Darwin City Sights Tour – May 2016

Day 12 of the “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday” Sunday 29th May 2016

Darwin City Skyline 29th May 2016

Darwin City Skyline 29th May 2016

Half way through our tour, and here we are in the “Top End“, the northernmost part of the Northern Territory* of Australia. Darwin, the capital, “was founded in 1869 and was originally called Palmerston before being renamed Port Darwin in 1911” (Wikipedia). Port Darwin was the name first given to the area by the early European explorers on the HMS Beagle, in honour of their now famous shipmate, Charles Darwin.

* The difference between a State and Territory in Australian terms has to do with boring political clout and administration stuff.

Darwin is the smallest capital of Australia, only about 0.5% of the total population call it home. The official recent population count was 136,245,  which is less than half that of Wollongong where I live. It is also remote from the centre of our universe – Canberra – being much closer to Singapore or Jakarta, and it has somewhat of a wild west reputation, with a laid back attitude.

All the same, it is a modern city, with waterfront developments and high rise apartments, which did not exist before Darwin was flattened on Christmas Eve 1974.  Cyclone Tracy wiped out the place and caused the mass evacuation of all its citizens, about 48,000 at the time. I was on an overnight train from Adelaide to Melbourne that night, and when my girlfriend met me at the station the next morning, she greeted me with, “Darwin’s gone!“. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I soon got the drift. I was a young dental nurse, and many evacuees were sent south to Adelaide. For weeks we treated patients with broken teeth. They came to us after their more immediate injuries were attended to, but one group of larrikins sticks in my mind. They had spent the evening somewhere underground – on the grog – imagine their surprise when they emerged in the morning! I seem to remember that most of their injuries were incurred in helping others trying to retrieve possessions and Christmas presents from their dangerously unstable former homes. The song “Santa Never Made it into Darwin” tells it all – “a big wind came and blew the town away . . . it ripped apart the buildings like an atom bomb had struck.”

Darwin city skyline, possibly taken from East Point Reserve 29th May 2016

Darwin city skyline, possibly taken from East Point Reserve 29th May 2016

The other “famous” challenge for Darwin was the bombings (plural) during WWII, following the raid on Pearl Harbour. We are to hear and observe references to both these catastrophes over the coming days.

The Giese Residence in Darwin, formerly known as Audit House, is typical of the housing built for high-ranking public servants from 1920 - 1940 and is now a rare example of its type. There are four surviving in the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct.

The Giese Residence in Darwin, formerly known as Audit House, is typical of the housing built for high-ranking public servants from 1920 – 1940 and is now a rare example of its type. There are four surviving in the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct.

Darwin has two seasons, wet and dry. We are supposed to be here in the dry, but in line with changing weather patterns the world over, today decides to be rainy. Consequently, many of our outdoor photographs from our city introduction tour are not worth posting. We do, however, see many indoor items of interest, commencing with the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre. Not every woman’s cup of tea, but I just love these museums, and this one is dominated by a B-52 Bomber. Then there is also a Sabre, Mirage, F-111, Zero, Spitfire, Tiger Moth and Wessex Helicopter – just a few of the aircraft on offer. There is also an extensive exhibition of our early flyers, which does include a good dose of pioneering women! (Think Amy Johnson for one). Readers need to keep in mind that in those early days of long distance flight competition, Darwin was a critical touch down point – proving that one had really flown from London to Australia for example.

B-52 G Stratofortress 92596 "Darwin's Pride" - well, the little bit of it that I could fit in this photo anyway. Its Wingspan is 56 metres (185′) and its Length 52 metres (160′ 10″). There is more information and a better photo here: http://www.darwinsairwar.com.au/b-52-g/

B-52 G Stratofortress 92596 “Darwin’s Pride” – well, the little bit of it that I could fit in this photo anyway. Its Wingspan is 56 metres (185′) and its Length 52 metres (160′ 10″). There is more information and a better photo here: http://www.darwinsairwar.com.au/b-52-g/

