Day 4: Darwin, Friday
Something in the room woke at some horrible hour before dawn by going “chup chup chup chup chup chup!” The noise came again right over my head. I turned on the light and surprised a gecko. It was 3” long, pale pink, and running around the ceiling licking up the bugs. I turned off the light and, after I got used to the dark, watched the tiny shadow scoot around as he hunted upside down. A few minutes later I heard another gecko call somewhere in the house, then one answered outside my window. It might be a human’s house but the geckos ruled ¾ of its surfaces.
We spent the morning arguing with the concreter, then the rain clouds piled up and we knocked off work. The Aviation Museum beckoned.
It’s pretty bloody good! They have on static display a Saber, a Sea King Helicopter, a Cobra attack helicopter from the late 60s, a Mitsubisi STOL with a wild paint job, a tiger moth, a Rutan Long-EZ kit plane (YAY Burt!), gyrocopters, ultralights, a Spitfire, and a B52. The B52 is a) big, and b) one of only two on display outside the US. The other is at Duxford in the UK, which I have also seen. That means I’ve seen all the B52s on display outside the US! HUZZAH!
They also have a lot of remains of crashed kittyhawks, mustangs, spitfires, and zeros. In 1942 the Japanese military were afraid that Australia would become a forward base for the US forces. The fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor arrived off the north coast and launched a bombing raid on February 19, 1942. The raid lasted 7 hours during which the Japanese dropped 82,500kg of bombs. That’s 2.5 times more than they dropped on Pearl Harbour. 250 people were killed, 80 of them were sailors on the USS Robert E Peary. The ship is still at the bottom of Port Darwin and is a war grave. Over the next 20 months another 63 raids were launched against the city but none were as big as the first. The city was flattened. One of the pubs put up a sign: No beer served after 4 bombs.
On display is the remains of a Zero. The pilot, Hyomata Tagomishi flew the plane in the raid on Pearl Harbor. He was shot down and captured on Bathurst Island, and sent to the Cowra POW camp near Dubbo. He was the prisoner who blew the bugle to announce the start of the mass break-out, and was one of the 195 prisoners killed during the escape.
We headed in to the centre of Darwin, found a café on the fishing fleet marina, and ordered Barramundi & Chips. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. The barra was huge and I couldn’t eat all my chips so I fed them to a peewee who waited patiently for something before the seagulls arrived.
A quick drive around town to see where things were, then back to the house for some cold beer.
Day 5: Saturday
We had a long breakfast at the Cornucopia Café, which is attached to the Museum And Art Gallery. It wasn’t supposed to be long but it was nice sitting on the terrace eating poached eggs on toast and sipping a muguccino (like a cappuccino, but in a big mug.) A cool breeze blew in from the Arufura Sea, which we could see through the coconut palms and frangipani. The pair at the table beside us were also looking at the sea. “Lets go for a swim,” said the bloke.
“I don’t know,” said the lady. “The signs say we shouldn’t swim-“
“Crap! Those signs are just for the tourists! I bet the locals ignore them.”
I looked at the empty beach in front of the café. It stretched for 2km to the left and right of us utterly empty of all the locals who most definitely were not ignoring the signs. A beach like this in Sydney would be wall to wall with people by now, especially when the temperature was already 30C. The waters around Darwin are home to salt-water crocodiles which will kill and eat you. And at this time of year the tides bring box jellyfish inshore. Box jellies are about 6” across. Should they sting you, you’ll be lucky if you get scars that look like you were tangled up in red hot wires. The chances are the pain will shock your heart into stopping.
The museum opened at 10am, and we wandered in for a look. It has an excellent collection of Aboriginal art ancient and modern, and traces the development from rock carvings, to Bradshaws and on to the more “modern” (ie 4000 year old) art, including the amazing x-ray style used in Arnham Land that shows the animal’s internal organs.
There’s the usual collection of fossils and stuffed animals, the remains of “Sweetheart,” a 5.1m saltwater crocodile who used to bite propellers off boats, and the Cyclone Tracy exhibit. Now that is amazing.
The photos of the city afterwards looked like photos of Hiroshima. Whole suburbs were reduced to concrete slabs. Every tree was stripped of their leaves. Planes at the airport were wrapped around poles. A reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Commission said the sound was of 2 million sheets of corrugated iron scraping along the ground at 200 miles an hour. They don’t know what speed the wind reached – the last measurement taken was over 200mph before the measuring gear blew away. They never found it.
There are photos of people living in ruins, piles of rubble with “We still live here,” sprayed on a slab, a wrecked car with “Tracy you bitch!” painted on the boot. This must be seen by everyone.
We went back to the site, argued with the concreter some more, and headed home. That night we went to a club in Palmerston. I had Barrumundi and Salad because it was a classy club.