I am now officially over 6 months through an 8 month stay in Australia. Where did that go?! I’m currently in the train of thought that I don’t want to leave but I want to go home. I know that may be a little hard to follow but I’ll go into that later, it makes sense in my head! I’ve just come to the end of academic week 8 in Deakin’s trimester 1, meaning that I have just 3 weeks of classes left in Australia, then there’s a week long study break before the two week exam period. Then there’s two weeks until I go home and I’m making big plans for that little gap there and gaps in between, all to be confirmed in the incredibly near future (maybe tomorrow)!
Enough of looking forward though, let’s look at where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what on Earth I mean by that rather magnificent looking title. An individual at some point in time once said that practice makes perfect. Little bit of knowledge here, that phrase actually goes back to the 1550’s and 60’s when it was “use makes perfect” although the exact saying “practice makes perfect” is attributed to an American bloke named John Adams who wrote it in his diary in 1761 as a young lawyer following his first victories against juries in courts of law. In a poll ran by the NSPCC in 2014, the saying came out on top in a survey of 2,000 Brits when asked what the most influential saying of their childhood was. So next time we’re all thinking about how badly we’re doing something for the first time, we can all thank that American lawyer for the inevitable words of encouragement spoken by literally anyone else around us who don’t think we should give up just yet.
I was curious about where that saying came from so decided to look it up and thought I might as well share it. Anyway…
As I was saying, practice makes perfect and if you look closely at the titles of my blog posts whilst I’ve been away, I think we can all agree that “The Bliss of Hostility”, “The Triumph of Spontaneity” and “The Elation of Distance” are all cracking titles in comparison with “Singapore Surprise” and “Edible Culture“. EDIBLE CULTURE?! So in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that practice does appear to make perfect after all. Am I getting better at writing rubbish, waffling introductions or am I getting worse at writing good introductions? Who knows? I’ll talk about what I did now. Promise.
I WENT TO DARWIN!!
To give you some sort of an idea of how far away Darwin is from Melbourne, the red line is as the crow flies which is 1,960.380 miles. The blue line is the route you would take to drive there, which is 2,332.081 miles. That would take you 40 hours non stop (38 without traffic although having been to Adelaide I can only say that that says quite a lot about Melbourne traffic). This probably goes without saying, but we flew to Darwin. That took 4 hours 25 minutes. To give you more ideas, a flight from Manchester of a similar length could land you in Poland, Italy, Greece, Morocco, all of the Canary Islands, probably Cyprus with a tailwind, Turkey and maybe a bit of Portugal. Flying that distance, you could fly from Land’s End to John o’Groats and back again and still have time to land wherever 22 miles South West (ish) of Glasgow is (and that’s the story of how I learnt that there’s a place called Moscow 22 miles South West (ish) of Glasgow in Scotland). Also, apparently it’s 1,339 miles from London to Kiev, Ukraine but I got that from a website with an article entitled “can spontaneous human combustion really occur?” I’ll save you the read because it was a bit mind numbing. According to the article, it’s rare and advised that people remain a safe distance away from flammable items to reduce the possibility of spontaneous combustion. I’d argue that if you’re near a flammable item and you begin to catch fire that seems a little more on the stupid side than the spontaneous side. As for London to Kiev, it’s 1,327 miles as the crow flies, 1,492 miles via the A2 in South England, 1,518 miles avoiding toll roads via the E373/M07 in Poland or 1,552 miles via Germany’s A4. The morale of the story here is not to trust world atlas websites with articles about spontaneous combustion and either fly or don’t take the A4 if you’re travelling to Kiev. This is all incredibly educational so far, isn’t it? You can’t say that I don’t research these things.
So after a day of waiting around on Friday 22nd April, we finally headed out in the evening and got food on the way to the airport at a Mexican restaurant we’ve been eyeing up a while from the tram which turned out to be not that great. We got back on the tram to continue our journey to be told that the tram was faulty and a replacement was waiting at the depot and we’d have to switch. Perhaps not the greatest start. An hour or two later and suddenly we’ve got a delayed flight getting in to Darwin at gone 3am. Also, I was ill. I’d been ill for 2-3 weeks with basically a cold and a nasty headache that had affected everything from sleep to balance to ability to look at light. So I stocked up on drugs at the airport. Also Maltesers.
