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Published: October 16th 2012
So it came time to finally leave Perth. It is strange how time can fly - you put your feet up for a couple of weeks and seven months have flown by! We were glad to have visited Western Australia when so many other travellers pass it by. We were particularly glad to have met some great people. In particular Leeann (our Aussie Mum) and Georgia & Peter, who welcomed us into their homes/lives and made a faraway place seem like home. We truly are blessed. As you can imagine there were some emotional goodbyes and several 'last suppers' before we caught the flight to Darwin on a wet Perth morning.
Darwin is some 4000km (sorry mum it's all metric here! - F) north east of Perth on this vast continent, which means not only were we now in a tropical climate but also closer to Indonesia than to another major Australian city! Describing Darwin as a city is a typical Australian way of saying the place has traffic lights! Considering the population of the entire Northern Territory is some 250,000 compared to the 1 million plus who call Essex their home, it kind of puts things in perspective. Darwin though
is nice and compact.
They call this season the dry, which means it doesn't rain at all for 6 months and the temperature drops to a cool 30 degrees, and therefore it's also the busiest time for the 'Top End' as travellers from around the world and 'Grey Nomads' from the south venture to the Territory. This pushes prices sky high and accomodation becomes scarce. When we touched down in Darwin and first sampled the tropical air we weren't entirely sure where we would be staying. We had been planning to wwoof with a lady outside of the city but hadn't heard from her in a few days. Anyway we trudged along the road with our luggage to the nearest bus stop, which was for some bizarre reason about 1km from the airport. Still, it enabled Fiona to have her first moan (hooray! - F) about the heat and we met some of the local aboriginal population.
We did end up wwoofing and stayed in a place called Humpty Doo, some 30/40kms from the city. The host was a lady who was also called Fiona and she had come here from Scotland many years ago. She has lived in Darwin
A night time visitor
These green frogs are found quite a lot in the Tropical North. They can give you a fright if you go to the loo in the dark!
for 30+ years and is certainly a stalwart of the community. She has a kind of school Maam way about her, which makes you feel like she is telling you off when she is talking to you. Many times our Fiona (me - F) and I would feel like we had our heads bowed, hands in pockets and kicking the sand when we asked her something, lol. But she was very nice, giving us lifts to places and not minding if I went off for a job interview in town. She bred dogs and had at least 10 who all made a racket whenever she came or went anywhere.
Travellers seem to have a bit of a bad reputation up here for letting people down. Many say they will arrive somewhere and simply don't turn up. I think in part this is due to the cost of accomodation and scarcity, so that they say yes to everyone and just gazzump someone when a cheaper offer comes along. This means it can be difficult to get people to trust you but I think Fiona warmed to us by the time we left!
One of the hardest parts about travelling
The Darwin Museum
Great art & displays. This was one of the winners of the Aboriginal Art Competition
is finding company with other people. Darwin however is certainly a great place to meet travellers and share your stories about Oz. There are a lot of Germans up here and we met a group of them one night for drinks on Mitchell Street (the nightlife hub of the city). The group included a couchsurfing host we contacted whose profile is called DeafnCrazy. As you can imagine he is a deaf guy, with a hearing dog and he also likes to walk around in the nude at home. By no means a Brad Pitt of this world (then again who is?) this doesn't seem to put off people staying with him as at present he has about 10 people at his place. He's a nice guy but as he already had people camping on his veranda he didn't have space for us. Most of the Germans could speak good English and certainly made us feel we should explore Europe more and improve our language skills. Particularly when the night drew on and all the native English tongues left, leaving us to fly the flag before we caught the last bus home.
Not sure if Fiona mentioned this but I
Sunset on Mindil Beach
Mindil Beach is famous for the Markets & Entertainment. Check out some other pics on Facebook (Fiereaters, Didge, etc). It is a great place to hang out after work with a beer or two as the sun sets.
did a couple of telephone interviews whilst walking the famous Bibbulman track in the bush near Perth - such was the interest from Darwin! I managed to pick up some work at the local power company, which was great. F certainly enjoyed the tag of 'Lady of Leisure', filling her days with cycling, swimming, shopping (only for food - boring! - F), coffee and sports. I'm sure when I originally got the job she was going to play the role of a doting housewife, but that quickly fell by the wayside (baloney - I cooked you egg sarnies for dinner! - F). The work I was doing was for Power&Water, which provides services to the whole of the Territory. Whilst certainly not demanding, the people were nice and the role was within Remote Operations which gave me an idea of the remote communities and the challenges they faced. Whilst I wasn't able to fly in to one of these communities I was corrupted once again into the ritual of Friday afterwork drinks! Getting the job meant quickly finding a place to stay in town. Accomodation in Darwin is tight (particularly in the Dry season) and rental prices are astronomical. Not
Art of Kakadu
Kakadu is the largest National Park in Australia and home to several Aboriginal tribes.
