Dan's Travels in the Lucky Country

Keep up with my doings in Australia...

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Interesting Links

Here are some interesting links about life in Darwin:
1. Radio Larrakia - "Radio Larrakia, 8KNB, is a prominent Indigenous radio station in Darwin, broadcasting a diverse and matchless program on the FM band as far south as Adelaide River, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, reaching a growing pool of regular and frequent listeners from all walks of life throughout the day. We are a non for profit community radio station, established in 1999 to provide programmes aimed at reducing social disintegration within the Aboriginal society through promoting positive Indigenous developments and reconciliation between cultures." Radio Larrakia Website

2. Charles Darwin University (CDU)

3. Keep an eye on The Ashes so that if we do win, we can rub Australia's face in it! Hahah! After the last test, winning the cricket would be so good.

4. The CDU website about Indigenous Knowledge and resource management in NT. This is the site for the Yolngu font set, among other things. Also click on Tami (Texts, Audio, Movies and Images) which is a database and file management system for indigenous use. SAIKS (the school of Australian Indigenous Knowledge Systems at CDU) is involved in the project. I heard about it, because when I started working at CDU I went off on my own fact finding mission to help my trip into the North-East go more smoothly, I met John Greatorex and Mike Christie who are anthropologists who teach the Yolngu language and culture courses out here. I have visited them a couple of times and they have given me website addresses and so on to help me, beyond the call of duty too...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

16th October: Litchfield National Park - Kites, Crocks and Termites

I was up very early for the trip to Litchfield. I was waiting at the pickup up, along with three Japanese tourists (who I got to know later) and a hodge-podge of others, at 6.30am(ish). We were met by the driver, Louise, and given our itinerary. The three Japanese people and I became friends: Naoya was the chattiest and his English was the best. He kept asking me to teach him new words and to improve his pronunciation. He is the first Japanese person I have met who does not muddle up his Ls and Rs. Naomi was much quieter, but as much fun as Naoya. Finally, little Takk- a cool guy with a huge hat who barely said anything. He was travelling around Australia at the age of 21 with no command of English at all! He was cool. We drove up the Stuart highway, bush on both sides of us. This was the first time I had seen the bush in seven years and that made the day really special, leaving aside the snakes, the crocks and so on. The bus was driven by Louise – a Darwinite with a zoology degree and an interest in the local people. She was very interesting and seemed to know a lot about the local area. She told us a story later on about some one she knew who ‘went troppo’ during the build up – a funny and scary story in equal parts!

So we bumped along, in the bus, which even with the air-con on, started to warm up as the day progressed. The build up had not started yet (it still hasn’t) by this point so the heat with still quite dry, but getting out of the bus to see things became harder and harder as the day wore on, simply because it was so hot!
Our first stop was the Litchfield jumping crocks. To get us used to reptiles, Louise bought out some snakes for us to play with and with many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ we wrapped ourselves in them. Louise described them as “affectionate” but have a snake wrapped round you that is as thick as your arm is not uber-pleasurable! After that we all hopped on the crock-watching boat and watched crocks, kites and drank tea. The crocks were impressive jumpers, managing to get themselves almost completely out of the water…after that little event, none of our party would have gone near open water in the Top End if you had paid them!

Once the crock tour was completed we were off driving again, through the town of Batchelor and on to the termite mounds. We saw three kinds: magnetic mounds (which look like huge grave stones) cathedral mounds and then my favourite – the termites that hollow out didjeridus. We stood around having our photos taken, like you would at Madam Tussauds and after a while we were all hot and sweaty so Louise took us to a couple of billabongs for a swim. Wangi falls is the closest place to Paradise I have been to so far in Australia – the water was warm and clear and lunch was waiting for us when we got out. In the course of that day we saw three billabongs, lots of the bush and walked through oven-like heat. It was a great day.

Naomi and Naoya taught me some Japanese in the evening. They laughed and laughed at my mangled Japanese.
How about that lake for pure Heaven, eh? The water was so warm, the whole place was quiet except for the usual cliches. It was ber-illiant.

