Sunday, March 31, 2013

31 March 2013 - Gagudju Lodge, Cooinda, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

It was still raining when we woke this morning but there was a break soon after. We rushed outside and put the awning up, hitched up, detached, washed and stored the hoses, all the while splashing about in ankle depth water and a mud scum that had concentrated near the caravan. The rain had held off and continued to do so while we had breakfast and finished readying ourselves for departure. This was all most unexpected and most welcome, especially since my first words to Chris earlier had been, “Do you think we should extend another day?”

But we were off on the Kakadu Highway by about 9.30 am, and while the road was clear of flooding, the sea of floods extended far beyond the billabongs, lagoons and rivers we had observed just two days ago along the same road. But today we were travelling further than the turnoff to Nourlangie; through to Cooinda which is just this accommodation facility on the edge of the Yellow Water wetland, one of those feeding into Kakadu’s largest river, the South Alligator River.

Nineteen kilometres north east of the turnoff  into Cooinda, we turned into the Mirrai Lookout, parked and walked the steep two kilometre path to the top of Mount Cahill. Here there is a platform lookout from where one can enjoy 360 degree views of the lowlands all about and the Arnhem Land escarpment. I was a little disappointed because I honestly thought we would be able to see the extent of the flooded lands we had driven through and those beyond, but it was a sea of trees which met our gaze with the one slash in the landscape; the South Alligator River on its way to the sea.

It did not take us long to make our way past the closed road entrance to the JimJim Falls and on to the Gagudju Lodge where we checked in and found that the tariff was less than that indicated online; a very pleasant turn about face I assure you.

As we parked up, remaining hitched but otherwise hooking up to the amenities, we noted the many families here packing up their camper trailers. It never ceases to astound me how lax people are about check out times when these establishments make a point of stating the time and the fact that one might be charged for a further day. We are sticklers to the rule in this area; maybe we too should become as relaxed as everyone else?

We found our way to the boat ramp here at the Lodge and watched as guests launched and pulled their boats out. None seemed too concerned about the crocodile warnings, even though the camp manager had told us the path way through to the regular Yellow Water boat ramp was closed due to the lurking of the great beasts. We watched too as a full boat load of tourists went out for their cruise and decided we had better go and book ours before it was all booked out. We are now booked for the breakfast cruise leaving Home Billabong at 6.45 am tomorrow. We will have to set the alarm since we are such slugs these days.

Fearless fishermen
After lunch we walked the couple of kilometres back along the road to the Warradjan Cultural Centre having decided that we would only go in if it were free. This exhibition is just wonderful and is well worth an entry fee if there were one. There should at least be a donation box because it really is the best aboriginal cultural exhibition I have ever seen. This is because it is done by the Bininj / Mungguy people explaining themselves and their connection to the land, to we balandi, non-aboriginal people, rather that an exhibition created by an anthropologist explaining a “foreign” culture to another. And while it all comes from the heart of the people and is explained simplistically, it still retains a professionalism. Needless to say, we enjoyed the centre very much.

I did learn here that buffalo were introduced from South East Asia onto the Cobourg Peninsula in the 1820s for meat and hides. The experiment,  much like the rice one in the next century, was abandoned and fifty buffalo went forth and multiplied. It was not until the 1980s that anything was seriously done about these now feral creatures which had, in the meantime, become an absolute pest destroying the wetland environment and the natural hunting grounds of the aborigines. It is said that there were 350,000 buffalo on the loose before wide scale culling under the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign. Numbers  were severely limited but have grown again now to about 150,000, these farmed for their meat and hides, as originally intended. Mention was made at the centre that the feral beasts did provide an addition to the diet of the local people, which was one positive against the vast devastation they caused.

We found a walking track back to the camp from the centre which was only partly flooded. Here we dodged around the side of the track and through bushes that were alive with green tree ants. These are the ants I dared to speak kindly of the other day; today I changed my mind as they bit and swarmed all through our clothes and across our bare skin. Fortunately there is no residual damage such as mosquitoes have wrecked upon us over the past week.

On our return we checked out the pool, and spent twenty minutes or so in the very cool waters chatting with fellow travelers  We were tempted ever so briefly by the Bistro and Bar, however the prices are such that we decided that we had already racked up enough on the credit card during our stay here in Kakadu without indulging in food and beverages as well. (But I am looking forward to the breakfast back in the Lodge tomorrow which follows the cruise.)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

30 March 2013 - Kakadu Lodge & Caravan Park, Jabiru, Northern Territory

It is official! To quote today’s NT News, “ It was a case of better late than never as the long awaited wet season finally arrived yesterday”. Apparently any rain that fell before yesterday did not count, however there is truly a difference in the feel, the weight, the persistence and the whole experience of the arrival of the monsoon as opposed to just another rainy day.

We have all seen films of Indians and the like welcoming the long awaited rains, running out of their houses and turning their faces to the heavens in thanksgiving, children dancing delightedly in the deepening puddles and an attractive soul standing rain sodden with every curve of their body on display and a wide beaming smile upon their face. Here it is not quite as romantic but still an experience to be enjoyed. And so we are still here in Jabiru “enjoying” the rain. Yesterday 28 mm reportedly fell, today in the seven and a half hours since 9 am this morning, we had 52 mm here in Jabiru.  Currently the relative humidity is 95 percent, the thermometer is on 25 degrees and feels like 30 degrees. We have been more comfortable today temperature wise than we have been since passing through Charleville.

It rained steadily all through the night, audible every time I woke although not as deafening as we have experienced before. I had split and shared an antihistamine tablet with Chris last night, so woke feeling rather drugged but less troubled by itch than other mornings. In fact the red rawness of the multitude of bite wounds over my legs and arms had subsided significantly. Thank goodness!