being entirley sure how long my work would last made it a bit challenging to find a place to stay. Many people rent out their spare rooms and we (I) managed to find a nice flat for a few weeks in the trendy Coconut Grove area. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay there for our whole time in Darwin. So we left that nice apartment and stayed at this communal houseshare a kilometre or two away. The people here were young and very nice. The house however was like a typical student house with unwashed dishes stacked on the sink, dirty towels littering the bathroom and a floor that probably would be white if a mop had been used on it in the past year or two! For Fiona it was like winding the clock back ten years to her student days, only now she was the neurotic clean freak complaining about her unruly housemates. It certainly was a culture shock and required us to drop our standards or go mad. At least it was a bit of acclimatisation for when we hit the road and won't have all the amenities available to us. The people were great though and very committed
Sunset over Kakadu (Ubirr)
We were getting a bit city crazy hanging around Darwin. We needed to hit the road again. So we hired a car and travelled a few hundred kms to this massive park.
to their individual causes, however, they provided an indication of why the green movement will not conquer Australia and most probably the world. Unable to get their own house in order, it is unlikely they will provide the focus and organisation needed for the world to be saved. It is interesting how movements attract a particular type of person. Now if the wwoof Fiona we originally stayed with was a greenie, then things would be a completely different matter. Travelling opens up a different world if you let it. You can either stay in your little world or be willing to explore. A French guy named Loic who had been staying at the communal house told us about a local community meal that takes place each month. The evening is free, only donations are wanted and includes some live music. It is the kind of thing that Basildon could do with. A place for strangers from across the globe (well, Basildon - F) to meet and become friends, as well as free food. There were asylum seekers there from Iran and it was a place for local people to display their talents.
The Dry in Darwin is the time
Art of Kakadu
The act of painting is more important than the art itself. They can be painted over many times. No one can truly tell how old this art is but it is believed that this area has been inhabited for 20,000 years, making this one of the oldest civilisations on earth
for visitors and for events. There is the Mindil Beach markets each week, which are a must for tourists. Here you can get a massage, eat tropical fruit and listen to music as the sun sets over the ocean. They have a really good electro-didgeredoo and drums guy, who gets the blood pumping and the local kids bopping (check out Facebook). Along from the Markets is the casino, where I managed to get a look at the Darwin Symphony Orchestra (for free, whilst others paid) perform a kind of Proms concert.
It has been interesting to get a glimpse at the local aboriginal community. They are more prominent here than in other parts of Australia and unfortunately often for the wrong reasons. An honest observation is that a large proportion of aboriginals you come across (if not the majority) are drunk or worse. They also have a distinctive aroma which even the most liberal of people could not ignore. Still, it does make trips on Public Transport interesting as they shout their business from one end of the bus to the other (part of me thinks Fiona might have some aboriginal blood in her as she too lacks
Art of Kakadu
Aboriginals paint scenes on walls as a way of educating people about life and survival, as well as warning people to stay away.
the art of holding a subtle conversation - lol). Never in my life have I noticed such a clear and visible social divide. On the bottom of the Aussie ladder there are the bogans (Aussie chavs) and then abos (aboriginals).You could go into the centre of Darwin and not know you were in Australia but perhaps some Balleric island instead, such is the prominence of the Europeans and lack of Aboriginals in sight.
From our short stay it seems to me that there is a lack of honesty about the situation from all sides. There are sections of the white community who clearly feel that aboriginals have no part to play in Australian society and wish to keep it that way. They wish to keep the aboriginals in areas they can control, one that doesn't spoil their idylic view of a meritocratic, wealthy, good living Australia. There is a liberal contingent who will forgive any sins by the aboriginal community as a just reward for the horrors committed on them by the settlers on their land. Some of these liberals will not even call Australia their own, such is their colonial guilt. As a European and even a Briton it
is sometimes odd to consider that 'a people' have a birthright to land, given that Europe has had such violent conquests in much of its history. Unfortunately, there are also elements of the Aboriginal community who seek to blame the whitefella for all their problems, whilst expecting them to sort out (pay for) the problems to be resolved. They're not willing to take responsibility themselves whilst playing the race card when any administration tries to drag the community into the 21st century.
