Darwin and I don't exactly hit it off. Maybe it’s the heat. It’s not just hot (35C at best) but also seriously humid.
The minute you step outside it’s as if an overly intimate and very clammy friend has grasped you in a damp and sweaty embrace and then, for good measure, climbed on your back for a piggy back ride. Every step you take you can feel him clinging hot and wetly to your back. Ten steps, 15 at most and you are dripping. Not perspiring gently, no girlish sheen, this is proper, unreconstructed dripping sweat.
I arrive on a Friday evening that marks the start of a bank holiday weekend and it seems as if the vast majority of locals have taken up binge drinking as a competitive sport. Over the whole weekend, pubs are bustling from 11am onwards. On Anzac Day (the Australian Remembrance Day) the whole city is awash with men in military uniforms or suits adorned with medals crowding into pubs and spilling onto the street. By 3pm there are people vomiting in the gutter, two men are scuffling and throwing punches as a police car draws up with a lazy flash of its lights and others are shouting and whistling at women as they pass by.
Those locals that aren’t constantly under the weather are plain eccentric. I’m sitting in a cafe, trying to cool off in the air conditioned interior, when a woman rides up on a penny farthing bicycle. She has a large stuffed penguin in a basket on the handlebars. She parks the bike, no mean feat in itself, picks up the penguin, finds a table for two and carefully seats the penguin opposite her. Then she orders breakfast and calmly eats it, before cycling off again, penguin in pride of place.
Monday morning dawns every bit as hot and sweaty as the last two days but I force myself to find the energy to visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. It’s beautifully cool and eclectically diverting. There’s a huge stuffed crocodile called Sweetheart who terrorised local fishermen before dying in a bungled capture attempt in the late 70s. He is immense: 5.1metres long, with a 2.4m snout and, according to the laconic expert who explains the story, the only crocodile he’s ever seen with chipped teeth. ‘I think it must be because he used to bite the propellers off the boats,’ he says. That would probably do it, I think to myself, but in case you don't believe him he has a picture of a metal dinghy with two very large crocodile bite marks right through it.
In the gallery next door to Sweetheart is ReCoil a great exhibition of indigenous weaving with some really inspiring work ranging from colourful baskets to totems and more contemporary art style pieces. Coil weaving has become widespread in Aboriginal communities in the last 30years or so and as women travel they share their skills with others. Check out artist Nalda Searles who writes a couple of blogs on the subject.
When I emerge back into the heat at the end of my visit I find I’ve also reached the turquoise waters of the Timor Sea. Unfortunately you can’t dive in and cool off (if the deadly Box jellyfish don’t get you then the crocodiles will) but it is very beautiful. I wander along the beach and discover the Darwin Ski Club.
First I think it’s an ironic joke but it is in fact the water ski club, which turns out to be primarily a very laid back and very charming beachside bar where you can have a drink in the palm fringed gardens and admire the sea from a safe distance.
I hesitate for a fraction of a second then sit myself down and order a cold beer. If you can’t beat them, I think to myself as I drain it in no time at all and order another. And it seems the locals might be on to something for, as I leave the bar 90 minutes and three beers later, I seem to be finally warming to Darwin.