Hi there,

For those of you arriving late to this intrepid family journey through the heart of Australia, you may like to start reading at the beginning. Unfortunately, Blogger organises posts with those most recently created appearing first. So, if you jump in at the top, you're not going to get the full experience of this gritty blow-by-blow account of our adventure. As such, I suggest using the navigation window above and head down to March, where the first part of this journey began. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be hooked. From there you can scroll upwards to continue the journey. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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Monday, 22 May 2017

Dawrin - Top end of Aussie!



Date:
28/04/2017 – 02/05/2017
Location:
Darwin (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
127 km
Temperature:
Min:
24.0

Max:
32.7
Distance travelled so far:
5,000km (approx.)

It was sad to say goodbye to our little spot of paradise in Litchfield Park. For anyone thinking of passing through this way, I thoroughly recommend it. As we were packing up our trailer, a slightly larger Jayco trailer than ours pulled up next to our abundant camp site. The driver leaned out the window and asked if we were packing or unpacking. When we said that we were on our way out, he gleamed with delight and asked if we would mind them parking up next to us, so they could claim the spot when we left. It turns out, this family of fellow travellers had been on this very site a week earlier. They had gone off exploring other parts of the Northern Territory, but had decided they needed to return here as it had been so beautiful. Not a bad idea, and one we certainly toyed with over the coming weeks. But alas, we just simply weren’t able to fit a return journey into our already overflowing itinerary (here’s to dreaming though!).

In the process of packing up the trailer, I pulled my hardly used air compressor out of the car, with the intention of giving the tyre pressure a bit of a check and top up for the journey ahead. Hooking it up to battery (carefully following the instructions, of course), when I switched it on there was a puff of smoke from both the main unit and the in-line fuse, and then… well, nothing. There it sat on the ground – dead as a doornail. “Oh Poo…” I thought (well, words to that effect). Oh well, at least the tyres seemed to be in good enough shape to get us to Darwin (our next scheduled destination). Being a capital city, we were hopeful that might be able to get the compressor sorted out while we’re there.

Driving out of Litchfield park and pulling back on to the highway, we continued our journey north. This would be our last major journey in a northerly direction, because in the weeks to come we’d be heading back south (slightly) to Kakadu National Park, then starting our journey towards Western Australia.

As we approached Darwin, the road that led into the city was much like driving into any other large town. The roads became wider and more like those I’m used to driving on to work and back. Adverts started appearing on the embankments, as well as petrol stations, houses, suburbs and shopping centres; all appearing one after another as we moved towards this great mini-city of the north.

We checked into the Free Spirit caravan park, where we planned to stay for five nights. After the long haul ‘up the guts’ (a delightful Aussie saying that means driving straight up the centre of Australia, from Adelaide to Darwin), we figured it was probably time to find a place to chill out for a while – have a good clean out and take stock of our rations, as well as fix all of the slightly wonkily constructed and starting the break pieces of the camper trailer (including the back of the in-built chair, which I found to my astonishment was simply a piece of particle board held together by a single screw – no wonder it pulled out when I reached backwards one evening and toppled base over apex).

The caravan park was lovely, sporting a bar-side pool for the grown-ups and a bouncing pillow for the kids to hop on to their hearts content. Unfortunately, our first day was marred a little by some teenagers in the park who decided to pick on Ben. He wasn’t hurt, but felt threatened by this group. When I went to speak to their parents of these kids, the young teenaged-ringleader turned very aggressive, raising his fists to me and seemed to be itching for a fight. Unfortunately, his family weren’t much better, so in the end, I simply had to defuse the situation and move myself and my boys away. Heading to the reception to chat to the manager about what had happened, (who, as it happened, was a very big bloke and played for the local rugby team). He came out from the backroom and asked if it was such and such a family. He said he’d already had complaints about them, and that we were not to worry as he’d sort it out (once again, as in previous posts, I’m paraphrasing somewhat here). He returned to our campsite twenty minutes later and explained that he’d laid down the law and said that they would be leaving in the morning. Despite reassurances that all was sorted, both our boys were a little shaken by the experience and I could see that they were wary about leaving the safety of the caravan site for the rest of the day. The manager gave a little context about the family, who lived in a ‘dry’ rural aboriginal community down south from here; where, he said, the kids had been exposed to a lot of violence themselves. He explained that it wasn’t uncommon for families from these alcohol-free regions to come into Darwin, where the parents suddenly had access to alcohol and often over indulged; at times leading to hostility and aggression. It was certainly a raw life lesson for our kids, who thankfully have had a very safe and secure life in our little corner of Victoria. But, this experience provided much food for thought, as well as many questions over the next week or two. As time has now passed since that day, it seems that both our boys were able to make sense of it enough to know that not everyone in the world is aggressive and not everyone is a bully; however, it is good to have a level of caution at times – as there are, indeed, a few bad eggs out there.

