FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY DARWIN
We drove into the town centre, to the Information Centre, where we cashed in our Kakadu Passes for a refund. Had no problems with that, as the highway was still closed.
This morning’s sight seeing focus was to do the Historic Walk along Smith Street and nearby. We could do this whilst leaving our car parked near the Information Centre.
The walk featured some historic buildings, of what had been the city centre, and some remnants left after Cyclone Tracy. This cyclone had arrived unexpectedly on Xmas Eve 1974, weather forecasting back then not having the technology to detect cyclone formation, like it does these days. Because recording instruments broke, there was no accurate measurement, but it was estimated that the winds that devastated Darwin then, reached 250kmh.
“Old” Darwin had grown in an ad hoc manner, without much regulation, and its structures could not withstand such impacts. Not much was left standing. Officially, the death toll was about 70. I had been told by a friend, a long time resident of the Top End, that her brother had bulldozed into pits, and covered, lots of bodies, and the real death toll was hundreds. The old Darwin was a place people went to drop off the grid, and no-one knew how many aboriginals were camped around the town at the time.
Tens of thousands of the survivors were evacuated, mostly by a massive air lift. Many never returned. The Darwin that was rebuilt and grew anew, according to the old hands, bears little resemblance to the old, frontier type of town that so many of them loved.
For me, there was a sense of both pathos and bravery in some of what we saw.
Walked the new Sky Bridge, a sheltered walkway that took us from the end of Smith Street, over the cliffs that drop naturally to sea level, with the old roads carved along them, to the Waterfront Precinct building. There, a glass lift took us to ground level. That was all very well done; from the Sky Bridge we had good outlooks down over the waterfront developments.
Had a look at the Wave Pool, which had been built and opened a couple of years ago, and so was new to us. That would be a great place to take kids – safe from the local marine wild life, but more interesting than just a swimming pool.
It was very hot and humid, walking, so we sat and had a coffee at the Coffee Club. Then walked around to the historic WW2 oil storage tunnels that had been excavated into the cliffs below the city centre. These were closed off with a wire mesh gate – another tourist feature shut in the Wet Season. But we could look in through the mesh and get a general idea of what they were like.
Climbed up the Survivors Steps, from there, and thus along Smith Street back to the car. The Sky Bridge and elevator route had been much easier than our walk up the Steps! It teemed rain, just as we got to the top. The really heavy rain was an indication that the weather pattern had definitely changed from earlier in the week.
Despite the conditions, the Historic Walk had been well worth doing. An interesting contrast between the old and new.
Drove to Nightcliff shops. Bought a bottle of wine to take out tonight. I decided to buy some breakfast type groceries for me, so I could eat in the room: some grapefruit, a little pack of Weetbix, soy milk.
After some leisure time back at the hotel, we left to drive to P’s place, for 7pm, taking some beers and a bottle of wine. P had asked our former colleague J, now working at Kormilda College to the meal, so we could catch up again. With J was his new wife.
P’s house was great, inside, belying its outward appearance and overgrown garden. The place was surprisingly large, P sharing the rental with a couple of others, who were not home tonight. It was a very “Darwin” establishment – much atmosphere, with a lot of old restaurant gear around. There were little ponds scattered outside, much greenery of course, a small spa pool, and obviously a huge frog population. They provided background song all evening.
P cooked a Thai soup and curry – very yummy. A dessert platter was rather an eclectic mix – melon, chocolate icecream, raspberries, chocolate cake.
Was much enjoyable talk, mostly about Kormilda. J’s role had changed and he and wife were now running the girls’ boarding house, but not living in. They had only been doing this for four weeks, and already the wife hated it and clearly resented the time J was putting into the role. I am afraid I could not warm to the lady at all. It was the third marriage for both; the ceremony had taken place in Bali because she did not want any of his family to attend. I thought that fact really summed her up, and could not see the marriage lasting very long.
After J and wife left, we stayed on for a while, talking with P, mostly about the various short term contracted works he’d been doing, including writing a grant application for Planet Savers, conservation being a cause dear to his heart. We arranged a return meal with him, at home in Melbourne, for a couple of weeks’ time.
The drive back to the hotel was through rain – of course!
Again, there were thunderstorms through the night.