Darwin Street Art – part two

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.

Darwin Street Art – part one

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.

Karlštejn Castle

The last thing I expected to see in a rural location 100km south of Darwin was a Bohemian Castle.

The town of Batchelor, with a population around 500, was established in the early 1950s following the discovery of uranium at Rum Jungle. Czech immigrant, Bernie Havlik, worked in the mines from 1954 until its closure in 1971. For the next six years he served on the town gardening crew before retiring in 1977. He had been frustrated by a stubborn rocky outcrop in a park in the town centre that had proved impossible to move, and set about creating a replica of Karlštejn Castle.

Situated an hour from Prague in Bernie’s homeland, the original castle was built between 1348 and 1357 for Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels, holy relics and other royal treasures were kept safe within the walls of the castle.

Bernie worked on his construction for five years and continued to add finishing touches and carry out repairs until his death in 1990. Havlik Park is dedicated to Bernie as a tribute to his community spirit.

Unable to travel to Bohemia, I have appropriated a photo of Karlštejn Castle from Google maps for comparison.

Florence Falls

We had worked up an appetite with our morning explorations of Litchfield Park and found a secluded spot for a picnic lunch alongside Florence Creek.

The spring fed watercourse bubbles along, tumbling over a series of cascades until it reaches the escarpment at Florence Falls.

A stunning panorama from the viewing platform takes in the lush monsoon forest surrounding the falls.

The multi-tiered falls drop around 40 metres in total while the main cascade is around 20 metres.

There are 160 steps to the swimming hole at the base of the falls. Tempting though it was to cool off in the pristine water, the return climb would have been a step too far.

Termite Mounds

Not only does Litchfield Park have spectacular waterfalls, it is also home to hundreds of magnetic termite mounds. Unique to northern parts of Australia, the two metre high structures are built with their thin edges pointing north-south and broad sides facing east-west.

Amitermes meridionalis, commonly known as the Magnetic Termite, have cleverly grasped the concept of thermo-regulation and this orientation creates high humidity and stable temperatures within the mound.

A large mound may house up to a million termites comprising the queen, king, reproductives, soldiers and workers. Although the exterior is hard and durable, the material inside separating the chambers and galleries is a papery texture.

Another fascinating inhabitant of this area is Nasutitermes triodiae, the Cathedral Termite. Their mounds are much bigger, reaching four to eight metres in height and the hollow columns inside create a central air-conditioning system to enable the colony to remain cool.

There is a very impressive example of a cathedral termite mound, estimated to be over 50 years old, surrounded by a boardwalk to allow for closer inspection.

These feisty little insects have a long, horn-like snout with which they can cut grass to add to saliva, sand and faeces to make the mound. They can defend the colony by shooting chemical secretions from their snout to irritate and repel invaders.

Some Aborigines believe that anyone who knocks over a mound will get diarrhoea. Coincidentally, termite mounds contain high proportions of kaolin, a compound used for the treatment of indigestion and diarrhoea.