What Does Darwin Mean to You?

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It was a blessed childhood.

But the other special aspect of growing up in Darwin was the cultural diversity.

Culturally, we are Asian. And indigenous. And white European.

My closest friends were Italian, Portuguese Timorese, Aboriginal, Greek and of white European ancestry. Yet, we never thought about the color of our mates’ skin.

We were eating spicy Thai food years before it was trendy to eat in Hollywood. We had mangoes, pawpaw and sugar bananas in our backyard. I never paid for fish for the first 15 years of my life.

I think that there are the obvious geopolitical reasons for Darwin being such a strategic location for the United States to have a legitimate and “battle ready” base. We (the U.S.) have to have this place as our “friendly” in Southeast Asia.

But there are so many reasons why Darwin is special and unique.

I feel that much of what I experienced as a boy growing up there may be gone, or diminishing, as newer families “from south” make their homes in Darwin.

Australia is a complex country. With many of the issues that plague the United States. Racism, for example, I feel is still a heavy burden in our country.

And even though Darwin had always gotten a bad rap from Sydney and Melbourne for being a backwater and a bunch of rednecks, I feel that, when I was growing up at least, there was a harmonious relationship between all of these cultures and races that actually turned into deep-seated friendships — and I’m talking deep family relationships, bonds that are still going strong today.

And we are still unique in a cultural sense. One could go to the Parap Markets early Saturday morning and purchase a Thai soup from a Thai grandmother who barely speaks English. Then you could put your tinny in the water at Vesteys Beach midmorning and go fishing. Then you could go to a Greek wedding in the evening. And maybe even go watch the all-Aboriginal team play Aussie rules football early Sunday morning.

Or you could jump in your Toyota with your Thai soup and awesome cappuccino and head to Kakadu National Park — there’s no cell service once you get out of town — and swim in some of the world’s most magnificent waterfalls and waterholes. In one of THE MOST spiritually and culturally significant places in the indigenous world. … It’s mind blowing. And somehow it ALL works.

Now, Darwin is also home to many locally grown “multimillionaires.” Most of them come from hard-working blue-collar backgrounds. Yet, in their circle of mates there could be a lawyer, a roofer, an accountant and a painter — one white, one Italian, one Greek and one Aboriginal, and all with varying degrees of financial well-being, and they are ALL equal mates!

This email was written to you sitting in my car, watching my kid’s soccer practice as I look at the Hollywood sign. … And I’m sitting here dreaming of my simple little Darwin life.

Could my dreams of traveling the world and working at the zenith of TV production have come true if I was born in a “privileged” city like Sydney?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I thank God, Buddha — and all of the Ancestor spirits that have ever touched my soul when I’ve been blessed to be on Aboriginal Land (all of Australia) — that I was fortunate enough to call that “Larrakia Land” my own country. And with every ounce of my soul, I still miss and relish the people, the ancestors and the PLACE of Darwin that still is MY HOME.

Not to mention THE BEST sunsets on planet Earth.

— Graham Steele

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‘Connected’

In the cliffs that mark the edge of the Larrakeyah Barracks, my brother and I were hiding in a World War II air bunker dug into the sandstone. Rocks were raining down on the corrugated iron roof. Each time there was a direct hit, the cloud of dust inside would grow thicker.

We were at war (with some other army brat kids). I looked out across what is now Cullen Bay Marina and imagined that there were Japanese bombers approaching on the horizon — would the bunker protect me? Sometimes, I would ride my pushbike to the end of the road and search for bullet casings in old gun turrets. Or I would face off against goannas as big as I was in the field.

The smells that wafted through the Mindil Beach Markets on a Thursday night were enchanting and the spring rolls were incredible. I tasted laksa for the first time. We lived in Canberra before, and this was different. The rain was warm and the drops were big. It was so hot! But we played anyway. There were Aboriginal people in the town and kids from Asia in my school. Darwin felt connected in a way that many other places in this big and isolated country don’t. And it still does.

— James Perkins

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‘An Asian Nation’

Darwin is ahead of its time in its embrace of Australia as an Asian nation, the market culture and gastronomic fluency of its residents are textbook lessons in multiculturalism and its benefits. Darwin is wild, its inhabitants bond over their survivor mentality, shaped by the harsh environmental conditions with a smattering of geopolitical misfortune.

When people find out I moved from Paris to Darwin they give me some funny looks, but in reality, it has been the perfect place to thaw out from my protracted European winter, and to finally get my hands on decent Asian food again.

— Jill Pope

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‘Another World’

Darwin is another world within the disjointed universe of “Australia.” It isn’t Australia in its most concentrated form. No place is. In terms of a definable “thing,” there is no Australia beyond its location on the planet.

Australia does not have the same overarching cultural construct of a country born of revolution, of a Constitution born of great debate by founding fathers, of a Bill of Rights (Australia has none), of “land of the free and home of the brave” mythology. It can be hard for a foreign correspondent to grasp the depth of the significance this has at first blush.

— Stephen Lloyd Helper

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