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On our return from Europe we spent a few days in Darwin and its surrounds.  We had a strong sense of re-engagement with Australia and found ourselves saying things like: 'isn't this nice'.

We were also able to catch up with some of our extended family. 

Julia's sister Anneke was there, working on the forthcoming Darwin Festival.  Wendy's cousin Gary and his partner Son live on an off-grid property, collecting their own water and solar electricity, about 120 km out of town. 

We went to the Mindl markets with Anneke and her friend Chris; and drove out to see Gary, in our hire-car, who showed us around Dundee Beach in his more robust vehicle. Son demonstrated her excellent cooking skills.

 

Cafe at Darwin Museum
Cafe at Darwin Museum - nice

 

Darwin harbour was named after Charles Darwin by the captain of the Beagle.  Darwin had sailed with the Beagle on the earlier, more famous, expedition of the Beagle to Tierra del Fuego and the Galapagos Islands; and had stopped in Sydney; before taking the southern route, by the Bight, to Cape Town.  He never visited the remote harbour named for him.

 

LNG loader Darwin
LNG (liquid natural gas) loader Darwin Harbour

 

Initially a small settlement was founded on the harbour in 1869, originally called Palmerston, after the British Prime Minister.  A year later the Overland Telegraph connecting Australia to the rest of the world terminated in the town.  The association of science and technology cemented the name 'Darwin' from that time onwards.  This is an interesting Australian affirmation of  Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection; quickly supported and taught by universities and natural history museums in Sydney and Melbourne at the time.  This central tenant of modern biology remains controversial in less scientifically literate societies to the present day.

The contrast between Darwin in Australia and similar sized cities in Britain, Russia and Germany is dramatic.   In early August, in the dry season, temperatures in excess of 30 C are pleasant when the humidity is very low.  And it is just so Australian.

 

Watching the sunset; with take-away Asian meals from the markets
Watching the sunset; with take-away Asian meals from Mindl Markets

 

There is a difference of scale and landscape and just getting there by air from Sydney takes four and a half hours; or four days by road. 

Australia is larger than Europe, nearly 32 times larger than the UK.  While much of Australia is desert, large areas receive more annual rain per hectare than the European average.

Darwin, for example, gets over twice as much rain as anywhere in Europe. But the soils are poor and heavily leached by water and age; including thousands of years of burning of undergrowth and leaf litter; that might otherwise have composted to form topsoil.

Australia is the oldest continental land mass on the planet; scoured by age and mostly flat.  Northern Australia lies in the tropics. The northern extremity of Cape York is just 10 degrees short of the equator; while the southern tip of Tasmania, South East Cape, has a latitude similar to that of southern France.    

 

Kakadu - just 140km from Darwin
Kakadu - 140km inland from Darwin

 

Although Darwin is the most remote Capital city in Australia  it is more famous in Australia for being devastated twice.  It was heavily bombed by the Japanese during WW2; and it was destroyed again by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1974; suffering the worst bomb then cyclone damage ever sustained by an Australian city.

 

 

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