February 2010

Early February started off with a bang, literally.  Our peace of reading the papers while enjoying our 2nd cup of coffee at The Office Espresso Bar was interrupted by a series of muffled explosions & rising dust down the road.  It appeared a disgruntled customer of a local  insurance company wasn’t happy with his claim being rejected so sought revenge .......he loaded a shopping trolley with jerry cans full of fuel & fireworks before wheeling it into the insurance office to detonate his “bomb”.  Unfortunately 15 people were injured by the blast & are now recovering.  Greg reckons the bomb was wasted and should have been used at the Telstra office. The logic was that only some people have a gripe with the Territory Insurance Office, but everybody really hates Telstra. We’re now waiting for the usual paranoia to bubble to the surface in the form of bans on jerry cans, petrol, fireworks and shopping trolleys to “make our community safer”....


Our friends, Terina & Keith, invited us to spend the weekend at their retreat at Dundee Beach, 140 kms west of Darwin & a favourite destination for both local & visiting fisherman.  We’d passed the turn off to Dundee beach on our way into Darwin last August when we rode up the Cox’s Peninsular Road and we’d heard that it was a good spot to spend some time so it was with some anticipation that we waited for Keith and Terina to kindly pick us up in their four wheel drive and take us there. The deal was that we’d cook dinner so Greg and I spent some time preparing a bit of a feed and stuffing wine bottles into assorted bagsa task Greg is particularly adept at. The road to Dundee beach is not passable after heavy rain as you need to cross the odd creek and river, but we were fine, and after an hour and a half we pulled into this magnificent beach front beach house.  Up on stilts to catch not just the view over Fog Bay and the Timor Sea but also the beautiful sea breeze.  Both Greg and I looked at each other and said that this was perfect. You could barely see the neighbours and the beach front was 50 metres away.  However, like all beach fronts in this part of the world, there are stingers and crocs so swimming is a no no.  Still, we walked along the beach collecting fossils and petrified wood,  we drove to what is perhaps kindly called Dundee Lodge but what is really a collection of dongas and demountable buildings, one of which sells beer, an absolute essential in the tropics.  Keith (clever man that he is) had fashioned an old plough disc into a BBQ so we sat around the fire in the evening having watched the sun disappear into the water while Greg threw potatoes and corn wrapped in foil into the coals and then cooked a couple of whopper steaks to perfection.  We then retired to the balcony to stuff ourselves with food and wine while solving the problems of the world.  Sleep came easily zzzzz......... Sunday morning we lolled about the balcony with tea, toast and yesterday’s newspaper until we had to finally pack the car and head back to Darwin. Thanks Tarina and Keith it was a great weekend.


Darwin has two libraries, the Public City Library run by the Darwin City Council & the NT Reference Library based in Parliament House.  It wasn’t until we reached Darwin & had time to utilise these facilities that we realised what great things they had to offer, not only access to books & worldwide newspapers but interesting exhibitions, lectures & book launches of which we’ve become regular attendees.  Imagine our delight when we received an email from the NT Library cordially inviting us to the ‘Words in the Wet’ Literature Festival offering drinks, nibbles and music followed by an author panel discussion “Writing for a Living: Is it hard? Can I do it? Does it pay?”  After imbibing on beer & champagne & feasting on sushi we sank into comfortable armchairs & listened, quite contentedly, to four writers give an interesting discussion on the above.   A week later we returned yet again for another engaging talk ‘Writing Balibo’ with Darwin author Jill Jolliffe, the tie-in book to the award-winning film by director Robert Connolly. The work is based on her first-hand experiences as a freelance journalist during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor during which five television reporters known as The Balibo Five were killed in cold blood.  It is a substantially revised version of her 2001 work ‘Cover-Up: the Inside Story of the Balibo Five’ from which the screenplay was written.  Jill now lives in Darwin and reports regularly from East Timor.


In the middle of August we caught up with Chris, Christa, Jessie & Amy the delightful owners of Leila Creek Station (about 1000 klms SE of Darwin) where we stayed last August on our way to Darwin.  They had flown back from Adelaide & were in Darwin for a couple of days before heading home so we invited them to stay the night giving us a chance to return their generous hospitality.  After a swim in the pool, we relaxed on the balcony & caught up on their news especially their exciting plans for their wedding on the Station this July.  Working on a cattle station in the middle of the Northern Territory is thirsty work, fortunately we were able to oblige with a beer or ten and a few wines as well.  Leila Creek Station had been flooded earlier this year so Christa’s veggie patch is cactus and Chris’ fences were knocked around a bit.  I think that’s farming....It was great to see them and the kids again and their timing couldn’t have been better.  By the time they left our lounge room looked like it had been bombed by the Japs again.  Both Jessie and Amy had covered the floor with drawings, texta’s, highlighters, pencils, teddy’s, paper and an assortment of clothes and odd thongs. This was entirely in keeping with the upcoming commemoration of the bombing of Darwin which we all attended in Bicentennial Park in the front of our apartment the following morning.  Darwin was unprepared for the attack on the 19th Feb 1942 when mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted 2 air raids on Darwin, it came 12 days after the fall of Singapore & was larger Japanese than the attack on Pearl Harbour 3 months prior.  188 Japanese planes dropped over 300 bombs, the 2 raids killed at least 243 people & between 300-400 were wounded.  Of the 44 ships in the harbour, 8 were sunk, most civil & military facilities in Darwin were destroyed & the town reduced to ruins.  Greg’s Grandfather was working for the Postmaster Generals Department in Darwin at the time and luckily escaped injury, however, he knew some of the Postal workers that were killed during the attack.  A couple of days prior to the Commemoration we went to the local library to hear Ray Chim, AOM, talk about his experience of being in Darwin at the time of the bombing, he was 18 years old at the time.  Darwin has really suffered, it’s been rebuilt twice, after the above attack & again after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.