But in that semi drugged state, just after 8 am, the thought of packing up camp in the pouring rain was not attractive. I suggested to Chris that we request a late departure and hope the rain abated long enough at some stage of the morning for us to rush about packing up hoses and hitching up. Checking the weather report online, I saw that tomorrow was to be no better and the thought of spending mega-bucks on a breakfast river cruise to be taken in the blinding rain did not appeal either to my sensibilities or my wallet. I suggested we stay and sit the rain out here and travel down to Cooinda on the morrow. Monday morning might offer better conditions.

I popped over to the office just before 10 am to pay for yet another day, thankful that the Park’s pass is for fourteen days rather than twenty four or forty eight hours as are some. The beautiful grassed grounds of the park were already ankle deep in water, like rice paddies and the roads just flowing rivers, but cleaner than those we had waded through yesterday.

I told the girl at the desk about us having gone into the Gubara Pools yesterday afternoon and told her of our experience. She then told me how a couple of tourists had gone swimming there yesterday afternoon, one becoming stranded on the other side of the Burdulba Creek. Eventually she attempted to make her way back through the flash flood, the very same we had observed the beginning of and left in self-preservation. She was washed down the river but rescued by yet another walker who lost his wallet and keys in the exercise. Thank goodness no lives were lost. Stupid tourists! This story came as no surprise to us and we were so glad we had returned to the vehicle when we did.

About an hour later, there was a break in the rain and we darted out and put the awning up, something we should have done when we first arrived, however we were planning  to leave the next morning. We now had a porch to pause under and divest ourselves of umbrellas and footwear before coming in to the caravan, however our 'porch” floor is ankle deep in water. The awning is erected so that it slopes down on one side; no more puddling of the awning as we foolishly allowed in Darwin. Now the water streams directly down the rope guide to add to the gathering lake all about us.

The frogs are still at it, last night seeming more like a barking, today much more like hacksaws, but still invisible. Every now and again they pause to rest their voices before resuming with renewed vigour.

Late morning when there was again a short break in the weather, we popped into Jabiru and picked up the local paper. We had thought to buy fresh bread at the supermarket, a reasonably sized unattractive store which leaves the art of bread making to the Jabiru Bakery up the road. We went there instead and picked up an over priced “French loaf” which turned out very un-French but quite tasty all the same; a change from our usual fare of cheap supermarket sliced bread. We were soaked again by the time we returned. The break was all too short.

Several new parties of campers with their camper trailers had arrived yesterday, possibly from Darwin or Katherine, to spend the long Easter weekend away from it all. This morning most packed up and headed home again. Most returning to Darwin should have been able to get through, although water is reportedly across the road at Corroboree.

At lunch time I discovered we have another problem; ants. Small dark busy hungry ants of the kind we have had before. Our ant baits are rather obsolete so we shall have to wait until we get through to Katherine before we buy some more. The supermarket in Jabiru probably has them, at a price, however there is unlikely to be a greater infestation while we are parked above our own personal wetland.

Given that I have been caravan bound all afternoon, I took over kitchen duties from my husband and have prepared a fish pie for dinner, something he cannot be bothered to make. He does not do flour but may learn to use it when we eventually settle down now we are retired and he is chief cook. Or maybe not.

Friday, March 29, 2013

29 March 2013 - Kakadu Lodge & Caravan Park, Jabiru, Northern Territory

The end of a most satisfying day now settled in for the evening to the sound of rain on the caravan roof  yet again and an absolute din of frogs just outside the door.

The day started with a lengthy Skype call from England, serendipity really, when I happened to go on line to check the day’s weather report.

When we were finally organised, we popped into the centre of Jabiru in the hope of buying the day’s newspaper. As happens every single year we are out and about travelling at Easter, we forget which day of the Christian Holy weekend is forbidden to commerce. It is Friday and every other day is open for business. Now that I have written that, perhaps I shall remember it in future?

We wandered through the shopping centre which has a newsagent, a café, a travel agent and a supermarket all clustered in a most unimposing group of buildings. There were two aboriginal women with several small children trailing along behind, one or two whinging and whining in exactly the same manner I have heard our own grandchildren do. Apart from these folk, the only other action in town was the queue at the BP Service Station where we found a copy of the NT News.

Our destination today was the Nourlangie Region of the Kakadu National Park which is particularly  famous for its excellent aboriginal rock art. We headed south on the Kakadu Highway, that which we will travel tomorrow and the day after as we depart this fascinating place, travelling twenty kilometres or so before we turned east toward Nourlangie. The road passes across lush wetland, hugely flooded and lagoons that have crept to the very edge of the bitumen. We crossed the Burdulba Creek where there was a sign warning us not to stop on the bridge because of the lurking crocodiles. In fact there are so many of these hideous nuisances about right now that many of the walks we had intended to take are closed off. Why the hell they don’t undertake a massive cull, I cannot understand. Actually I do understand only too well. While we have been in the area there have been two illegal such cullings and untold critical letters to the editor of the local NT News and as many supportive, which generally ask the rhetorical question, “and what if you had one near your back yard where your children played?” Since the tree-huggers and Brigitte Bardots of this world won their campaigns for “Destroy Nothing!”, there have been children and tourists gobbled up by crocodiles and all manner of monsters. And I am being short changed in my NT National Park experience because of these pesky killers.

Aboriginal rock art
We were however free to wander up through the Anbangbag rock art gallery and to the Gun-warddehwardde Lookout, which offers impressive views of the Kakadu Escarpment and Nourlangie. The rain held off while we spent about three quarters of an hour enjoying every aspect of the attraction, along with a dozen or so other tourists, and also while we sat down in the car park sharing our lunch with harmless green tree ants. Of all the ants we have encountered here in Australia, it is these I can most tolerate. They do smell rather badly if squashed, however brushing them off or distracting them is better for everyone, including the ants.

