The Waterfront

City Profile : Darwin

Sunset at East Point

 

When we arrived in Darwin back in June 2013, we were exhausted.  We had just driven through the Kimberley and broken down on the road towards the Bungle Bungles and we were looking forward to spending some time in a city.

 

Darwin was not what we expected.  The city is set among tropical bushland and it’s really small.  The CBD doesn’t have any skyscrapers, there is only one main shopping centre in the northern suburbs and the airport is right in the middle of everything. There is heaps of vegetation around town, consisting of banyan trees, palm trees, screw pines and frangipanis and every now and then you’ll see a water tower.  The people are totally laid back, with many of the inhabitants working in defence or the mining industry, and there’s a considerable percentage of pubs and taverns around town that offer free lunchtime strip shows.

 

 

There is heaps of wildlife around town.  Green tree frogs, asian house geckos and tata lizards that are regular house guests, and you might even see the occasional python hanging around. Frilled neck lizard reserves are common and if you stick around long enough you’re bound to see one.  Nearly every resident has a dog for security and nearly every dog still has their balls.

 

In the 10 months that we have been in Darwin, we’ve lived at four addresses, worked a variety of jobs and experienced the Wet Season, the Dry Season and the Build up.  When the time comes for us to pack up and continue on our journey, it’ll be like leaving home all over again.

 

FAST FACTS

  • Darwin is the smallest and most northerly Australian capital but is one of the fastest growing cities.
  • The population is around 130,000 people, but this doubles during the Dry Season.
  • Darwin participates in gas and oil production, the mining industry, and tropical horticulture, and the Port of Darwin is the main outlet for Australia’s live cattle export trade into Southeast Asia.
  • There are two seasons in tropical Darwin – the stinking hot, sticky and sweaty wet season and the mild and balmy Dry season.  The lightning storms of the wet season are spectacular and the average temperature during the year is around 30°C so stick to shorts, singlets and t-shirts during your visit – there is no need for pants or jackets… ever.
  • There are a few aboriginal communities within the metropolitan area.  While you generally don’t enter the communities out of respect, occasionally they’ll have festivals and invite people to come in for tours.

 

 

 

 

HISTORY

The Larrakia people are the traditional owners of the land and lived in the greater Darwin region before European settlement.  They lived alongside the settlement and gave them food but many died of disease or were pushed away to camps on the outskirts of the city.  After much struggle and adjustment, the Larrakia people prevailed and today they have an active role in the community and their nation is 2000 strong.

 

The Dutch were the first Europeans to swing past the area, but it wasn’t until 1839 during the second voyage of the HMS Beagle that a little colony got started.  The first officer of the Beagle named the port after his buddy, Charles Darwin, who sailed with them on the Beagle’s first voyage in 1836, but the settlement was established as Palmerston in 1869.  After a gold rush in Pine Creek in 1870, the population of the colony more than doubled from 135 to 300 and when the NT was transferred under federal administration in 1911, it was renamed Darwin, but didn’t reach city status until 1959.

 

Darwin has been rebuilt twice.  The first time was after 1942 when the same Japanese warplanes that bombed Pearl Harbour attacked Darwin.  The town was severely damaged and 243 people were killed, but what the air raid showed was how close the World War got to Australia.

 

The second time Darwin had to be rebuilt was after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.  This category 3 storm hit on Christmas Eve, devastated the city, killed over 70 people and destroyed more than 70% of the buildings in Darwin.  Most of the population was evacuated to either Alice Springs, Adelaide or Sydney, and about 60% didn’t return.  After the cyclone, new building codes were put in place to construct houses that could withstand high winds and provide protection for the residents.

 

Cyclone Tracey Memorial

 

POINTS OF INTEREST

Darwin has all the typical attractions, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and George Brown Botanical Gardens,  which is not only fantastic but totally free to enter, as well as a few special treats that you can’t find anywhere else.

 

Crocosaurus Cove

We cannot emphasise to you how awesome Crocosaurus Cove is.  Entry is a total bargain for the goodies inside and if you go on the Big Croc Feeding Experience with a guided tour, you’ll have a day that you’ll never forget.

 

 

Aquascene

You might think that feeding the fish sounds mundane but this place is really cool.  They have a great display of marble statues and pretty gardens.  While the majority of fish are diamondscale mullet, you might spot a shark or batfish.

 

Aquascene

 

Stokes Hill Wharf & Darwin Waterfront

The Darwin Waterfront is the equivalent of Docklands in Melbourne, but more frequently used.  The grassed area is a great place for a picnic or Sunday Session during the Dry Season and the surrounding restaurants are quite good.  The Darwin Convention Centre and Wave Lagoon are also nearby.

