Aus Update 11 - Darwin


1st - 5th September 2006 - When we arrived in Darwin we had a look around before checking into a caravan park.  Port Darwin was named by Lieutenant Stokes of the British Navy in Sep 1839 in honour of his friend Charles Darwin, the noted biologist.

We decided to stay at the closest caravan park to the CBD. We didn't think that through very thoroughly because our tent was not only pitched about 20m from the main road in and out of the CBD, state highway 1, but on the other side of the road was the end of the runway for the airport.  Not only is the airport a civil airport but it is also the RAAF runway.

Early Friday evening we went to the Palmerston evening street market.  Palmerston is a growing city, 2/3 of the population is under the age of 35, and half of that number are under the age of 15.  It is when I read stats like that that makes me feel old.  The markets were good, a lot of different styles of food.  I didn't realise before but Darwin is very influenced by the south east asia countries in food and culture. We didn't even recognise quite a few of the vegetables/fruit on display. It was a very family atmosphere, there was a local gym club putting on a show of gymnastics/cheerleading.

We went to the local Adventist church the following day, they still put numbers up on the board and use hymn books (something we didn't pack), though they did start the service with a contemporary song service and words displayed by projector.

We went down to the esplanade and had some lunch in the shade. We looked through "Lyons Cottage" which was the original telegraph building. Darwin was the last Australian post of the Melbourne to Singapore/London telegraph line.  This is also one of the only "old" buildings in Darwin that survived both World War II and Cyclone Tracey. They had an impressive range of old photographs of the region and people on display.

We had a walk though the Museum and Art gallery in the afternoon.  It was very interesting to learn about Cyclone Tracey which arrived here early Christmas morning 1974.  They have a dark room you can enter and as you walk in a recording of the sound of cyclone Tracey begins. It was so disturbing that I couldn't stay in there for very long. The displays were excellent, and you could see from the before and after aerial shots of Darwin how many areas were just literally wiped clean. As a consequence, the museum only has comparitively recent history - after the cyclone the museum workers asked for donations of jam jars to pick up samples from the wreckage of the original museum.

On the third we went to the Aviation Heritage Museum. We are a bit reluctant to go to places with entry fees, because it adds up when you're continuously on the road, but this place turned out to be really worth it (and as we found out later, the whole thing is run by a non-profit organisation and the entry fees only pay for materials for the exhibits, all the labour is provided voluntarily for nothing). Their centre display piece is actually a US B52 bomber. It takes up the full width, length and height of the "hangar" the display is housed in, and all the other displays fit around under its wings! We really couldn't get an adequate photo of this plane, but it is enormous. The most memorable staggering figure is that it took 174,000 litres of fuel on board. There were numerous displays of WWII bombing of Darwin and pieces of wrecked planes from those encounters. Two & half times the tonnage of bombs that were dropped on Pearl Harbor were dropped on Darwin.

This is the bulk of the B52 fuselage, but the span of the wings is amazing. There are many other aircraft sitting underneath them, you can just see the tail of one to the right here.

Before Mitsubishi started making Lancer Evolutions, they had a bit of practice with fighter planes, no wonder it feels like I'm strapped into a cockpit :-)

This was just an historical display of technology from earlier era's. For those that haven't built a crystal radio, here is a GENUINE crystal radio. The piece of crystal was clamped on the front fascia to the right of the tuning dial

The US provided the bulk of the WWII air defense here, hence an appreciable display from the Australian American Friendship Society was also present.

Another display was in memory of Australian Vietnam war veterans. It certainly gave you plenty of time to reflect on the physical and mental horror and wastage of war. While we were looking at this display a guy came up and looked at it too. He knew several of the soldiers that had written poems and other tributes in the display and was a Vietnam Veteran himself. He commented on the controversy that greeted the returning soldiers who one day were fighting in jungle with the thunderous bombings from B52's and unbelievable firepower from attack helicopters, then sent home from their tour of duty, less than 72 hours later sitting at a dining room table with their families and a nation that didn't want to be involved. He believes that it was this short period of readjustment that mentally screwed so many of these vet's up. He considered himself "lucky" because he was injured and was in hospital 6 months recovering, giving him plenty of time to prepare to returning to a normal life.

This was one veterans poem that expressed his difficulty accepting how he was received

The night of the third we decided to not sit at the caravan park and listen to the planes but rather go down the road to where we could see the planes arrive and leave as well as hear them, much better.  At the caravan park we either had to shout to each other to speak or wait for a lull in the traffic.  It wasn't too bad, it just got a little annoying at times. Typical, for the entire hour or so we sat there, the only plane that came in was this tiny one, but it made a beautiful shot as the sun set.

We did go down to the beach, thinking that it would be nice to cool off. Nobody else was in the water anywhere, and although we understood that this was the time of year that you should miss being stung by a box jellyfish, this sign put us off. While we were standing there trying to quickly (you don't do anything that requires standing outside for long here, it's 40 degC in the shade, let alone standing on the sand) decide what to do instead, this great big goanna just darts by! We ended up deciding to go and visit the botanical gardens, which were very pretty and MUCH cooler than elsewhere.

I know this is probably a little hard to read, so I'll just point out the important parts:
Box Jellyfish occur in these waters. Their stings can be deadly.
October - May. Jellyfish are common. DO NOT ENTER THE WATER.
June - September. Jellyfish are less common but serious stings have occurred during this period
Take vinegar to the beach and when boating.

Monday the 4th was Paula's birthday so we decided not to spend it camping, but checked into a lovely AIR-CONDITIONED hotel. It had a great view from the window where we saw the sun setting...

And that was Darwin. Lovely town, very well setup for tourists with lots of free displays and attractions, but it's the end of winter and it's so, so hot.