I was lucky enough this school holidays to experience the Northern Territory in its many permutations. After flying into Darwin from Sydney (when you could fly over many countries in Europe) 4.5 hours later, I am still in Australia.
We arrived in Darwin on Territory Day which meant you could buy firecrackers and fireworks and pretty much let them off anywhere. This is definitely not a “nanny state”!
Darwin has been rebuilt twice, firstly after being bombed by the Japanese in WW2 and then after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. I guess there was no time to have an urban design competition as the residents needed housing quickly. The art gallery and museum in Darwin has a very informative display on Cyclone Tracy (as well as aboriginal art and the obligatory crocodile display).
The first part of this sojourn to the north was a 4WD camping tour through Litchfield Park, Kakadu and Kathreen Gorge. It was magnificent! Mother Nature has left us with wonderfully clean and clear water holes and waterfalls for swimming in. We visited many of these with the next one being better than the last. However, you really have to work (meaning lots of walking and climbing over rocks) to get the satisfaction of these places and scenery, as they really are off the beaten track.
Of course we did a river cruise to see crocodiles in their natural habit which was scary. They really know how to camouflage themselves. Along with these prehistoric beasts, we saw a plethora of bird life and very large water lilies.
Other highlights were aboriginal rock paintings at Ubirr and its surrounding landscapes of wetlands, grasslands, mangroves, woodlands. This is one of the best sites for aboriginal art in the Kakadu area.
After Kakadu, we flew to Alice Springs. We went to the School of the Air which was fascinating as it is still functioning. Each child who is taught by this school is funded by the Government. The students get a computer set up to communicate with the teacher who could be hundreds of kilometers away. I was impressed by this.
From Alice, we drove to King’s Canyon. 476 kilometers later, we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort. Kings Canyon is the canyon you see at the end of the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. If you remember, this is where the 3 actors climb up the canyon in all their finery. The circular walk around the canyon takes about 3.5 hours which is spectacular, even though there are no safety rails anywhere to stop you falling into the canyon.
Our last stop was Uluru and Kata Tjuta (another 441 kilometres away). Philip Cox who was the architect who designed the resort, Yulara there. He did a very fine job indeed. It is over 30 years old now and with the mature vegetation, looks as if it has always been there. The composition of the architectural forms, the paint colours and the landscape, create a homogenous whole.
Of course we went to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). I had a misconception that Uluru would be in a desert landscape of red sand and no vegetation like Broken Hill but I was wrong. This is a semi – arid landscape as there was an abundance of vegetation.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are truly amazing. You cannot grasp their size until you are standing right beside these geological masterpieces. Out of respect to the aboriginals, we did not climb the rock.
As everyone tells you, you have to watch a sunrise and sunset to see the colours change on these rocks, the clouds and the sky. All very beautiful (but very cold).
Another thing which surprised me was the sorry book at the cultural centre near Uluru. This is a book where people who took a small rock as a souvenir from this area when they visited it, could return it to the centre and make their apologies. One must remember that parts of the territory are very spiritual still to the aboriginals and us white people have to respect that. We are a very lucky country and…………....
So to me, the advertisement for the Northern Territory, “You never never know if you never never go” was very appropriate!
Article: Ben Gerstel
Images: Ben Gerstel