There are a couple of distinct differences between Melbourne and Darwin. Obviously. The first thing that hits is the temperature. I left Melbourne on Tuesday morning. It was cold, raining and 12 degrees. I shivered at the airport, as my clothes were all wet from the trip between house and tram, tram and bus, and bus and airport. I stepped off the plane into a somewhat humid 33 degrees. It’s warm, sunny, and constant up here. You don’t get so much as a cool breeze to break the heat. And you can’t do anything with your hair.
Everything here is so green. Darwin’s wet season is winding down, and the city is still oozing life from every pore. Darwin’s CBD is less ‘concrete jungle’, and more a little bit of concrete fighting against the jungle. It is a small 6-8 block district containing offices, retail services and plenty of air conditioned refuges from the heat outside. Mitchell Street is noisy, though nothing like any kind of busy street in Melbourne. It is lined with backpackers, restaurants and travel agencies. It is a block back from the waterfront, which is nowhere near as alluring as it might be, due to the constant threat of saltwater crocs and box jellyfish.
The local flora is beautiful with big tropical leaves weighed down under huge droplets of water. The frangipani’s sweet fragrance wafts through the streets, the crimson flowers on the tall flame trees glow bright in the northern sun.
Small and large lizards scuttle across footpaths as you wander the city and gigantic insects that inevitably give you the fright of your life, are quite fascinating in their colours, shapes and uniqueness.
And yet there is something unsettling about Darwin. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just the unshakable feeling that there is something not quite right. There are the ever-present groups of Aboriginals. They’re peripheral. It’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. They seem to be on the periphery of everything.
There are the teenagers who are hanging around in shopping centres, loitering, swearing, and generally running amok. Nothing unusual there, aside from the fact that these particular mallrats all seem to have babies and toddlers tagging along with them.
Another thing I noticed today, though not unusual in itself is the presence of hurricane fencing. You know the type, the 8-foot high chain-link fences often used around construction sites. Those are used as front fences here. And side fences. And back fences. Quite often, it is flanked with thick black plastic. Not the most welcoming of facades.
The city itself seems tired. Everything seems to be slumped, as though it has reached the end of a long and tiresome period, and it just wants to have a lie down. The houses in the suburbs seem laden the stress of years of preparing for and bracing against the ever-present threat of cyclones. It is as though the constant heat and humidity have worn the city down, and it is in that moment, that moment just before it throws up its hands in defeat. It seems to be heaving a huge, resigned sigh. To what it is resigned, I don’t know. I don’t know if it knows.
It has the feel of a temporary city, not quite so much as Yulara did, but there seems, on my at-a-glance appraisal, that there are few prospects here.
And so it is not with a great deal of sadness or regret that I won’t be here for long. Sure, it’s pretty, but there is little more left to maintain my interest.
I leave on Saturday, meeting Sabrina at the airport here before heading off to a grand adventure in tropical Saigon. Upon our return to Darwin, I intend to visit the much-raved-about Mindil night market, before driving off for the cool natural pleasures of Litchfield National Park and beyond.