Heading back out toward the main road, we turned onto a dirt road of about nine kilometres, patchy with wide puddles and drove to the car park for the Gubara Pools Walk.  The walking track in the summer would be easy for the entire three kilometres, however after the rain over the past few days, we spent some time making  our way around the flooded sections of the track to minimise the chance of getting our good walking shoes wet. The open ground between the trees were a mass of wild flowers, and with the lush green of the other growth and the back drop of the iron red rock escarpment, it was indeed a very beautiful scene. The walk information promised “ a six kilometre return walk past sandstone cliffs to shady monsoon pools. A pleasant place to spend the heat of the day.” Today the skies were heavily overcast and thus the walk was very pleasant. But then the skies opened up and down came torrential rain. Fortunately we were both wearing peak caps which helped keep the rain from our glasses but our clothes were soon quite sodden. 

The track before the deluge
We finally arrived at the edge of the forest and the escarpment, the trees and palms enveloping us as if in a jungle, the wet fronds and leaves draping themselves all around us. In the deep shade I started to feel cold and was quite horrified to see the creek rushing down beside us, a great flood torrent widening in front of our eyes and flattening foliage as it came. We were told by returning walkers that the pools were just up around the corner, and soon we came to a wider part of the creek where a couple of swimmers were risking their lives in the most outrageous manner. We had noted the signs warning of the fresh water crocodiles who could be aggressive if bothered. I have no doubt that they do indeed inhabit these waters but today they would not have been lurking in the fierce water of the creek, but tucked away under some bank.  I had brought my togs along, keen to swim in the pools, however was not at all tempted today. And it was not the “freshies” that were the concern.

It was evident that the rain was not going to stop any time soon and we wondered about the track back. Our concern was well founded; the track was by now 99% underwater and we waded through the rising waters, this time not bothering to find a drier route around the water holes. By the time we arrived at the car park, we were both drenched. There was nothing to do but come on back to camp.

Despite the rain, we had the most wonderful day and I for one, was glad that we had stayed on here at Jabiru. Tomorrow we will not travel far, but will enter a different section of the park.  I look forward to it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

28 March 2013 - Kakadu Lodge & Caravan Park, Jabiru, Northern Territory

My goodness, how it rained last night! It was so heavy that we were unable to hear each other speak, let alone the television. I went to bed early with my book and left Chris to listen to the television with headphones on. Win Win all round! For me it was a muddly night, waking frequently to hear the unceasing rain, worrying about whether we should stay or go as well as wondering if the “Full” light on the toilet cassette was functioning correctly.

When we finally did open the windows to the world, the site and park all around was a mess of mud but the sun was trying to shine through. We decided to run with our original plan of checking out and so we did, amid the filth and the mosquitoes  without too much trouble after all. Thirty six kilometres south of Darwin, we turned east onto the Arnhem Highway. I was keen to call into Humpty Doo which aside from other interesting facts, has an awesome name, don’t you think?

I hoped there might be an information area explaining the failed rice experiment. There wasn’t but there was a shopping centre big enough to surprise for such a small settlement. We went in to buy some fresh bread for lunch and came out empty handed. I also posted some mail to family, hoping the postmark might read “Humpty Doo”, however  suggest it will simply read “Darwin: or even “Adelaide”? Who knows the route mail takes from this end.

Our next port of call was the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, the name “Fogg” having nothing to do with any mist that rises up from the extensive wetland area. Mr Fogg was the Managing Director of Utah Australia Limited, the company who with the RAAF constructed the dam back in the 1950s. It was here that we did learn more about the rice project.

There were signs everywhere alerting us to the presence of large estuarine crocodiles. We were not to walk along the dam nor could we undertake any of the other walks normally on offer. We did drive to the Pandannus Lookout, an elevated lookout with views out over this bird refuge which is also apparently a refuge for Water Pythons and Death Adders, neither of which we saw. In fact we did not see too much at all beyond that immediately visible from the landcruiser. The mosquitoes were swarming in massive numbers, impervious to layers of repellent  Have you seen those prats from the city in National Parks wearing their brand new beautifully pressed khaki trousers and long sleeved shirts to match? Well today I wondered where I could buy the same outfit. Failing that, a burka might do the trick.  

I had thought we would travel today only as far as the Mary River and had sussed out a caravan park to suit our needs; this was working on the premise that we would pass several hours enjoying walks at the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve and enjoying all that the “Window on the Wetlands Visitor Centre” had to offer. While this centre promotes itself more as a random information centre on the wetlands generally, or those in the Mary River area, it is really the headquarters for the Mary River National Park. We were greeted at the door by a friendly and articulate aboriginal girl who explained where everything was and sent us off to explore by ourselves. It is an excellent little “museum” especially if one is prepared to take time to read the detailed information sheets on the walls. Here I learned that Australia has seventy two varieties of mosquito, thirty of which live in the Darwin area. We have no hope of escape with such odds! But then that should be no surprise to anyone that happens upon me; I am covered in red blotches and scratching like a flea ridden dog. This is not a pretty picture.

It was lunch time when we returned to the caravan so we dined then and there, looking out over the floodplains, temporarily protected by the flyscreens from further assault. The road would soon take us over the Adelaide River, that crossed at the settlement of the same name on the Stuart Highway, and on to the Mary River which runs to the west of the Kakadu National Park. We had already decided to take the river cruise on the South Alligator River rather than that promoted at the Parap Market on the Mary, and here was the day only half gone. We decided instead to travel on through to Jabiru,  215 kilometres east of Humpty Doo.

