Hanging out at the Top End

Darwin sits pretty much at the Northern tip of the Northern territories, with a tropical climate which is currently enjoying the Winter Dry Season. In other words, i’s hot and humid and everything seems to take lot more effort. Sometimes just too much effort. Fortunately, that makes it a great place to hang out with friends and the Darwin Effect means that just about anybody you are introduced to quickly becomes a friend if they weren’t one already.

The mental challenge doesn’t get much more intense than finding my own way to the NT gallery and Museum by bus. After locking up carefully at the guesthouse I had to traverse some still-smouldering scrub land to the correct bus stop but my indecision over whether to “call in” the fire was resolved by the appearance of the fire truck. The guys, who were surprisingly shy about being photographed, told me that it was all under control. They carrying out a “light burn”; that is removing some scrub before it got too thick and presented a greater danger to the nearby houses during the remainder of the Dry. The sky was full of kites (of the avian variety – complete with the distinctive finger wings and fish tails) ducking and weaving on the thermals in search of fire-displaced rodents and reptiles.

At the gallery I very much enjoyed the Aboriginal art exhibitions: these indigenous styles have always spoken vividly to me of a spirituality inherent in nature somewhere out there just beyond the reach of my understanding. Although when I looked out over the Cornucopia Coffee Shop terrace I could not fail to notice the contrast between the stylish displays and the expensively produced catalogues and the Native Australian people dressed in shabby clothes who appeared to be picnicking on the lawn outside. No, they were not taking a work break, they were walking the coastline as they do at this time of year, in and out of the Long Grass, visiting family and friends and conducting business. Apparently they feel that fifty thousand years standing means that this is their land. I’m told that the legal cases have dragged on for decades.

Later Samantha and I joined a group of museum staff for a Friday evening drink overlooking the ocean. Jared the taxidermist was a fund of information on the Natural History collection; one of his specialities being the freeze drying of reptiles and insects which explains the incredibly lifelike appearance of the specimens in the “Stuff that can Kill you in the Northern Territories” exhibition. (I paraphrase). Apparently the exquisitely colourful, but considerably less lethal, birds are the work of his father. I was amused that the backdrop for this chat was an utterly spectacular sunset and that no-one paid it any attention. Just another day in paradise.

As the sun went down and we walked back to the car park through the trees I was really surprised to see that the sky was again full of kites. At dusk? Look again: they may be the size of a raptor and as silent as an owl but the silhouette is straight out of a Halloween party. These are fruit bats and they come out here in the evenings in great profusion. In all my travels I’ve never seen them like this before and the casual way in which everyone else seems to accept them is just another reminder of how far I am from home.

Troy arrives tonight on the Red Eye and will be collected by friends from the university but just about everyone else seems to be heading out of town to the Barunga Festival for the long weekend. It’s 400k South of here (just down the road by Northern Territories standards) and I’m trying very hard to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to miss it. Every year a small Aboriginal community plays host to a gathering of musicians, dancers and artists from far flung regions of this island continent; then everyone stays up late and camps under the stars. Yesterday I’d never heard of it and now I want to see it so badly that it almost hurts.

This is Darwin though, Samantha may have gone off for the weekend but she’s left us the keys to her flat and her car.



1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    It sounds very relaxing. Sorry about not getting the complete Aboriginal treatment. I guess you will have to go back.

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