Petrol sniffing is a large problem within Aboriginal communities. As is heavy drinking. On a number of occasions we have seen people stumble for the bus, even during the day. Once on the way home from work a guy got on covered in dry grass. He exited a few stops later by displaying his Guns'n'Roses T-shirt to the whole bus, walking a few steps and then promptly falling face down into the grass on another roadside! Fiona always hates it when we have a 'debate' in public and make a scene, but these Aboriginals are really good at it. On another bus journey an Aboriginal couple got on and went to the back of the bus. The
driver was about to pull away when a figure stumbled through the darkness. You could feel the bus collectively hold its breath as this old woman picked herself up and got on the bus. She went to the back also. As the bus pulled away the couple got up, pressed the button for the next stop and moved forward, the guy standing near the driver, whilst the young woman sat near the front. The old woman then proceeded to sit next to her and glared at her. The young woman got up and stood in front of the man. Unfortunately, there was a long distance between stops and at that point the driver probably couldn't tell what was happening. Well now the old woman, clearly incensed by this snub, started screaming and shouting. She also started kicking the guy's back, which he ignored until about the tenth time when he turned and pushed her away. They then pushed and shoved each other whilst the bus was still moving. She then put her leg on one of the head rests and he proceeded to beat it with his fist. At this point some of the other passengers stood up and asked
OK this maybe only a butterfly but I think this could make it into the National Geographic
them politely to stop (please brother, please sister). The bus finally reached the next stop and the couple left with the older woman still ranting at them. Some white traveller (he looked French), had packed himself and scarpered too. I mention this, not because I want to create a bad impression, but to highlight the strangeness of the situation. It felt like the whole bus was anticipating this kind of event and were not shocked by it. At no time did I personally feel in any physical danger, even considering the close confines of the bus. I've seen plenty of fights in my time (including a hilarious one at a wake in the moon on the square) and usually there is a feeling that the violence might spill over, but here it seemed very self-contained. Equally in most other parts of the world the police might have been called and the woman duly charged with assault, but here people just seem to shrug and get on with things. It's as if it is a part of the fabric of life here. It should be said that even when hammered, most aboriginals are still extremely friendly and even polite (so far
anyhow) and non-threatening to the whitefella. It is within their own community that the angst lies. Always shouting at each other.
One night when we had not much else to do we visited Mindil Beach to watch a Strongman show we had seen advertised. It turned out that this wasn't a show with numerous muscle-bound contestants but instead a show put on by an evangelical church to entice new worshippers to come along. This man, who was ex-army, performed some pretty amazing acts of strength whilst explaining how his life was changed through being saved by Christ. Having been an ex-drinker and bodybuilding bully this was not your average preacher. He tore up several yellow pages, bent steel, horseshoes and turned frying pans into fake hairdryers! He even had the strength to combat me (not hard! - F) and some other guests in a tug of war (well I was tired, lol). Towards the end of the event the mood shifted from fun to what Fiona would describe as hardcore Bible bashing. The preacher explained that though he was physically strong he was nothing compared to the strength shown by Jesus and showed some pretty graphic images of the
Our first chance to get up close with a croc in Kakadu
crucifixtion. Having taken part in the event we were invited to a BBQ in the following week. Now whilst Fiona was a bit reluctant I was interested to know more and would rarely pass up the opportunity of a free meal. It turned out to be a great evening. These churchgoers were certainly a lot of fun (mostly young) and we talked about all manner of things. Fiona and I probably lack the conviction to ever talk about religion in the way these folks did.
We certainly are aware that we've missed some big events back in the UK but that was the choice we made when we came out here.
London may have been celebrating the cream of the world's athletes recently but quite honestly the Olympics can't hold a flame to the sheer quality of the competition we saw at the inaugural NT Outback Games here in Darwin. Yes we were some of the lucky few to witness the first (and possibly last) event of this kind where quite literally some of the unfittest athletes from across Australia competed for a coloured thong (flipflop) of glory. As you can imagine there were several highlights (see the photos
All the waterways up here have crocodiles every 100m or so. These are Saltwater types which are the more aggressive.
on facebook) but I think the inflatable crocodile swim was the event that truly captured the Aussie spirit that saw them finish behind Britain in the Olympic medal table. There was one representative from each Aussie State so alas I wasn't allowed to don my speedos to demonstrate the prowess of the Mother Country.