 

Stokes Hill Wharf is a short walk from the Waterfront and is a great platform for fishing.  At the end of the Wharf is a small plaza with some food outlets.  It has much historical significance as it bore the brunt of the Japanese bombing on the 19th of February 1942 – over 240 people died and many ships were sunk in the vicinity.

 

 

FESTIVALS & EVENTS

Territory Day

On July 1st, Territorians celebrate Territory Day.  There’s quite a build-up to the event, with fireworks for sale on nearly every corner!  It’s not a public holiday (yet) and in the evenings, everyone floods to Mindil Beach for the markets and food stalls, and to watch the amazing firework show on the shore.

 

Territory Day

 

Fireworks continue through the night as everyone lets off their crackers.  We found a quiet place next to Port Darwin to let off our fireworks while others let theirs off in their front garden or on the street.  Spot fires arose throughout the city and evidence of the madness showed the morning after.

 

Beer Can Regatta

Possibly the most Territorian event other than Territory Day, the Beer Can Regatta is a great opportunity to let your love for beer shine.  Mindil Beach is flooded with tourists and locals for the markets, the food and the activities on the shore.  We spent the day on the Grogmonster and watched the beer can boat race.

 

 

Noonamah Rodeo

If bull riding, motorbike jumps and bucking broncos is your thing, the Noonamah Rodeo is definitely worth a look.  There are plenty of interesting characters to watch too, heaps of food stalls and overpriced beer, and the atmosphere is true country.

 

Won't give up without a fight - Noonamah Rodeo

 

Ethnic Community Events

Darwin is very multicultural and during the Dry Season, they hold many cultural festivals.  India@Mindil was very colourful with dance performances and plenty of delicious foods to try.  The Cyprus Festival was also orientated around food and dance.  Both of these events were free.

 

 

Hoon Events

The Hidden Valley Raceway is a popular spot to unleash your inner bogan.  They’ve got drag races, burnouts, motocross, supercars and it is the starting line of the Australia Day Ute Run.

 

Hidden Valley Drags

 

The All Ford Day was also on while we were in Darwin and there was a great display of both old and new cars.  Juz got the opportunity to take a seat in one of the drag cars for the Beat the Heat Off Street drag racing event.

 

 

 

 

MARKETS

Darwin is a market haven.  Between Thursday and Sunday during the Dry Season, there are about 5 or 6 different markets that you can go to, and each offers something a little different.  If you’re after a decent feed, you can’t do much better for value than at the markets.  A large tub of curry can be as cheap as $10 or prepare to pay about $7 for a bowl of delicious chicken wonton soup.

 

Mindil Markets

 

FOOD & DRINK

Shennanigans

Even though we lived 15 minutes away from Shenannigans, it was our local.  We’d go there every week to have dinner and play trivia.  The menu is awesome and has all the regular pub meals like steak and chicken parmigiana, yummy salads and a few goodies like the Territory grill and chicken supreme.  The prices are awesome too and if you’re not that hungry, you could just grab a side of spiced crocodile or a bowl of beef chilli for $5.

 

Chow!

Tasty Vietnamese and south east asian food on the Waterfront, Chow! is fully licenced and has some awesome cocktails on the menu.

 

Chow!

 

Yotz Greek Taverna

Dave took Juz here for her 30th Birthday dinner and it blew her socks off.  Even though it’s quite fancy and pricy, we dined right next to the Cullen Bay marina and the moussaka was to die for.

 

Tim’s Surf & Turf

If you love an outrageous amount of fried food piled up on your place, you’ll love Tim’s Surf and Turf.  The portion sizes are horrifying but the food tastes great and they have a magician that wafts from table to table performing nifty card tricks.

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Buses

Darwinbus is the only public transport network that operates in Darwin and has services that run between the city, Casuarina and Palmerston interchanges, as well as a few rural locations.  While most of the services run 7 days a week, they’re not regular and may only have 2 services in the morning and another 2 or 3 runs after work, so if you miss your bus, you’re walking!

 

INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION

Tourism Top End Information Centre – 6 Bennett Street, Darwin, Phone: 1300 138 886

Darwin YHA – 97 Mitchell Street, Darwin, Phone: 08 8981 5385

 

 

 

USS Blue Ridge

Special Tour aboard the USS Blue Ridge

We spent Territory Day lighting fireworks over Port Darwin near Kitchener Drive, and this just happened to be the way the US naval officers took to get back to their ship, the USS Blue Ridge.

