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Articles Blog

Darwin, Australia

Karyn Planett

(Part 1)

It Takes A Licking And Keeps On Ticking

That could be Darwin’s motto. This city has suffered more than its fair share of ravages, only to be raised from the ashes again and again like the Phoenix. These folks have earned their stripes with a long and challenging history.

The early days were marked by the discovery of gold in nearby, by Northern Territory standards, Pine Creek in 1871. The town grew by leaps and bounds. Chinese prospectors arrived. Some 3,500 Chinese people moved into the Top End, as it is called. Their descendants, now fifth generation, still reside in Darwin.

The old folks were prospectors and pearlers, buffalo hunters and cattle stockmen, trepangers (sea cucumber harvesters) and overlanders.

As WWII raged on in the Pacific, Darwin became a permanent fixture in the news from Australia. Japanese Imperial forces launched more than 60 air attacks on Darwin. On February 19, 1942 their forces sank 21 out of 46 Australian and American navy ships resulting in the loss of 243 lives. The WWII Oil Storage Tunnels were built following the bombings and are now open to visitors with an interest in military history.

And there were cyclones—the biggest in 1897, 1937, and the cataclysmic one for the history books on Christmas Eve 1974. That was Tracy and she struck with full fury in the wee hours, 3:05am to be exact. When the wind gauges shattered at 135 mph, those who were there estimated that the gusts topped out at 186 miles per hour. What was left of Darwin included 66 dead, the majority of the houses demolished. Only 400 of the original 11,200 were left standing. Thirty thousand people had to be airlifted to the south, the largest airlift in the nation’s history. Bulldozers leveled what was left and the Top Enders rebuilt.  

Some say the spirit that sparks 125,000 Top Enders to stand up in the face of such adversity is the same dynamic that creates their uniqueness. Others go so far as to exclaim that these folks are the “real” Ozzies. They are survivors who literally live on the edge—of the continent, of the sweeping Outback, and of the incalculable wet of Kakadu where rivers flood, monsoons roar, and crocs can be seen crossing the roads or floating in the mangrove swamps and billabongs (lakes).

It is these same folks who are said to hold the record for the world’s highest per capita beer consumption. Brewers celebrate the fact that each resident quaffs, on average, the equivalent of 650 American-sized bottles of beer annually. Blame it on the heat! They prefer something called “stubbies” which are actually a full two-liters of beer!

Two Seasons

We’re right on the cusp. The wet season (The Wet) ends about now—running from October to March. Everything is green. The barramundi are running. Electrical storms rip open the skies. And few tourists are found clogging up important sights. That’s the good news. The bad news is the combination of humidity and high temperatures can cause even the strong to wilt. Dirt roads can be off limits. And swimming in the sea is unwise due to “stingers”—box jellyfish that pack a wallop you won’t soon forget. Before swimming, get an update from local authorities on these jellyfish.

The Dry starts soon. That’s when cattlemen work their stock, planeloads of visitors descend from the skies, and temperatures seem much friendlier. Hopefully, we’ll hit Darwin on a good day weather-wise.

Darwin Today

Darwin is, today, Australia’s gateway to Asia. Through her portals pass the people of many nations. Current estimates are that somewhere between 50 and 60 different ethnic groups call Darwin home. The city is, after all, closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney! This links Australia with the products and tourism of Asia to the benefit of all, it seems. Your look about town could include a visit to the Chinese Temple (Joss House) to understand this connection.

Official structures, some rebuilt versions of their former 19th-century selves, are impressive including the Old Admiralty House, the Old Town Hall, Police Station, and Government House. Several structures date back to 1884 and reflect the architecture of the day. There’s a respectful WWII Memorial in Bicentennial Park and the 84-acre Botanical Gardens display some 400 tropical palms. A cruise in the harbour affords the visitor the opportunity to see the effects of a 26-foot tide and hear the tale of Japanese air raids on this body of water that’s twice the size of Sydney Harbour.  

Well, you might want to take time out from your sightseeing and step into one of the showrooms offering a wide range of sea pearls. This area is famous for pearling and several showrooms present brief histories outlining the pearl divers who had to brave the dangers of the deep to harvest these jewels of the sea. And, you just might want to pick up a bauble as a memory of your trip to Darwin.