Yellow Waters, January 2022
Oil on canvas,
152cm x30cm x 4cm
In April last year we seized a window of travel opportunity and cashed in our Qantas credit from 2020 to take the kids to the Northern Territory spending four days in Darwin and three days in Kakadu before flying to Alice Springs and spending a week in the desert.
It was years since I had last been to the NT and it was even more special because Kim’s father John also joined us. On my first trip to Darwin, in 1993, I had stayed at a backpacker overnight before flying out of Darwin and into Kupang, West Timor on the start of what would become an epic (in my mind) mostly solo 4-month Indonesian Odessey (I could write a book about that trip, island hoping up the archipelago from Timor to Sumatra with side trips to Sulawesi and Kalimantan). I remember feeling incredibly old compared to the other Darwin backpackers I met in a seedy Darwin club that night and I wondered if I had left it too late to explore the world by myself seeing that I was already nearing my mid-twenties (I had just turned 23).
It had taken six hours to fly from Canberra to Darwin and about an hour and a half to fly from Darwin to Kupang. Darwin, let alone Kupang, felt a world away from my previous existence as I sat drinking a Bintang overlooking a black sand and rubble garbage tip of a beach on which a motley rabble of kids and pigs were frolicking and fossicking around.
And so, I told my children, on our first night in Darwin, almost 30 years later. Three sets of eyes rolled, and the comment was made that “Darwin didn’t seem like another world to them”. To be fair to the kids, we were staying in a very adequately appointed Air B&B streaming Hard Quiz and eating our Woolworths pasta salad and free-range chook at the time.
I had not been to Kakadu before but had heard from Kim and others that it was special, so I was looking forward to going there. I was not disappointed. Honestly, I found the whole of the NT this trip very alluring, from Darwin to the desert, but I particularly loved the dreamy, lazy, fecundity of Kakadu. It felt magical, overripe, and teeming with life in a lush, but slow-moving tropical, sensually abundant way. It did not feel like my country, but I felt like, in another parallel universe, it could be. I felt intense pleasure and awe in Kakadu’s beauty and gratitude and respect for the traditional owner’s whose country it is.
And this was only going where was accessible among ‘the highlights’. Being towards the end of the wet, the carparks were still overflowing with flood water and crocodiles. Kakadu was a sensory overload, and I felt like it would be wonderful to be able to spend a bit of time there, looking, listening, and getting to know it better, but I suspect it would take more than a couple of lifetimes, which is more time than I have left.
My daughter, Eleanor, also felt affinity with the NT. She wants to study in Darwin and has studiously checked out the rental market and university courses ever since. Zeb, on the other hand, tells me he hates Darwin, but most of all Jabiru, “…. there is like only three people who live in that place”. I think his distaste for that place has something to do with being 17 and being on holiday with your parents, but I can’t imagine what?