As we crossed the Mary River, we saw the entrance to the Mt Bundey Station which today is home not only to the expected cattle station, but a tourist venture, a Military Training Area and an iron ore mine. It was from here the road trains hauling bulk bins were emerging; the ore is apparently transported through to the wharves in Darwin.

The road rose up from the flood plain and passed through rolling hills of savannah,  water logged and sporting lagoons and rushing streams from the rain of the last few days. It was crossing here that we ran into a fierce storm and had to slow almost to a stop. Then the sun was out again confirming that we had made the right decision to leave Darwin. But the heat coupled with the intense humidity made the trip a drag and we stopped midway for an essential nap.

It was after 4 pm when we closed in on Jabiru and headed for the Bowali Visitor Centre, fortunately still open. Here we purchased our passes at $25 a pop and discussed options of activities with the very pleasant young man behind the counter, who seemed to be the only staff member on duty. Here there is also a nature exhibition, more sophisticated than that at the Window on the Wetland, but less bogged down in detail. Here the customer gets an arty overview, but then normally that is all they want.

We found out that the road  to the north east, that through to Arnham Land and the famous Ubirr aboriginal art area is closed due to flooding, as is the 4WD road to the Jim-Jim falls. The only access to them and the nearby Twin Falls is by helicopter. But we were encouraged to visit the attractions in the Nourlangie Region.

As we left the Centre, Chris suggested that we stay only one night at Jabiru before moving south west to the South Alligator Region. There was much discussion which was not entirely resolved as we checked into this caravan park, paying for just one night with the option of a second to follow. Settled into camp over dinner, I shared my dream vision of us in the Top End gathering the National Park of Katherine, Kakadu and the Kimberleys all in the same pot and seeing us in canyons, viewing aboriginal rock art and birds from boats, walking through beautiful wilderness and swimming in pools that appear like mystical oasis, admitting that none of this allowed for monsoons, mosquitoes and crocodiles, and was prepared to be disillusioned by reality. I added that I did not want us to leave this area feeling short changed through our own fault. He agreed and I think that we will stay a further day providing the weather doesn’t throw anything worse at us than the preceding few days.

In the meantime we are one party of only a few here at this very lovely park, something I did not expect here in Jabiru which is really just a town for the workers at the local uranium mine. And that is another disappointment we have had; the last tour available to the public of the Ranger Mine was back in 2010. It seems that uranium mining is a bit too controversial to allow random tourists through the gates.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

27 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

We are yet again home early and yet again doused in a heavy rain shower immediately on arrival back at camp. You can just about set the clock by the weather here, but then I used to say that in Whangarei when my children were at school. It seemed that the rain would arrive just as the children poured out of their classrooms at the end of each school day and probably still does but is of no account to me now.

We started our day in Darwin back at the Information Centre, attended to by a very helpful and friendly chap who assured us that we should not concern ourselves with any change in the weather. If however the night brought exceptional rain, we should check for road closures. He did suggest we could still access the Kakadu National Park via Katherine, however I assured him that we had no intention of doing that. Katherine will be our exit point allowing us a loop tour.

Although we had driven down through the waterfront area of the city, we had yet to explore on foot and so we set off from the Esplanade and down via the skybridge and lift, the most attractive access to this great work in progress. There are already many appartments, gardens and pools in the development but it is evident that there is still much to come. What a delightful space it is! The swimming lagoon is free for use and the council have done their utmost to sieve out any box jelly fish however cover their butt by saying this cannot be guaranteed. There are several cafes and restaurants adjacent to this recreational area  and the frangipani trees are just lovely. We wandered on through the precinct and on past the wave pool which does require an entry fee, on past the huge modern exhibition centre and across a walkway parallel to Stokes Wharf. We had been encouraged by a fellow traveller to shout ourselves lunch at the wharf; barramundi and chips which sounded pretty tempting. The cost of parking noted several days ago had put me off and today the noise of construction work at the wharf finished me off. Perhaps we shall do the baramundi indulgence again further en route.
Modern waterfront development

We returned to the landcruiser cognsecent of the Nazi parking wardens that patrol the streets of Darwin so vigilantly. In fairness there is an excellent little brochure available at the Information Centre showing the different parking zones which is enormously helpful and assists in keeping the officious officials at bay.

Chris was keen to return to Vesty’s Beach to check out the yacht clubs or rather their yards. I left him to wistfully wander past the fenced compounds while I sat on a concrete bench in the shade and caught the sea breeze. Today, unlike our last visit here, there were no aimless aborigines sitting about; perhaps it was too early in the day. I listened to the pigeons, cockatoos  plovers and the far off sound of power tools in the boat yards. My husband got caught up chatting to a chap working on his yacht, hearing about a planned sea trip around to the Kimberleys. (I actually hadn’t realised the Kimberley’s has a coastline.) Soon the gate was unlocked and Chris was inside the compound helping him lift a battery up onto the deck of the yacht. Finally he dragged himself away and returned to the landcruiser where I was waiting, ruminating on men and their “sheds” and other pursuits that offer refuge from the tedium of home life and work.

It was not far to East Point, or more particularly, Dudley Point, where we found a picnic table and sat eating our sandwiches enjoying fabulous views across the Darwin Harbour. It was from here that the submarine net across the harbour stretched in the Way years, across to Mandorah. Further out we could see three large cargo vessels at anchor, waiting for their scheduled unloading or loading.

