Having arrived at our hotel in Darwin, we have until Wednesday afternoon to recover from our trip and to see something of Darwin. The last time we did a long road trip in Australia, we had a five hour layover in Darwin and made a quick dash into town to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. So whilst here we managed (or did not completely manage):
The Deckchair Cinema
The Deckchair Cinema is a community institution and shows films under the stars every night during the Winter (Dry) Season.
It is a walk in and not a drive in
and before the screening you can have a meal,
drink local craft beers,
buy snacks and get free mosquito repellant !
By dark it is very full and we are sitting (deliberately) at the back and making use of the free cushions which are provided to lessen the impact of the chairs. The show starts on time, or at least at 1930 a documentary film starts playing about the management of foreign aid to Africa. We assumed that this was a short educational film being shown before the main attraction but after a considerable while, just when we had started to think that this film was rather interesting but was perhaps going on a bit long, the screen went dark and a voice said “Sorry folks, we have just realised we are showing the wrong film !” There was a round of loud humorous cheers and then the real film started. The problem was that by this time we were so tired we could not stay awake so we had to leave before the film finished and before we really fell asleep.
So it was back to our hotel to go to bed.
Walking the Town and the Hop-on Hop-off Bus
When we are somewhere for a short time, we have got into the habit of taking a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour but forgoing the hopping bits in order to get a feel for the town.
Darwin has such a bus tour but the afternoon tour is 30 minutes longer than the morning tour (even though the price is the same) because it goes out along the East Point Promontory to the museum. So we are spending part of our first morning in Darwin wandering around those areas of the city within walking distance of our hotel.
Over Christmas 1974, Darwin was almost totally destroyed by Cyclone Tracey with over 70% of all buildings and 80% of housing being destroyed. Hence almost all of the Darwin one sees today dates from after 1974. The impact of the Cyclone and its aftermath cannot be overstated and has shaped the town we are briefly staying in.
Christ Church Cathedral portrays in quite a moving way, the impact of Cyclone Tracey. Although it now is a modern cathedral,
the entrance of the old cathedral which was destroyed by the cyclone has been incorporated into the new building.
Inside the Cathedral is a stained glass window which portrays fishing nets and the upsurge of the waves during the cyclone.
Darwin Waterfront is nearby
and all of the buildings there are bright, modern and look well designed. They also look expensive and we have already noticed far more wealth here than we have seen anywhere else this trip.
The Old Court House dates from 1884 and although it looks original,
it was partially destroyed in the cyclone and rebuilt.
Brown’s Mart nearby has a similar history. It was built as a store in 1885, was damaged in two cyclones and eventually was restored for use as a theatre.
Also nearby is the site of the first telegraph pole in Palmerston (15th September 1870) which was the name here before it was renamed Darwin. The significance of this (and its interest to us) was that the Overland Telegraph (OT) line went 2000 miles from here to Port Augusta in South Australia. It was also linked to Java in 1872 and then electronic communication existed between Australia and the rest of the world.
When we were here seven years ago, we came across many places off the Stuart Highway which were on the route of the OT and we were quite amazed at the strength and courage of the early explorers who worked out the route for the OT across Australia and the harshness of the climate and landscape through which the OT went.
It was also the case that when they were digging holes for poles in Pine Creek (some distance south and a rather interesting place where we have stayed), they discovered gold in the holes and this of course started another Gold Rush and shaped the town. We briefly revisited it as we drove north and its history and related buildings are well laid out and worth some time exploring.
Paspaly Pearls have a store in the small building at the bottom of the interesting skyscraper, I was never too sure if it was all new or if an old building had been incorporated into the new one. Whatever the answer, it is a striking design and does not look out of place in this modern city.
I am often (always?) critical of much of the poor architecture I see in towns but in downtown Darwin I could only find one major building which I really disliked and then only slightly.
