175 years ago. It just sits there as a defence against whoever it is above us (and that's just about everyone), a trading port, and a Government town for the 'Top End', sweltering in the start of the wet season, the storms building up and the humidity heavy, a small outpost of a place on a stump in a multi-fingered harbour of low lying swamps.

It is Larrakia People's place, the sign in the harbour-side park off The Esplanade tells you. Saltwater People.

From the park there's a steep walk down under dense tropical growth to a beach where nothing seems  changed from when HMS Beagle arrived, except for some navy ships mooching about. We passed some Swiss tourists who spoke no English as we climbed back up. But no one else. It was still early morning and the heat was building up.

No Saltwater People by the water, spears at the ready. If one word comes to mind about the Saltwater People, it is displaced. It's the word with all aboriginal people. They are displaced. In their own land but not. Match sticked legged with an aimless gait. I don't think I've ever seen one walking with what seems like purpose. And congregating under trees, dark shadows of a people and a past.

This Port Darwin looks prosperous. There's money from shipping Kimberley gas, coming via massive pipelines, out to China, and the Americans are here - that's the odd tourist, and the several hundred military. It's closer to Asia than the rest of Australia. The Parap Markets on Saturday morning felt like old Malaya - toothless old Malay women grinding something with pestles, young families meeting up, kids running about, wonderful fruits and greens, fabulous coffee, and very hot Laksa for breakfast when more sweating is the last thing needed.

Heavily bombed by the Japanese in WW2, then smashed to smithereens by Cyclone Tracey, there's little evidence of old Darwin (and what there is is charming), and new Darwin isn't especially typical of anything except modern and clean.

Cyclone Tracey was 40 years ago this Christmas. The place was destroyed and evacuated by the military. I was at Royal North Shore and because we were major spinal unit were took most of the spinal injuries. I cared for a young woman who was an acute paraplegic. She spoke of the noise. She clutched her child in her arms. The child was ripped out of them by the wind. That's all she knew.

At Covent Garden a month later, in the wee small hours after midnight, they held a Concert for Darwin. Joan sang. She would have done it most willingly. I was at a fund raiser in Sydney years later when famous women walked a Cat Walk modelling clothes raising money for Children's Cancer Research. Joan was there. Modelling! To strains of Norma. For Darwin, here she disposes of Nella Pace del Mesto Riposo with her usual magisterial efficiency, and with a cold by the sound of it. Vintage Joan.


David said...

I liked Darwin a lot when we were there between the wet and dry seasons - still very humid but sunny and bright like many of your pics. Surprised at the bookshops and a rather good theatre co in a handsome converted building on the bay. Plus the Botanics. Then we were off to Kakadu, it was all so other to me.

Ir was also news to our friends in Sydney how the Aboriginal population was so present both in council and the streets (20 per cent). I remember a local newspaper article in which a redneck politician called the dignified leader 'just another whingeing black', language which even back then wouldn't have been acceptable at home.

I remember the cover of Joanie and Richard's Darwin relief concert LP, a rather shocking treated black and white shot of the wreckage.

A warm and sunny Xmas to you and K (ah, I wish).

wanderer said...

Good memories David. Our visit was brief and rather more domestic. I gather Darwin has the highest aboriginal population ratio of all Australian cities; very visible, yes.

But something (a fever actually - we would say PUO: pyrexia of unknown origin) sidelined me over the last few days and I keep of having mosquito thoughts, though likely the bug doing the rounds at work is the little beggar.

Our greetings to you both, with very best wishes for Christmas and 2015, each and every day of it.