Darwin Harbour Cruise

News Values

NT News - woman falls out of paddy wagon
NT News - woman falls out of paddy wagon

Although the big news of the day was the Victorian election, the headline which caught my attention today was the banner headline of the “NT News”: “Woman falls out of paddy wagon”. Isn’t it a story you just WANT to read. Don’t you just know it’s going to be a great yarn? Or could it be quite lame? I don’t know because I never got around to reading today’s “NT News”. Not even as I enjoyed a late breakfast in Darwin ahead of my flight back to Sydney.

The only other things I managed to fit in this morning was a swim in the pool (since the sun covered the pool it was actually quite chilly), a walk around the rememberance shrine for the bombing of Darwin between 1942 and 1945, and buying some new thongs. Yes, my old thongs have been getting a little thin, and so I figured if I was going to buy some new thongs, Darwin was probably the place to do it. And let me tell you, there was lots of choice, and the shop assistants were extremely knowledgeable about what was on offer. In the end, I settled on a simple pair of Havaianas, even though the Lightning Bolts were on sale at two for thirty dollars.

I went to the airport a little earlier than I’d planned, simply because of the air conditioning on offer. Darwin today was pretty bloody humid. Thankfully the plane was pretty empty. That still didn’t stop me finding myself behind the type of aircraft traveller I hate most.

“Excuse me. Excuse me. Can you please not lean back so far. Can you straighten your seat”, I said to the man in front of me on the aircraft. Although he gave me a “fuck off” look, and said nothing, he respected my wishes. You just know when you’re going to get one of “those” passengers in front of you. As a general rule, I’ve noticed they come in with lots of bags, they tend to walk down the aisle taking up lots of room, and almost instantly, as soon as they sit down, they immediately put their seat into recline. The fact that this bloke looked like “Comic Book Guy” from “The Simpsons” adds a little to the image I’m hoping to describe of the flight back from Darwin to Sydney. For years I would sit and suffer with these selfish people who, without turning around to look if you’ve got a computer or a meal or something on the tray table, they click the button, and suddenly the aircraft seat is their chez lounge. Having suffered for years , I now challenge people. The nice ones – like myself – who look around and check, and ask “do you mind if I recline the seat” are fine. It’s those bastards who don’t look and, frankly, don’t care that shit me.

Anyway, having chastened him, I enjoyed the flight back to Sydney. And tonight’s just been an evening of election watching. Like the cricket, however, I went with silent visuals from the television and radio commentary from the ABC.


Cruising in Darwin

I was seated on the top deck of the boat on the “sunset cruise” on Darwin Harbour when the woman next to me asked me where I was from. I told her my story and then asked her about her story. I found out she’d been living in Darwin for a couple of months visiting her “adopted” son, as she described him, who was now living up here. Not an actual son, not an adopted son in the traditional sense of the word, but a young man who’d been part of her children’s group of friends for many years and who became a “son”.

She was born and bred in Canberra, and told me she’d taken a “package” (redundancy package) twelve months ago and has been travelling ever since. She’d spent some time travelling in Europe and had done some mighty outback travel also. She loved Wales, and had an envious couple of weeks in Paris. She’d also driven a four-wheel drive from Canberra across to Ceduna, up into the Territory, and then across to Broome and back.

One of the great things I quite like about cruises and tours is that you get to meet and chat with interesting people like this woman who you might otherwise not meet in life. Often it’s only a brief chat, and the conversations are often of little substance, but it’s nice to connect with people you don’t know and may never see again. And that’s part of the reason why I chose to spend my final night in Darwin on a “Sunset Cruise”.

Work has been a little busy the last few days, and so I declared tonight was “my night”: I’d planned a sunset cruise, and swim, and then later a visit to “Throb”, Darwin’s gay nightclub.

Although I’d previously done a Darwin Harbour Cruise, the one I chose this time was a little different. The other one was on a converted pearl lugger. This one was on a more expensive, had better catering, and was a little more in the traditional style of a sunset cruise. The cruise cost $94 for dinner (drinks separate) and a three hour cruise around Darwin Harbour. The food was good, with the highlight for me being locally-caught smoked Spanish Mackerel.

