DARWIN is a city of vast, vibrant, brilliant, challenging and often confronting contrasts.
WORDS: Richard Craill
A walk down Mitchell Street, the main pub-and-club thoroughfare on the Northern fringe of Darwin’s Central Business District, is like taking a trip through the various eras this fascinating city that lives right on the edge of Australia has endured.
In less than a kilometre it morphs from a modern cafe’-set city to one that feels like it has been untouched since the rebuilding efforts after the Christmas Day cyclone called Tracy flattened the place in 1974.
There are a lot of buildings in Darwin that feel untouched from the mid ’70s, when building tough and solid was the order of the day. There, the glass gives way to painted concrete breeze-block that have seen nothing but a change of colour in the last forty years.
Further along there’s a glimpse even further back in time as vacant lots filled with broken concrete, discarded waste and detritus sit beside humming bars and clubs, almost as if they haven’t been touched since the fateful moments in 1942 when the Japanese Zeros attacked for the first time on Australian soil.
Their contrast to the modern apartment blocks that line the nearby esplanade are stark.
Darwin has become an annual visit for many in the Australian Motorsport community thanks to the immensely popular Supercars round held each June at Hidden Valley; the rather excellent circuit located 15 minutes from the city and nestled in a nook of a valley – unseen by the main road to its North and the mangroves on the South but characterful and accessible at the same time.
In a game of ‘which round would you attend if you weren’t working’, it would be the one at the top of the list, next to Bathurst.
Those who come from the South obviously love the weather: the 30-degree days and 22-degree nights make it an immensely refreshing change to the sudden onset of a Victorian or South Australian winter that occurs each May, in particular.
Few Beers taste better than the one first consumed when you get into town after a 25-degree temperature change from the South.
Then there’s the city, described above but so much more than that.
There’s a gritty nature about Darwin and the way it can morph from modern metro to rough and tumble in a few paces, coupled with the ongoing issue of homeless people and petty crimes, make it a sometimes confronting place.
But there’s an element of Frontier Town in the air, too: as if it’s a place where the law is a little softer and people turn a blind eye to the troubles of you or the world and just get on with life at their own, sightly slower pace.
From the stresses of daily life there’s still an attitude amongst some Darwinites of ‘she’ll be right mate’ – Of having less stress and more chill.
For instance, last year I needed to add an additional night to my hotel booking, which given the demand during race week was secured well in advance of my flights.
On ringing, I asked about adding a night and the voice on the other end said, and I quote, “Mate the computer is off at the moment, and I can’t be bothered turning it on, so come and see me when you get here and I’ll sort it then, okay?”
Brilliant. That’s the nature of the place.
Then there’s the bars and clubs of Mitchell street, to the more relaxed pace of the Ski Club and the hum of the Midill Beach Markets.
There’s also few cities in Australia that convey such a sense of history either: the damaging effects of Tracy or the events of World War two are well documented in a series of excellent museums, memorials and memories scattered around the city.
The actual reason for our visit, of course, is excellent: imagine merging an event with the energy of an Adelaide 500 into a permanent circuit and you get the feeling. Territorians are passionate motor racing fans and come out in droves and there’s always something to do away from the racing, too.
Hidden Valley itself is also great. A government-funded facility that springs up new additions each year. It is not a stretch to place it alongside Phillip Island and Sydney Motorsport Park in terms of being a quality permanent motor racing complex and the track itself is a unique challenge for drivers.
The only drama I can see is that we only use it once a year for major circuit racing events. It should be more. If ever there’s an example of government successfully investing money into Motor Racing events to attract people to their region, this is the one.
The bottom line is that heading to the Top End each year still feels like some of an Adventure. The same feeling you’d get when as a kid you’d go to that one special event each year.
It’s a trip that, bang in the middle of the year, revitalizes and re-sets for the massive run home that are the next five or six months.
Here’s to the annual Top End adventure: long may it remain part of what we do.