June/July 2012 saw Ruth, Ray, Lee and me fly from Sydney to Darwin where we began our tour around the Nitmuluk/Kakadu National Park/Litchfield Park areas. This took us three weeks of driving around in a rented Landcruiser going as far south as Katherine at the start, then, heading back up north we criss-crossed the various regions to visit points of interest. Numerous towns were visited, staying in motels, hotels, cabins and resorts depending on what is available at the time. Pine Creek, Jabiru, Cooinda, Gunlom, Jim Jim – the list seems endless now, trying to remember it all.
There were plenty of things to keep us fully occupied for the time we were there. At one stage Ray, Ruth and Lee took a four day, three night hike out of Nitmuluk Park while I lazed around in my cabin reading, editing our movie records and touring the local area. See, it was my job to act as driver and meet them when they arrived at the other end of the track some 60 Kms to the north. I did the noble thing and sacrificed the pleasure of hiking across hot desert, up hill and down dale in order to fulfill this obligation. Meanwhile I took the easy way and had a helicopter ride up the Katherine Gorge and explored the surrounds while having the car to myself.
Our tour included boat trips, day hikes, swimming in water holes and the usual gawping at Aboriginal Rock Art. At one stage, Ray’s cousin took us out to Billabong Lagoon fishing all day. Only one poor unfortunate cat-fish was hooked – the sum total of our entire efforts for the day – and even this fish was thrown back after photographic records had been made.
One of the highlights was a visit to the wildlife park about 60 Km south of Darwin where we were treated to a “Birds of Prey” performance of well trained birds that swooped, squawked and behaved in clever ways on cue with the trainer.
On the other hand, as a non-event that was stupendously mindless, we were just in time to witness the thrills of the Darwin Beer Can Regatta (cheers, rowdy applause). I didn’t get it, I’m afraid. This exclusive piece of uniquely Territorian culture passeth all understanding.
We saw plenty of evidence that Darwin copped a thrashing from the Japanese in World War II. The Air Museum is full of history on this score, as is the Military Museum. There was also quite a bit to see out in the open away from museums. We came across remnants of the anti-submarine nets on the western side of Darwin Harbour, as well as the remains of gun emplacements. We also took a tour through the underground oil storage facilities – large underground tanks intended to store fuel during the war. These were hand-hewed out of the rock, but were never used during the war. My own view is that the punishment that Darwin received as a result of the war has been largely unspoken, untold and undersold – the rest of Australia would be shocked if they knew the extent of it back then.