Palm City - Crocs & Pandanus - Visiting Darwin & The Top End Arriving for the first time, late at night on the red-eye flight, we just saw vague glimpses of the white, palmy, contemporary, tropical city that lovely Darwin has become. Next day we were able to start the search in earnest and pick out the popular and the local spots that make this city of 100,000 people well worth a visit, even in the lead up to the wet season in steamy November. We were staying with friends in Wulagi in an historic “Grollo 7” cinder-brick house built after Cyclone Tracey (1974). These double storied homes appear built to survive a bomb as well as the heat and a cyclone and are the opposite architecturally of the thin skinned tropical architecture, built on stilts to capture flow-through breezes through the large shuttered windows. The Grollos have a bit of a Spanish Mission flavour about them with their thick walls and small windows, their design reputedly originating in Miami. Our friends had enhanced this feeling by painting it in Spanish Mission colours - ox-blood reds, pinks and corals; with black hand-forged wrought iron balustrades, gates, fences; and a large upstairs balcony over an extended and built in garage. Courtyard gardens with 100s of palms and tropical plants shaded the lot. It’s good to see so many people cherishing the seven or eight house designs that were built just after the cyclone as these styles are becoming Darwin’s historic heritage for the future. We enjoyed so much about the town: Lee Point beach and the oysters; the Chinese Garden at Charles Darwin University; the sandwich eatery at Hibiscus shopping centre; Parliament House with its unforgettable Great Hall and the terrace overlooking the sea; fish and chips at night on Stokes Wharf; the State Library; Sunday brunch at the Art Gallery and Museum; the Cyclone Tracey exhibition; and mooching round the CBD admiring the riot of colours and palms in the gardens. Lucky for us the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) were showing in the Art Gallery and we caught the dramatic people’s-choice winner…Samantha Hobson’s Wave Bust – Windy Night. This unapologetic, large, contemporary painting in vivid blues and reds announced very clearly that Aboriginal art is whatever it wants to be and will not be confined to traditional boundaries. It was a great 26th show, including traditional art of the highest quality with many outstanding pieces and the best place to learn to discriminate between gallery quality and tourist pieces. I loved best an untitled painting by Makinti Napanangka – the lush colors and texture over a red earth ground - almost invisible – with sensational brushwork! The overall winner, Danie Mellor, had also engaged with modern art to produce an investigatory painting about the clash between Aboriginal and settler culture. See the complete show for yourself at http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/museums/exhibitions/natsiaa/  The NATSIAA are rethinking their directions for the future and their next exhibition may appear quite different. There’s more to the Top End than Darwin. It saves its best bits for those who get out of town and explore. We only had a short time to do this but packed a lot into it. This is one place where the general tourist trail provides a great introduction to the Top End and holds many surprises for the visitor from “down south”.   
The Trip
Darwin Grey Gypsies of Australia
Copyright Grey Gypsies Australia 2009
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