On the ‘must do’ list while in Darwin during the dry season is Mindil Beach Market. As the heat of the day subsides, a wander around the myriad stalls provides the opportunity to purchase unusual artisan crafts or that obligatory souvenir for those at home. More importantly, the Mindil Beach Casino Resort is right next door and the Sandbar is a perfect location to enjoy a well-earned beverage.
With a delicious antipasto platter and magnificent view of the descending sun over the Arafura Sea, I was catered.
Another spectacular Top End sunset
accompanied us to our table on the deck of The Vue restaurant.
Overlooking the infinity pool and, appropriately named, Infinity bar
we watched as the earth turned and another fabulous day came to an end.
Winter is the perfect time of year to visit friends in Darwin, especially when they own a boat.
No, not that one….this one.
We set off on a sea of glass from Cullen Bay Ferry Wharf
and rounded the headland,
before the hint of tropical houses in the suburb of Larrakeyah peeked at us through the trees.
In the distance, Darwin city cut the colour blue with a swathe of silver and green.
Larrakeyah was one of the first parts of the city to be developed, with the colony’s first hospital built in 1874. It is named after the Larrakia people, the traditional custodians of the land.
In 1869, Dr. Robert Peel, a surgeon with the first survey team, found water ‘…in a gully between Fort Point and Point Emery’. Aptly named Doctors Gully, it soon became a landing point. In the early 1950s, a nearby resident started throwing bread scraps to the fish that would gather at high tide and in 1981, Aquascene Fish Feeding was established. Visitors can now stand in the shallows and hand feed the fish in the waters of this official marine sanctuary.
The Esplanade runs the length of the waterfront overlooking Darwin Harbour and alongside, Bicentennial Park is home to monuments and memorials as part of the WWII walking trail. Lookout Point is a good place to start.
With calm waters and stupendous scenery, it was time to serve drinks and nibbles.
Continuing down the coast toward the end of the park,
the Deckchair Cinema operates seven nights a week in the dry season. Established in 1954, Darwin’s only independent cinema gives audiences the chance to watch a diverse range of movies that would otherwise go unseen on the big screen.
Adjacent to the cinema, Parliament House was opened in 1994 on the site of the Darwin Post Office that was bombed in February 1942.
On the other side of the cinema, Government House is well hidden from view. It is the oldest European building in the Northern Territory and has been home to Government Residents and Administrators since 1871.
At the end of the Esplanade, Jervois Park marked our point of return
as the evening sun cast the cityscape in a new light.
The occupants of this fishing boat should probably have looked behind them.
On the horizon, eight jet skiers resembled the riders of the Apocolypse, fortunately not close enough to shatter the serenity.
Having run out of time on our first reconnaissance, we returned a few days later to continue our discovery of the artistic embellishments adorning the lanes of Darwin. As well as the annual Darwin Street Art Festival, the ‘Art to Street’ project in July 2019 invited local and emerging artists to create murals on seven public spaces across Darwin. Two of these colour the walls of West Lane Car Park.
Talented mural artist Lara Connor collaborated with local school student Caleb Schatz (aka Mr Calebdude) to fill the space with subtle colour and quirky characters.
Back to the festival…..a buffalo skull was the inspiration for Darwin contemporary artist Jimmy B4mble’s contribution, Rukus in 2019.
A little further down the lane, the enormous Gouldian Finch was painted for the inaugural festival in 2017 on a wall at the rear of the Darwin Hilton. Melbourne artist James Beattie (aka Jimmy Dvate) teamed with local Jesse Bell to present the three colour variations of the birds; the most common black-faced, the lesser known red-faced and the very rare yellow-faced. There are now fewer than 2500 Gouldian finch in the wild, their existence threatened by changing fire practices that reduce the availability of food and the aviary trade that saw thousands of birds trapped until it was banned in 1981.
With a career spanning four decades, celebrated Darwin artist Colin Holt contributed a vibrant treescape in 2020.
Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri artist Jason Lee (aka Choplee) painted the seven main seasons of the Gulumoerrgin (Larrakia) calendar in 2018: Dalirrgang (build-up, September to October) – flying fox, cocky apple and cycad nuts; Balnba (rainy season, November to December) – long bums, black plum and bush potatoes; Dalay (monsoon season, January to March) – crocodile laying eggs and big red apple fruiting; Mayilema (March to April) – dragonflies and bush cherry; Damibila (April to June) – black cockatoo and bush peanut; Dinidjanggama (heavy dew time, June to August) – Dugong and water lillies; Gurrulwa (big wind time, July to September) – stingray and yellow kapok.
There is no denying the overwhelming talent on display throughout this exposition and I was absolutely boggled by the image that emerged from this inconspicuous nook.
