Friday, August 01, 2008

Rocks of the north, part three (fuck it. The crappy title stays).

STOP! She squealed.

I froze.


Argh! I yelled, in response to my own question. Why? Because there was a big fuck-off snake darting around in the grass disturbingly close to my untrousered lower legs. I leaped back, and refused to move for quite some time, in fact, until some elderly people walked past me, laughing. Fools.

What you can't see in this photo are the six trillion species plotting to kill VG. There's probably
a small bushfire lurking behind one of those trees somewhere too.

Welcome to Kakadu.

A place where a simple walk around a small bird watching circuit is likely to get you eaten by some already impossibly overfed reptile. A place where swimming is likely to be rewarded with a loss of at least one limb. A place where the elderly become even more vindictive than usual, revelling in the full knowledge that they’ll soon be dead anyway, so they may as well go out with a bang. Or perhaps more appropriately, three venomous snakes attached to an eyebrow and a lizard for a foot.

Seriously, everything in this very pretty little chunk of land is more or less out to kill you. As you move around, you’re essentially running from one very pretty killing machine, to another very pretty poisoning machine, and then, as likely as not, to a whopping great bushfire. All the while being surrounded by german tourists, the elderly, and big tough barramundi hunters (failed and aging football players), all doing their best to shove you off tall and high killing precipices (lookouts, I suppose you could call them) in order to get a better, and indeed prettier photo than you.

That said, it was well worth it. This was the last stop on our way to Darwin, where we intended to do nothing other than civilised things like use the internet, use our phones, and visit markets and stores and all those other things you do in townships that actually have a population. This was our last and final chance to go and play in the mud and climb things and try to successfully identify things which were about to bite us. We did all of these things and more, including a great little jaunt into Arnhem Land.

The thing about Arnhem Land is that there are two road crossings to it, both through a river. That’s right, not over a river, but indeed through a river. Filled with crocodiles. For some strange reason the Federal government has never seen fit to perhaps create passable access points into this part of the country which spends a good deal of the year knee deep in mud and inaccessible by road… I’m guessing this has something to do with it being Aboriginal land and not, say, any part of the rest of the country. As a result, through the wet season food and other essential supplies have to be flown in, and work in Kakadu is inaccessible. Even in the dry, because the river crossings are tidal, access to work is made a bit tricky by having to wait for low tide instead of simply being able to cross a bridge whenever you please.

And let me tell you, there is nothing more entertaining that watching tourists in rental four wheel drives attempt to make that crossing, even at low tide. Because you can’t actually see the road - and I use the word ‘road’ loosely, because by the way vehicles travel over it, I’m more inclined to say it’s more of a collection of large rocks – they end up zigzagging all over the place, lurching this way and that, looking like they’re going to be swept away at any moment. Watching the looks on their faces, I’d say it was brown trousers time all round.

cue: Benny Hill theme music

Still, it’s well worth the hassle of the crossing to check out the fantastic landscape and rock art over the border. I’d thoroughly recommend a tour guide, because there’s simply no other way you’d find the art sites or any of the other cool little hidden gems, without one, let alone even begin to understand what you’re looking at.

Probably the biggest downside about Kakadu was the accommodation. Being a Wotif junkie, I’d pretty much left booking to the last minute, or indeed, the first available minute of Wotif booking, only to find that everything was more or less sold out, and that Northern Territorians absolutely fail at the internet. As in, more than you can ever believe. But after a lot of stuffing about, I managed to secure a booking at the delightful sounding Kakadu Aurora. Foolishly trusting the photos and descriptions, I was led to believe that this was a delightful little tourist resort tucked away in the billabongs about 20k’s out of Jabiru. It came complete with the delightfully eighties bedspreads (a mixture of salmon pink and cobalt blue triangles and wedges, of course) we’d come to expect from Territory accommodation, and two restaurants, a bar, a swimming pool, and a raft of other delightful sounding features, including such luxuries as the Internet!

What we got however, was a room in one of these:

We had the 'deluxe' room, meaning we only had to listen to three families with

young, screamy children, instead of five

It was spectacularly seventies. Everything was wood, or wood panelling. There was a restaurant, with a bar attached to the side that could competently open a bottle of VB, or Four X for you – the choice is yours! The bar seemed to serve counter meals which were just as expensive as the restaurant, and indeed, remarkably similar to the restaurants’ offerings. Now I’m all for a nice ‘lamb curry with rice and poppadum’, but I’m not sure I’m quite prepared to fork out $35 for the pleasure. The internet connection was even better. For $2 for five minutes, you could surf the web in the comfort of the middle of the reception building, at a whopping 14kbps connection. That’s a speed of dialup that wasn’t acceptable over a decade ago, for those of you who are only familiar with the term ‘broadband’.