Australia certainly is an expensive place to live. I think the most interesting thing for me is the fact that most Australians that we have met so far just seem to accept this. There doesn't seem to be a concept of value for money. Now admittedly I have often been charged with the tag of being a tight git, in some instances accurately, but in many ways Australians are being ripped off. In part this is due to the booming economic growth that has been fuelled by the mining industry. But also I think because it doesn't have a strong competition commission like the EU does which forces companies to keep prices low. The upshot for me is that if you work and live in Australia you're going to have a pretty good life, however, if you're only visiting the place then be prepared to
spend some big bucks. A place like Vegas has it right - reasonable flights, plentiful and cheapish accommodation so that you spend most of your money out and about in the city. In Australia, the flights and accommodation are prohibitively expensive so you're reluctant (well I am) to splash the cash whilst you're here. We'll see what the East Coast brings. So to live and play in Oz, yes but to holiday?? I'd look to cheaper destinations first - Greece, Egypt, Spain, Libya...
There are certainly some great people in Australia. So many people we have met so far have come from various parts of the world and made their homes here in Oz. You hear so much about how difficult it can be to emigrate here and then you meet people who have been here for years. I guess where there is a will there is a way! Perhaps yet we haven't found that place where our will is strong enough to make us stay. Both Darwin and Perth are nice, but like Goldilocks we haven't found our porridge that is just right. Perhaps we never will or maybe Basildon truly is the place for us!
this much time in Darwin has allowed us to indulge in Fiona's favourite past time (other than coffee). Yes once again I have been gracing the netball courts in my fetching sports gear. Whilst I can't yet match Fiona's intensity, I think she is quietly impressed with my sporting prowess, even if she does insist on shouting 'advice' to me from the attacking end of the court! If you can stand the heat up here (and it can be restrictive) then there is a lot to keep you occupied and whilst there maybe opportunities up here, Darwin doesn't provide the ability to go for long romantic walks during the daytime as you would fry!
Funny things said at work:
When they talk about upgrading a 'Tranny', they mean transformer, but it still makes me chuckle.
A lady who always says 'Alright' just like Cinderella in last year's BasOp Christmas concerts. If you haven't seen the sketch then you will not understand and shame on you for not attending!
'Get Rooted', An Australian term which means 'go off and enjoy your own company'. Can make conversations interesting particularly if you pronounce an internet 'Router' the English way
Croc up close
Apparently Freshwater crocs are a bit less dangerous, though would you swim with one?
instead of the American way. In an interview I mentioned that we had to get rid of some 'routers' in Parliament and they joked that I was talking about the MPs.
Whilst I don't like the way Australians seem to set up their offices (too American with booths that have people facing walls all day), I do like the attitude of the workers here. They seem to like the work/life balance and speak their mind in a way that is refreshing from the uptight/PC brigade you get back home. Whilst the days may be hot, the climate makes for a great night time atmosphere. You can go out any time of the night in just shorts and a T-shirt. This makes it great for outdoor parties and creates a very relaxed atmosphere in bars & restaurants. The weather means that people can't be too stuffy when it comes to business so just a shirt and trousers works. Sometimes in London when you see people commuting in flipflops it seems weird, but here it is totally normal.
Whilst over here, Australia has become the first country in the world to enforce strict laws on tobacco companies, banning them from
using their logos etc on the packaging of cigarettes. A bold move (though one could argue a bolder one would have been to ban the things completely) and it will be interesting to see if this has the desired effect of less people smoking. Though equally it could make it more taboo and therefore encourage the young, as they do, to break the rules. Of course like elsewhere in the world there have been protests to this 'anti-islamic' movie taking place in Australia. Having seen the trailer for the film I'm not sure which I find more pathetic, the film-makers or the violent protestors willing to kill over such drivel. Much like the topless pictures of a Princess, the self-perpetuating nature of these events does make me wonder what kind of world we really live in.
It was great to spend time in a city like Darwin, doing some work and getting a taste for the Tropical North. I perhaps could have worked there longer but we were getting a bit restless and aware that our time in Oz was diminishing. We hired a car and took in the local sights of Kakadu & Litchfield national parks. Check out
Litchfield Park is near Darwin so it can get a bit busy, certainly during the school holidays when we went.
the pictures for some amazing shots of the varied wildlife & landscapes this area has to offer. Though you need to travel vast distances you do get to see some great sights.
Our next decision to make was whether to head East to Queensland or head South to the mighty Ayers Rock/Uluru. Stay tuned for part two to find out what happened next!
Big Happy Birthdays to my brother Stephen, nephew Alex & our friend Lisa Gibgobs and anyone else who has been celebrating recently. I think someone else has had a birthday as well but I forget now, lol. (I'M STILL WAITING FOR MY PRESSIE!!!!!!!! - F)
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