Over the next few weeks, I found myself considering the parallels between these kids, who had been so aggressive in Darwin, and those I have met in my time working as a psychologist in New Zealand and Australia. When I think of it, Nat, our boys and I have been very lucky to grow up where we have (thanks immensely to the hard work and smart/fortuitous choices of our parents), where aggression simply isn’t the norm. Whereas, many kids across the world aren’t as lucky. Whether it be Broadmedows in Melbourne, patches of South Auckland, or other places across the globe where violence is more ingrained in communities. It’s such a shame that not everyone gets the same opportunities to simply be a kid for as long as they can, without exposure to attitudes, which ultimately take them down a path that keeps the youth detention centres up north full to the brim. And, sadly, in Northern Territory communities, full they are…

As a change of pace from the goings on of the day before, our first full day in Darwin was spent recuperating as a family at Crocodylus Park.

Crocodylus Park: Research and Education Centre

This was a somewhat weird mix of crocodile breeding/farming, as well as a wildlife park and zoo. The main attraction was clearly the crocs, displaying some of the most massive reptilian beasts I have ever seen. But, somewhat perplexingly, there were also a handful of lions and monkeys, and animals from various corners of the world. Dotted amongst these cages were a small menagerie of other Australian critters, including many snakes and other reptiles. At least these creatures were in-keeping with the Australian reptile theme they had going on here. Throughout our time at Crocodylus Park, the staff member we saw most (at feeding times, talks, and so forth) was an Irish chap, who did an excellent job of de-mystifying the iconic croc – as well as making sense of the strange mix of croc farm/wildlife park they ran there.


Crocs ahoy!

For a long time, saltwater crocs were hunted – not quite to the point of extinction – but enough to reduce their numbers by 95%. It seems that protecting this species has been a difficult task, particularly as they aren’t the cutest critters on the planet. So, farming crocs became the main way of generating revenue to protect the species in the wild. Doing so took the market out of poaching these animals, and ensuring most crocs hatched in captivity made it to breading age. The park side of Crocodylus Park has also become the residence of many a massive beast, who has made it to adulthood in the wild (only 1% of hatchlings survive, so these guys probably have some good genetics), but where the croc has become a danger to people (i.e., attacking people or losing their fear of humans and moving into inhabited areas). In other parts of Australia (e.g., Queensland) it seems that the usual response to such crocs is to kill them in order to remove them from being a threat to people. However, in the Northern Territory, with exception of a few crocs being given a cosy home in Crocodylus park, the onus has been placed firmly on the people who live or visit this region to not get bitten; rather, that is, than destroying crocs because they can be dangerous. Being ‘Crocwise’ is part of the school curriculum (go on, click on that link, the video is both cringe-worthy and fabulous!) and those people who do get attacked are quite often vilified on social media for being idiots who had put themselves in harm’s way. Y’know, “The croc wouldn’t have got him if he wasn’t being an idiot”, that sort of stuff.

Go on, be crocwise will ya!

During our time in Crocodylus park, we learned a lot about these fearsome reptiles while cruising through a wet land on a pontoon boat (with our guide’s Irish brogue entertaining us along the way). Ben fed a croc in one of the breeding enclosures and both boys had a cuddle with a couple of baby crocs (all over a meter long), as well as had massive pythons draped around them. Ben, he tells me, is now mad keen to get a snake and would desperately love to take home… Let’s see how that turns out!

Ben feeding crocs



Upon our return to our campsite, true to manager’s word, the family of errant teenagers had moved on. To my surprise, Daniel – who is ever the outspoken one – saw a boy who had been hanging around with these other boys the day before. When Daniel saw him, he said in very plain words, something to the effect of “you and the other boys weren’t nice to my brother”. “I know,” said boy looking sheepish, “I’m sorry.” And that was that. 

The next day we decided that we had let our boys off the hook far too much in terms of keeping up with their scholastic activities. As such, we took a trip to the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery. While have been away from home, Ben’s classmates have been learning about natural disasters – so what better place to get up close and personal with the impact of mother nature than exploring those that have befallen Australia’s most far flung city, Darwin. On Christmas eve, 1974, Darwin was struck by Cyclone Tracy; which resulted in one of the biggest disasters to befall a heavily populated area on Australian soil. The force of cyclone Tracy hit Darwin with average wind speeds of 100km/h and gusts of 160km/h, with the fastest windspeed being estimated at 260km/h. Needless to say, Darwin was all but flattened by the force of this cyclone. 66 people lost their lives and over 35,000 people were evacuated. Perhaps not the brightest or most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, but the Cyclone Tracy exhibition was certainly interesting. Ben spent hours jotting down notes and facts, which he later (only somewhat begrudgingly) turned into a report that he sent to his teacher back at school.


