Saturday, September 08, 2007

Arriving at APEC, dreaming of Darwin

I’ve spent the last week in Darwin – 33 degrees in the day, 18 at night.

And really sunny. It felt great to expose the back of my neck.

And the sunset over Mindil beach was to die for.

But it is no longer the place I knew.

I discovered Darwin 30 years ago in 1977. The houses were on stilts (or blown off stilts by the 1974 cyclone). Pawpaw trees were everywhere dropping tropical fruit on to the ground. The city was small and sun drenched; the houses and beach - summery and relaxed. On the beach, blackfellas slept under trees. Refugee boats were parked offshore.

I came back for my second visit in 1990. I stayed at the new Darwin Hospital in the north-Darwin centre of Casuarina. I went back to the places that I knew from before but they had either been demolished or left to disintegrate. The city’s focus had moved inland, away the beach. Most of the houses on stilts were gone

Last week was my third visit. Nearly all of the houses on stilts have gone. I couldn’t find a pawpaw, let alone a pawpaw tree. There was scarcely an aboriginal face around. The people seem to live in opposition to Darwin rather than letting it embrace them. Super-expensive McMansions abound, built for air-conditioning – for keeping Darwin out.

But we had a great time. And the overnight flight to Sydney’s APEC Media Centre was a surreal way to get back to work.