10 days. 3000 kilometres. Uluru, to Kakadu, to Humpty Doo and everything in between to Darwin. I’m just back from an epic adventure in the Northern Territory. To see more of my photographs, head over to Instagram @aglobalgoddess. And I’ll be back here soon with some more travel tales.
Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
I AM slouched in the shadow of the world’s largest rock – Uluru – grappling to come to grips with how I capture its spiritual significance in words. I could pepper my story with adjectives dipped in red ochre, toss in the smoky scent of campfire, conjure up the drum of a didgeridoo, and talk in hushed tones about the sounds of silence. I could deploy all of this writing trickery, but still not do justice to this Australian icon. Even the cliché “icon” makes my palms sweat.
Instead, I relinquish my role as writer for this one afternoon, and take a cycling tour around the rock. It’s my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I empty my head, open my heart and clutch the handlebars. It’s early spring and a cool breeze gives me permission to smile.
Relax, the rock assures me, there’s plenty of time to get the story. And it should know. For this is one of Australia’s oldest homes of storytellers, dating back at least 20,000 years. Even the traditional custodians the Anangu people don’t speak about the Dreamtime out here, which they believe suggests the stories, customs and traditions exist in the mind. For them, it’s Tjukurpa, which is more about a way of life. As for Uluru itself, it is considered just one chapter in Australia’s lengthy songline and to understand the entire story, you’d have to walk the length and breadth of this big sky country. My mind goes walkabout with the possibilities.
The next morning, I find myself standing before the massive monolith in the pre-dawn light, still no wiser about how to approach this story. How on God’s earth can I possibly capture the magic passed down among Australian Aborigines on the soil upon which I stand? I jot down the words “diversity and depth” and “caves and crevices” in my notebook. I could talk about the lilac hues as the first light hits the rock, but suspect that might be purple prose. I feel insignificant and to be honest, that’s humbling. This journey is not about me, or my story. It runs much deeper than that. I dine under the stars, searching for the constellations, but my writing mind is still walkabout.
Then, the next day, something special happens. In this land of ancient scribes and storytellers, I’m listening to journalist and author Margaret Simons speak about the art of modern writing. And I am snapped back into the present with her opening words: “If you choose writing as a profession you are choosing fear and those dark nights of the soul as a daily companion.” Mind reader! I want to shout to the room of fellow writers in which I’d always imagined I was the only scaredy cat.
Margaret believes good writers avoid sheltering readers from the shock of the real and constantly try to see the world fresh. They “think themselves back into the experience” and avoid adjectives and adverbs in favour of nouns and verbs which she describes as the “bone and sinew” of good writing. Luckily, for me, alliteration is allowed.
“Show, don’t tell. Simple to read is not simple to write. You have to take risks in order to achieve that authenticity,” she says.
“First drafts are crap. The only thing you need to know is whether it is alive or dead. You want a nice fertile mess. You just need to work out what it is you are writing about.
“Your second draft is about form and shape. Your third draft is your cut and polish. Take words out to gain power cut out the purple prose to reveal the authenticity.”
And in an era when I wonder whether there is any future for those of us who remain ridiculous romantics of the written word, Margaret says the one thing that makes this journey all come together: “Human beings have always made stories. Consider this rock, there is no human society that has not made and communicated stories.”
And so, I give you my Uluru.
The Global Goddess travelled to Uluru with assistance from Voyages Ayers Rock Resort (www.voyages.com.au); Outback Cycling (www.outbackcycling.com); and AAT Kings (www.aatkings.com)