A hairy moment on the plane as it dropped bodily in an air pocket heralded our approach to Darwin in the Northern Territories, but we landed well and eventually found ourselves in the Meridian Vibe Hotel on the waterfront. The hotel was built onto a high cliff face and had a public lift attached to its side with a bridge for access to a recreational park and the town.
The view from our room took in the whole waterfront, complete with tree dotted lawns, a public swimming pool, cafes and restaurants, a lake which had been the original port, a breakwater and, beyond, the open sea of the huge harbour.
Darwin was named on September 9th 1839 when HMS Beagle sailed into the harbour during surveying operations and the Commander, John Clements Wickham, named the region Port Darwin in honour of his erstwhile shipmate, Charles Darwin. The original settlement became the town of Palmerston in 1869 but was renamed Darwin in 1911.
The town has been twice rebuilt, almost entirely; once due to an air raid on 19th February 1942 when 188 Japanese warplanes attacked the city in two waves. It was the same fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour although the history books make little mention of it. 243 people were killed in that first raid and immense damage was done to the buildings.
The second rebuilding followed when, in 1974, Cyclone Tracy struck the town, killing 71 people and destroying 70% of the buildings.
Darwin is the most lightning prone area in the world recording, on January 31st 2002, 5,000 cloud to ground strikes within a 37 miles radius of the city. This I can quite believe as when we were walking back to the hotel after visiting various memorials on the cliff tops, huge clouds gathered as we walked beneath trees and we heard the sizzling smash of a strike not far behind us, immediately followed by a huge, deafening crack of thunder. We were pleased to get inside the hotel.
As Darwin is well within the tropics the temperature is constantly high, averaging over 30°C. When we were there at the end of November, the thermometer read 35°C with a relative humidity of about 65%, so, as we passed from the relatively cool, air-conditioned comfort of the hotel into the outside air, it was like opening an oven door.
The memorials we saw on those cliff tops were mainly war memorials depicting the bombing of Darwin and other events but I think the most poignant was inscribed as follows, the final three words summing up our experience of the city.
Welcome visitor and know that on this land Australians have gathered in peace since time immemorial.
Here, at 0958 19th February 1942, as the first bombs fell on Australia, the guns of 14th Heavy A/A Battery opened fire.
Here, was devastation on Christmas Day as Cyclone Tracy blew in.
Here, we gathered to celebrate self government on 1st July 1978.
Here, we honour our people and all who have fallen in defence of freedom.
Join us in commemorating the significance of this beautiful place.
by Terry Took © 2013
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at email@example.com.