On a boat which could have held up to 100 people, there was no more than twenty people on the cruise. This meant there was plenty of room to wander around, have moments where you felt like you were the only person on the boat, and other times where you could sit and chat with others. There were a few couples, a few small family/friendship groups, and there was a young gay bloke with his mum.

The views were great: on one side there was the sun setting into the ocean; on the other side there was the formation of a storm over the city. The storm never eventuated, just lots of lightning, as you might expect in Darwin at this time of the year.

By the time the cruise was over, it was quite sticky. And so when I arrived back at the hotel I turned the air-conditioning on (I’m feeling a bit guilty about my carbon footprint for this trip), and then soon afterwards went for a swim.

And then I had a little nap as I waited for “Throb” to open. I felt like a teenager again. You know, staying at home, having a sleep, and then going out to a nightclub.

Eight years ago when I was in Darwin, the city had two gay venues: the converted railway car, the “Mississippi Queen” with its unique style; and the more traditional nightclub style of “Throb”. I discovered on this trip the “Mississippi Queen” closed abut five years ago, which has left just “Throb”.

As you walk up the stairs at “Throb” there are signs which “warn you” this is a gay and lesbian venue, and that you’ll see “men kissing men” and “women kissing women”. It occurred to me that to run a business you couldn’t be an exclusively gay and lesbian venue, and that you’d need to rely on a mixed clientele. There were no problems as far as I could see, except a guy who I thought was chatting me up had his tongue down a girl’s throat half an hour later. Oh yeah, and there was the guy who was a “dead-ringer” for one of my exs who kept looking over and smiling at me in a “come hither” kind of way. “Don’t go there”, I kept saying to myself.

The highlight of the night that was the drag show which started at 1.30am. Over the course of the show there was maybe a dozen people on stage throughout as they lip-synched their way through a variety of camp classics. I guess what I liked most about the show was the “community” feel about it. By that I’m not saying “amateur”, though I’m sure they’re not getting paid much to perform. But I liked the way the shows included men and women, straight and gay, and how they all had smiles on their faces as they danced. It was very refreshing.

As the show finished, and it was 2.00am, it was time to head home to bed.

Darwin Sunset

Another Sunset

Darwin Sunset
Darwin Sunset

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s another bloody photograph of a sunset. First it was Cairns and now it’s Darwin. There’s got to be more to Darwin, surely?”, I hear you saying. Of course there is, but this trip is a work-trip and most of my time is being spent in work-related activities.

Tonight I went out for dinner with a bloke from work and we spent almost all of our time chatting about radio, with occasional journeys into food and wine. We had dinner at a reasonably newish restaurant on a newish wharf development thingy in Darwin. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s near the Stokes Hill Wharf which, eight years ago when I visited Darwin was about the only thing in the area. Now there’s a massive development with expensive apartments and restaurants.

There are other changes in Darwin too. The great big Woolworths which dominated central Darwin for such a long time – and was perhaps most popular because of the seriously good air-conditioning they had – has closed, with the outside walls now covered in graffiti. Closeby, the Smith Street Mall is currently under re-construction and is looking a little sad, to be honest. Most people shop at Casuarina these days, apparently, reflecting a trend that was beginning when I was here eight years ago. The famous and appropriately named “Fishing & Guns” shop on Cavenagh Street (with weaponry on the roof) remains. I can see it from the balcony of my hotel room, actually.

But more pleasant, in my quieter moments, is looking out at the flatness of Darwin Harbour and enjoying those spectacular sunsets.

Hello from Darwin

“Is it hot enough for you?”, my niece asked me as we embraced on my arrival at her place in Darwin tonight. “Surprisingly, it’s not as bad as I expected”, I told her.

I’ve been to Darwin twice before: in 1998, Damien and I came for a week-long holiday, and then in 2002, I worked here for a while. On both occasions, it was during the dry season (though when I arrived in 2002, I experienced the “build down” from wet to dry, characterised by hot, humid conditions with little rain relief”).

