Down Under: ‘Darwin’
After a couple weeks of intense learning, clearing and transformation, it was time to get my travels on the move again; next destination, ‘down under’.
I’ve always been fascinated by indigenous cultures, and what little I knew of Australian Aboriginal history, I would imagine there are places that still exist where aboriginals live off the land in the old ways, in the harsh outback.
I wanted to seek an authentic experience, similar to what I had done in the Amazon with the Matses. I wanted gain a better understanding of their life, history and beliefs, understand more about dreamtime and the mystic and shamanic ways.
View from Nightcliff
With this in mind it was suggested I start at the top end of Australia, so I first landed in Darwin. I decided to settle down for a week in a quiet, residential neighborhood called, Nightcliff.
I used Nightcliff as a base to find a little domestication and plan my next move in this massive country. My one and only must see in Australia was Uluru aka Ayers Rock.
Australia is in the southern hemisphere so it meant I landed at the top end of ‘down under’, known as the ‘top end’, just in time for winter [June – August].
The temperatures this far north are perfect; day temperatures in Darwin average in the 80’sF/30’sC with a nice breeze as it is surrounded by the Timor Sea.
Most of us grow up knowing of only four seasons. Did you know that in some indigenous Australian cultures there are as many as six?
A little about Darwin
WWII tunnels, Darwin Harbour
Would it come as a surprise that Darwin is named after Charles Darwin? The Captain of a ship called the Beagle arrived in Darwin Harbour in 1839 and named it Darwin.
The settlement was actually called Palmerston, after the British Prime Minister, and was renamed after Charles Darwin in 1911 and officially made a city in 1959.
Two major events which impacted Darwin were World War II and a cyclone in the 1970’s.
It is estimated that the population of Darwin in 1940 was 2,000 [~7,200 in all of the Northern Territory] and in the early 1940’s approximately 10,000 allied troops moved to Darwin. Darwin is the only capital city to come under attack during WWII.
Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin on Christmas day in 1974. It is known as the deadliest cyclone in Australia’s history. Here are some facts noted from http://hurricanescience.org:
Destroyed 80% of the buildings in the city
Claimed 71 lives, injured 650, left 41,000 homeless, and caused 35,362 people (of the 47,000 total population of Darwin) to evacuate.
The total cost of the storm is estimated to have been $837 million (1974 AUD) or $586 million (1974 USD).
Every single tree in Darwin was uprooted and stripped of its foliage
Cyclone Tracy is the most compact hurricane or equivalent-strength tropical cyclone on record in the Australian basin, with gale-force winds extending only 48 km (30 mi) from the center, and was the most compact system worldwide until 2008 when Tropical Storm Marco broke the record, with gale-force winds extending only 19 km (12 mi) from its center of circulation.
In July 1975, the estimated population of Darwin was 33,000; approximately 14,000 less than the pre-cyclone population in December of 1974. The city did not regain its pre-cyclone population of 47,000 people again until 1978.
The population of Darwin today is just over 145,000, still quite small and quaint.
Deckchair Cinema in between double feature
As I was planning what to do and how I was going to get around done, I took in some of the local scenery and events. I really enjoyed going to the Deckchair Cinema.
It’s an outdoor, open cinema where you enjoy the feature on deckchairs. I made sure I got my fill by attending twice and viewed back to back double features each time.
This was a really cool experience. Bug spray is provided but a small caution, take care of all food and drinks as the HUGE possums will help themselves. I preferred to keep my legs and feet up and crossed in my chair. No creepy, crawlies for me, thank you!
Mindil Beach Market
Along the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, you could enjoy, crocodile, buffalo or kangaroo amongst many other delicious treats.
Perfect, I was hankering for a taste of meat having just spent six months in Southeast Asia. [At this point I’m not yet a fully-fledged vegetarian].
I’m in Australia after all and was feeling the urge for nature. There are quite a number of outdoor activities in the Northern Territory [NT], [e.g. Kakadu & Litchfield National Parks] which I decided to skip.
I felt they were more of the same I had done elsewhere and many were quite touristic.
Even more so, I had to get my head around driving again. In Southeast Asia it was very easy getting around without a car and now impossible down under.
Luckily, during my planning of how to get around in the outback, I found myself in Tourism Top End offices. This was the first time in a visitor center, where I experienced the staff were incredibly helpful, professional and knowledgeable. They spent as much time as needed helping me figure out best options for me and not just ‘trying to make a sale’. The customer experience was impeccable.
For Darwin, they recommended a local tour run by husband and wife down the Adelaide River. It was a perfect choice as the maximum number is 12 and it was a great way to be in nature, have a stop along the river for a home cooked BBQ meal and a stop at Goat Island. Goat Island is a secluded island on the Adelaide River, reachable only via boat or helicopter and has a sole quirky owner, Kai Hansen.
Adelaide River: Ibis
BBQ Adelaide River
Now what about that indigenous Australian experience?
View from Deckchair Cinema
Before I dive into this topic, let me just call out that what you will read here and in future posts on this topic are purely based on my experiences, observations and interpretations only; it is not meant to offend or take any side or view.
Throughout my stay in Darwin, it appeared there was a clear segregation indigenous and the rest of the population. All appearances are civil but there felt to be an underlying rift.
There was clearly a sizable population of indigenous Australians that were visibly under the influence of alcohol; many were sleeping in public places and the police clearly on the lookout.
Even on public busses, there appeared to be a voluntary separation or avoidance of what I will call the ‘whites’ for lack of a better term and the indigenous Australians.
I sat next to an indigenous Australian on one bus ride and at first got a surprised look, and then, a very talkative and hilarious character for the next three stops. It’s unfortunate that the reek of alcohol of those on the bus will steer you away from any interaction.
At this point, I make no judgements, only observations, I still have a long way to go in this land of Oz, ‘down under’.
I found a tour travelling through the indigenous region of Arnhem Land which was scheduled to begin in another two months, I’ll just have to see where I’m at that time.
It’s worth to note here that there are segments of land in Australia known as Aboriginal land. This is where Aboriginal people hold inalienable freehold title under Aboriginal Land Rights [at least in the Northern Territory]. The title is similar to other freehold title but it may not be sold or transferred. In order to access these lands, you must first obtain permission from the land owners and a permit, which varies based on the territory you are in.
I’ll continue with my observations and how I get throughout my future posts.
NOW, it’s now time to hit the road in the outback, stay tuned for more from ‘down under’.
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Port-a-loo stop, Adelaide River
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