So after a few days, off we went heading for the bustling metropolis of Darwin. After about two minutes of driving through the outer suburbs, we found ourselves at our inner city hotel. We laughed and laughed and laughed at the audacity of this place for calling itself a city. After another few days, we were indeed still laughing, and right now as I sit at my desk, a giggle can still be heard. It's a funny place, Darwin. It's a bit like the country town that time forgot - like Wangaratta from twenty years ago, or Hamilton, if you'd like a NZ comparison, say, about six months ago. Though a few less sheep.

The good people of Darwin are an odd lot. They don't really like to answer questions. Well, they do, but not with what the rest of the Australian populous would consider and answer. A simple question, like "where's your restaurant?" is likely to get you a response involving a childhood story, an offer of a beer, and some strange sort of explanation of why you want a receipt for your goods, even though you really don't. Primarily, because you've not yet purchased any goods. But you will never, ever, find out where that restaurant is. To find that out, you need to ask what the time is.

We spent a few days in Darwin, where we largely spent our time wandering around, drinking beer, and wandering around and drinking beer. After spending all my time in the long drives up to Darwin perusing the many guidebooks we'd seemed to accumulate, we worked out a pretty lazy itinerary of going to the Mindil beach market, and checking out the museum for the Cyclone Tracy exhibit. Mostly because that's about all the city really has to offer, bar a couple of decent restaurants. Upon getting to the beach markets though, we were pretty disappointed. After asking many questions about low and high tide times, I found out that while you could drink all you like at the markets, you certainly couldn't buy any booze there. Further enquiry on this point just got me strange looks, as if it was perfectly natural to not sell alcohol in an area where you are actively encouraged to drink it. This put a pretty massive dent in our original plans to spend a lazy several hours browsing stalls, eating, and watching the entertainment, and as I watched bogan family after bogan family unpack their eskies of four x, while having loud and meandering arguments about which child was to go and fetch the food, I realised that this plan was just not going to work unless we could magically acquire several bottles of wine immediately. Which we couldn't. So we browsed the stalls and went back to our hotel, where funnily enough, we could purchase wine and drink it. Amazing!

Sunset at Mindil Beach. Awwww.

The following day we ventured out to the museum, where after checking out every other bloody exhibit in the place, and not voluntarily, we finally found the Cyclone Tracy exhibit. In a nightmare layout which only just allowed for one person to pass another whilst perusing the displays (but only you're fond of intimate contact with strangers), I began to feel an enormous amount of sympathy for the poor bastard who was forced to put this otherwise rather good exhibit together in the collected space of a single stairwell. It would be great. You'd go through years of education in arts, art curation, and other generally arty things - hell, lets throw some architecture in there too - and be given a great opportunity... to create a record of Australias' greatest natural disaster, a cyclone that destroyed an entire city. On christmas day. A disaster with a living history, which is the subject of engineering, psychological, and emergency response education to this day. Except then you're given a budget of fifty dollars, a beer, and a broom closet in which to set it up.

That was another thing that seemed typically Darwin. There's such an intense focus on the Japanese bombings, and pretty much everything associated with that and indeed world war two in general - but next to nothing on an event which affected the city far, far more financially, socially, and physically than the bombings ever did. That's not to say the bombings were a picnic in the park - I'm sure they weren't - but fucking seriously... one day you go to sleep, and the next, you wake up and half your city, your cat and your mailbox are embedded in the windscreen of your car, and you don't bat an eyelid? Christ. I don't know about you, but I think if it'd happened to me, I'd want it to be recorded in history very firmly, as one very, very fucked up christmas.

But despite all the shitting about and general failure at, well, everything, Darwin was a pretty nice place to hang out in for a few days. Chilled people, lots of beer, good food, and nice and warm. We got to feed fish, be scared of super-armed cops, laugh at some World Youth Day pilgrims, and even see several hundred screaming middle aged women from 'out bush' attending the premiere of Mamma Mia. We even got to see a stack of men sleeping on top of each other at the airport, which I for one don't see every day.
And with that, I bring this little travelogue to a close. Normal programming will recommence shortly, less stories about rocks and billabongs, and more about... whatever the fuck it is I write about. Cake mostly, isn't it? Hmm. Anyway - now it's your turn to tell me about your holidays. Go on. Comment. You know I love 'em.

The main streets of Darwin, embracing indigenous culture

The Rantolotl


r.f.b.f. said...

Holy shit... RED ROOSTER!!!!!!!! And i guess there's some drawings or pictures up if you *really* have to, but they're not very good, they look like bad dot-matrix printings seen up too close.

We should organise a trip up there with a big posse, so we can run around terrorising the locals. And we can bring our *own* wine and pastry and a special device that converts XXXX drinkers into toads. It will be a blast and a half!

Fandango Jones said...

I've heard it told that when ordering from the pictured Red Rooster eatery, if you can see the hidden image* in the 'Dot Painting' they have displayed, you get a free up-size for your meal! Culture and a bargain, what more could you want?!

*It's a Pony!

The Rantolotl said...

You both fail. Dot paintings come from much, much further south than Arnhem Land and Darwin.

fandango jones said...

Never suggested that dot paintings are from Darwin? Just taking the piss out the tackyness.