“You should be here during the build up”, a lot of people had previously told me, describing the unbearable agony of this time of the year with similar conditions, though in a reverse. It’s said to drive people a little crazy, and I’d previously met a woman who worked in a “women’s refuge” who’d told me domestic violence increases significantly during this period. “How’s the build up going”, I asked my taxi driver as we came in from the airport in the early hours of the morning. “No one’s driven their car off the wharf yet”, he told me with a laugh.

After waiting for several hours for the delayed flight yesterday, the worst case scenario was going to be a tightly packed aircraft. And so, as I made my way on the aircraft at ten o’clock last night, I asked one of the flight attendants if it was a “full flight”. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”, he told me with a smile. I quickly discovered why: on a flight that might have held a few hundred people there was just twelve of us. Yes, just twelve. Which meant no lengthy delays for the meals, complimentary drinks to compensate for the delay, and plenty of room to stretch out. The flight crew were fabulous.

Having left Sydney at about 1.30pm (Sydney time), I finally arrived in Darwin at 12.15am (Darwin time) which – accounting for the time zone difference – amounted to over twelve hours travelling time. “You could have been in LA”, a couple of work-mates commented when I told them my news.

Since I had passed some of the time by a combination of reading, blogging and sleeping, I was quite mentally alert into the early hours of the morning. So, having checked into my hotel closer to 1.00am local time, I read for a while and finally completed my book.

The book was called, “Power Crisis” by former NSW politician, Rodney Cavalier. As I looked at the range of non-fiction books at the airport yesterday it seemed the most interesting, least self-serving and substantial of the “political biographies” on offer. While there were lots of books about the recent federal election, this one was more concerned with the Labor Party in NSW, and how they’ve managed to go fairly quickly from being a party of political dominance to one which, perhaps, faces a degree of political annihilation in March next year.

Cavalier’s central thesis is that: the Labor Party has become increasingly disengaged from the grass-roots through a “take-over” by a “political class” of trade union officials, people with a family connection to previous officials, and an all-too-similar approach to selecting candidates. His thesis seems to be the debate about electricity privatisation was the issue which brought these long-term “worrying” trends to a head.

Mostly it was a pretty good read, though I did skip a few pages when it got into almost unbearable detail about the history of Labor governments in NSW. And as I read the book, in the back of my mind, I was reminded of a group conversation I’d had recently with a senior Liberal Party figure in NSW who confided: “Look, we should win, but the Liberal Party has a history of fucking things up at the last minute, so you can’t take it for granted”. The next NSW election could be over in 60 minutes, or perhaps it could drag on for weeks, as it did back in 1995.

Anyway, after a few hours sleep, I woke this morning, and almost immediately went to work. It was a fairly intense day, and by the end I was pretty exhausted, and so I came home and sat down for a little while.

And that’s when I went to Julie’s place. Over several hours we sat around, chatted, drank a few beers, and enjoyed a meal in their undercover outside area. Great stuff.

Cairns Esplanade

Hello from Cairns

Cairns Esplanade
Cairns Esplanade

This is a somewhat unexpected post from Cairns Airport. Although it would have been great to have a direct flight from Sydney to Darwin, economics, timezones, and schedules have necessitated a four-hour stop-over in Cairns.

With that in mind, I organised to catch up with one of my colleagues I’ve spoken to on the phone on several occasions, but have never actually met. I also did some online research with a late afternoon swim in mind to break up the trip. Although I’d found the Cairns Tobruk Pool via the internet, my colleague suggested going for a swim at the pool at The Esplanade.

That was a really great suggestion on her part, as it was physically far more appealing than The Tobruk which I’d passed on my way into town, which somewhat resembled the Lismore Baths of old. And even though it was raining as I swam, it was still a very enjoyable way to spend an hour or so.

