Naked Gun fights to the Bitter End
Naked Gun Fights to the Bitter End
Our last few hours on The Ghan were spent watching the dramatic change in scenery as we entered the tropical climate of the Top End. The little earth scoops at the side of the track were now underwater and shrouded with greenery. The woodland was becoming lush, still with the hunched ochre termite mounds and small groups of healthy cattle were a reminder of the ambitious cattle ranching days that brought wealth to places like Katherine before successive droughts lasting up to ten years dealt the ranchers’ ambitions a blow from which many never recovered. Ruined ranch houses and broken down fences reminded us of the extreme story of boom and bust in the cattle years.
We were losing the lovely blue sky too. We didn’t know at the time that the monsoon was just a couple of days away. Jamey’s Nitmiluk River level would soon rise at least another metre. Nor did we know what a gem of a place we were slowly sliding towards.
Darwin is named after Charles Darwin of course and is nearer to Jakarta, Capital of Indonesia, than it is to the National Capital of Canberra. It was the commander of the Beagle, John Clements Wickham who in 1839 named the arrival port of his ship Port Darwin, having had Charles Darwin, the public father of the Theory of Evolution, aboard on two previous voyages. In 1869 the growing settlement above the escarpment there was named Palmerston after the then British Prime Minister and was finally renamed Darwin like its port in 1911.
You might think it strange that the port once had a different name to the township but they are in quite different locations, the port being at sea level and the town on an elevated cliff behind it. This topographical contrast is one feature that makes Darwin such a pleasant place to live and visit now. The lower port area where we stayed was skirted by one road which left the rest of the area a pleasant mixture of green park, apartments, hotels, a wave pool, bars and restaurants and a lagoon.
I had read the reviews about the Vibe Adina Hotel, where we were staying in the area still called Port Darwin, so I didn’t hold out any high expectations about the place, not that I ever do anyway so I cannot be disappointed. Complaints about dirty rooms, bumpy pillows, and the distance from the town meant I was quite curious on arrival.
The location away from the bustle of the town meant the whole area was peaceful and safe for children to run around. There were privately owned apartments all around and members of the public along with their lovely dogs as well as visitors could enjoy the bars and restaurants in this non-exclusive area. Our room was spotless, with smooth pillows (!) a fine view over the area and the estuary toward the Timor Sea and best of all, a BATH. I was in to that welcoming receptacle approximately 15 minutes after shutting the room door and I lost count of the number of baths I had in our five day stay.
The temperature was a modest and pleasant 31’ but the humidity at the time was 92% and rising. We didn’t need the air con and sometimes opened the window a little a night for the onshore breeze. Once folk had gone home we were left with the sound of cicadas and birdsong.
On the first evening we relaxed on the bed drinking sav (sauvignon Blanc), nibbling nuts from the fridge and watching an episode of Ab Fab on TV. The next morning I baulked at the two bowls of breakfast muesli and yoghurt we had bought for £17.50 in a café downstairs! So from then on we had the same but we bought the yoghurt and cereal from Coles supermarket and ate it in the room! We’re not suckers!
Our Ghan Trip included a half day tour of the town with Warren, a quietly spoken kind natured man, the sort that makes me feel pleased for his partner. He talked interestingly and almost continually while driving us all around Darwin perfectly safely.
Within a few minutes of being aboard not only had we seen a few wallabies but the rain started to come down, it was the first day of the Monsoon. Warren released us into the Darwin Aviation Museum for an agreed period of time and the noise of the rain on the roof rendered conversation impossible and was far louder than the recorded sound of the 1974 Christmas Eve Cyclone when it hit the city with devastating force. Darwin has been flattened 4 times in recent history, three times by cyclones and again during a Japanese air raid in 1942.
At the time a young soldier, Wilbert ‘Darkie’ Hudson was in the shower when he heard the planes coming and knew they weren’t friendly. Without so much as a thought for grabbing a towel he went outside and manned a gun in defence of the city and gave those airmen hell for the duration of the raid while stark naked.
We too were being bombarded with raindrop bullets which added to the atmosphere as I took in the enormity of the B52 bomber, one of only three genuine ones left outside the US and the pretty and familiar shape of the spitfire.
Darwin is still a garrison town with barracks and military bases and as we drove on Warren showed us an old hangar from WW2 which is still in use, oil storage tunnels where fuel oil essential to the defence of the city was stored and we drove down a road that was once a runway to our next destination, The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.