Monday, November 27, 2006

When you're lost in the woods

You can tell a lot about a place from its local newspaper. All the hot button issues are ventilated right on the front page and in the letters to the editor. In Darwin, of course, the big thing happening when I arrived was the impending final of Australian Idol; an event rendered bigger than Texas by having a local girl, Jess, reach it. And what did the Territorian have to say about this? Not much as it happens. The LEAD item was about a young boy, 14 or so, who was lucky to survive his major fall into a ... drain! A normal sort of drain, just a few feet deep. The only thing that saved him from his terror and certain death was the fact that a group of half a dozen kids saw him fall. One said "when we saw him go in, it was real funny and we just laughed. But then we thought, maybe he needs help."

And Jess? She is there, sort of. The other front page item is about a fellow who goes to one of the local schools who dared to think that the other Idol finalist was better. This created such shock and awe in the local community that he had to be shunned and avoided, and written about in the front page of the newspaper.

He must have been from the south: they don't like the South up here. One letter to the editor had opined that all the current (unspecified) troubles were caused by people coming up from the South and forgetting where they were. This pretty much forgets that nearly everyone up here is within a generation of being from the South (I'm not sure it is safe to mention Overseas). I went to the Northern Territory Museum on Saturday (day three), where there was a feature on Cyclone Tracy, which hit here in January 1975. It showed photos of Darwin pre World War II - the place was tiny, just a few lines of houses in the bush. What was here was pretty much blown up by the Japanese - to the point that the small group of four pre war houses are maintained by the National Trust. It was only after the war that a population boom started, attracted by the weather and local resources. By the time Tracy came along, there were maybe 50,000 people - half of whom had to be airlifted out. Some suburbs were completely destroyed, leading to pretty stringent building requirements to cyclone proof the town.

These days, it seems a cheerful place, not my sort of place, although it is growing on me as I walk its streets. Tourism is obviously big business here - all of Mitchell Street (from where I type) is devoted to it - people on holiday, people transitting, people here to get to the Outback. So there are lots of pubs, coffee shops, a 24 hour supermarket, travel operators and backpackers.Obviously, not everyone is cheerful: at night in particular, there are quite a large number of aboriginals wandering the streets, as well as some winos.

I took a bit of a tiki tour around the outer suburbs - someone in the tourism office suggested Cullen Bay, East Point and the like. The funny thing about doing this is that I got to a place called Nightcliffs and was a bit disoriented, didn't quite know how to get back to where I had been and saw things ahead of me that seemed interesting. And, in so doing, I found myself precisely back where I started, Mitchell Street, Darwin.

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