Portuguese artist, Odeith, has a special interest in perspective and shading, calling his style “sombre 3D”. On his first trip to Darwin in 2019, he wanted to create a truly Australian artwork, the spectacular result being a kangaroo standing atop a transit van.
Sistagirls are transgender Aboriginal Australians traditionally known in the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, as yimpininni. Melburnian artist, Kaff-eine, met with the sistagirls and, in 2018 painted an elegant portrait of Shaniquá to celebrate the strength, power, character & beauty of the sistagirl community.
Also in 2018, Melbourne-based artist, George Rose, drew on her appreciation of the Australian landscape for her colourful work featuring Sturt Desert rose, Hibiscus brennanii and Nymphaea violacea.
Born and raised in Darwin, Larrakia man Shaun Lee (aka Hafleg) combined traditional and contemporary designs to create a beautiful turtle and jellyfish mural in 2018.
Nearby, he collaborated with Trent Lee two years later on a stunning piece featuring barramundi.
Known as the ‘build up’ in the Northern Territory, the weather cycle where heat and humidity increase leads up to the wet season. Build Up/Melt Down by local artist Vincent Poke in 2018 is a depiction of what it is like to live through this experience in the Top End.
In 2017, NT artist Polly Johnstone completed a mural, For the Love of Reading, featuring the image of Darwin local Artia Ratahi. She returned the following year and once again chose Artia, with her Indigenous and Maori heritage, to represent the diverse backgrounds of the community. The vibrant colours reflect the Top End soil, the crystal blue waters and the pinks and purples of the sunsets.
The wall of Monsoons nightclub provided the canvas for a collaboration between Melburnian Cam Scale and NT artist Les Huddleston in 2017. The painting, entitled Monsoon, represents the new life brought to the billabongs after monsoonal rains. Brolgas descend on the billabongs to breed and feed on turtles and fish, depicted swirling amongst the water plants at the feet of the dancing brolgas.
Our connection to animals and the need to preserve our wildlife and their habitats inspired a striking piece by Melbourne- based Tayla Broekman in 2019. The White-Bellied mangrove snake is found in the mangroves of northern Australia, the bright colours are enhanced by the dark background illustrating the sky and vast, flat landscape of the NT desert.
I don’t think these planter boxes are part of the festival but they certainly brighten up the streetscape.
The Street Art Festival has now expanded from the CBD all the way to Alice Spring with more than 18 new murals painted in 2021. I might need a bit more time on my next visit.
There are so many great reasons to visit Darwin, especially in the dry season. During my visit last year, I discovered another. The Darwin Street Art Festival invites local, national and international artists to transform the streets and laneways of the CBD into a giant art gallery. Eight murals were painted in the first year, 2017, followed by sixteen in 2018. A further fifteen were added each year in 2019 and 2020. We embarked on a wondrous voyage of discovery one morning, not realising the magnitude of the undertaking. Our introduction was a colourful graphic work by Melburnian urban artist Andrew Bourke (more about him later).
Riece Ranson started as a graffiti writer in London before moving on to murals. He has paid homage to his love of the coastline and fishing in the Northern Territory with his painting of a Queensland Groper.
Belgian artist, Vexx, incorporated his signature colourful ‘doodles’ to put his own twist on Darwin’s deadly animal, the crocodile.
Beneath the crocodile, in 2020 Northern Territory based visual artist, Polly Johnstone (Miss Polly), raised the question of what the future will bring.
Vibrant graphics burst forth from drab walls and a more subtle illustration emerged from the pavement.
Roller doors provided an alternative canvas for a nature-inspired triptych.
Saltwater Home was a collaboration between Sydneysider Tim De Haan (Phibs) and Darwin-born Larrakia man, Shaun Lee (Hafleg) in 2017. Both men grew up by the ocean and have blended elements of saltwater life with a Larrakia design presented in stunning colours of the outback .
Although not part of the Street Art Festival, some quirky animation graced the walls of the Babylon Bar at the Austin Lane end of Air Raid Arcade.
At the other end of the arcade on Cavenagh Street, the recently opened Birth of Venus Bar was similarly embellished.
Melburnian Mike Maka’s (Makatron) 2017 creation, Poppies for the People, was inspired by the location adjacent to the Darwin RSL Club. The mural links and contrasts the iconic red poppies of the World War I battlefield of France to the green of the tropical vegetation in the Top End.
Explorer John McDouall Stuart was the subject of local NT artist Ryan Medlicott’s portrait in 2018.
House of Darwin is a clothing company that reinvests its profits into social programs in remote Indigenous communities. Graphic designer and illustrator Liam Milner (Luna Tunes) painted a huge building in support of the project in 2019.