Cyclone Tracy Exhibition

As the first museum trip went well, we followed up with a visit to the Darwin Military Museum. Here we learned about the Japanese invasion of Darwin during World War II, as well as the importance of Darwin as a strategic port in the South Pacific Ocean. While some of the political intrigues that led up to the conflict were a little lost on the boys, there were also old massive gun turrets and tunnels to explore, as well as an assortment of artillery, vehicles and other military paraphernalia from various wars throughout the past century. As with our Cyclone Tracy experience, this was time well spent, learning about events from not-so-distant past in a far-flung corner of this country.





Darwin Military Museum

To brighten out time in Darwin a little, we also donned our mozzie repellent and headed out on a few evening escapades on Darwin’s waterfront.  A couple of days into our Darwin sojourn, we made our way to the outdoor Deckchair Cinema. With a backpack full of picnic paraphernalia, we nibbled on tuna rolls, cheese and bickies, dips and tasty cakes, as we watched the soon to be Aussie classicRed Dog: True Blue’. The film was certainly fitting – set in outback Australia, where we had just spent weeks forging our way through the gritty red dust that coated everything in this film. It’s well worth a watch, especially if you can sit under the stars, as tiny bats flit back and forth in front of the screen, with the gentle rolling noise and tangy smell of the sea wafting in from nearby. Having the moon slowly creep up through the trees was also a nice touch… but if you’re not able to cobble together these atmosphere-inducing background elements – I’m sure you’d enjoy the film nonetheless.

Deckchair Cinema

Our second evening foray took us, along with the greater part of Darwin’s population, to the opening evening of this year’s season of night markets at the waterfront. On a makeshift laneway, set less than 50 meters from the beach, 100’s of stalls and food vans had sprung up overnight to hawk their wares to the passers-by who gathered under the stars. Our evening started with a quick nosey at the myriad of trinkets on sale in the various stalls, before heading down to the beach to watch fire jugglers and sip a glass of wine on the sand as the sun went down. It’s almost a little cruel for the inhabitants of Darwin, who have such a lovely beach caressed by warm ocean waters, but dip your toes in the water and you are playing Russion roulette with a host of beasties that lurk there. You see, there be crocs in them thar’ waters! Not to mention other critters which nip, sting and poison their way through anything that enter their domain. So, being content to gaze at the waves and listen to their inviting siren song of crashing foam in the sweltering heat, we watching the sky turn a gentle apricot colour as the sun swapped places with the moon who came on to take the evening shift. Dinner was eventually gathered from a variety of food stalls throughout the market, and we whiled away a few hours watching street performers and listening to the music and sounds of throngs of people chatting and laughing. The night ended with a firework display – admittedly, it was no Sydney Harbour Bridge at the turn of the Millenium, but it was fun all the same.



The Darwin Waterfront Bight Markets

The next day, having been teased and tormented by the sea the evening before, we returned to waterfront – where the clever Darwinians have come up with a way of swimming at the beach, without going within spitting distance of the actual water… Yup, sitting near the waterfront is a large wave pool, which churns out perfect waves for twenty minutes every half and hour, and turns into a glassy pool for the remaining 10 minutes. From the first guests arriving (us, as it turns out), it goes on through this cycle all day until the last stragglers are turfed out as the sun sets. We spent spent hours bobbing up and down in the artificial waves, catching a few breakers on the boogie boards (which were available to anyone who cared to use one), and diving underwater wearing our goggles to watch the waves roll and crash above our heads. Other than a bit of sunburn, the day was brilliant.

Wave Pool!!

And so, with that,  our time in Darwin came to a close. But before we left, we made sure we took a trip to the local Anaconda store (from where I have purchased the now defunct air compressor a few months earlier, in Melbourne). I must say, the store manager was incredibly helpful and he was hell bent on making sure our compressor was either fixed or replaced by the time we left Darwin to head off into Kakadu National Park. Having given the compressor the once over, it was apparent that the fuse had blown; which we agreed would certainly explain at least one of the two puffs of smoke I saw when I turned it on. The trouble is, the fuse was a 50 amp, standard size, blade fuse; and not one automotive of the electronics stores I visited throughout the rest of the day stocked these fuses in 50 amp configurations. In the end, I left the task of contacting the manufacturer with the store manager, who took to it like a dog with a bone. As it turned out, the manufacturer of the compressor was also one of the few stockists of 50 amp, standard size, blade fuses in Australia, and they weren’t able to ship us any in time for us to leave. So, since we couldn’t replace the fuse and check if the other components were ok, we were handed a brand spanking new unit to take with us. As, the store didn’t carry the same unit as we had bought, we ended up being given a much better and more expensive compressor (which I’d originally wanted to buy, but couldn’t really afford at the time). So, all in all, double thumbs up for Anaconda (Darwin Store) and double thumbs up for our shiny new air compressor that has since proved to be awesome!

By Pete A (http://thumbsandammo.blogspot.com.au/)

So, with compressors swapped, tyres inflated, food and water replenished, we said goodbye to Darwin and turned our wheels southward towards Kakadu National Park. Hang on to your hats, this next adventure should be a good one!

Bye ‘d bye,

Gregg

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