Published: September 29th 2009September 29th 2009
We have spent the past couple months living in the tropical, laid-back city of Darwin. With a population of approximately 100,000, Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, and home to about half of the Territory's residents. It's a great city and we both feel very at home here. Andrew has been working as a mechanic for Thrifty, enjoying being able to get his hands dirty, and the less stressful pace of work in Australia. I have been doing a variety of casual jobs and temping work. I spent almost a month working in Administration and Reception for CridlandsMB, a large law firm in the city centre. It was quite interesting to see the inner workings of a law firm, and although the work was redundant at times, I enjoyed it and learned a lot. The people that worked there were all very nice, and every Friday they hosted free drinks in boardroom! I have also done some other reception work, car detailing, and kitchen hand work. Considering I don't like talking on the phone, cleaning, or cooking it's all gone fairly well! Andrew's employer has put us up in staff accommodation. It's the first time we have lived in
a house in Australia, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity (and also for our A/C - it's bloody hot up here!) We have become good friends with some of the people we live with and have endless barbeques with our flatmates and other employees of the "Thrifty Empire." For the first month we were here, we only saw clouds twice; the weather was always sunny and about 30 degrees. Now, we have entered the build-up to the wet season, and temperatures have increased to mid - high 30s and it's getting humid. It often looks like it will rain, and sometimes there is lightning in the distance, but we've only got a decent rain once.
Our first weekend in Darwin, we went to a Professional Bull Riding Event. We had a great time and knew immediately that we would like this place. The bulls here are a little smaller than at home (they use the "feral" bulls that we have seen wandering around the Outback) but it was a good event nonetheless. Also that weekend was the Annual Darwin Beer Can Regatta. We had heard about this event many years ago and always thought it would
be great to witness, and as it turned out we arrived in Darwin just in time! For the last thirty-odd years, locals have been saving their empty beer cans for this annual event. Putting them together with glue, nails, string, anything that will work, teams make a boat out of their empties and race it across the waters of Mindil Beach. Some of the boats were very elaborate and looked well-designed, but would they stay afloat with four or five people in them? To our surprise, they did! We cheered them on as they paddled across the finish line, claiming victory. After the event, the teams are off to start another long, hard year of drinking in preparation for next year's regatta.
The following weekend was the Royal Darwin Show. This is such a big thing up here, they even made it a public holiday! A cross between a carnival, a fall fair, and a festival, this event had everything you could imagine and then some. It seemed as though every resident of Darwin was there, and people even came from hundreds of kilometers around. Between admission prices, $10 carnival rides, "showbags" (compulsory for every kid it seemed, these
Royal Darwin Show
were expensive plastic bags full of a bunch of junk from a certain theme i.e.: spiderman or barbie), and games and food, the locals spend a small fortune here but nobody seems to mind. In addition to the regular events - horse shows, dog shows, agricultural exhibits, rides, and games - there were some authentic Aussie events. Pig racing and diving, spear throwing, ute racing, and polo-crosse were some of the memorable ones. For those of you unfamiliar with Aussie slang, a ute is like a truck, polo-crosse is lacrosse played on horseback, and pig racing and spear throwing are exactly what they sound like. We certainly didn't get to see everything at the Show, but we had a great time!
