Since I haven’t had time to write lately, I thought I’d post some of my old articles from the blog I used to keep on the Wordplay site, and which is now extinct. It was a fairly brief one I kept during a two-month trip I took just over a year ago to Malaysia and Thailand via the NT.
Sunday May 24, 2009
I love Darwin the way I love Chiko rolls or plastic cheese. It’s gross yet somehow repulsively pleasurable; tempting, but not something you could stand every day. It’s a whiffy mix of licentiousness and pheromones and rot. It’s a massively over-ripe fruit, swelling against its skin, still barely clinging to the branch, about to hit the ground and split open in a gush of fermentation and sweetness. My friends in Darwin tell me all the teenagers are pregnant. Maybe that procreational urgency comes from this: the overwhelming airborne feeling of fecundity on the verge of going bad.
The air is also rich with rough-as-guts alcohol-fuelled madness and other kinds of sheer absurdity. The newspaper headlines alone tell you you’re in another world: “KKK Still Alive in Territory.” “Speeding Hoon Did It For Love.” “Special 16 Week Croc Attack Liftout Inside!” Main city Darwin is all glitz and glare and unbelievable trashiness, like someone jammed a sliver of Melbourne Cup Day into the worst part of Chapel Street and then dumped it in the Northern Territory night. But then, you get out of the city centre and the place quickly reverts to a big small town. The darkness of a Darwin night is warm and friendly and inviting, richly lined with foliage and waiting to embrace you, inviting you to go exploring, promising to wrap its arm affectionately round your waist till the morning.
It feels like the place where Australia goes to relax. And it is lovely to have a town where neither temperature nor social custom ever require you to dress any further than a singlet. You get there and the heat is on you like a mosh pit, fingers in your nostrils and elbows in your ribs. Every patch of ceiling hosts a slow-spinning fan, dragging through the syrupy air. And maybe it just comes from being an outsider, but it seems that once you’re here, life slows down by the same amount, the pace of existence ticking down to synchronise with each laboured rotation. There are the food markets that let you know you’re already almost in Asia; there are the sunsets from East Point or the city beaches; there are the gin and tonics that just demand to be drunk in this climate. Friends are easy to make, and it’s even better when you have a couple already installed. Thanks to Dave for the crash-mattress, and to Finn and Michael for driving me around.
I was hoping to find some way to really sum Darwin up, but then I had it handed to me in story form. Mid-afternoon. Marley, one of the housemates, emerges looking well worse for wear. He’s asked about his condition.
Marley: Went to Bass in the Grass yesterday [big local music festival]. Got pretty well onto it there, then went somewhere else afterwards. And Sean wanted me to go to his place cos he wanted to smoke, but I don’t touch the shit, so I told him I’d come later, but I went home instead! Ha. Saw Bliss n Eso though, it was fucking good. [Pause. Then, pointing at the bridge of his nose] Hey, do I have like a big cut just here?
Michael: Sort of. It’s swollen, anyway. What did you do?
Marley: Oh, this dude pushed in front of me in the mosh pit line, so I headbutted him. He was the biggest unit I’ve ever seen. I was pretty smashed though. Split my nose open, and I split his cheek open just here [under the eye]. And then he ended up a few metres away, and then he like, ran at me, going ‘Raargh!’, but then he stopped when he got to me, and grabbed me, and then he just licked all the blood off my face. So I went like, ’Argh!’ and then I licked the blood off his face. And then for like an hour after that, we were best mates.
Marley: [brightly] I’ve gotta go to a barbeque! I’ll see yas later.
Finn: Marley. You went to Bass in those clothes. And then you slept in them. Have a shower.
Marley: Yeah, good idea, hey? [Pauses.] What am I doing again?
Finn: You’re going to a barbeque.
Marley: Oh yeah. Cool!
Later, back at the ranch, I tell the story to Dave, a guy who drank so much at Bass that he ended up home in bed by 10 p.m. “That’s so Darwin,” is all that he says, with a smile. Yep. That’s so Darwin.