 

USS Blue Ridge

 

A few guys were heading back early and saw us letting off a few crackers and decided to join in on the fun.  They ended up being super cool and we got along like bacon and eggs so they invited us to return to Kitchener Drive at 1400 hours the next day for a tour of the ship.  Fuck yeah…

 

We had a big night and a rough morning but we still made it to the gates and our big tall mate Weaver was there to get us through security.  As we approached the ship, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  We were saluted by an officer once we were on board and got “escorted” passes to pin on our shirts.

 

The USS Blue Ridge is a command and control warship that was built during the late 1960s and became a flagship of Commander 7th Fleet in 1979.  She served during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in 2010 and 2011 she earned the Captain Edward F. Ney Award for the best food service for large deck ships in the fleet.  The vessel is almost 200m long, can reach speeds of over 20 knots and is propelled by two boilers and one geared turbine.

 

 

Weaver opened the first door and we stepped into a space that was a mixture of an enclosed submarine and a grand ballroom.  The piping and steel walls were freshly painted glossy white and the floor covering looked like real floorboards.  There were wood panels with pictures of high ranking officers and old brass relics like the original compass that was used when the ship went on its maiden voyage.

 

Weaver took us around the guts of the ship, past the barber, the dentist, the surgeon, the administration area, the gym and medical centre, the messing area and the stairs that lead down into the sleeping quarters.  After a quick walk along the deck to see some big guns, we went up to the bridge and got to see our other buddies from Territory Day – Sanchez and Lewis.  Before we knew it, we had three tour guides, and they were happy to show us how their GPS navigational system works and all the cool gadgets that are used to drive the vessel.  They even gave us gifts – a US flag and a First US Navy Jack flag.

 

The First US Navy Jack flag has the motto ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ under an image of a timber rattlesnake set on a field of 13 red and white stripes.  The flag has been around since before the American Revolution and is regarded as the first naval jack flown after the republic was formed.  The 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the rattlesnake represents resistance to the British.  Symbolically, the flag is saying that the US is like a rattlesnake – if you provoke it, it will strike fast and bite you.  Metallica even wrote a song about it back in 1991: Don’t Tread On Me.

 

After we chatted about their daily lives – being on duty, having days off, training with OC spray and sometimes working until they were falling asleep mid-sentence, they took us down to the anchor room.  We were amazed to see how big the chains were – each link weighs 90 lb (40kg) each!

 

 

The tour ended and we said goodbye to our mates.  To Weaver, Sanchez and Lewis, you guys are awesome.  Thanks so much for showing us around your home.  It’s clear that you are proud to be naval officers and we hope to see you guys again on the other side of the planet.

 

 

Territory Day

Experience : Territory Day

Territory Day

 

 

Territory Day is on the 1st of July every year in the Northern Territory and celebrates the anniversary of the start of the Territory’s self-governance in 1978.  While it isn’t a public holiday, the main attraction is the professional fireworks show at Mindil Beach.  Almost every inch of sand is covered with picnic blankets or camping chairs as people flock to see the pyro-show spectacular.

 

 

Territory Day is also the one day of the year when civilians are allowed to buy and light their own fireworks.  For days prior to July 1st, all sorts of shops and outlets advertise that they are selling the best fireworks in town.  Buy your fireworks at the supermarket, the bakery, the pool cleaning shop or the tackle shop!

 

 

We spent Territory Day 2013 with our Darwin mates Dan, Lindsay and Kaitie.  After we had dinner and watched the fireworks at Mindil Beach, we drove down to the wharf to let off our own fireworks.  Darwin had become a warzone.  People were letting off fireworks on the street, in their front yards, in parks and on the beach!  There was an uncontrolled fire burning about 50 metres from where we were, and 50 metres quickly turned into 25 metres and before we knew it, the fire was ripping through some shade cloth on a chain link fence and we were surrounded by smoke.

 

It was our first time lighting fireworks and while Dave was happy to get stuck into it, Juz spent the first 20 minutes shitting her pants and refusing to light even a little cherry bomb.  After a few cups of wine though, things changed and Juz was lighting two wicks at the same time before running away screaming to a safe viewing point.

 

 

During the night, we met some US naval officers who invited us to come back tomorrow at 1400 for a tour of the USS Blue Ridge.  We promised we’d be there before returning back to Kaitie and Lindsay’s place for more drinks and sleepy time.

 

In the morning, we listened to the news and learnt about cars that had been blown up, uncontrolled fires sweeping through bushland and dogs and cats that had run away from home during the mayhem before heading to work with smoky hair and sore heads.

 

Happy Territory Day!

Territory Day