Day 14 of the “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday” Tuesday 31st May 2016
Our last day in Darwin is free to our own devices. Our hotel is located on Mitchell Street, one of the long main streets which form the logical grid system of the central business district. When we arrived early evening on Saturday night, it looked like the happening entertainment hub. When we stepped into it at 8pm that night, we realised it was the place where strung out backpackers choose to hang together and get wasted. This is not just me turning into a grumpy old woman. I found this article on the net, written from a younger person’s perspective, which spells out what to expect (minor language warning) 40 Unwritten Rules of Mitchell Street.
However, all such streets look benign and tired in the cold light of day, as we had already discovered when we went in search of a laundromat (yes folks, I skipped that moment in earlier posts, but even the most intrepid adventurer has to wash at some point).
So now we peer out from our room 17 floors up, and, looking in the other direction, we notice the hub-bub quickly gives way to a natural landscape. There is not much traffic around, even though this is a workday morning. Furthermore, hidden behind a screen of trees, there is a building worthy of exploration.
So off we go to stretch our legs – early enough to cope with the tropical heat and humidity, which is supposed to be receding at this time of the year – and before too long, we discover the building is the Parliament House.
I am sure I have mentioned before . . . the purpose of using the kangaroo and emu on our coat of arms is that neither animal can take a backward step. Get it? Australia is a progressive country. Well, that’s the marketing hype anyway. I am sure there is another logical reason for their appearance. They are both big enough to hold up a shield for example. The Northern Territory version features two red kangaroos, various floral, animal and bird emblems, and incorporates elements of indigenous culture.
Close by, behind a pretty as a picture picket fence, is Government House. Because Australia is still part of the Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II officially the head of State, each state and territory houses her local representative. This particular building has survived bombings and cyclones, so draw your own conclusions as to the power yielded within.
We wander on to another building which has survived through thick and thin, and is now the Office of the Administrator. It was originally built as the Court House and Police station in 1884, and restored after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. It looks a lovely place to “administrate” from, especially with that lush garden surround.
We are heading further away from the CBD and shopping district, and before too long spy signage directing us to a sky bridge leading down to the recently developed waterfront area. The area abounds with restaurants and apartment towers, and houses the convention centre, as well as a ‘Wave Lagoon‘ in which to take a refreshing dip. All very bright and swish, equal to anything you will find in a larger city.
Turning back in the general direction of our hotel, but now hugging the waterline of Kitchener Bay, we pass a sign pointing us to the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels. This does not appeal to us today, although I learn later that it contains a photographic display of the men and women who served in Darwin during the war. We do, however, pause to enter the foyer of a campus of the Charles Darwin University, which is just a short walk further along. I mean, it is just there right in the middle of our meanderings, so we may as well walk into it as around it, and it is the closest that Bill and I are likely to being able to claim that we “went” to university at this stage of our lives. Plus our visit did give the receptionist her giggle for the day.
By now we have swung around onto waterfront parkland. There is historical signage commemorating the laying of undersea cable from Java to Darwin, which then connected to an overland telegraph system to South Australia, so that by 1872, Australia was connected to the outside world. . . . (for better or worse – but that’s not on the signage).
The park is full of bird life, including ibis, who look luxuriantly feathered, with collars of white around their necks. In Sydney, those feathers are usually falling out and revealing black leathery necks. I conclude they are the same breed, but the environment in this park is so much more healthy than the rubbish bin scavenging of our city dwellers.
Next we stumble across the Deckchair Cinema. It is an open air cinema screening films seven nights a week from April to November. It looks a lot of fun, and tonight they are screening “Carol” starring Cate Blanchett. That’s one film I haven’t seen yet.
Just behind the cinema is a cool grove shaded by pandanus and other trees, and within that, a Women’s Commemorative Park. We cool off as we read up on the many women who made significant contributions to the development of the Northern Territory, before assaulting a steep and winding stairway that brings us up closer to the street level.
Out to sea, off a point to our left, we can see a long, long jetty. It is for the ships exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) sourced from the Timor Sea. Once again we are reminded of Darwin’s proximity to the world beyond our borders. The Japanese were well aware of its geographic significance when they bombed 64 times during WWII. A few more steps brings us to the war memorial. Plaques embedded into a display wall commemorate the troops who served here. I know Bill’s father was a Sapper in the Engineers and served in Darwin, but I can’t remember his unit, so I take a snap of any mentioning RAE. I took a look at his records when we got back home, and see that he was in Darwin from December 1941 until July 1943, and then was sent to New Guinea and the Solomons until he was demobbed at the end of 1945. Although he was originally in the CMF (the militia) he did move on to the AIF. In both corps he was moved around companies as needed, always with the RAE (Royal Australian Engineers), but his “home” was the 23rd Australian Field Company RAE, so I am pleased to discover I took the below photo. It is clear from his service dates that he would have been in Darwin during the bombings, and as a Sapper (a Private in the engineer corps), would have repaired the infrastructure on many an occasion. Like most of his generation though he never spoke of his experiences. He was a quiet man by nature, which earned him the nick-name of “Noisy“.
Just as we are staggering back into the air conditioned comfort of our hotel, we bump into another couple who are our travelling companions. That turns into an impromptu lunch liaison, and we quickly grab a taxi to head off for a slap up seafood lunch at a place we had spotted on our city tour a couple of days earlier. It is in a stunning location called Cullen Bay Marina, only a ten dollar cab ride from the city centre. The laugh was on us, because the driver had no sooner sped off than we discovered our preferred restaurant was closed, but we soon found a pleasant alternative.
In recent years, Darwin has experienced a surge in new and upmarket housing, and you can find many examples in this area. I had to laugh at the landowner who is not only stubbornly resisting re-development but has chosen to paint his garage-like residence in bright blue! He must subscribe to the “don’t get mad, get even” school of fight back.
We had no sooner finished our lunch, and we were wandering out of the restaurant wondering how to find a taxi, when I looked up to see a bus in the distance, and in true tourist style, stood in the middle of the street waving my arms rather than seek out a bus stop. Lovely driver stopped and picked us up, and only charged a $1 a head to get back into town. It turns out that we were only on the other side of promontory, practically at the far end of Mitchell Street, about 3 klm or 2 miles from our hotel – but I was happy not to have walked back in the heat after our long morning saunter.
By evening though I was feeling refreshed, and I took myself off to the Deckchair Cinema. Before the film, I was busy talking to the locals and the food sellers, so it was only out of the corner of my eye that I noticed some pre-amble video on the screen. Something about possums?
I soon found out. Seated close to the bush on the end of the seating row, I could hear the possums rustling around in palm fronds. As the night became darker, and they became bolder, it seems they mistook my toes in open sandals for dropped popcorn. The first little nibble gave me a start, let me tell you! But then I kept my feet up whenever I could sense them snuffling around. My night ended with a walk back up those steep stairs in the company of other cinema goers, lamps casting pools of light onto the steps, and the moon casting shadows into the ferns and bush. It was all part of an exhilarating adventure. Except for the film, I am sorry to say. Much as I admire Cate Blanchett’s acting, and that the film was beautifully shot and supremely elegant, I am afraid Carol was just too understated and lifeless for me. Thank goodness I hadn’t dragged out Bill against his will!
Having said that, perhaps try this for a piece of cinema. A two minute clip on The DeckChair Cinema. Now that is a lot of fun!
Total to Date = 8900 klm or 5530 miles
For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.