Darwin, Australia is the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory (also called the Top End) and a former frontier outpost. It’s also a gateway to the massive Kakadu National Parks well as to South East Asia. Its popular waterfront area has several beaches and green areas like Bicentennial Park, but we were cautioned to stay out of the water due to the presence of crocodiles! This laid-back city was named after Charles Darwin, who had sailed into the area on an expedition in 1838. Darwin today is a lively modern city, with practically everything built since 1974. In the early morning hours of Christmas Day in that year, Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin killing 71 people and leveling 80% of the city. A chilling exhibit at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) depicts the cyclone and its devastating impact (see below). This was actually the FOURTH time Darwinians demonstrated their resilience by re-building their city…twice before due to cyclones, and once as the target of the Japanese in World War II. Led by Naval Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who also led the raid on Pearl Harbor ten weeks earlier, the attacks on Darwin killed or wounded hundreds of people, leveled most of the city’s prominent buildings, sunk over 20 ships, and destroyed 23 Allied aircraft. Remnants of this destruction are seen all around town, where beloved landmarks like the Star Theater and Hotel Victoria are fondly remembered.
Darwin is lighting up the city with a new program CITYLIFE Platform. According to the city’s website, “Public art enhances our natural and built environments, it builds upon our cultural heritage, diversity, sense of identity and provides opportunities for our artists to contribute to the development of the city’s cultural vitality. Our strategic approach to the commissioning and delivery of contemporary public art, recognises the need to build local capacity and skills, provide opportunities for diversity in the program and support a model that encourages community debate around the role of public art. This artistic program is being trialed over three years with the intention of transforming selected outdoor public spaces into outdoor galleries. CITYLIFE Platform showcases local artists and their talent in addition to encouraging dialogue in the community.” We think our readers will agree that this intentional approach to public art is adding a great deal to the city! Here’s just a smattering of the beautiful artwork that is popping up all around the central business district.
With only two days to explore this wonderful city, we decided to spend some time at MAGNT, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. This excellent collection of art and artifacts reflects the region, its diverse culture, rich history, abundant marine life, and its indigenous people. It utilizes a variety of mediums to depict significant chapters in Darwin’s history and to showcase the region’s beautiful Aboriginal art from nearby islands and the inner desert. On the waterfront, the Indo-Pacific Marine Exhibition recreates various underwater ecosystems. It would take multiple visits to see everything, but here are a few glimpses of exhibits we found to be of particular interest.
On our way back to the ship, we noticed a sign pointing to WW II Oil Storage Tunnels. Doug, a history buff who made his living owning an oil company for 29 years, was intrigued. The next couple of hours were quite interesting! We learned that in 1924, 11 above ground oil storage tanks were built on Stokes Hill Wharf near our dock. During the 1942 Japanese air-raids, 7 of the tanks were destroyed, spilling vast amounts of oil into the wharf. Later that year, 400 members of the Civil Constitutional Corps secretly dug hidden oil storage tunnels in the escarpment bordering the city. With temperatures and humidity reaching the 90s, the working conditions for these men were horrific! The ground was soft and unstable, and when the wet season came, the water poured in causing cave-ins and frustration leading to work stoppages. In the end, the tunnels never stored oil. It wasn’t until Australia’s conflict with Indonesia in the 1950s that an attempt to store jet fuel for the RAF and RAAF bombers in two of the tanks was made. This was short-lived, however, because during one night of heavy rain, excessive pressure caused the fuel to escape. The facility had to be abandoned. It is now open for tours, which we found fascinating.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Darwin. The people are very warm and welcoming, and their history of building and re-building is inspiring. It was a fitting way to say goodbye to Australia and hello to whatever lies ahead. While many of our fellow travelers have made the understandable decision to head home due to the uncertain path of the coronavirus, we’ve decided to remain vigilant, resilient, and flexible. We’re certainly adhering to the strong hand washing requirements and trying to be smart about our choices, but we strongly believe that Viking is putting our safety and good health at the top of their priorities. And we’re doing the same!