It is here at Darwin that live cattle exports are made along with the port north of Normanton we visited eighteen months ago or so. But live exports are not as they were and this was evident as we drove into Darwin a week ago and saw the dozens of cattle trucks sitting idle in the carters’ yards. It is here too at Darwin, or more correctly at Wickham Point, that LNG is exported, a significant export for the Territory.

At East Point we were reminded of the many wonderful walking and cycling tracks there are all about the city. No doubt the fact that the city was decimated in 1974 has something to do with this; here was a wonderful opportunity to plan for the future and for a population that could never have been imagined when Goyder surveyed the city out in the 1800s. To come to Darwin in the Dry and spend days cycling about would be glorious. Just not a particularly attractive idea in the current humidity and heat.

It had been our intention to visit the East Point Military Museum however on discovering the entry fee, we tight-wads decided not to bother after all. Had we not visited the War Museum in Canberra, which is by donation only, we might have thought otherwise.

So with the abandonment of our plan, we headed to the Woolworths supermarket at Nightcliff and stocked up with groceries in readiness for our departure tomorrow. We had called into the Shell Service Station earlier in the day and filled with diesel, surpassing our fill volume yet again, this time a massive  150 litres! We have injected enough to the Darwin economy today, even without the Museum.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

26 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

The suggested cyclone seems to be no nearer or likely than it was yesterday and so we are resolved to carry on with Plan A; to leave here on Thursday and head into the Kakadu National Park. Strangely, the organisation of this, even if only in our heads, has been problematic. There is so much to see and yet we are not willing to spend the whole fourteen days our pass will allow us, paying exorbitant commercial camping fees, so will have to pick and choose very carefully what we choose to do and see. Even then it cannot be guaranteed that we will have made  the very best of the Park; perhaps the mere fact that The Season has yet to commence will restrict us and thus make the choices easier?

But for today, apart from doing some homework to arrive at the above, we have spent in a far tamer manner, at least in respect of natural wildlife. Instead we went to Parliament, which is still to see wild behaviour in a different setting. Today was the first sitting day since the latest coup, the ousting of Terry Mills in favour of Adam Giles as Chief Minister. And didn’t the Leader of the Opposition make a meal of that in Question Time! We expected no more however she then decided a censure motion was in order and spent half an hour waffling on, using the most derogatory statements about the said Honorable Chief Minister with particular reference to the “illegitimate Chief Minister”, aside from the labels “hollow man”, “despicable” and “cowardly”.

This is of course a ridiculous statement because it is not the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister who the people elect; it is the caucus who choose their leader, and in a democracy, that leader is at the mercy of the will of the majority. Of course these actions are no less vicious for this, but they are legal.

The rantings and ravings soon cleared the public gallery, driving most home for an early lunch or at least out into the city for a soothing latte. We stayed for a couple of hours, until the parliament themselves adjourned for lunch. We retired to Bicentennial Park to eat our lunch, serenaded by the sound of a ride-on lawnmower and watching a great swarm of dragonflies which appeared as a fleet of Migs arriving over Darwin Harbour to duplicate the 1942 bombing. That is rather dramatic  however neither of us had seen such a show of large dragon flies before.

But back to parliament matters; our parliamentary guide a few days ago had explained how relaxed the House could be and today we certainly saw signs of that. There were about three small groups of Primary School children in the glassed in galleries; they were warmly welcomed by the Speaker who made the effort to name the schools and the accompanying teachers. As the children left, they waved to the Speaker who reciprocated in an overt manner. In the meantime any member of the House who noticed a familiar face in the public gallery, gave a wave out from the floor. A friendly place indeed, unless at the mercy of the member for Karama, Delia Lawrie. It is interesting to note, and no doubt no surprise to many, that female politicians in the Parliament behave like canine terriers or worse. The men, generally, are able to carry out their duties in the House with more decorum and formality. As a woman I can say this without being misogynistic.

We returned to the parliament after lunch, but this time headed for the library. This really is an interesting place and worth a brief visit at the very least. The place was packed out with backpackers who had not come to examine the artwork and exhibits but to plug into the power sockets and make use of the free or low cost internet.

It was here I lost Chris; he had disappeared down into the basement library to research the whereabouts of the 1972 Arafura Hostel, a home for working men where he had spent about six months. He emerged some time later triumphantly holding a photocopy of an historical Darwin map which clearly showed the hostel where he thought it should have been. Back to the landcruiser, we headed off to Parap, home to Darwin’s oldest market, visited by us on Saturday. The hostel was long gone but we found the location now home to the Tropicana appartments. I asked if the lush palms and other garden growth were familiar; he could remember none of it. While we had not rediscovered another of his old haunts, we had at least established its past existence.

It started to rain. We picked up a newspaper at the Parap Newsagency and headed home, winding up our touring early in the day but well satisfied with our day’s activities.

Monday, March 25, 2013

25 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

There are murmurings that the monsoon may come yet, bringing much needed rains by the end of the week, and hints that a cyclone might form over the Arafura Sea. It was partly this that prompted me to spend the morning in the laundry, juggling drying washing on the line in anticipation of the afternoon showers and storms. The whole business could have been a lot more relaxing because as I update this late in the afternoon, the sun is still shining and the daily rain has not come.

We popped out after lunch, back across to Casuarina where I had my hair cut. Chris is not at all impressed with the handiwork of the Filipino hairdresser, however I cannot see the back of my “mannish” cut. I am simply happy to have a weight off my scalp.

Returning to camp, we swam in the lovely camp pool then happily caught up with Kit on Skype. He, of all our children, is the most elusive, preferring to leave family correspondence matters to his wife in a male fashion that is, alas, all too common. An excellent end to a quiet day; a pile of dry washing and a satisfied mother.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

24 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

We woke to yet more rain this morning however it was not as torrential as yesterday afternoon and the park grounds had managed to swallow any surface water up. It soon cleared but I was not prepared to do any laundry and leave it to the whim of the weather, so we headed out with the eski packed to pursue our original travel plan for the day, prepared to  abandon or amend plans if necessary.

