Darwin 2014

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Last week I spent two days in Darwin to attend the opera I was involved with at the Darwin Festival. It was one of the most incomprehensible things I’ve ever seen! Never mind. It was enjoyable all the same.

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William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy visited Darwin in 1954. However, if he came back to life and visited the town again today, he wouldn’t recognize the place. About the only building that might look familiar to him is the Star Theatre, although it isn’t a cinema any more, but some shops. Every Wednesday evening was “ranch night” when cowboy films, including Hoppy’s, which were the favourites of Darwin’s Aboriginal community, were shown at the Star Theatre. Hoppy’s glory days are commemorated in the shopping centre’s courtyard by a poster. I managed to track down one person who met Hoppy when he visited the Bagot Road Aboriginal Community school in 1954, a delightful man named Don White. He remembered Hoppy’s school visit like it was yesterday.

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I drove to Adelaide River, about 100 kilometres south of Darwin, just for the hell of it. It was just a name on a map to me. But I was unexpectedly moved by the immaculately-kept, World War II military cemetery there. So many young men in their twenties killed. The inscription on “craftsman” R.W. Thomas’s Army headstone really got to me: “Ever loved by this Dad …” The youngest person buried in the cemetery appears to be 16-year old R.H. Stobo, a Merchant Navy “deck cadet”, while the oldest appears to be 66-year old G. Dew, a “donkeyman”,  also with the Merchant Navy (I guess he looked after the Merchant Navy’s donkeys. How many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin I wonder?). [I stand corrected by Mike Scully. A “donkeyman” looked after the boilers on a ship. I guess it comes from the term, “donkey engine”. Nevertheless, how many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin?] It seems that the Darwin Post Office received a direct hit, because about a dozen post office workers were buried side-by-side. As I say, I was unexpectedly moved by the stories of the people buried in this beautiful, but out-of-the-way place.

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Termite mounds by the side of the road between Darwin and Adelaide River.

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