15th October (Midway): Six months ahead, Six months behind

I have been in the Lucky Country for six months. Six months ago today, I walked to the tube station and got on the tube to Heathrow! Each day that passes will be a day closer to leaving to go back to the UK… Chilli’s hostel is completely different to Billabong gardens. For one thing I am not part of a furniture having only been here a little while, it is built differently too. In Sydney buildings have to be good in the cold and the heat, where as Chilli’s is built like a troppo-house! It is as open as it can be to the breeze, fans buzz all the time and we all sleep under sheets instead of duvets. The hostel is much bigger than Billabong, although the kitchen is not as extensive. There is no oven for example. It is very odd being here. I miss Sydney, the people and what I did down there, but that is okay. I am getting over that slowly but surely. Funny to be homesick for a hostel, but the Billabong became home – the kitchen felt like mine, and I used to get cross when new people invaded my room! For all my moaning and complaining, I did get out of the hostel on this particular day – I went to Mindil Beach Market with Dubi Shapiro, the Israeli who I shared a room with. Dubi moved into the room the day after I arrived and we got talking pretty soon after he arrived. He will travel round Australia bird (the feathered variety) watching. He hired himself a van for the job and we drove to the market in it. Mindil Market is on Mindil beach, a beach about 15 minutes drive out of Darwin’s CBD, going due north. The market is not very big, but it is great for food, hippy clothes, fortune tellers (I was told to focus on what I wanted to do and not worry too much about things beyond my control), didjeridu players (modern didge, sadly, not traditional), and the sunset which was beautiful. The air round Darwin is pretty clean and when I got by the sea again it was almost, but not quite, being back in Brighton. Sun set was very pretty: Mindil looks directly west so all of us had a ringside seat. We ate curried fish and rice and watched a few indigenous dancers, playing for the tourists.

After that Dubi felt tired so we cruised back to the hostel and wrote and wrote. I wanted to try and remember why I was in Darwin at all, which I had managed to lose site of along the way. I managed. My list grew and grew. I was pleased and relieved to remember: Djalu Gurrwiwi, Milkay Munungurr, Randin Graves, Yidaki, Gove, Yirrkala and the Yolŋu.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

10th October: Noodles with Kristie & My Last Day in Sydney

Leaving Sydney to come out to Darwin was a complex affair. I was not just leaving a city and a hostel; I was leaving a circle of friends and a lot of very good memories. This place has been very good for me. I finished at Workcover just under a week before I was due to go. My colleague Stephen decided to leave at the same as me, so Con (my manager in Sydney) decided to take us out for Thai food one lunch time. The three of us sat around mulling the company over.While at Workcover I made a very good friend called Kristie, who I have decided to keep in touch with. She has what she calls ‘the traveller mentality”, which basically means she works to fund her life outside of work. She and I have sat and discussed this over several cups of tea over the course of the last few months and have both concluded that work is not the be all and end all of existence. She has advised me on lots of things, not least to go and see Perth, where she is from, when I get to WA! I am going to do that if I can.

By the end of my stint at Workcover I felt better about computing – I enjoyed supporting such a large territory, which included suburbs in Sydney, Gosford and several towns all over NSW. Tuesday 10th of October Kristie and I met for beers and dinner after she finished work. It was a really good evening, except that now she has branded me “The Cadbury Kid” (because it only takes a glass and half to get me drunk). It wasn’t my fault! She got me drinking some evil-strength ale on an empty stomach! I met her at the Workcover building and we went down to Hyde Park, where there was a little art exhibition among the trees. Hyde Park looked beautiful: the trees at the bottom of the park were filled with Chinese lanterns.

There were chairs and tables strewn about, and some beer tents. It was sun set, so of course my camera was out and in was snapping photos. Kristie and I sat and talked about things that had been happening to me over the weeks before, her life and where I should travel to among other things. By the time we finished in the pub I was drunk, and both of us were hungry so she took me off and bought me dinner in Wagamama’s (a noodle bar in the CBD) and we talked more and ate with chopsticks. She gave me a ‘goodbye’ card wishing me and a stubby holder (beer cooler, Kristie?). After dinner it was time to say cheerio and I barrelled off back to the hostel. She is top!

The next day (Wednesday) I packed my stuff, broke my case on wheels and bought a new one. It was a bit of a hectic day, which ended well with beers with friends in the hostel. There were people that I had met in my six months in Australia that I would have liked to have been there – hopefully you know who you are – but the people that were there more than made up for any absences. Finally Thursday dawned. Three friends took me for breakfast in Newtown and then, oddly it was time to go to the airport. I got that feeling in my guts that I got the day I trundled my way down to Arsenal tube-station. The feeling of ADVENTURE. The feeling that you are leaving things behind and moving forward into uncertainty. It is a magic feeling, but it is also a bit scary too. When I got out of the taxi I thought “woo hoo, I am backpacking again!” and strolled into the airport. I checked in and sat drinking coffee. I listened to Xavier Rudd who is a pretty cool multi-instrumentalist (“let me be free-ee-ee!”). Time ticked on and then it was time to get on the plane. Three hours or so later, after watching “The devil wears Prada” (Meryl Streep in her greatest flop yet – honestly it is flop-tastic!) I arrived in Darwin. It was very late at night, warm and the air was close. The book I had bought in the airport (“The Game”) had kept my attention for a short while but when I arrived at Chilli’s (my home till now), it was straight to bed. The picture above is of me and Rod just inside the Billabong

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I am nearly in Darwin!

