Welcome to the land of Oz

I’m afraid I experienced the full allure of the Jakarta traffic when my taxi was side-swiped on the way to the airport. It was bad enough for the driver to have to climb out of the opposite passenger door because his was so badly buckled but not bad enough to cause any apparent injury. Fortunately we were almost adjacent to a police station and another taxi was available to take me on to my destination. At Elisabeth’s advising, I booked a room in one of the airport hotels as I will have a 20 hour layover on the way back. Actually, this idea proved invaluable since I was able to disencumber myself of half my luggage, including various Indonesian souvenirs which it would have been problematic to take into Australia anyway.

I travelled throughout the night on a budget airline that interchanged at Singapore. I’ve experienced worse. The plan that revolved around my 5am arrival in Darwin had me take a taxi to a homestay not far from the airport. So far so good. The taxi driver left me at an undistinguished chain link fence and only the torch on my mobile phone got me through the bush and up to the porch. Here I found a couch and a pair of welcoming cats and, had the check in staff not taken my water bottle at the airport, I would have settled down to sleep whether I was at the right place or not. Eventually my host stirred and I was suitably re-hydrated and shown to my room but in my tired daze I must have missed a key instruction about the use of the toilet.

After a few hours sleep, I awoke and found my way to the bathroom. Nick was up and about so he probably started a countdown until the inevitable screams rent the air of this quiet Darwin neighbourhood. Another guest had found the Toilet Frog. After a cup of tea and an introduction to the cats, the rescued baby possums who live at the bottom of the garden and the two carpet pythons whose enclosure is right next to the couch I had almost slept on, I opened my e-mail to find an invitation to the theatre.

Downtown Darwin may be the capital of the Northern territories but it extremely small compared to Jakarta or even the average British market town; at midday Nick dropped me at the theatre where the evening’s performance seemed to be the Little Shop of Horrors. This is hardly my “cup of tea” but an invitation is an invitation and, if I could manage to sit through Annie at the Marlow theatre in Canterbury with my granddaughters just before I left home, then I should be grateful for this. After all, my friend Troy has been delayed and I knew nothing at all about Samantha, who had been deputed to take care of me in the interim.

I had several hours to kill before the performance to I wandered the wharf, found a healthy snack lunch, photographed some of the exotic birds on the lawn of the civic buildings and talked “opals” with a knowledgeable shopkeeper. The latter was something of a pleasant surprise since the best stones usually go straight to the Far East nowadays and Australian outlets, particularly those aimed at tourists, are often stocked with overpriced rubbish. My gemmologist friends in the UK tend to agree that the best place to buy classic Australian black opals nowadays is in the London Antique markets or in the form of Arts and Crafts jewellery form the early 20th century. Inherited pieces can be fabulous as well, of course, and if you didn’t actually inherit them yourself? Well, who is to know?

So I enjoyed the town until our meeting at 4.30pm and was then intrigued to discover that out theatrical performance was a studio run-through of a one woman performance about growing up as an Aboriginal girl in a white Baptist foster family. By turns heart wrenchingly sad and eye wateringly funny, this contemporary account of Talulah’s journey from the Daly River encampment to the theatres of Sydney and Europe encapsulated so many aspects of modern Aboriginal life. One little black girl’s aching desire for a frothy pink party dress, contrasted to her disappointment at the refusal of her native cousins to take her fishing in the creek illustrated the situation so much better than any doctoral thesis.

It turns out that Tessa Rose, the actress and creative collaborator, is another friend and colleague of Troy’s and that Samantha has known Nick and Hilltrud at my guesthouse for years. This, I’m told, is the “Darwin Effect” and I think I am going to like it. After the performance (and a stimulating discussion session with wine and cheese) we visited the night market. Here I marvelled at such fashionable items of Australiana as baseball caps made out of tin cans, crocodile skin whips and out-of-date heavy metal T shirts but the proximity to South East Asia was also obvious. Different East Asian influences swirled colourfully amongst the fabrics, woodwork and jewellery while the various aromas of a hundred different types of cuisine temped the appetite. Best of all, however, was a strong young man of Chinese descent who skilfully worked at the knots in my neck and shoulder muscles and bestowed a blessed relief to the pain of altogether too much travel my unfortunate encounter with the Jakarta traffic.

1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    Isn’t it wonderful how the most unexpected things makes a trip so memorable–both good and bad? Great to hear you are having such an interesting time!

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