Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Day 18-31, 23 April-5 May 2008, Darwin

Day 18-31 – 23 April-5 May 2008

Darwin – 588 km

Running total – 5,231 km

Soundtrack: ‘Return to Paradise’ – Shirley Horn

From Daly Waters we headed up to Katherine, stopping at the warm and beautiful Bitter Springs, near Mataranka, for a swim before lunch. After paddling around for a while, Raffy and Danny decided to float down with the current to a bridge. The silence and scenery were breathtaking. The landscape is definitely tropical now. Lush, dense, green… the air more moist.

We arrived in Katherine around 3pm, planning to set up camp at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge). We stocked up at the supermarket, anticipating one or two days here. We had fun last time we were here and told the children about the friendly kangaroos that approach campers at dusk. As we headed towards the Gorge, however, we noticed wafts of smoke appearing over the tree-tops, and could smell burning. It turned out that Park Rangers were control burning the area before the dry season kicked in, and the whole Gorge was under a pall of acrid smoke. Camping was still possible, they said, but not necessarily all that much fun. We couldn’t swim either, as the waterways were not yet deemed free of crocodiles. So we bid a reluctant farewell to Nitmiluk, and headed back into Katherine with the intention to look for another campground.

While driving, we toyed with the idea of just heading straight up to Darwin, even though it was a further three hour drive after already having travelled 2-3 hours. The kids were into it, tempted by seeing Jack and Zephyr, as were the parents, so after a coffee stop we continued north.

We passed many areas of control burning, with exciting flames, and not so exciting smoke. Birds of prey were circling the burning areas, hunting for escaping lizards and insects. It was getting dark as we passed the “Welcome to Darwin” sign on the Stuart Highway. Maddy and Raffy were beside themselves to be back in Darwin, and to see their friends.

Like homing pigeons we followed a route to our friends Justine, Johnnie, Jack and Zephyr’s Millner Retreat and Day Spa*, having practiced how we were going to surprise them (they were expecting us the following day). We knocked on the door, holding our collective breaths. But no one was home! After surreptitiously finding out where they were, we went off for a fish and chip dinner at the Beachfront Hotel, which has been newly renovated for the worse, then returned home to a not-quite-surprised but warm welcome.

In the planning stages of this trip, we decided that travelling up through the centre of the country and leaving from Darwin was important. We wanted to see the middle of Australia, we wanted to road test ourselves and our stuff before we went overseas, and we wanted to return to the city in which we had lived for two years.

And here we are, having found our way with no problem, reading the map of our memories. Back in the home of our dear friends, whose house has been generously like a visitor/absorption/social/cultural centre for us and countless others.


Being back in Darwin is quite strange. There is so much that is familiar, but many experiences feel like they are happening with a time delay – the memory catches up some time after we have arrived somewhere. And I keep expecting to see myself, 6 years younger, standing quietly, watching me back. A tired woman with a big green pram. But she’s not here. The city inhales people, transients, accommodates them then, when they leave, just reforms around the space. She has gone.

Things are different, but the same. Some shops have changed, some roads are wider, the skyline now heaving with enormous developments. The habits of the week are still there – the markets, the afternoon snoozes (when possible). A great sense of familiarity, but not belonging.

I’m trying to remember if this is what it felt like to return to Melbourne after having lived here, but of course the circumstances are quite different. I felt that we never properly left Melbourne when we moved, too many strings which kept pulling, on so many levels. And I returned, three times, in the 24 months we lived here. But Darwin we left, and have not come back until now. And we packed up our memories of Darwin properly. We were clear about what we loved in this town, and what was hard. And we knew that there were aspects that we would always romanticise. 

This visit, this place would be so different without our friends, whose house easily expands to fit another family of four, just as their lives do. With calm, warmth, with smiles, with a bursting fridge, good food, conversations about shared experiences, life, journeys, meanings, books, crosswords, with delighted kids playing. Living in this town would have been very different had they not been here, and visiting would have been like driving through any other place.

So we participate in family life, and we revisit the markets, the museum, the places we have been, and see new ones. We do our washing, we clean the car, and begin planning for the next leg. And wonder what it will be like when we arrive somewhere else.   

Our children are no longer toddlers, and as parents we notice a distinct echo – things we ask of our children that are the same as that which is asked by the others. It is comforting that, because the others do it, we must be doing something right! It is also heartening that the four children, sleeping in the same room, get on so well. For the most part, they are considerate, tolerant and playful, and enjoy each other’s company. It will be hard to leave – again.

We also run into familiar faces, now with children of their own. People we spent lots of time with when we lived here, but didn’t keep in much contact with when we returned to Melbourne. Good people who we missed, and will miss again.


I (Danny) provided a day’s training in working with men who use violence (part of my normal day job but now a voluntary community project), organised by Johnnie in the weeks leading up to it. The response was enormous. I had expected maybe a couple of dozen people, but more than 80 registered, including some who had travelled great distances. I was also invited to be a guest presenter at the Top End Division of General Practice annual conference, which coincided with our visit. I felt privileged to not only be able to provide opportunities for workers here to engage with issues and learn skills that are now relatively commonplace in Victoria, but also to reconnect with the Darwin working environment I experienced last time, and even reconnect with some of the workers I knew then. Even with electronic communication and air travel, Darwin remains isolated. Being small and remote, it is often neglected. But the residents are passionate about their bit of the world, and working towards supporting and improving it.

