Clinging to the ragged northern edge of the Australian continent lies Darwin. Darwin struggles to exist, and will in the cosmic scheme of things disappear long before its distant Australian siblings Sydney and Melbourne. The natural ecology and meteorology is silently spiteful of Darwin’s very existence. It is as if Darwin is grit in Mother Nature’s eye, an expression of human arrogance that must be washed out. The sun pounds and bleaches, the rain pressure-cleans and scrubs, the occasional cyclone blows in terrifying fury. In the meantime Darwin’s greenery finds ingenious little ways to invade and foul up anything and everything of basic value to civilisation: water supplies, sewerage, footpaths and roads are all victims of the clutching, burrowing plants.If humans were to turn their backs on Darwin, it would very shortly cease to be. Flooded, bleached, blown down and broken up, it would be swallowed by a green explosion in a few short years. There are few cities that more perfectly sum up the western condition: a defiant nature bullied by imperious mankind. But for all the tooth-and-nailry, there are still fewer cities quite as relaxed about their fate.
It is easy to fall in love with Darwin; even easier wax rhapsodic. I have truly, deeply and completely loved this city ever since I saw Sydney. I have described Darwin as a woman I would gladly give my life to, as an idle daydream of green and calm, grey skies and furious thunderbolts.
This is what Nicholas Rothwell wanted to do. But instead of writing about Darwin, he wrote about Developers. Instead of telling you about the laid back but hardworking people, he told you that some few ruined it for themselves. Instead of speaking of her beautiful harbour, her endless ancient hinterland, her proximity to Asia or her beautiful and inspiring extremes of climate, he droned on and on about trinkets and tin sheds.
As a place, Darwin is the doorway to Asia and the capital of a landscape older than multicellular life. The influences of our North move effortlessly through Darwin’s society. Not much comment is made of it. Not much needs to be made. This is not a city where, because we are so insulated and divided, we must make great show of unity and tolerance. It simply is so.
To our south lie rocks strewn about a beautiful, yet laidback landscape – the marbles of a six year old god. Once these were mountains so high that they tore the sky into fluttering blue ribbons. Today they the are naked ribs of an Earth so old that the life and death of all things is of the lightest, most delicate ticklish touch.
As a people, Darwin is home to an army of people who came for a week and who stayed a lifetime. My parents were here for a brief contract, yet my sister and I were born and raised here. My father’s old business partner was an affable yank who’d stopped to resupply for 3 days and stayed 30 years. My constitutional law professor started here in 1983 …
Her people are not harmonious. They argue. They sometimes say unkind things. But they do not really hate, or form little silos of solitude in this district or that. In Darwin is found striking beauty of the collision of all the peoples of Earth. So common is this magnificent mongrelisation that I never knew a word for it until I reached Sydney: “Eurasian”.
As an architecture, Darwin is the struggle of thousands of years of Western architecture and engineering to cope with millions of years of sun and rain. It is no lie that concrete boxes are ill suited, but neither is colonial or “Troppo” housing some mystical alternative. Breezes are not the source of coolness for most of the day – shade is. As a Darwinite I instinctively cross roads and walk close to buildings in search of shade. Ken’s old Nightcliff elevated house is only really cool because it hides from the sun behind a green fortress.
This is more and more evident in her designs. Darwin’s high rises have ceased to be Southern monoliths. Today they are painted the colours of the Northern Territory and are given extensive shade of their own. They may be airconditioned, but only because what works for a house cannot work for a large office building. In their own right Darwin’s highrise buildings are evolving toward a truly tropical style of highrise development, blending shade, style and Darwin’s astonishingly beautiful harbour.
As a history, Darwin is anything but dry. Darwin is the first settlement which took hold in the far North, where others fell to disease, despair and ruin. In her day she was home to more Chinese than Europeans. She saw the Darwin rebellion – an Administrator, Government Secretary and Chief Magistrate bundled into a ship while the city was ruled over by a megalomaniacal union chief. She bore the brunt of war on our own shores, which forever changed her destiny from forgotten step daughter of Empire into the shining star in the Northern firmament.
I love this city. I will always love this city. Rothwell has completely misunderstood this town. It was never a arbitrary set of buildings, or a bunch of whinging snobs, or a particular this or that. It is a city all its own, a world away from this world. A beautiful place to be, even in her most mundane of days. So fare thee well, Rothwell. We shan’t miss you.