North American B-25 Bomber s/n 41-30222

North American B-25 Bomber s/n 41-30222

This restored CAC Avon CA-27 Sabre is actually a composite of three different (Sabre) aircraft

This restored CAC Avon CA-27 Sabre is actually a composite of three different (Sabre) aircraft

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII (replica). During WWII Darwin was originally defended with Kittyhawks, then the Mk Vc Spitfire. This version was introduced in September 1944. The last recorded bombing raid on Darwin was 12 November 1943, but I imagine those posted in the region felt under constant threat until the final defeat of Japan.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII (replica). During WWII Darwin was originally defended with Kittyhawks, then the Mk Vc Spitfire. This version was introduced in September 1944. The last recorded bombing raid on Darwin was 12 November 1943, but I imagine those posted in the region felt under constant threat until the final defeat of Japan.

This General Dynamics F-111C flew its last combat mission over Vietnam in April 1973 and was purchased by Australia in 1982 and took its final flight in December 2010.

This General Dynamics F-111C flew its last combat mission over Vietnam in April 1973 and was purchased by Australia in 1982 and took its final flight in December 2010.

Another angle on the F-111

Another angle on the F-111

This Westland Wessex anti-submarine and search and rescue helicopter assisted in the post disaster support following Cyclone Tracy. Written off in 1989 and rebuilt in 2006.

This Westland Wessex anti-submarine and search and rescue helicopter assisted in the post disaster support following Cyclone Tracy. Written off in 1989 and rebuilt in 2006.

I never completely gain my bearings on this city tour, but other places we visit include the East Point Military Precinct, which is where I think we looked back to enjoy a panorama of the city of Darwin. There is also a Botanic Garden, and a Chinese Temple. The Stokes Hill Wharf area was shrouded in misty rain, so we didn’t get out to explore. But another great indoor visit is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory whose popular exhibit is Sweetheart a huge male crocodile, who is now “stuffed” (I think “taxidermied” is the politically correct term – but I am not even sure that is a real word).

Sweetheart is a male estuarine (saltwater) crocodile length 5.1 m (16' 10") , girth 2.3 m, weight 780 kg (1720 lb). Estimated age is 50 - 70 years.

Sweetheart is a male estuarine (saltwater) crocodile length 5.1 m (16′ 10″) , girth 2.3 m, weight 780 kg (1720 lb).
Estimated age is 50 – 70 years. He is awaiting a new exhibit space.

Out the back, they have a maritime history exhibition which captures my interest, again keeping in mind that if you are sailing from Asia, Darwin is about the first port of any influence you are likely to land in, so many asylum seekers find themselves in these waters.

The Vivienne (formerly 'White Star') is a is a pearling lugger built in Broome, Western Australia around 1945, and donated to the museum when it was laid up in 1982.

The Vivienne (formerly ‘White Star’) is a is a pearling lugger built in Broome, Western Australia around 1945, and donated to the museum when it was laid up in 1982.

Various Asian fishing boats on display at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory May 2016

Various Asian fishing boats on display at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory May 2016

In fact, from our hotel window we can see one of the vessels of the Australian Border Protection Unit. I have a relative who works on one. He has a relative who works as an immigration lawyer. They consider themselves “asylum seeker neutral” – he brings them in, she gets them released (if she can). Australians have a weird habit of calling these people illegal immigrants, when their case for asylum or refugee status has not yet been established, so no one yet knows whether they broke any Australian immigration laws in attempting to reach here. Whoops! Insert accidental political view. Anyway, our influx is nothing compared to what is happening in Europe, yet here in Darwin we are at the coalface, so to speak. Not that anyone seems to notice as the border protection vessel quietly slips out to sea again.

This Vietnamese refugee boat - the Thinh Vuong ('prosperity') - arrived in Darwin in June 1978, and was the 44th to arrive in Australia after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. More than 80,000 Vietnamese arrived in the subsequent decade, many making the perilous journey in over-crowded and in-seaworthy vessels such as these.