Our first port of call was the Charles Darwin National Park, just a few kilometres from our camp, an area of thirteen square kilometres of scrub running down into the coastal mangroves established as a national park in 1998 .

Apart from having been a traditional spot for aboriginals to gather food and camp, this place gained importance during the war years as part of the network of military sites established during the development of Darwin as Australia’s World War II northern defense line. The bunkers and shelters were used for storage between 1941 and the mid-1980s, and there are still eleven of these bomb dumps, basically partly buried Nissan huts, all locked and barred from the public except for one at the park entrance. In this, there is an excellent exhibition and series of interpretative panels about the history of the site. Further on into the park, beyond the warnings signs about theives and biting insects, there is a very pleasant picnic spot from where one has superb views across the mangroves to Darwin’s modern CBD.

We took a short wander down the hill and around the park, found more bunkers and several feisty lizards, then returned to the landcruiser perspiring and satisfied we had taken some exercise, albeit brief.

One of the many bunkers
In Darwin itself, we made our way to the Chinese Temple and adjacent Chinese heritage museum where we learned about the history of the Chinese people who came for the gold discovered while the OTL was being constructed in the early 1870s and stayed to become the mainstays of Darwin and the Northern Territory. The museum is full of photos and personal stories about Chinatown, the commerce of these industrial settlers, their contribution to the war effort and integration and discrimination through the years. It is manned by volunteers, one chap the descendant of one of those original main families, considered as “aristocratic” as those who came on the First Fleet or the Mayflower. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this small museum and left after nearly two hours. The temple alongside is the replacement of the original, rebuilt after Cyclone Tracy. Tradition decrees that a temple can only be rebuilt after “an act of God” and devastation of World War II did not fit, hence the devout had to wait for the mighty cyclone of 1974.

Views across the mangroves to Darwin's CBD
We decided to drive up and along the city’s coastline and soon found ourselves at the Cullen Bay Marina, a very smart development indeed. As we sat in the cruiser eating our lunch, we thought how incongruous the scene in front of us was, superb and luxurious yachts and residences, all so very Gold Coast or Hollywood, when we were just across the water from Indonesia, from where there might have been some influence as to the architecture and general feel of the place. But no, Darwin is Australia through and through, albeit a very tropical section of it.

Chris had no memory of this part of Darwin at all; reading the billboards it was soon evident why. Before the 1980s Cullen Bay was simply a spread of mudflats and mangroves, no doubt a haunt of crocodiles and bush-hunters and all at the mercy of Darwin’s renowned giant eight metre tides.

Cullen Bay Marina
Along came a couple of entrepreneurs with a plan who saw the potential for a marine development with good access to the Darwin harbour. Applications were lodged in 1983 and after more than ten years, works on the biggest private project ever undertaken in Darwin finally began. It is quite delightful especially if you enjoy seeing the handiwork of man; the lock is operational and no doubt costs a packet to run. Good on them, I say. However I prefer the hand of nature. (Maybe that is simply sour grapes since I choose not to own and sail a large yacht and dine on marina decks.)

Chris had spoken several times of the Top End Folk Club and the fun they all had way back when. Their regular meeting and performance place was a gun emplacement on the coast and so we were in pursuit of yet another “shrine” to his memory. This time we were rewarded because right next to the Darwin Military Museum on East Point Reserve is this great concrete monolith seemingly unchanged from 1972 except for the fact that the grounds all about are well tended rather than a wilderness of weeds.
The two massive guns, the largest in Australia, were installed at this post at East Point in 1944 to repel the anticipated invasion by Japan. The guns themselves are long gone but there are excellent interpretative panels all about explaining the significance of the area. The Museum is probably worth a visit; we shall see how our plans pan out. Needless to say, my husband was delighted to find one of his old stamping grounds pretty much as he had left it.

Looking for the ghosts of the Top End Folk Club
We drove on north, now through the suburbs, stopping at Nightcliff for yesterday’s national paper and on to Casuarina where there is a shopping centre worthy of any state capital. Here we indulged in a soft serve from the Scottish Restaurant and watched the locals, all looking as diversified and regular as any crowd on a Sunday outing at an urban mall.

Ten kilometres back on new road took us the full circle and we arrived with time to read the paper, write The Blog, have a swim, all before the evening routine. The swim did not eventuate because the afternoon storm came and as I write this, the rain is pounding on the roof, we are surrounded in yet another sea of tropical rain and thunder crashes all around. Darwin!!!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

23 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

Saturday in Darwin is as wonderful, as hot and humid, as a Friday. We have heard reports from travellers on the road to watch for the bikies, for the drunks in the street, to guard our belongings. We read the local paper where some of the letters to the editor give credence to these loose tales of negativity however our own experience so far does not fit with any of this.

We have stepped around aboriginal folk squatting in the shade waiting for public transport, or for tomorrow, or simply sheltering in the shade. We were asked once for money however our refusal was accepted without malice. Today in the Parap Village Markets we met a chap from New Zealand’s Palmerston North who came eons ago to travel as we are and stayed and stayed. The flotsam and jetsam of life so often ends up in places such as Darwin, and it is these who add to the colour of these far flung places. However the fluffy sorts who man jewellery, incense and massage stalls in markets seem to be fairly uniform, a fact that would cause great grief to these types doing their best to be different, but in the end they are so much the same.