Native flora of the Northern Territory feature in the vibrant 2019 work by self-taught local artist, Jason Lee.
Once an illegal graffiti artist in New York, ELLE created a collage style painting in 2018 to tell the history of Darwin. The central image of an Aboriginal woman’s face has one Chinese eye, representing the influx of Chinese during the Goldrush. ELLE was fascinated by the accounts of lightning starting fires in the bush and the Black Kite picking up twigs from the fire and dropping them to spread the fires further in order to burn out food. She has used this creature as well as local flora to symbolise resilience, beauty, strength and pride.
Phibs, once again, contributed in 2018 with an abstract impression of the diverse flora and fauna found in the Northern Territory using a colour palette as seen in Darwin sunsets.
Tom Gerrard (Aeon) has a passion for finding shapes that shape a city and in 2017, the Melbourne-based artist teamed up with locals David Collins and Les Huddleston to capture some of the Top End’s most iconic structures. Gerrard has used his distinctive minimalist colour palette of red, black and white for the work entitled Darwin.
In 2018, Andrew Bourke combined his talents with NT artist Jesse Bell to honour the memory of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. The talented Aboriginal musician passed away in July 2017 and, with blessings from his family, the artists have immortalised his image with the lyrics from his song Baru (The Saltwater Crocodile) in the background.
The following year, a piece of traditional Aboriginal design by Nyanpanyapa (Wendy) Yunupingu accompanied her late brother, Gurrumul.
On the opposite wall of the car park are two more magnificent pieces that complement each other. Multidimensional Man, painted by Melburnian Peter Seaton (CTO) in 2018, is a portrait of Hilton Garnarradj an Aboriginal guide from Arnhem Land.
A year later, Brisbane based artist Russell Orrie Fenn (Sofles) added the Interdimensional Space Crab alongside using the same tones as the Aboriginal man.
Polly Johnstone’s 2017 work, For the Love of Reading, features an image of Darwin local Artia Ratahi, representing the diverse culture of the community. The background is inspired by the colours of the Top End from the soil and crystal blue waters to the pinks and purples of the sunsets.
Another Darwin resident, Emma Murphy, combined fashion and nature for her bold creation in 2019. Models faces morph into birds, inspired by the Kookaburra, Hooded Parrot and the Rainbow Bee-eater bird.
Ryan Medlicott’s 2019 mural depicts the rare Oenpelli Python, the longest snake in the NT found only in the sandstone massif of western Arnhem Land.
With a lunch date looming, we ran out of time to complete our mission and returned a few days later but that will be another post. I could find no information on these last two paintings except the second one is titled Winner.
Darwin has long been an important strategic outpost from a military perspective. In the early 20th century, the need to attract senior public servants to the town led to the construction of four significant houses between 1936 and 1939, now known as the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Architect Beni Burnett was recruited from Malaysia, where he grew up with Scottish missionary parents, and was appointed the task of producing housing appropriate to the climate. The influence of his early years is shown in the tropical elements of the architecture of the three houses he designed. One was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, another was damaged and remained vacant and boarded up to prevent access from itinerants until it was restored in 1988. A year later, it became the headquarters of the National Trust and known as Burnett House.
The only two-story house on the precinct and the only surviving example of B.C.G. Burnett’s Type ‘K’ design, Burnett House survived the bombing of Darwin during World War II with two bullet holes in the front fence. The Australian Women’s Army services were based here during the war and it was also as a rest area for nurses. Nowadays, the National Trust hosts afternoon teas once a month in the beautiful gardens, a lovely setting to while away a couple of hours on a balmy Sunday.
We were invited to wander through the house before leaving, an offer too good to refuse. What would have been the original living areas downstairs are now occupied by National Trust administration spaces, we made our way upstairs where the bathroom greeted us at the top. The upper floor bedrooms are spacious with three-quarter height partitions between rooms, information panels and photographs tell the history of the house.
Presented as living areas, I could quite imagine enjoying a gin & tonic under the whirring ceiling fan with the scent of a tropical garden wafting through the louvres.
The bedroom exuded a peaceful ambience and has a spacious dressing area.
Outside, colourful tropical flowers abound in the immaculate garden.
Adjacent to Burnett House, Audit House was designed by the Commonwealth Government and is an example of a large-scale housing form used in Darwin during 1920-1940.
Built for the Commonwealth Auditor in 1938, this house was also used during the war as part of a rest home for nurses. After the war, the Auditor no longer used the residence and there was a succession of occupants from various Government Departments. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see inside but it looked very inviting, surrounded by a well-established tropical garden.