Friday, March 07, 2008

The Top End survivial guide

Walk slowly and drink lots of beer.

That's the only way to survive in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, Australia's 'Top End' - or, as I now call it, little Africa.

I've just finished three days of hard yakka (work) up here, on a gruelling series of library talks, spruiking myself, Africa and my books, thanks to my very good friends at Darwin City Council, who invited me to the the wild north.

(Actually, I had to do three talks over two days, so it wasn't THAT gruelling).

Rising early (OK, 9-ish) on my first day in the tropics, I went for a run. In Sydney, even at that late hour, there are usually a few other silly people like me out for a jog. In Darwin, I seemed to be the only person moving at a pace beyond a snail's crawl.

Odd, I thought, until my body started melting. It was already well into the thirties and by the time I reached the end of Darwin's scenically agreeable wharf I was about to die. If it had been Sydney Harbour below me I would have simply dived in.

Reinforcing my last post on the enforcement of laws (or lack thereof) in the NT, I was pleased to note that there were absolutely no safety railings along the length of the wharf, so I could have dived in at any point. However....

This is the Northern Territory, not Sydney. A dip in the water up here is not something to be undertaken lightly. Every day (or so it seems) the local newspaper, the NT News, publishes a new and scarier story about yet another crocodile attack and/or victim.

The day I arrived the headline was "Croc attack survivor killed by snake" - which I suppose is a Top End reporter's version of 'man bites dog', but the next day even the locals (who, I gather, are a bit jaded about the number of reptile stories in their local newspaper) were amazed to see the picture of a croc leaping out of the water in pursuit of a very scared-looking fisherman.

Had it not been for the world-beating photograph, and a rather interesting story about the discovery of the body of a man (minus his neatly severed genitals) in a car, then the story on me, "Big Thriller as Author Hits Town" may have been moved up from page nine (not that I was complaining, mind you, as it was a very nice story).

Anyway, after my near-death exercise experience I recovered, with the help of a passing paramedic and an ice bath in the local hosptial, and eventually summoned the strength for a short walk around town.

Darwin has changed quite a bit since the early 80s, when I first visited, though I was pleased to see some historic landmarks, such as the 'Old Vic' hotel in the mall, and the Diamond Beach Casino (where Svenno and I once, famously, lost everything in our possession on an Army trip - an experience that cured me forever since of gambling) still standing.

Surprising, though, were the number of multi storeyed buildings. I had trouble recalling anything higher than about two floors in the old days (but this could have been because I spent more than a little time face-up in the gutter). But here in the new Darwin were blocks of units; imposing government buildings; and the very agreeable Crowne Plaza Hotel, where yours truly spent many an airconditioned hour on the 20th floor.

My library talks were fun. I spoke at lunch time at Darwin City Library, to a crowd of about 30 people who laughed at the appropriate places in my speech and didn't fall asleep. For this, I was most grateful.

In the evening, I spoke at Casuarina Library, where the feature-wall-sized promotion of me and my books, and the offer of free booze and nibblies both contributed to the presence of 50-plus people!!!! So many people, in fact, Legion of Fans, that extra chairs had to be found.

My very good friends Karen and Barb from Darwin City Libraries organised these talks and my other new good friends Tony and Anna, from Angus and Robertson, sold more than a few books.

I'm pleased they made a few sales, as they were forced to sit through all of my talks, including my repetitive tale (it's quite a good one, even if I do say so myself - and very self-deprectating) of how an A & R sales girl once pooh-poohed my book, Safari, in front of me and a prospective reader, while trying to convince said customer to buy a copy of Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. That incident ended well - the customer bought my book, instead, and the sales lady retreated in shame - and my good friends at Pan Macmillan later gave me a copy of Shantaram, a weighty tome which I put to good use in Africa last year as a stand for my high lift jack when I got bogged.

But back to Darwin.

Talk three was at Palmerston City Library - quite possibly the most impressive, modern biblioteque I have ever seen. When I first visited Darwin there was no Palmerston Library - in fact there wasn't even a Palmerston. The crowd here was more 'intimate' shall we say, but it was actually a fun gathering, not least of all because the people who showed up had all read my books, so we had heaps to talk about (and there was more free grog).

I spent quite a lot of time during the question-and-answer sessions at each talk answering queries about travelling in Africa - more than about my books, in fact. I was cool with this because I'll happily talk for 24 hours straight underwater about Africa. As a result of the interest I've deced to add some travel tips - a bit of a mini safari guide - to my website, which is currently undergoing an extreme makeover.

After three very pleasant days I came to the conclusion (in fact, reinforced what I already knew) that I love Darwin, I love public libraries, I love air conditioning, and I love talking about myself.

Seriously, folks, to all who organised the trip and to everyone who took the time out of their day or evening to come and listen to me yabber on for half an hour, thank you. Thanks too, to Lois, a lovely lady who pestered the library people to invite me to Darwin. Lois and I are kindred spirits - we both like a bit of gunplay and killing early on in our books.

Top Enders, it was lovely meeting you all. Let's do it again some time (not the running bit, though).


Crookedpaw said...

One of the great losses for Darwin was the demise of Yankee Als in Stuart Park, now taken over by a Hi-Fi store.

What a strange pair of characters they were. Al himself, always sitting in an armchair like Buddha, invariably wearing just a singlet or - 90% of the time - shirtless. A wheezing, bloated Buddha, his open-heart surgery scar livid against the NT tan.

And then there was his sidekick, who always used to follow us around the aisles of junk, rather like a poor mans' Peter Lorre, only he had those really thick, solid-framed glasses that made him look like Mr. Magoo.

He had some intersting stuff, admittedly most of it crap, but he had a fantastic range of second-hand books.

I guess, because Darwin was much the frontier town in the early eighties, these characters and others like them (Cowboy Bill, Sailor, The Queen Mother)found a place where they fitted. I don't know that they would have survived anywhere else in Australia. They gave Darwin a uniqueness unmatched anywhere else.

redcap said...

I can never remember whether it's the NT Times or the Alice Springs paper (the name of which escapes me) that's known as the Two Minutes of Silence because that's all the time it takes to read. It's a bit like the paper in The Shipping News, isn't it? Instead of a car crash for the front page, you've got to have a killer croc.

ali g said...

Must be a family thing this lying face up in Darwin gutters .. albeit the other's was from coming off a motor scooter back in the 'sixties'.
Not many buildings then I am told. More like tents and hitching posts.
Great blog. Hospital ice baths are cool too. Had one once.

meggie said...

Enjoyed this post!
But...what were you thinking to try to run???