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Published: October 13th 2015
Arriving into Darwin at half five in the morning with hardly any sleep, it was a welcoming sight to see my mate Will waiting with a sign welcoming me to Australia, even though he had spelt my name wrong. I have known Will for years through the British Army and he had taken the jump to transfer to the Australian Army last year and had only been in country for 7 months. In fact Will was the one that persuaded me to go travelling for 2 months around South East Asia towards the end of last year and given me the travel bug.For me this was a temporary move back into normality as I moved into his spare room, for Will it was a chance to catch up and find out all about my adventures so far.
His apartment was on the outskirts of Darwin and was a decent size with touches of England on his walls and Yorkshire tea in his cupboard. He showed me my room and the first thing I did? Lie down and go to sleep, I was shattered and I think Will was as well seeing as he got out of bed at 5 am to pick me up. After a decent rest and a even better cup of coffee, Will was determined to show me round as much of Darwin as possible, mainly because he had been unable to take time off work due to exercise commitments.
Darwin classes itself a small city and is situated on the coast of the Northern Territories. I’ll admit that I have seen bigger towns in Europe but this is Australia and I’m not going to argue that its not a city. We drove down to the waterfront and you could see that it had been recently modernised over the last couple of years. It was open with lots of expensive apartments, restaurants and cafes with a wave pool for the families and open grassed areas for people to relax. Our first port of call was the Irish bar which although I was thirsty was for a proper English Breakfast, and my god was it good. It was a chilled area even though there were several stalls around the front for an open day that was trying to teach the children of Darwin the dangers of the area, from crocodiles, sun burns, jellyfish, swimming and basically everything that Australia is famous for. We finished our breakfast and after walking around several stalls made our way into the city centre. Going past the governmental buildings there were several tourist signs giving the history of various buildings and it was clear that the early years of the city was hard and tough, especially with the weather as it is the hottest part of Australia.
The city centre comprised of about 5 streets filled with shops. It was modern, clean and full of people for a Sunday and I fell in love with the place. It wasn’t European in design or even Asian, it had it’s own identity and Will explained that there was a lot of building work going on trying to get people to relocate to Darwin. After a look at the various shops and a quick stock up at the supermarket for extra food that Will thought I would need to look after myself while he was at work, we headed off to the tunnels of Darwin. There is so much military history in the area due to the coast line being so close to Japan and during the early part of the 20th century the city was heavily armoured with weapons and manpower, especially during the second world war. Tunnels were built for fuel and effectively they were fuel tanks. Now empty of fuel, tourists are allowed to walk through these long underground tunnels and there are various pictures going along the walls with information boards giving all information you could ever ask about the tunnels. The place really wasn’t looked after and there could have been more of an effort to give the place an updated look, however it was interesting and it was something that Will hadn’t seen before since arriving.
For the next week while Will was at work I cleaned his apartment, cooked meals, walked the hour round trip to his local supermarket, watch TV and most of all I just got used to being normal, instead of being in a hostel full of Europeans, Canadians or whatever nationality was around. After 4 days I will admit I did get itchy feet to start moving again but this was my time to relax and get to know Darwin.
The next weekend, Will decided to take me into the city centre on a Friday night with one of his army mates ‘Wiggles’. Knowing how expensive alcohol is in the bars, we obviously had a few beers in the apartment before heading into Darwins nightlife. It’s hard to describe what a typical night out in Darwin would be like, there are the upper class bars with dress codes which seems to be no flip flops (thongs) or work shorts (?) and then there are bars that I would have said haven’t changed since the 1890’s except that they now have electricity and non smoking areas. One of the bars that we actually queued up to get in would not allow me in, as I seemed to them to be inebriated (their words), however I was standing straight on 2 feet and totally responsive to what they were saying to me, while behind me were Australian blokes swaying away shouting abuse…. maybe a bit of english bashing going on by the bouncers? It did get a chance to end the night in Darwin’s only Irish bar and I was amused when they local band did a cover of Men at Works song Down Under. Classic song of Australia in the 80’s, which all the crowd sang along to.
Saturday was a hungover day hugging pillows and drinking a hell of a lot of water, but Sunday Will decided to take me out to a ‘jumping crocodile’ cruise. This involved a drive south of about an hour and a bit into the semi outback going past smaller towns and the military camp where Will worked. The cruise was about 45 minutes long on a boat going along Victoria River with a woman leaning over the top of the boat while holding what looked like a broom handle with a hook on the end that had meat hanging off it. It was an all female crew and over the tannoy it was explained that they had done the journey so often that they knew exactly where the crocs were, and boy did they know where the big ones were. Once the crocodile was located, they would tease it with the meat putting it in front of their nose and then when the croc wanted the food in its mouth then the crew would raise the meat in the air till the crocodile was using their body muscle to lift them out of the water to get the meat, giving the effect of them jumping. From where we were sitting in the boat, you could see at close hand the crocs in their full glory, from their teeth, their bodies, the pure muscle that they packed and how big they were. In the time we were out we saw plenty of crocodiles but only 4 of them jumping.