Just as the brochure and the rather dated DVD of the Leylands in Darwin promised, there was a fascinating mix of South East Asian foods on offer, but how one can sit down at 10 am and eat a punnet of dinner style food, I do not understand. I am sure I am repeating myself here; our strict daily routines are to blame. Could we have not gone without our cereal and yoghurt this morning and feasted on spicy delicacies mid morning? Actually, no. Or could we not have come later and made this our lunch? No, because we had other plans.

Parliament House offers free tours at 9 am and 11 am on Saturdays and you should, by now, know that we have a passion for history and politics. There were about a dozen of us, of all ages, who trailed around with Jane and Jenny who gave us a comprehensive run down on the European beginnings of Darwin and the subsequent governmental upheavals through the subsequent years. We enjoyed every moment and will return there again next Tuesday when the parliament is to resume their sitting schedule.

A resume of the Northern Territory’s political history cannot be contained here in my blog, even though I am apt to attempt such explanations. But I shall try a brief summary here for my own records if nothing else:

In the early 19th century, Britain was keen to secure “ownership” of the northern coast land of Australia before the Dutch or any other lurking colonial power. The harbour had actually been discovered by Lieutenant Stokes of the British Navy in 1839 who gave it, the harbour, the name “Darwin” in honour of his esteemed ship mate, Charles Darwin before that biologists great and controversial epistle hit the shelves.

Up until that time, or at least from 1863, the territory was part of South Australia. However, while that government enjoyed the fact they were in control of the communication links with Europe, they were not enarmoured with the cost of funding such remote outreaches. When Federation came in 1901, they offered the Territory to the Commonwealth making on the deal having added up the cost of maintenance over the years plus accrued interest.

Right through to 1988 there was all sorts of upheavals concerning the Territories political status, but in that year they were granted state-like status, at least for inter-governmental financial purposes. The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act gives the Northern Territory limited state-like owners. The major state powers retained by the Commonwealth in the Northern Territories include Aboriginal land rights, the mining of uranium and other prescribed substances, industrial relations and control of Commonwealth national parks. The “power” that the Territory has in self determination can be dissolved with the stroke of a pen, the repeal of the Act. Such is the precarious nature of this parliament in the north.
Parliament Building

We ate our lunch on a bench in Bicentennial Park, the very attractive swathe of parklands that runs along the top of the cliffs above the port. Then we drove to Palmerston to shop for groceries.

Palmerston was the original name for Darwin, but now graces a much newer settlement, a planned satellite city of Darwin established in 1982. It currently has a population of about 30,000 and as the fastest growing city in the Northern Territory, is expected to be home to between 36,600 and 42,000 by 2021. Given there are very few “cities” in the Northern Territory, this claim of being the “fastest” growing is a bit of a joke, but I should not mock.

The skies had closed over and storms threatened as we drove the twelve kilometres back to camp, and sure enough, no sooner had we unpacked the cruiser, did the skies open up. Rain heavier than we have experienced so far soon flooded the park and great rivers swept through many tent sites. A great lake grew in our awning canvas and it was not until we noticed our porch roof dropping toward the concrete pad that we realised what was happening. By the time we emptied it out the rain had stopped, the rivers had receded and we caused another deluge all about our own site.

Despite the rain, it is still terribly sticky and we will be in for another humid night. The bugs have been biting well today and I am scratching. Perhaps I should tie my hands together.

I should note here, quite importantly, that today our youngest grandchild turned one. It is amazing to think that it was a whole year ago I announced Aurelia’s arrival.

22 March 2013 - Aurora Shady Glen Tourist Park, Darwin, Northern Territory

So the day dawned without a new government or leader, in fact yesterday turned out to be much ado about nothing, even though we underlings had been taken through an entire gambit of highs and lows. 

It seems that the temperatures here in Darwin are a steady comfortable 33 degrees or similar, and that it is the level of humidity that decrees whether Darwin is a good place to stay or leave. We survived the night without covers over our sleeping bodies or overuse of electrical appliances, however I have had an obsession about overuse of electrical fans since I nearly burned down my house in Vanuatu.  It was only the vigilant attention of my neighbour who broke into my house, that saved all being burned to the ground back in 1979, the same neighbour whose dog I insisted be put down a year or two later when it attacked my toddler. Which all goes to prove that a good turn does not save you from grace at a later date.

Today we headed into the centre of Darwin and parked up on the Esplanade before heading off on foot to the Information Centre. We left the Centre with armfuls of brochures but none the wiser about the Arafura Hostel where Chris was ensconced when he was in residence in Darwin. We were told that the Darwin Hotel had been hugely damaged during the 1974 cyclone but had been resurrected as the Hotel Darwin just as it was in those days.

We set off to discover the CBD of Darwin, firstly to call into the Hotel. Granted, it was early in the morning, however the door was unlocked and a quick glance inside showed that it was not frozen in time, but was only as it would have been had it evolved through the interim forty years. Alas, Irish Jim was not hanging on the bar as we hoped; no doubt he is in a seedier bar somewhere else in Darwin if he is still alive. Yet another disappointment for my husband’s pilgrimage.

Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory with a population of over 100,000 and has embraced the progress of tourism and  modernity. What a beautiful city it is, albeit very different from that my husband lived in back in 1972.

We walked about the many busy city blocks and would have indulged in a snow freeze from McDonalds had their machine been operating. We also looked out for appropriate postcards to send to nearly-five year old Charlie and to three years old Isabella who is tracing our journey on the RACQ map on their garage wall, but there were none that suited. If your taste extended to topless blonds on crocodile free beaches, then you were well served.

We wandered along the Esplanade passing Government House which is in the best position one could ask for in Darwin, so long as there is no further war or cyclone on the horizon. Of course that comment is somewhat flippant because World War II did indeed impact on the city, the Japanese bombing this northern Australian outpost.