When we did arrive in Darwin, we got a taxi straight to the hostel rated as the best in Darwin and walked into our shared room. Six beds, with three strangers. Three beds were taken so you’d think that the three available were ours. It was 3am so the room was pitch black but there was a laptop and various pieces of paper in what I would be forgiven for thinking was my bed. We started to head off to sleep and I stirred 20 minutes or so later as a guy with a European accent stood over me and using slightly different words exclaimed “what the fudge”. I lay still and for the first time in 10-15 years pretended that I was still asleep. He walked out, then I was aware that the guy on the bunk above me left and someone came back in. 10 minutes later the door open and closed and I didn’t think anything of it until the morning. The guy with said European accent (he turned out to be from Berlin, of course he was German!) spoke to me in the morning and said I was sleeping in his bed, whilst attempting to avoid the plot of Goldilocks completely, I said that in that case someone was sleeping in my bed. Turned out someone had got into our room (the door didn’t lock unless you pushed it shut) and saw four free beds so started to have a snooze in mine. The German guy whose bed I was sleeping in walked in late after working at a bar, saw all of the beds taken so went to get security (not that it was a rough area but all the hostels had bouncers) then decided against it as security would get us all up, so he came back and in that time the guy had gone, so the German took my bed. The door opening and closing later was the intruder checking to see if the bed was free or not. Things weren’t looking too good at this point but hey, we were somewhere new, different and exciting so we weren’t thinking about that. It was an interesting start to our time in Darwin.
We knew Darwin was going to be environmentally hostile. It’s essentially in the Australian outback, or as close to it as you would like to get. There’s little in Darwin itself. So little in fact that I don’t have a single picture taken in or of Darwin. There was one street with the majority of the major attractions with the major attractions being bars, restaurants, hostels and a supermarket. The reason to visit Darwin was not for Darwin, it was to see some of the Northern Territory. To do that properly, really you need a hire car.
I went with my American flatmate Rachel and her friend from her home university also studying at Deakin, Caroline. I can’t drive. Rachel and Caroline can, but in Australia to hire a car from a car rental company you need to be 21 years old. I’m 21. Rachel and Caroline are 20. So that’s why we ended up driving this thing. This particular camper rental company had the minimum age at which you could hire a car set at 18 years old. That black thing on the roof is a cover to what is essentially a fold out tent which sits on the roof of the Toyota Corolla. For some reason people stared as we drove past. We walked past a lady in a car park who had lost her car and she said to us “I always forget where I put it” to which Rachel replied “well we haven’t had any trouble with ours yet” as we headed over to a pink car with yellow spots. It was a statement but believe it or not it was practical. The company renting them out has come under attack from various sources over recent years for their distracting nature and some of the slogans on their vehicles which some take offence to. Although perhaps more aimed towards those with a darker humour sometimes, we loved our little bright thing and found the colour incredibly practical for car park spotting. We picked the car up at around 9am on the Saturday and took it for a spin to woolworths and then Subway to get food, copious amounts of water and snacks for the next few days. We’d decided to head out to Kakadu National Park which was around a two hour drive, and once we were there we each had to purchase a park pass. We did that and got a park booklet with maps and ideas of things to do from a park guide. We were keen to do hikes in the area over the few days we had there and headed out to to a small hike around 30 minutes long. It was a steep, largely unmarked path with various disconcerting rustling noises coming from the bushes either side of us and the distinct smell of burning wildfires in the air in 35 degree heat.
We were hoping the views would be worth it and whilst partially obscured by the foliage around us, what we could see from the viewing platform was stunning. After that we headed towards another small hike, which turned out to be a lot smaller than we thought but also very picturesque and worth putting up with the flies who didn’t seem to give much consideration for personal space, which is fair enough I suppose because they are in fact flies and therefore have no understanding of the concept of personal space.