Afterwards I had a glass or two of wine at a nearby bar and took in the sights of Cairns. In contrast the plane trip from Sydney which was full of grey-haired Americans in a tour group, the tourists in Cairns tend to be younger, French or German-speaking, and usually of the honey-moon couple variety.

Not all the passengers on the flight from Sydney were older Americans in tour groups. I had a couple of young French gay guys seated with me who, for much of the flight, couldn’t keep their hands off each other :)

Almost the wet season in Cairns
Almost the wet season in Cairns

After a while the rain cleared, and I wandered back to The Esplanade pool which was, by now, looking really attractive.

And then it was time to head to the airport. Imagine my displeasure when I noted my flight to Darwin was delayed by three hours. The woman at reception comforted me with a warm smile and a a $25 food voucher which I’ve spent on some garlic bread and meat lover’s pizza.

Although my friend Graeme advised me of some local gay bars to visit, I decided, by the time I’d finished my pizza, it was probably easier to stay at the airport and drink, rather than catch a cab back into town and then out again. I’m having a Cairns Lager which comes in one of those ridiculously shaped tall glasses that you can never tell if it’s a middie, a schmiddie or a schooner.

By current reckoning, I’ll arrive at my hotel in Darwin at 1.00am local time (add 90 minutes for Sydney time) – thank goodness it has 24 hour reception – which means I’ll have spent thirteen hours in transit today. I’ve listened to some music, I’ve slept for a while, and I’m about half way through Rodney Cavalier’s book about NSW politics. I reckon by the time I arrive in Darwin, I’ll have knocked off the remainder. Expect a review tomorrow.

In the meantime, this is James signing off from a disturbingly vacant Cairns Airport.

Lazy Saturday

Pizza for dinner

“Do I put some underwear on under my trackpants?” I wondered to myself as I left the house tonight to pick up a pizza. That one thought gives you an insight into my Saturday, doesn’t it?

As I was talking on the phone tonight to a family member – who lives in Darwin – I told her that despite my recent holiday, I could still do with another break. I’m a bit exhausted today. Reasonably active holiday. New job. Late night last night. Busy times etc.

It’s been a day of doing nothing. Sometimes you’ve just got to do that, right?

In the end, I didn’t put any underwear on. I figured it was only 100 metres to the supermarket, and most of that was in the dark, so even if there was some unintended tracksuit bulge, it wouldn’t offend too many people.

Balibo Movie

East Timor Indepedance celebrations in Darwin
I was in Darwin during the East Timor Indepedence celebrations in 2002. Darwin at the time had an estimated East Timorese population of about 4,000

I went to a sneak preview today of the new movie, Balibo.

Although much of the film’s narrative focuses on the death of five Australian journalists at Balibo, I thought the film balanced this narrative well with the broader story of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

In this film, Anthony La Paglia plays Roger East, the Australian journalist who was approached by Jose Ramos Horta to tell the story of what was happening in East Timor to the world stage, and to run the country’s media organisation. In the film he’s portrayed as a rough and ready character who probably drank too much, and who, despite an impressive early career as a journalist, was past his prime and living in Darwin. By the film’s end, he becomes somewhat of a hero in his efforts to tell the world the story it didn’t want to hear.

There’s a terrific exchange in the film where East and Horta talk about how to get the story out, and how, tragically, the death of five Australian journalists meant more on the world stage than that of an estimated 183,000 East Timorese. It was the difference between a mention on the back page and a front page story, East explained.

So even though the film focuses on the Australians who were shot, the film also shows the broader stories of the East Timorese people. In particular, the story of a young girl, one of the many thousands of people who gave evidence about her memories of the Indonesian invasion, in the years after East Timorese independence.

It’s a sad and distressing movie. There’s one scene where you see a whole field of people who’ve been shot dead. In other scenes, I had to turn my eyes from the violence. That said, there are some warm and tender moments too.

And it’s political without being dogmatic. I don’t know enough about the politics, though, to say if it was an accurate and fully rounded intepretation of the events. All I know is that I thought it was a really well made film that moved me deeply.

I don’t think they’re going to like it in Djakarta though…