Coming back to the apartment, Will made an awesome Sunday Dinner, my first since I left England and it was another taste of home that I had missed, proving that Will could actually cook! over the next 2 days he was again at work even though he was meant to be off on leave, but the big day was on Wednesday when Will received his Australian Citizenship through a ceremony at the waterfront conducted by the Mayor of Darwin, which according to people I chatted to this was the second ever citizen ceremony held in that location. All the people from his Company was all in their best uniform to watch on as Will repeated the oath that the Mayor read out, then he saluted during the playing of the Australian anthem while the Mayor sang/mimed along.There were lots of people walking by and just stopping with confused looks on their faces wondering why the Australian Army had taken over the water front and what the hell was the mayor doing?
It was a simple ceremony but very effective and what do soldier boys do when a duty is finished? They head straight for the bar and have a copious amount of alcohol, and this was no exception. I was lucky enough to be able to join in their conversations and talk to the guys who came from all over Australia and find out about them. As the beers took their toll, sensible conversations turned to the Minogue sisters, X Factor and which countries beer is best!
Will had booked the next 2 days off work, a very sensible idea due to the fact he was hungover from hell, which was allowed due to the fact he was now officially an Australian. Staying in the house was not an option as he had tour guide duties in his head and wanted to take me out to see stuff. This included Fannie Hill Jail, which was one of the first jails in the Northern Territory and really needs a bit more work to try and restore it so people can see what it was like back in the day. I still got an idea of what it was like to be imprisoned in the previous century.
Over the next few days Will took me all over the city, to various beaches, parks and I saw my first wallaby. He was the perfect host and it was awesome to meet up with a good friend to have a catch up, but the call of travelling was back in the body and I knew that I was fully rested and normality had to take a back seat, but where to next? I had it fixed in my head that I wanted to go to Alice Springs but it was getting there, the cheap way! In the end, I found a website that relocate camper vans around Australia and they firm relies on backpackers to deliver them as it’s a cheap way of getting to your next location on the cheap, however the only destination that was available for me was Perth on the West coast. As it was a Sunday afternoon and I had to leave by the next day, my options were running out so impulse decision time and it was booked. i quickly went into Gumtree which is a massive website in Australia and advertised for a travel mate and within half an hour had a British bloke called Tom saying he was wanting to head for Perth and would go halves on fuel costs! Looks like my first proper Australian adventure was planned.
Meeting Tom the night before travelling to make sure he wasn’t a mass murderer put my mind at rest and the drive started early on the Monday morning after a quick shop for basic food and essentials. The camper van itself was a decent size vehicle with a pull out double bed and single bed, small fridge/freezer, cooker, sink and microwave all in the back. Although just meeting Tom for a brief couple of minutes the night before, we got on well, which was handy as there was 4 and a half days of driving through the outback together, a total of 2,510 miles. The journey itself went really quick, with me driving the majority of the way and Tom taking over every now and again when I felt my eyes going to sleep. Nights were spent on the side of the road except for one night when after picking up a German hitch hiker and a decent phone signal and through a website he found a secret camp site which involved driving down a dirt track in the dark at 20 kph for 30 minutes towards a crocodile infested river. Once we got there, I have never felt so uncomfortable being in the dark and not knowing what animal could be out there, hearing the river flow by. i think what made the other two guys change their minds of staying was when they saw a car go by at speed with open window and music blasting. The only people in the area would be Aborigines and the reputation that they have scared them, so off we went back onto the main road and onto a lay-by.
Over the four and half days we saw the real outback, which is bleak at times, there are also views that are outstanding with rock formations that you could only get in Australia, sun sets that fill the whole sky, roads that go on for hours and you can’t see the end with a vehicle passing you once in a blue moon and outback towns that haven’t changed in decades. It was an experience and when the costs of the trip which included fuel, food and the hire of the camper van, the cost is a lot cheaper then getting a flight or greyhound bus. The disadvantage of taking a relocation vehicle is the time frame you are given as you don’t really have the time to stop and look at everything you want to see, or take scenic routes as you have a certain mileage that you have to stick to.
The Australian adventures continues in Perth…..
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