Following our little walk, time was actually pushing on so we decided to head back, not wanting to be in an Australian national park in such a hostile environment at night. After food and about 3 pints of water we went back to the hostel to relax and eventually sleep. The next day we drove the 1 hour 30 minute drive to Litchfield National Park with swimwear in bags. Once we’d finally arrived at the first site we were aiming for, we utilised the changing facilities to do change into swimwear and do a short walk down towards one of the pools in the park. There were several designated swimming areas as well as some areas which were very clearly not for swimming, as the Northern Territory is Australia’s home to crocodiles and in actual fact on the next day we were in the same area at the same time as a teenager who had a crocodile break into his tent and decide that it quite fancied some human foot for lunch. So that was interesting. But other than the usual snakes and spiders that we felt the need to constantly be vigilant over, it was perfectly safe.
The day was largely spent doing short walks to sit around and float around and generally relax and cool down in some of the pools. The temperature only got as low as around 29 at night, the rest of the time it was mid to high 30’s. We were lucky it was Autumn really. The journey back was exciting. There was one junction which had a sign pointing left for Darwin via either Kakadu or Litchfield (can’t remember) or right towards Darwin via Berry Springs. We chose right because we’d taken the left road before. The right turn was about 12 miles shorter and turned out to be probably the worst decision that we made. After 40 minutes of driving we turned a corner to find that what we would conventionally describe as a ‘road’ had just sort of been replaced by a wide stretch of gravel. We were thinking perhaps after that corner it would put us onto a road but no… It dropped down and rose back up to another corner with brown, murky standing water at the bottom of the dip with no indication of how deep it was with a low, pink Toyota Corolla with a tent on the roof. A few decisions weren’t looking too good at this point and another 30-40 minutes later when we were still on a wide stretch of gravel with an American driver who was used to tarmac and wasn’t a particular fan of roads with many corners particularly with a car where it could be argued hasn’t particularly been adapted with its handling capabilities in mind, things weren’t looking too good. After about an hour of gravel we found a road. An actual real one. It had lines down the middle and fewer 4×4 drivers were passing us laughing. So that was nice.
We headed to check out Darwin’s beach which to our surprise was completely empty except for some Indigenous people and another 3 or 4 people walking the length of the beach with a bin bag each cleaning it up. We waded into the sea a little where the water was almost too comfortably warm and only continued to get warmer. A very odd feeling. We were expecting sunset markets in the area but they just sort of didn’t happen, so we went back to the hostel to shower and brush up and head out to get food and later on; cocktails.
The bathrooms in the hostel didn’t have air conditioning. Until Darwin, I had never used a shower without touching the hot water setting, but in Darwin there was no need. The water didn’t really get cold in Darwin, you were lucky if it made it down to lukewarm. For food we headed to an Irish bar called ‘Shenanigans’ which was… Atmospheric. It was around 5/6pm and filled with drunk Brits on holidays. We’d found all of them. It was amazing. We walked down the road after food and when I said “cocktails” I did mean just the one… But it was a fishbowl and turned out to contain more alcohol than we perhaps anticipated. We got some rest ready to check out the next morning ahead of our final day, put all of our stuff into the car and set off aiming for Katherine which was over three hours away. We visited Nitmiluk National Park where we did one of the filthiest hikes I have ever done. It was 35 degrees, I had one shirt that hadn’t stuck to me with sweat which in my wisdom I had decided to save for the flight back, because of the heat the sweat was forcing the freshly applied suncream into my eyes, I’d bought a large bottle of water which was finished pretty swiftly and there was literally nothing comfortable about the situation.
The walk started out pretty well, nice and flat but these things never tend to be easy and soon enough it got a bit silly. Very silly, actually. Stairs leading on to rocks with few obvious spots for your feet to go. Stairs with handrails that disappear at seemingly crucial parts of a staircase as it merges into an odd shaped rock. Very, very silly indeed and I would highly recommend it. It was entirely worth it as we reached the top looking out over a phenomenal view. We headed down, bumped into some Germans (they’re everywhere, why are they always German?!) and once we got to the bottom, I purchased an ice cream and ate it in the minute or two it took us to get from the visitor centre to our car. Getting brain freeze from the ice cream was actually one of the most comfortable experiences I had felt in Darwin and the surrounding area, as the heat was incredibly hostile, but the views Darwin and everywhere else offered were blissful.