This Vietnamese refugee boat – the Thinh Vuong (‘prosperity’) – arrived in Darwin in June 1978, and was the 44th to arrive in Australia after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. More than 80,000 Vietnamese arrived in the subsequent decade, many making the perilous journey in over-crowded and non-seaworthy vessels such as these.

One of the BIG things to do in Darwin is to attend the Mindil Beach Sunset Market  which runs on Thursday and Sunday evenings. We are given the option to leave our tour at this point. I don’t know quite what is wrong with our group, whether we are fatigued, fed up with the rain, or not in the mood to find our own way back to the hotel, but we all take a pass. My excuse is that we are to meet a long lost friend for dinner. Funny how I seem to have friends scattered all over Australia. Maybe my friends find my company easier to take in small doses 🙂 . . . Anyway, this one is a lady after my own heart. She has been heading up a major grocery distributor for decades, and much as I admire how Tesco moves it product around Britain, you cannot claim to know how to move groceries until you have transported ice-cream to some of the most remote parts of the Northern Territory of Australia (disclaimer – I used to work in shipping and logistics).

I seem to remember that the restaurant we met at – Outback Jacks Bar and Grill – served crocodile, camel, kangaroo and emu. We passed on all that and choose beef steak 🙂 We couldn’t face eating our national emblem. But if you are visiting Australia for the first time – those choices may appeal. I certainly saw many tourists tucking in!

Just one example of the Indigenous art on display at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. These originate from the Tiwi and Melville Island people

Just one example of the Indigenous art on display at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. These artefacts originate from the Tiwi and Melville Island people

Distance log:     Running Total = 8300 klm (approx) or 5160 miles.

For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.

9 thoughts on “Darwin City Sights Tour – May 2016

  1. Wonderful Gwen I hadn’t realised people were evacuated from Darwin in 1974 after cyclone – of course it makes sense. Fancy u seeing patients needing dental work after that experience.

    Well done !!!!!! F

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • They didn’t all leave Darwin willingly Fran. Yet many who left never returned. You had to be determined to start all over again, and you had to love living there. In the immediate aftermath, the only people allowed to head north were military and tradesmen such as carpenters, etc. Oddly enough, my four years in Adelaide (’74 – ’78) had me at the forefront of several moments in our history. It was the first city to settle the Vietnamese refugees for example, as they were pushed through directly from Darwin. And on a personal note, once I dumped dental nursing, it is where my shipping career started, as a lone-wolf girl on the waterfront at Port Adelaide, clearing the cargo the guys put into the “too hard” basket (also known as “give the sheila the s–t we don’t wanna deal with).

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    • According to Wikipedia (and who would dare doubt its truthfulness? + plus an ABC news interview) Sweetheart became so territorial that he created a nuisance by attacking fishing boats, etc – so the solution back in 1979 was to capture him and bring him in to ???, however, along the way, they accidentally drowned him.

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  2. Gosh I have to admit that I didn’t know about the cyclone, sounds terrifying, but I do remember the bombing scenes of WWII Darwin in Baz Lurhmann’s film ‘Australia’. I thought the film version visuals looked almost deliberately unreal – so nice to see some informative and interesting photos of the real 21st place. Wow that saltie!

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  3. Another informative piece, Gwen. So the cyclone achieved what the Japanese couldn’t in Darwin. Your asylum seeker neutral couple reminds me that Jackie and I cancelled each other out in the EU referendum vote 🙂

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    • I hadn’t thought of the cyclone in those terms, but you are right! Interesting about you cancelling each others votes, hahaha. We just had a Federal election. Bill and I rarely share who we each voted for, so I am sure there are times in the past when we cancelled each other out. These days though, the list of why you can’t vote for a certain party / ideology is getting longer, so that leaves our votes going to last man standing, or the best of a bad bunch scenario. All rather sad. In fact, I wrote to a local politician just the other day, expressing my dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, and supporting his push to increase the Federal election term. Nobody can get anything done with this constant turnover of leadership. It will be interesting to see how your new Prime Minister steers through Brexit.

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