We have spent some time in Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park. They are both famous in Australia for their scenery, but the latter is also known for it's large population of saltwater crocodiles. At Litchfield, we saw a field full of magnetic termite mounds. We have seen thousands of termite mounds throughout Australia, but this particular species all orient their mounds to a specific magnetic direction allowing the thin, flat mound to optimally utilize the sun's
heat. Apparently that particular magnetic bearing is ingrained in their genetic makeup, and together they act as a high-tech, advanced being; each individual unaware of the nature of their actions. Litchfield also has some beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear rivers. It is safe to swim in the plunge pools of the waterfalls, but they were so full that we couldn't get in. On our way into Kakadu we stopped at the Adelaide River to go on the "Jumping Crocodile Cruise." Our boat was two stories high, with the lower layer closed in by thick glass, and the second layer open. As soon as they turned on the motor and headed out into the river, we began to see "V" shapes coming towards us in the water. We were being stalked by saltwater crocs! These prehistoric killing machines are so finely tuned for hunting, killing, and surviving, it's incredible! The crocs are wild, but have learned that the boat means food, and we were told they are even aware of the different motor noises of the boats on the river, and the voices of the guides. After travelling down the river a short while, they stopped the boat and one of
Kakadu National Park
the guides attached a pork leg to a long rope dangling from a pole, which she maneuvered to the waters' surface. Out of nowhere, a croc appeared and jumped for it, the sound of it's jaws snapping echoing against the quiet river. The guides repeated this process, as we watched about six crocs hunt. At one point, several appeared out of the murky water and began to fight, so we had to leave. They also fed some of the birds, throwing pieces of meat in the air, and allowing us to watch them swooping in to get it. I suppose this was so we understood why jumping is a natural hunting technique for the crocs. We saw one croc that was 5.4 meters and another that only had one leg (apparently as long as their tail is healthy they can survive such mutilations)! Of all the deadly and poisonous things in Australia, crocs seem to be the only one that Aussies themselves are actually afraid of, and now we have a first-hand appreciation of this. This year alone, four or five people (surprisingly locals, not tourists) have been eaten by crocs in the Northern Territory. Apparently, the sharks are afraid
Kakadu National Park
of them to, as their hasn't been a shark attack here in about half a century. As we continued our drive through Kakadu, we saw signs at the some of the low bridges warning you not to get out of your car because of the crocodiles. As real and deadly as the threat is, it is largely predictable and avoidable. We spent the night camped out in the park (well away from the water of course) and in the morning, we went to Nourlangie. This is an area where large rocks form cave-like spaces, and aboriginals used it to hide from the rains of "The Wet." The cave paintings are quite abundant and well recognized here. Continuing through the park, our next stop was at Yellow Water, a beautiful wetland area accessible only in the dry season. We saw many birds and fish, but no crocs here (though we did here a big splash). Both of the National Parks were beautiful.
The Darwin National Museum and the East Point Military Museum both had interesting exhibits. Darwin has a history of destruction. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the last hundred years, most notably after the
Shane & Andrew Being Macho
East Point Military Museum
Japanese bombings in World War II, and after Cyclone Tracey in 1974. Before we came to Australia, we didn't know that Australia had been attacked on home soil in the war. The air bombings here were horrific (evidently it wasn't just Pearl Harbour, which is all we learned about in high school history) and much of the city was ruined. The harbour, the communications and post office, and the hospital were all bombed in addition to many other sites around the city. Even today, Darwin has a very large military base and about 10% of the residents are enlisted. Cyclone Tracey hit Darwin on Christmas morning in 1974 and no one was expecting it. It destroyed most of the town and killed many people. The museum had a sound room, where we listened to an audio recording of cyclone. The sounds of the wind and metal scraping everywhere was incredible. There is still evidence around town of the destruction caused by these events.
We have also spent some weekends lazing about in the water at Berry Springs. A beautiful tropical oasis, this place is stunning. The water is warm and clear, and varies from aqua to green depending on
where you are. We pull ourselves away from the water only to have a wood-fired barbeque and then we're back in again! It has made us realize how accustomed to salt water we have become, as we notice the extra effort it takes to swim in the fresh water here! Luckily, there are no "salties" here in the dry season, so we have really enjoyed swimming and being in the water (apparently some freshwater crocodiles are there sometimes, but they aren't aggressive towards humans - either way, we're happy to have not seen any!) We also spent a day at the Wave Pool, where we splashed about on boogie boards and tubes for the day. We went on an evening fishing charter in the Darwin Harbour. It was a lot of fun, and the city skyline and the sunset were beautiful. A few people on board caught baby reef sharks, but other than that we got skunked! We learned later that it was a bad time for fishing, because the tide was so high, but perhaps we were just a boat full of bad fishermen! Since I don't like to eat fish anyways, I was impressed by the sharks (we
even got to touch them!) but we had to release them back to the sea. We had a great Aussie barbie on board, complete with prawns and croc burgers.
Our time in Darwin ends Saturday morning when we will be flying to Queensland (we sold our car a few days ago - we were sad to see it go but buying a car was one of the best decisions we made on this trip, as we saw soooo much more than we would have without it and it hardly cost us anything in the end). We really love it here, so it will be a bit sad to go, but we are ready to move on (and even if we weren't, we're out of time!). We're planning to meet Maike, one of our German flatmates, in New Zealand so we won't be saying goodbye, just see ya later! In less than a week, we will be scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef!!
There are more photos below