Culturally, Darwin was most like Adelaide in terms of places that I’ve been to before but I stress the similarities are only cultural. In terms of environment and landscape, I haven’t seen anything like Darwin. We drove by in the mornings seeing charred, smouldering remains of trees along the side of the road, when we drove back later in the evening it wasn’t unusual to see small flames burning in place of the little amount of smoke that was there earlier. The amount of security at first seemed strange, bouncers at every bar, restaurant and even hostel was odd at first but it became apparent why. Darwin is home to a large Indigenous community and the hostile attitudes between the Indigenous and white people, particularly white tourists was very apparent. The night we had the cocktail, it was an outdoor bar and I was watching passers by with interest. Watching the bouncers talk and chat willingly with white people but if an Indigenous person stopped to look on into the bar the bouncer would immediately usher them away rudely, as if they weren’t people and they were almost some kind of animal that could become a nuisance. Sort of how people try to get rid of seagulls… It was incredibly strange. There were balloons outside attached to a drinks offers board and often as an Indigenous person walked past, they would pop them out of apparent spite or as an act of Indigenous resistance to Western culture. As they did so they laughed loudly, if there was a group of them they would all laugh loudly as if they were really getting a huge kick out of resisting against any form of Western culture. It’s obvious that here it will take a long time for two cultures to coexist, if coexisting is even possible at all. Attitudes within white culture in Darwin seem so deeply ingrained against Indigenous people whilst attitudes in Indigenous culture appear to run deep with pure hatred of white people. It is deeply saddening and troubling that as a species we struggle to treat those with cultural differences with respect, even in the 21st century. It’s unfortunate that that is one of the most prominent feelings I left Darwin with – the feeling that we should all just be better. As a species perhaps we are the closest we have ever been to treating each other with respect but I suppose in truth we’re still so far away.
In terms of landscape however, Darwin was such an incredible sight and I really am glad that I went. I suppose after all of that it’s good to experience different cultures and different cultural attitudes too. To see what Northern Territory had to offer was just amazing and the smell of small fires lit in the summer on Welsh farms will now only remind me of the beauty of this beautifully hostile Australian territory. The final place we visited displayed the beauty of the natural environment of Northern Territory in all its glory.
We had found another pool type area at the end of a short hike where we explored, dangled our legs in the water and just relaxed and chatted a while. It was a lovely spot. Afterwards we drove over three hours back into Darwin, narrowly avoided a car crash (it was fine), got take away Nando’s and ended up with the same taxi driver who took us to the hostel from the airport to take us from the camper rental place back to the airport.We were hours early but really there was nothing to be done in Darwin. We’d done it, we were all exhausted (particularly our wonderful driver) and we were ready to head back to Melbourne. Shame the flight was around 3am.
We touched down in Melbourne at 7am. I had laundry in by 8:30am. I went through the day with no nap and had the most wonderful lie in the next day.
Since Darwin, I’ve spent a lot of my time back down on planet Earth doing assignments. Nothing too exciting there really but I’m starting to think about home a lot and perhaps more to the point, the time I have available between now and when I go home and what to do with it. I’m currently in the process of organising a trip to the South island of New Zealand with the intention to return to Melbourne a couple of days before I fly home. I’m also tentatively considering a trip up to Cairns to take in the Great Barrier Reef but I’m going to leave that until I have a particular essay submitted because between you and me, it’s going to be a bit of a pain. I’m not an expert in Chinese history but in 2,000 words I need to try my best to convince somebody else that I am. So that should be fun.
As if it wasn’t blindingly obvious, I really am having such a wonderful time out here and I absolutely do not want to leave. On the other hand, I would simply love to be at home and to be around all of the people who I miss the most. This time in eight weeks I am on a plane possibly on the Singapore – Munich leg of my journey and when you consider that I have just 3 weeks of lectures left, a 1 week break (potentially partially spent in Cairns), a 2 week exam period leading into around 12 days in New Zealand which leaves me with just 1 full day in Melbourne.
If you don’t quite think there’s enough to look forward to there, it’s okay, I’m always finding more and I’ll tell you all about it next time!
Goodness me. These are getting longer, aren’t they?