I took a day off work today to do some 'admin'. This sounds dull I know, but is necessary. I now have a ticket to Darwin, and very shortly will be sending some stuff home. The last few days have been pretty cool - there are three canadians living in my room: Ashley, Guiseppe and Alicia. All three are right off the plane, and up for a laugh. Friday night saw a large chunk of the hostel playing a canadian drinking game - involving lots of rude actions, clapping in rhythm (think of the drum set on the Queen song 'we will rock you': bang, bang, crash! bang, bang, crash!) and plenty of singing.

I fly to Darwin on 12th of next month. I am excited.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The March into Redfern

I have now been backpacking (‘youth hostelling’ would be far more accurate) for just under five months. I have met a lot of interesting people, but it was not until Monday night that I caught my first real glimpse of the size of Australia that is ‘hidden’ or at very least ‘out of the public view’. My march into Redfern began in the back of a desire to get a bit healthier. I have been eating a lot of rich food and working in a sedentary job for the last few months and have a tummy a 50 year old would be proud of. I am going to ‘make that change’ as Wacko Jacko would say. Plus I want to be able to stride around Darwin with my top off when I go up there, so all in all there are good reasons for doing this.
Julia suggested that I start to walk home from work - a plan that made some sense. So...

Sunday night, Julia and I went and talked to Luke (the nice kiwi who manages the hostel on Sunday evenings) and he suggested a route for us to do. When asked how far the walk was he said ‘oh about 3.5km’ which is reasonable. My route home from work will take me down the long road beside my work, down past Central station, though a little park, through Redfern and then up some wiggly little streets for about half a mile. It’s not all on the flat either, there are hills and dales too.

So on Monday night I set off, and it was fun. Sydney in the evening is very pretty and I was taking photos of this, that and the other and doing some beat box because I was on my own and in a good mood. I went though the park and turned into Redfern. The place is quiet dilapidated. Buildings are not in great shape (but could be with some work – please look up gentrification when you next use Google!) and there was rubbish everywhere. I was snapping off photos of buildings and up ahead I could see people sitting by the side of the road. No worries. I kept walking until I got out into a park area. There were tents up (almost like tepees) and some people sprawled around. Far up ahead I could see some people clustered round each other doing something. I kept walking, admiring the murals on the walls to my left – they were lovely: indigenous art. In the distance I could see the indigenous flag of Australia flying so I took a picture. On a whim I turned round and could seen another flag painted on the size of a house. At this point mental gears started to turn and I began to wish I had not taken photos at all – I was being disrespectful, so the camera went back in the bag.

I kept going towards the other side of the park. As I was getting about two thirds of the way towards the street I saw a piece of tarpaulin tied to two poles which read (NB this is not a quote but the gist only) ‘Corroboree taking place. Please, if you do decide to enter the corroboree ground, be respectful of people and events’. Now I felt bad – I had stumbled in on something religious with my camera. My actions were analogous with turning up at a synagogue with a bacon sandwich! I vowed not to repeat my mistake.

I could see that one or two people had noticed me from their tents. So I kept on walking. No one did anything. No one talked to me or looked at me, but I was very relieved when I got into the main road. There were more murals, and I asked the lady who stopped to see if I was all right if it would be okay to take photos. She shook her head – ‘they don’t like it Love’ she said so I thanked her and walked home. The walk took me an hour and 20 minutes. I’d just had my first proper brush with the indigenous people of Australia – not the Yolngu from Arnhem Land, but the Eora from the Sydney region, a group I had not even considered, even though I have seen language maps of Australia. I guess one lives and learns.
On my return to the Hostel, Haico – another manager (incredibly well informed) listened and gave me a bit of a wake up call and told me a few things about the area I had just walked though. I am very pleased to have come out in one piece, not to mention a bit embarrassed for my lack of research. For those of you not in the know, here is some text about Redfern I got off the Wikipedia website:

