I travelled to Darwin for my first visit recently to catch up with a couple of old school mates that I said I would visit for years. As well as a cousin of mine I haven’t seen for forty years and others.
After the “squeezie” four-hour economy trip on Virgin, I eventually found Tony my old schoolmate and his brother Michael near the Darwin terminal baggage collection and proceeded with them to their lovely two-story home overlooking Darwin’s Fannie Bay.
And as only Darwin would have one of Tony’s neighbours has a seventy-year-old croc in the backyard which I had to visit. The nice lady who owns him, Helen Haritos inherited the croc from her father who has passed away, but was obviously a well-known and respected professional crocodile hunter in the Territory at the time, as when the Queen and Prince Phillip came to Darwin in the 60’s I gather he actually was designated to take them out on an organized croc hunt. No doubt the security guards had high powered rifles at the ready. So she has inherited this pet from her dad who probably was meaning to return the youngster to a nearby river – but just didn’t get around to it before he died – hence he’s the security in residence that she admits she must find a good home for. Lots of Melbourne bitters were drunk whilst reliving old school memories and viewing the lovely vista over Fannie Bay and then, next day it was off to Kakadu National Park( that I had heard, read and seen about since childhood) with Adam our driver and guide from
The all-day tour took in Abirr rock art and the East Alligator River on the boundary of Arnhem Land with its yellow tidal river flows. As a bush bloke I was amazed at the huge tidal flows in the northern country impacting the rivers and surrounds 30 -50 kilometers inland. Not a bit of wonder the crocs survive so well up there, especially now they are not been hunted.
I loved the way Adam did that bit extra with a very nice chicken and salad sit down lunch with all the extras and pieces of cold watermelon after much rock climbing and lamingtons with a cuppa just prior the journey back to Darwin. As they say, “it is the little things”. And you get picked up and returned to your hotel anywhere in the Darwin CBD.
I also really appreciated the prices and service at the Border Store, on the way back from Kakadu, which were very reasonable considering the isolated site and transport required for incoming groceries. It’s lovely to see a proprietor not trying to make customers pay for their business in twelve months.
And I might add, I neither sought nor have received any remuneration from any of the companies mentioned in this article. It’s the Aussie way to pay a compliment when it’s due and I’m sure Territory folk would understand that practice.
The two aboriginal boys who conducted our East Alligator river cruise in our aluminum passenger boats were obviously connected to the country they were showing us and went to trouble to explore isolated rock art and traditional trees used for medicines and spears as well as copious numbers of ever-present crocodiles, either cruising the river or sunning themselves on the banks.
I was so glad it was suggested by the locals that I visit the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Now I have been fortunate to visit a number of markets around the world including the Athens Flee market in Greece, Madrid and Lisbon and a number through Indo China. But the Mindil Beach Markets are one of the best I have experienced in many ways. The Numbers of tourists and locals tell the story with thousands, I mean thousands of people experiencing the sites, smells and colour of a huge range of different foods and cuisines, quality products like jewellery to leather goods, fresh seafood’s, stalls and shopfronts of all kinds accounting for a mixed clientele/cultures and interests including live music, whip crackers and showmen. The atmosphere is amazing and vibrant and take a good camera to get the beautiful sunset on the adjacent Mindil beach.
Next I went to see the jumping crocs ( those that are fed meat from a line and rod by the charter boat operators ) in the Adelaide River, the turnoff is thirty-three kilometers east of Darwin on the Arnhem Highway ( pics included )and the oldest of these has a front leg missing and approximately one hundred years old. But whilst waiting for my 3 pm boat cruise I visited the Window on The Wetlands Visitor Centre at the turnoff to the Jumping crocs and amazing Lookout on the hill providing a marvelous vista of the surrounding floodplains. And the very helpful aboriginal girl running it for the NT Government was saying that they have made few changes in many years just adding a carpet and a small souvenir shop upstairs near the outside viewing area. Why change a proven recipe? The regular playing hour-long video section splitting the calendar year up into the six seasons, according to local aboriginal traditional customs and explaining and linking all the different season types together and how it forms everything about the Northern Territory rangelands and its diverse and beautiful range of animal species needs to be seen to be appreciated. For me, it put so much of the landscape and its inhabitants into a long-term context. The rainfall and water in this country is hard for this desert boy to grasp, but the birds and wildlife are something to behold up here – minus the crocs, I can take or leave them.
I did finally managed to locate and catch up with my cousin Robert Lee (everybody calls him Bob but our family has always called him Robert – he’s my mother’s twin sister’s son from Glenelg in Adelaide) who I was not surprised to learn, after living in Darwin for fifty odd years is a well-known identity in the city, especially known by the older Darwin community for his excellent work as part of “Operation Clean-up” after cyclone Tracy in 1974. After sheltering with two others in a bus during the Cyclone it must have been an unbelievable experience to finally resurface after hours of howling winds to find what was left of the city. He said they cowered between the luxurious seats of the pioneer coach, which coincidentally had just had its gearbox removed, potentially making it more of a projectile risk, like many others were around the city. He used all his school buses from Darwin Hire Services and Pioneer coaches at his disposal to shift over 25,000 people out of what was left of their crippled homes and onto all sorts of aircraft out of Darwin airport to destinations around Australia. As well as moving US navy and air force personnel around what was left of the crippled city to assist with the clean-up, as well as Australian armed services and police and became a central figure in getting Darwin back on its feet. Prior to the cyclone, he had a number of businesses including a newsagency, video and music store as well as a mobile sound and lighting business where he worked with the likes of Roy Orbison, Marcia Hines and Australian artists like Johnny Young and Normie Roe all prior the cyclone in 74.
His connections and work he did on the tourist commission and camping tours he arranged for high profile visitors all over the Territory and young school kids alike, gave him a unique understanding of what tourists were looking for.
I’m very sure that the awful natural disaster Tracey was helped bond the Darwin community together whereby everybody hopped in and helped one another where they could after its effect. And be it the Chief Minister or services personnel or the corner deli handing out free rolls to helpers, everybody worked toward the common good of rebuilding Darwin. No doubt amazing bonds and friendships were built on that foundation and still continue today.
Today at 73 Robert wants a less hectic life and has a Darwin plant hire business Quality Indoor Plant Hire (https://www.qualityindoorplantshire.com.au/) supplying some one hundred and forty businesses around Darwin and its outskirts with his wife Elma who drives one of the vans on the round, with all variety of attractive office plants developed in the tunnel from their home base in Humpty Doo.
Robert was kind enough to show me around Adelaide River WW11 cemetery which is marvellous (I had no idea so many young Australians were killed by the Japanese bombing along our WA north-west coast and Darwin) and then onto Batchelor off the Stuart Highway where my father was stationed in the air force for some time during the war. There is a Picture of myself and Robert at Adelaide River Cemetery –where so many young Aussies were killed on Australian soil in WWII
Then onto Litchfield National Park and all the beautiful waterfalls in that area, even in the dry season with their stunning swimming lakes at the base of the falls, including my favourite Wangi Falls near the Bamboo Creek tin mine.
Two weeks wasn’t enough to touch the surface of what’s available in and around Darwin and its relaxed and helpful locals. Maybe it takes something like a natural disaster to make us more understanding, unassuming and comfortable in our own skins and grateful for the simple things we have like our families and a roof over our heads.
Blog site “The Speakers’ Crack” from www.theflyingbushman.com