When Ruth and I first went to Darwin, the only real city in Australia’s tough Northern Territory, it was a laid back resort town on the Timor Sea where you had to swim in the hotel pool because of the Box Jellyfish. We spent most our time in swimming suits and shorts while walking slowly because of the intense heat. I remember going out on the hotel balcony every morning at dawn to smell unknown scents wafting up from sea and city. Darwin was exotic. Back then you wore as little as possible. Now business suits are in.
On our way into Darwin in 2014, I couldn’t help but notice construction cranes, traffic, a huge casino, and anonymous big city streets. I could have been in any go-go metropolis and finally asked the bus driver what was driving Darwin’s economic boom and she said LNG and mining. The population had grown by more than 25,000 since our last visit and clubs and bars were full of affluent, young Australians. Oh, we saw plenty of the end-of-the-road types too, the kind of independence-minded beer drinkers you find in Alaska, Patagonia, etc. They’re still around Darwin, and I wondered how they felt about the changes. But I sensed I was at risk to ask.
That Darwin isn’t the sleepy tropical town it once was isn’t just my observation. Steven Gerhardy, APPEA’s Darwin Director, agrees that its face is changing and that it’s set to become a big player in the international big leagues for oil and gas projects. LNG, Liquified Natural Gas, is perceived as the future of energy in Australia, and 7 major projects are under construction. Conoco-Phillips was the first in Darwin in 2006 with a $1.5 billion plant. INPEX, a Japanese Company, is building an LNG processing plant near it. The Ichthys project, a $34 billion (US dollars) commenced in 2012 and will be completed in 2016. Shell has a $15 billion floating LNG project underway. And then there’s mining.
Box Jellyfish are described as the most venomous animals known to science. When their tentacles touch human skin, nematocysts are fired into the body and the results can be fatal. I once saw a shirt on sale at a tourist shop in Seattle that made me LOL. It read SEATTLE RAIN FESTIVAL, JANUARY 1st TO DECEMBER 31st. I was reminded of it when I read about Box Jellyfish. They are common October through May during The Wet and only less common in The Dry from June to September.
Darwin experienced more than 64 Japanese air raids during World War II. Serious devastation and casualties resulted. Australians constantly feared invasion. A military museum full of memorabilia is in Darwin, and tourists like us can still visit storage tunnels that were constructed in 1943 to protect the local oil supply. In 1974, a hurricane named Tracy (they call them cyclones Down Under) blew into town on Christmas Eve and almost destroyed the entire city. While we were there in late spring, 2014, an Indonesian volcano, Mount Sangeang Api, erupted and closed Darwin International Airport. Those who live in Darwin and take jobs here have to adapt to dire circumstances and move on.
This time, after joining lots of Darwinians for a concert and fireworks on its glittery new Waterfront, Ruth and I decided to explore what’s left of Old Darwin. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.