I experienced an interesting point of difference when Justine and I took the children to the new Leanyer Water Park. When we lived here this was just a lake, but now was a large man-made pool adjacent to a large playground, similar to those all over the country. Except, this playground has water pumped through, around and over it. There are water-spouts everywhere, spraying and dumping water on gleeful children all over it. A huge bucket on top of the construction slowly fills, and tips about every five or ten minutes. Children line up in anticipation of the deluge.

And, as a Victorian, I felt myself become anxious and agitated. “What a waste of water!” I thought. Living amidst a long-term drought at home, we had learned to conserve our most precious resource – using grey water for the garden, short showers, not flushing every time, and never washing the car. Now, here, there’s water everywhere, and washing away. Of course, water is never an issue in the Top End, the wet season filling all the catchments to overflowing capacity.

So, when in Rome… I washed the truck! The first time I’ve washed a car in years, due to the ongoing drought in Melbourne, and it felt weird. It’s something I did weekly as a teenager and in my twenties, so I was a bit out of practice!

We were able to reacquaint ourselves with some of our favourite Darwin activities, including buying some of the world’s greatest curry laksa and paw-paw salad from Mary at Parap Market on Saturday mornings, roaming the tropical fruit and vegetable stalls at Rapid Creek market on Sunday mornings, and coffee at the (relocated) Roma Bar.

We’ve been doing more work on our itinerary and plans, and things are conspiring against us. While our planned itinerary is already rather tight, there are many aspects of the trip that are out of our hands, such as transport. Our shipping company postponed the scheduled departure of a “vessel”, and instead our truck will leave Darwin a week or so after we do. The shipping news doesn’t seem to be an exact science. This, in turn, means we could end up some two or three weeks later than our planned itinerary, and we’re only into our second month of our twelve-month journey. Nevertheless, the folk at Perkins, our shipping agents, were most friendly and helpful, have cheerfully and helpfully put up with lots of emails and phone calls and questions, and have given us some useful pointers for the next shipping stage, from Bangkok to Los Angeles.

We removed all of the gear from the truck’s roof-rack and loaded it into the space the children usually occupy. It fitted quite neatly.

Getting our truck through customs was novel; Sandy and I needed official passes to drive into the quarantine area of the wharf precinct, and had to wear lovely fluorescent vests. We drove into the quarantine area and followed a vague path amongst teetering shipping containers and frantic fork-lift trucks. The quarantine officers checked the bona fides of the vehicle and, after it took me a few minutes and a call to our friend and mechanic Dale in Melbourne, finally located the engine number. Then, we left the truck in the area and returned to the offices to complete more paper work. That was it! We were on our own, as was the truck, and hopefully we will be reunited in Singapore. Given the truck is full of camping equipment, spare parts and sundry books and luggage, our customs experience at the other end should be interesting.

A day later a report in the paper said two crocs had been caught in it!On our last day we visited the house we lived in for our two years in Darwin. Josh, Justine’s brother, and his family moved in after we left. Sandy and I both felt a strong sense of belonging in that place, and sadness when we left. It is somewhat surprising how much of an emotional connection is made with inanimate objects. We are aware that our home contributed to our great time in Darwin when living there – spacious, quiet, tall trees, lots of garden, open and bright, and welcoming. It certainly got us thinking of a return one day…

So, Monday came, we packed our gear and said our farewells to the JJJZ crew at Darwin airport. I thought I had been diligent in removing all of the things now banned from plane-travel, such as my pocket knife, Leatherman (thanks NJLJ!) and small screwdriver, but the security going in to the airport discovered the scissors in my first aid kit I’d forgotten, and a small shifting spanner. Then, customs grabbed our water bottles, found my tweezers in the first aid kit, and made us put our lip-balm and lipstick in a plastic bag, which to me was not only odd but not necessarily all that secure. Not sure what they thought I’d get up to – maybe removing splinters I’d got in my attempt to dismantle the plane from the inside while dressed in drag…

And so, Singapore – here we come!

* Our term, but be sure to book early!

NB – more photos to come when we are reunited with the rest of our gear and we can upload them to our computer





  Hilary wrote @

i’m holding my breath for the welfare of the contents of your vehicle sailing off without you in the company and care of a crowd of seafaring characters. please reassure with a post-voyage inventory.

impressive turnout for your training day, danny. step aside billy graham! how gratifying, if somewhat overwhelming. any more gigs booked in more exotic places?

  Judy Colson wrote @

I am a friend of David Taylor and am a Travel Agent. David told me, rightly so, that I would be very interested in your “Journey of a Lifetime”. I find your writing to be terribly interesting and gripping. It’s a shame you have not had a film crew follow you – imagine the royalties that you would receive if the film was sold worlwide!
I will continue to track your progress. My brother and sister-in-law lived in Darwin for many years and are now in Townsville. I visited them in Darwin one time and it is indeed an “individual” type of city. Quite different to anything else in Australia.
You are a very brave, adventurous family and I hope your children are old enough to remember all these wonderful adventures!

  Wally Jablonka wrote @

Hi Danny Sandy Maddy and Rafi I missed you in Darwin I would have loved to see your truck.I have just read your blog and I am missing JJJZ already. I will follow your trip and make comments. Enjoy Wally.

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