  • The 2004 Redfern riots began with a riot on 14 February 2004, at the end of Eveleigh Street outside Redfern station, sparked by the death of Thomas 'TJ' Hickey. The teenager, riding on his bicycle, was allegedly being chased by a police vehicle, which led to his impalement on a fence. Members of his family were then reported to have started grieving for TJ around Eveleigh Street with a crowd gathering commiserating with the family. Fliers were distributed blaming police for TJ's death. The police closed the Eveleigh Street entrance to the railway station, but youths in the crowd became violent, throwing bricks and bottles; this escalated into a riot. A memorial service was held for TJ Hickey in Redfern on 19 February, and in Walgett, New South Wales on 22 February. A subsequent inquest found that although the police were following Hickey, they had not caused the accident, a verdict that has caused controversy in Redfern's Aboriginal community. The riots have sparked fresh debate into the welfare of Australian Aborigines and the response of the police to those living in the Redfern area.
  • The Block - "The Block" is an area in the immediate vicinity of Redfern station and is home to a socially disadvantaged community. Nearby Waterloo is another socially disadvantaged community due to the concentration of large public housing estates. As a result, the crime rate in the area is quite high. Redfern has a large Australian Aboriginal community. Eveleigh Street, which is part of 'The Block', is well-known for its community of Australian Aborigines. In 2004 much of the housing here was demolished with plans for redevelopment, but it is still an area around which much of the Aboriginal population congregates
Needless to say my route home has changed a bit, but my little walk and then being able to discuss with interested parties afterwards as opened my eyes. Even if only for a few minutes.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Two weeks of events and then going up in a balloon

The last couple of weeks have been so full of events -

30th July – Julia took me to see the Korean film '3 iron' - one of the best films I have seen in years about a man that breaks into houses, repairs broken things for food then moves out. Have a look on IMDB!

4th August - Hard candy at the Dendy cinema

6th August - I watched 'the Graduate' with Julia; a film we both roared at - Dustin Hofman is painfully funny.

7th August - A crap film at the Dendy, this time: Jindabyne, a film with a great story which was badly made. You leave the cinema thinking "?". Don't waste your money.

8th August - Art gallery of NSW: adventures of form and space near my office at Hyde Park. Julia had helped erect one of the pieces of art herself. Imagine a sea of coloured balls floating in mid-air, moving almost like water. There was a piece of art made from neon kitchen bulbs, another piece of art that reminded me of Mary Magdalane as she bent over to wash Jesus' feet. Yet another was carved to look like it had been grown.

9th August - Opening of the Mori art gallery. Julia and I managed to track down one of the artists at the Mori and get him to explain what his art meant. It was very interesting.

11th August 2006 – Opera House: Julia took me to a performance piece by the pianist Tomoko Tukaiyama. Rather hard to explain! I am still thinking about it, even now!

Then there was the balloon ride. My diary entry for this is below:

Julia and I have just been in a hot air balloon and in the words of Lester Burnham from American Beauty it was 'Spec-tac-ular'. This has been the best bit of my trip so far (bar landing back in Australia in April).

We were picked up at 3.30 in the morning and driven to the ‘balloon base’. It was pitch black and blisteringly (is that a word?) cold. We were all given cups of tea and told about the course of events: blow up the balloon, fly the balloon, land the balloon then eat champagne breakfast… and we followed that plan. Blowing the thing up was the only remotely arduous task, as Julia found. She and two or three other people volunteered to hold the neck of the balloon open while huge fans blew cold air into it. I was standing some way away and I could feel little bits of who knows what hitting me at speed on my cheeks. Heaven knows how it must have felt for Julia, but she stood there, tough, hardly flinching. Once the balloon was full of air, huge flame guns (for want of a better word) were turned on to heat the air. Within minutes the balloon (with a little help) began to sit upright. We (15 of us) were yelled at to hop in the balloon before the bloody thing took off!

And then we were away into the open sky. It was all a bit Wind in the Willows. It is unsurprising how pretty the world looks from a hot air balloon. If you have ever had a flying dream you will have some idea what it is like – quiet and peaceful and clear. The world looks so clean from up there. The little toy cars make no noise, the houses look big enough for dollies. I was pleased Julia was there. There was fog, there was a lovely sunrise and, not wanting to harp on, silence!

We are up for about 45 minutes all told (maybe an hour – you lose notions of time a bit up there) and when we finally landed, it was a soft and gentle one. Almost no bump at all. Then it was back to the range for bacon, eggs and all the trimmings (tally ho!). The journey back was a quiet one. All of mulling over what had just happened. If I every get the chance I will repeat the experience.

I spent the rest of that day in a drugged up haze – 3.30am really is far too early!! I wrote a bit and chilled back on the ground. There is little else to say.