Even though Darwin is littered with restaurants, most of which we’ve explored, we can probably count on one hand the restaurants we’d return to & one of these is Evoo at the Darwin Casino.  We ate there for the first time recently with Alex & Lee-ann (friends of Craig in Brisbane—thanks Craig for the introduction) & weren’t disappointed.  Normally we avoid everything to do with Casinos like the plague, however, the one in Darwin is different—it overlooks the water so location wise it’s superb, accommodation wise it’s the only 5 star in Darwin & it has not one but two very good restaurants—Evoo & Il Piatto. Darwin’s dining scene, if you can call it that, has some quite particular features. There are very few BYO restaurants and the wine on the wine lists is usually marked up by about 300%. When Greg asks about this the usual reply is that freighting wine to Darwin is expensive. That, of course, is absolute crap as Greg reminds me he had 27 cases of wine delivered from Sydney for less than $15.00. The service at most restaurants is very scratchy their staff being made up mainly of either students or backpackers, both categories not known for their dining, fine or otherwise, experiences. At one of Darwin’s Indian restaurants, it went something like this. Waitress: Are you ready to order? Us: We haven’t go any menus yet (we’d been sitting at the table which we’d booked for about 10 minutes now and she’d walked past at least 5 times). Waitress; Oh, sorry I’ll get you some (which she did). Waitress; Are you ready to order yet? Us; Yes (and we gave her our order). Waitress; Is that it? Us; Yes we think that probably it is.....grrrrr... Interestingly it is one of Darwin’s few BYO restaurants and they’re very keen to get their corkage even though only glasses were supplied, no ice bucket and certainly no wine service. Some may excuse this as us being too picky, or it being just the Aussie/Darwin laid back style, and it could be both of these. We maintain it’s just bloody poor management from slack people who don’t give a damn with an attitude of, well if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.


It’s hard to believe that in 6 weeks time we’ll be leaving Darwin to start our trek west into Western Australia.  At the thought of pulling on our lycras & looking decidedly unappealing we’ve stepped up the exercise regime to include 30 klm early morning return rides to Nightcliff.  Part of our trek from Kununurra to Broome (944 kms) will be along the famous Gibb River Road which takes you through dry country on some of the roughest & toughest dirt roads in Australia & it’s around 660 kms in length, mostly unsealed.  Apparently the stunning Kimberley scenery is the reward, I must remember that when I’m tackling the sand & corrugations!  The distances between places mean you have to bush camp so lots of research has been done to note rest stops, where we can pick up water, have even contacted roadhouses/mini supermarkets to confirm what they stock, have asked Stations if we can post food parcels to them (all have said yes, everybody so helpful) & we’ve even spent time at Woolies weighing items for their gross weight to see what goodies we can stuff into our 5 kg parcels —this forward planning is always enjoyable & interesting.  Another fun part is constantly looking out for new products that are light, tasty & will satisfy two hungry cyclists.  We’ve found a couple—dried minced beef & tinned chicken.  A tasty Spag Bol cooked with the former has been given the thumbs up, as for the chicken mmmmm......the tin looks decidedly like cat food as our photo will confirm....we’re going to smother it in spaghetti & pesto for the taste test.


What have we been doing while in Darwin?  Well the email below from Greg gives you a clue, it was sent to fellow cyclists whose trip is nearing the end & unfortunately is now being interrupted by work as they get closer to home.....

“Mark, Denise,  We’re working too!  Take today for instance.  I unloaded the dishwasher, walked to the cafe, read the NT News from cover to cover, walked to the NT library to listen to Terry O’Gorman speak and in between all that I had to spend the afternoon on the bed reading and sleeping. So we’re not exactly dole bludgers here in Darwin ya know.....Oh yeah, I forgot I also hung out some washing and booked a table for dinner on Saturday evening.  We’re keeping the lights burning here in the Northern Territory.  So lay off....Ride safely!” 


We got a one word response in reply!


It’s been so hot this month caused by a lull in the wet weather so little cloud cover....on top of that we can’t use our swimming pool as the outside tiling is being replaced!!  Finally on 27th Feb the monsoon returned with rain bucketing down drenching Darwinites over 3 days with 297mm recorded at the airport, yeah.....finally cooler weather.   Even though it seemed to be a dry month, Darwin has already exceeded its average Feb monthly rainfall of 363mm—436mm has fallen. We’re keeping a watch on the weather over the Gibb River Road area because as soon as the wet season finishes, the West Australian Main Roads Dept will start grading it in preparation for the tourist season in the dry. We’re trying to time it so we’re on the road just behind the graders which leave from both ends of the road and meet in the middle.  Greg has spoken to one of the guys at Derby and got the name of the other guy at Wyndham, but as there’s over 2 metres of water across the road in some places at the moment they’re not in a big hurry to start.