On 12 December 1941 there was an official evacuation of seven hundred and fifty of the estimated 2,037 women and children residing in the city, from the Territory capital and so those who stayed were in a small way culpable for their own involvement in the bombing. The last of the evacuees left by plane at midday on 18 February 1942. 

On the following morning the Japanese headed toward the port with eighty one medium bombers, seventy one dive bombers and thirty six fighters. There were at least forty five vessels in the harbour at the time. Almost two hours after the first raid, fifty four land based bombers attacked the Darwin RAAF Station. A total of two hundred and forty three people died in the raids, eight ships sunk, many buildings damaged, twenty three aircraft were destroyed, communications were cut and the township was shattered. This was Australia’s version of Pearl Harbour.

Apparently it was the leader of Hawaii's Pearl Harbour raid who led this assault, and then went on to subsequently bomb Ceylon’s Colombo; a valuable military man, no doubt.

And of course as if there was not enough for this lovely tropical city of the north left, tropical  Cyclone Tracy finished it off on 24 December 1974. It was the most compact cyclone or equivalent- strength hurricane on record in the Australian basin, with gale force winds extending only forty eight kilometres from the centre and was the most compact system world wide until 2008 when Tropical Storm Marco of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season broke the record, with gale force winds extending only nineteen kilometres from the centre. After forming in the Arafura Sea, the storm moved southwards and effected the city with a Category 4 on the Australian Cyclone Intensity Scale, while there is evidence to suggest that it had reached Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale when it made landfall. The wind speed register at the airfield was destroyed by the wind force and so unable to register the true final wind speed.

Tracy killed seventy one people, caused $837 million in damage and destroyed more than 70% of Darwin's buildings, including 80% of houses. Tracy left more than 41,000 of the 47,000 inhabitants of the city homeless prior to landfall and required the evacuation of over 30,000 people.

Tracy added another twenty nine vessels to the host of shipwrecks from the World War II Japanese air raids and previous cyclones in Darwin Harbour. At first light on Christmas Day, the harbour was wrecked. Some forty boats and ships, mainly fishing trawlers, harbour ferries and other small craft were damaged, wrecked or  lost and sixteen people had died at sea.

It appalls me that I do not remember the impact of this disaster in 1974; all I can say is that I must have been a very self-centred young person in those days whose news outside my own national boundaries had little impact. For my husband, he had already moved on from Darwin and was very moved by the destruction of his old stamping ground. He and his first wife were then in England and resolved to return to Darwin to assist with the rebuild. The reality was that when they returned to Australia, arriving in Melbourne with their limited resources, they were unable to raise enough funds to buy a caravan or like mobile home to come north and apply themselves to the huge project that faced the nation.

Major-General Alan Stetton was appointed to oversee the Natural Disaster and did so with some controversy in the days until the end of December. It was the aim of the authorities that only 10,000 persons be left in the city to deal with whatever was required. The evacuation resulted in those figures being realised however it is interesting to note that after a mere ten years, the pre-Tracy population had been well surpassed.

Today Darwin is an awesome city, or at least that part which we have explored. Perhaps I shall have a different view by the end of the seven days we have booked.

We headed to Vesty’s Beach for lunch, looking for shade and free parking. Beachside parking is a matter of great caution however we are wary and so should not be the object of concern. Fed and watered, we headed into the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and spent nearly three hours taking in all that it had to offer.

It really is an excellent museum; we started with the Aboriginal art collection which apart from interesting facts about the local culture, had some of the best art we have seen. We were particularly interested in the exhibition which is totally devoted to Cyclone Tracy; a display that illustrated life before and after the disaster.

There is also a brilliant natural history exhibition, well displayed, brilliantly curated, full of information about the deadly killers of the territory; the Box Jellyfish, the snakes, the crocodiles, the spiders, and so on and so on.

The exhibition that really did surprise me however was that dedicated to maritime matters; a collection of South East Asian pearling luggers, refugee boats, boats used for fishing both legal and illegal, and all manner of crafts outside my ken. I have had a half-hearted interest in boats; my second husband built a yacht in our basement, my older son studied boat building and now is now heavily involved with marine design, and so I have been an interested bystander. Even I was enraptured by this exhibition at the Museum.

And just in case none of this was able to capture attention the interest of the visitor, the stuffed corpse of Sweetheart, a five metre, 780 kilogram saltwater crocodile has his own little exhibition complete with the sob story how he eluded his captures by drowning at the end of his rope back in 1979. His corpse is indeed something to behold and I cannot imagine coming off the better from such a bellicose embrace.

I should not omit the fact that there was also an excellent exhibition of artworks from a wide range of artists selected by the curator from the works held. These ranged from works by Brett Whitely, Arthur Stretton, William Dobell, Arthur Boyd, Jessie Trail, John Brack  and a dozen other artists who we have come to admire during our travels. My only gripe with this small gallery had little to do with the curating but all to do with the public. There were two mothers in their thirties seated in the middle of the gallery with their babies. The women were obviously delighted to be spending time together, chatting away and the babies spent most of their time trying to get their attention and then noisily enjoying their breast feed. Now I am not against women breastfeeding in public; I reckon I was one of the trail blazers myself, however an art gallery is for the quiet enjoyment of art connoiseurs (or pretenders such as ourselves) nor for the latte brigade even without the lattes. Anyway, needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise to find these gems, the paintings, tucked away up here at the Top End.

We shopped for bread and fruit and wine, the latter we have avoided for five weeks or so. Now with dinner over and two bottles of wine under our belts, I think it better to delay the posting of this blog until tomorrow.