When we went on the bus tour we saw many areas of wealth and development
including Cullen Bay which is a Marina and housing development - some lovely houses with an attached waterfront
the nearby Myilly Point Heritage Precinct
which contains the last four pre WWII Darwin houses in their original location, and
Government House built in 1871 which makes it the oldest European Building in the Northern Territory. Other than the few we have seen, there are not a lot of old buildings left because they were destroyed either in the cyclone or in the bombing of Darwin during WWII. Darwin was heavily bombed by the Japanese and there are lots of WWII sites in the Darwin area and tours which incorporate visits to them.
The architecture of Darwin is interesting, it is obviously a wealthy city and not too crowded for us and around half of the residents of the Northern Territory live there (120,000).
Having seen our last Australian sunset, although nothing like as beautiful as any of the others we have seen in the Outback,
we gave the Pearl Earrings an outing and went to a Vietnamese Restaurant for dinner. Darwin is a very multicultural city and also has one of the largest Aboriginal populations of any city (so we were told). It was obvious to us that the Aboriginal issue is just as unsolved here as it is everywhere else we have been to.
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Our bus ticket was valid for 24 hours so we were able to use it to revisit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory on our last morning in Australia. The first time we were in the same type of camper van, we had a five hour layover in Darwin on the way back to the UK and we got a taxi from the airport to the museum and back so we could do something useful with our time.
Inside it is not that large, there are a number of galleries, an area especially for children, a cafe and a shop. The Indigenous Art Gallery is the first to attract us and it is very different from the last time we were here.
The painting on the left is entitled Ceremony by Wamud Namok. A group of women are dancing and singing a song about the ceremonial yarn in their hair. The dance was said to have been taught to them by Mimih Spirits.
That on the right is Rainbow Serpent by John Mawurndjul. The Rainbow Serpent is an extremely important figure in the mythology of the Aboriginal people and we have met the serpent on many occasions. I think over the years we have been coming to Australia, we have gone from a total bemusement with Aboriginal culture and myths to that of a slight understanding of and tremendous respect for it.
This is called "White Fellas they come to talk about the land” by Judy Broun and obviously tells a story more than the picture itself. The issues of land ownership, land usage and now royalties for mining are things which are behind many of the problems facing Aboriginal people. One change we noticed was that now (2016) individual aboriginal people are described as belonging to a particular language group rather than a particular tribe.
There are many many language groups and their inter-relationships is one of the causes of the problems aboriginal people face.
That Aborigines have been on the Australian Continent even before it became an island is now not contested. the Petroglyphs we saw in the Burrup Peninsula a few weeks ago are said to be anything up to 60,000 years old. Tucked away in a corner of the gallery was
this which the gallery said was a copy of the worlds oldest rock art painting. This claim is made on the fact that depicted is a (now extinct) Palorchestes which is a horse sized marsupial whose bones have been found in Australia. The megafauna became extinct about 40,000 years ago and hence the artist is thought to have drawn it before then. The fact that there were people living here for so long before “discovery by Europeans” is often overlooked.
We also noticed that now the phrase “Traditional Land Owners” is often used and in the museum’s entrance is a plaque which acknowledges who lived here first.
Actual Rock Art does not move very well and so the museum has had one recreated on a fibre glass wall. Rock Art Painting is said to be a dying art because in the years after the coming of Europeans, aborigines have been moved off their clan lands into settlements and away from the rocks upon which this painting used to take place. Market demand then arose for bark paintings and even watercolours and so the numbers of those with the skills required for rocks have declined.
We recognised many of the symbols and characters in this painting including Lightening Man whom we first came across in Kakadu.
We have a tremendous liking for the painting of Albert Namatjira and of the Hermannsburg School and the museum had a number of (badly hung and positioned) paintings from the school.
This is an untitled painting by Herbert Raberaba and probably depicts a landscape in the Hermannsburg Region. One of the reasons for our liking of the painting is that the artists manage to accurately capture the actual colours we have seen in the landscapes and the textures we saw.
The museum also has a very good interactive exhibit on Cyclone Tracey which we experienced the last time we were here. The impact of the cyclone on the city should not be underestimated.
There is time for a final, and the best of this trip, Mango Smoothie then it is back to Darwin on the next bus, change our clothes and head to the airport.