I was out running the other day and decided to follow an overgrown footpath in the woods, just to see …
Melbourne looked fantastic as we arrived. We drove in over a huge flyover, the city spread out in front of us like a great sprawling futuristic metropolis. It was much bigger and busier than we had expected. Our expectations were of course based entirely on Neighbours so some degree of inaccuracy was inevitable, but this vibrant looking city was beyond everything that we expected.
We found ourselves a camp site in the middle of a housing estate, had a few drinks with the ubiquitous grog swilling bogans that are a fixture of every camp site in Australia, many of them like strung out, tattooless tattoo artist Rob in Broome living there on a fairly permanent basis. Then in the morning we headed out to explore the city.
The first thing that strikes you in Melbourne id=s the famous “hook turn” which involves not leaving a junction when the light is green when you wish to turn right. Instead of waiting in the right hand lane, you get in the left hand lane and then join the traffic moving from left to right when it is their turn to go. This is very counter intuitive and had I not read about it in my Lonely Planet guide book we probably would have crashed almost immediately as there is nothing that explains what needs to be done except for some ambiguous signage. On top of this, Melbourne is the only city in Australia that does this so even the natives can easily get caught out if they are Melbourne virgins.
As if this isn’t enough to deal with, there are trams on the roads. Bloody great trams that expect you to just get out of the way as they sail past.
“Trams, how quaint.” I hear you say. “I don’t know what you are complaining about. They are environmentally friendly, convenient and aesthetically pleasing.”
Well to put it in perspective, in Melbourne last year there were one thousand collisions between trams and other vehicles. One thousand. That is about three a day. That may not seem like a lot for a big city like Melbourne, but the difference is that trams are huge. Their sheer momentum makes them much more dangerous than the vast majority of other vehicles on the city’s roads.
In theory they are a good idea, but why they have to share the roads with the other traffic I do not know. So with unexpected hook turns and trams to dodge, Melbourne is the least enjoyable city to drive in that I have ever been to. And I’ve been to Nairobi.
Traffic aside, we really didn’t get into the vibe of the town in Melbourne and so instead here is a little on the foundation of the town, which is an interesting if sad story.
Originally Melbourne was founded in haste as the British were concerned that the French may settle in the area, taking the rich and fertile land for themselves and creating the potential for future border and land title disputes. The land was “purchased” from the local aboriginal tribe The Wurundjeri by the fortunately named John Batman who, had he been alive today would not have struggled to attract the ladies with a name like that.
The contentious Melbourne Treaty was signed by Batman and the tribe, with the aborigines purportedly giving ownership of 2400 square kilometres of land that they did not technically own in the first place to Batman in exchange for some blankets, knives, axes, scissors, mirrors, grain, handkerchiefs and shirts.
The land was in fact at this point already under the jurisdiction of the government and so not legally for sale by anyone but them, at least in the eyes of the British. On top of this, the aborigines who sold the land had no real concept of land ownership, believing instead that they belonged to the land due to the fleeting nature of human existence and clearly they did not fully understand the deal that was being offered to them. Either that or they really needed handkerchiefs.
However, this audacious attempt to purchase a truly vast amount of land in exchange for what appears to be the contents of his shed went ahead, and Batman made his fortune.
Melbourne went through a number of incarnations before it became the city that it is today, the best of which for me being the period during which it was known as Batmania. If only it had stayed Batmania it would probably now be home to the coolest villains on earth rather than the more boring mafiosos that frequent it now and lunatics such as the infamous Mark “Chopper” Read. Maybe we should have realised that we may not fully “get” a city whose most famous son achieved his notoriety by cutting off his own ear. Still if it worked for Van Gough…
We only stayed in Melbourne for three days and so although we left without it having made any really notable impression on us, we weren’t really there for long enough to make any sort of fair appraisal of the city. We mainly drank cheap lager on the camp site for the three days that we did stay there until on the morning of the fourth day, we set out for Canberra.
Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin has a population of 127,500, making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, but the least densely populated of all Australia’s capital cities.
Darwin has grown from a pioneer outpost and small port into one of Australia’s most modern and multicultural cities. Its proximity to Asia makes it an important Australian gateway to countries such as Indonesia and East Timor. The huge Stuart Highway which I mentioned before, begins in Darwin, ending at Port Augusta in South Australia.
The city itself has a tropical climate, with a wet and a dry season. It receives heavy rainfall during the Wet, and is well known for its spectacular lightning and thunderstorms. The average temperature varies little throughout the year but the humidity and rainfall does.
The original inhabitants of the Darwin area are the Larrakia people. On 9 September 1839, HMS Beagle sailed into Darwin harbour during its surveying of the area. John Clements Wickham named the region “Port Darwin” in honour of their former shipmate Charles Darwin, who had sailed with them on the ship’s previous voyage which had ended in October 1836. The settlement there became the town of Palmerston in 1869, and was renamed Darwin in 1911.
Having been almost entirely rebuilt twice, once due to Japanese air raids during World War II, and again after being devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, the city is one of Australia’s most modern capitals.
As I mentioned before the Aboriginal Larrakia people are the first inhabitants of the greater Darwin area. They had trading routes with Southeast Asia , and imported goods from as far afield as South and Western Australia. Traditional songs penetrated throughout the country through what were known as “songlines”, allowing stories and histories to be told and retold along the trade routes.
The Dutch visited Australia’s northern coastline in the 1600s, and created the first European maps of the area. This accounts for the Dutch names in the area, such as Arnhem Land andGroote Eylandt.
In the early 1870s Darwin felt the effects of a gold rush at Pine Creek after employees of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line found gold while digging holes for telegraph poles.
In early 1875 Darwin’s European population had grown to approximately 300 because of the gold rush. On 17 February 1875 the SS Gothenburg left Darwin en route for Adelaide. The approximately 88 passengers and 34 crew (surviving records vary) included government officials, circuit-court judges, Darwin residents taking their first furlough and miners. While travelling south along the north Queensland coast, the Gothenburg encountered a cyclone-strength storm and was wrecked on a section of the Great Barrier Reef. Only 22 men survived, while between 98 and 112 people perished. Many passengers who perished were Darwin residents and news of the tragedy severely affected the small community, which reportedly took several years to recover.
The Northern Territory was initially settled and administered by South Australia until its transfer to federal jurisdiction in 1911. In 1870, the first poles for the Overland Telegraph were erected in Darwin, connecting Australia to the rest of the world.
The period between 1911 and 1919 was filled with political turmoil, particularly with trade union unrest, which culminated on 17 December 1918. Led by Harold Nelson, some 1000 demonstrators marched to Government House at Liberty Square in Darwin where they burnt an effigy of the Administrator of the Northern Territory John Gilruth and demanded his resignation. The incident became known as the ‘Darwin Rebellion’. Their grievances were against the two main Northern Territory employers: Vestey’s Meatworks and the federal government. Both Gilruth and the Vestey company left Darwin soon afterwards.
Many people don’t realise that the second world war reached as far as Darwin but round 10,000 Allied troops arrived in the early 1940s at the outset of World War II, in order to defend Australia’s northern coastline. On 19 February 1942 188 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin in two waves. It was the same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, though a considerably larger number of bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town. These were by far the most serious attacks on Australia in time of war, in terms of fatalities and damage and they represented the first of many raids on Darwin.
On 17 September 2003 the Adelaide-Darwin railway known as the Ghan was completed. Faye and I actually watched the inaugural train passing through Alice Springs later the following year on its way to Adelaide.