Northern Exposures – A Daughter’s Lens

Five years ago, my Dad, who at the time was working for the RAAF base just walking distance from our sleepy Blue Mountains home, was offered a transfer to the NT. Despite avid protests from at least two of three offspring (Guys it’s actually soooo dangerous up there no offense but you do not know the extent! There are street gangs! What if Mum develops severe side-effects from too much time between air-conditioning??? Miles will no way receive the level of education he needs! THINK OF THE CHILDREN…) they took the plunge. Before we knew it, the time came to wave them off (and as per usual book their flights) for an indefinite croc-infested sea change to the NT.

5 years later, and just as the concept of a return to NSW seems real, Dad is deservingly offered the position of CFO at NT Christian Schools; the organisation which Mum also contributes to so meaningfully as Middle School Coordinator (and occasional acting Principal) at Sattler Christian College in Bees Creek. On a side note, Bees Creek also make really good honey & dukkah – Mum if you’re reading this which I’m almost positive you are please get me more.

Despite all of the challenges the NT presents; the harsh seasonal climate, searing heat and humidity escapable only in short bursts e.g. ducking into a Woollies or opening & closing your fridge door in quick succession, the remote location, heightened cost of living, and the tedious validation required every time someone asks incredulously – “But… Darwin… Why DARWIN?” my parents have not only acclimatised to what is one of Australia’s best kept travel destination secrets, but also flourished in a community where they have offered support to others, established deep relationships with people from all walks of life, made time for humanitarian efforts where they have felt called to act, contributed a rare quality of work in each of their professions, strengthened their bond of marriage and lovingly approached this part of their journey together, frequently hosted and challenged me to enjoy and explore a part of Australia off the beaten track, and commendably immersed themselves in the NT way of life (think Parap fresh juice, Mindil sunsets, local theatre, art and music, and the occasional Cumberbatch Sherlock binge when I come to visit).

Before Dad was offered the job and we all thought the window to see the NT with free accommodation and mum’s cooking was rapidly closing, we finally got ourselves organised to visit Katherine & Kakadu together. Kakadu by way of circumstance would be just Dad and me; a meaningful adventure together which we will both always remember.

Perhaps it was something to do with the common interest in photography, a chance to slow the pace and “switch off”, the tangible indigenous heritage of the land we were exploring, or the sheer natural beauty of the sites we visited that made the trip so worthwhile. Whatever the case, the time shared with family allowing ourselves to surrender to the landscapes of the Northern Territory still untouched and teaming with life left me with a deeper and quieter respect for this land and it’s traditional and true owners, a chance to be present, and soak up nature at it’s rarest with my wonderful parents: my answer to “why Darwin”.

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Familiar Territory

 
Spoilt with more “Flight Attendant” visits to the Northern Territory over the past three years than I care to admit, I have begrudgingly accepted Darwin as my second home of sorts, where I feel comfortable taking complete advantage of my Mum and Dad’s hospitality.

The heat and humidity in Darwin is generally overwhelming, but coming off the back of five months living in Singapore, the intensity this time around feels somewhat muted. The polarity of the unapologetic climate up here in the NT extends itself to arid scapes contrasted with unrivalled sunsets and lightning storms; an interesting extremism which seems unintentionally mirrored by the vibrant people who enjoy life here in the tropics. The brevity of my work stays has usually limited available activities to family time, a sunset at Mindle Beach, or perhaps a fresh papaya juice at the local market followed by a wander through the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. On this occasion however, we were fortunate to have more time to play with. The overflowing waterfalls and minimal crowds that the wet season offers plus a shared love of photography was enough for us to “get out of the house” (i.e. the air-conditioning), and the trip to the Territory Wildlife Park and Litchfield National Park was not taken in vain.

The Territory Wildlife Park is everything a Zoo isn’t. Unobtrusively intimate and naturally integrated within the complex and diverse ecosystems of the Top End, the Park plays house to the wide array of native flora and fauna; not least of whom is Ruby the Rufous Owl, who this week celebrates her 16th birthday. Many of the animals here have been rescued, including one particularly affectionate adolescent wallaby, who would reach up his small paws in a desperate bid to be held by visitors and staff in lieu of the mum he never knew. The keepers at the facility are passionate, knowledgeable, and delightfully ocker, and the vast area over which the park spans makes for a full day of walking and watching.

From here it’s a no-brainer to make the drive to Litchfield National Park, where I had assurance from a local ranger that the designated swimming areas contained “no crocs, apart from the occasional freshy but they won’t hurt ya.” Pushing this thought to the back of my mind and taking a mental note to let my parents jump in first, we arrived at their top-secret swimming spot, which was worth every sweaty step it took to reach. Think flowing, crystal-clear water at a blissful temperature without a soul in sight (save the local song birds who have clearly done well for themselves in the property market). Further into Litchfield, we were also lucky to have Florence Falls to ourselves. As the light faded, I took a photo of mum sinking into the Monet-like water of the surging falls. The gold and green hues bounced playfully across the surface of the plunge pool, inviting both a physical and spiritual reflection: Who put all of this magic here?