Wings and winds

When we step out on to the balcony of our apartment early in the morning it feels like the middle of a hot summer’s day. It is like an oven inside and we know we will need to seek airconditioned sights to visit today.

Near the end of the Stokes Hill Wharf is the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility. We’d visited the RFDS Experience in Dubbo back in January, but the Darwin version combines it with multimedia displays about the bombing of Darwin.

After a short flashing light and computer generated graphic video of the bombing, we are let into the theatre to watch a video about the creator of the RFDS, the Reverend John Flynn, with a shouty actor standing in for him. Another, much more interesting, video about the commanding officer of the flying boat tender USS William B Preston, Rear Admiral Etheridge Grant follows, describing the actions of the ship leading up to the attack.

There are some further static information about the bombing and about the Qantas flying boat Camilla, along with more video displays and models. Much of the bombing information we skim over after the detail of the Military Museum a few days ago.

While the Dubbo base had the King Air, at Darwin they feature the single engine Pilatus PC-12. We climb aboard the decommissioned aircraft on static display, and sit in the passenger and pilot seats, something you can’t do in the actual aircraft at Dubbo.

There are VR headsets where we watch videos of a nurse and patient in flight and from the pilots perspective flying over Central Australian landmarks. These are really good, although watching the aircraft bump around at times is not reassuring.

A separate VR section takes the wearer around the wharf area during the bombing. It makes us feel a bit motion sick.

Overall, I feel the Dubbo experience to be better for getting a sense for the important work that the RFDS and visiting Darwin was a bit redundant.

We head back into the centre of Darwin to have lunch at Sari Rasa, an Indonesian restaurant, choosing from a selection of curries and other dishes. This is the Real Thing, probably the best food we’ve had so far in Darwin.

After a short wander along the scorching streets of the city, we head for the relief of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. There are some beautiful Indigenous art and cultural pieces and some interesting fossil and taxidermy displays as well, including yesterday’s jacana chicks and huge box jellyfish. Of most interest was the Cyclone Tracy section with artefacts, photographs, video displays and audio clips describing the devastation wrought by the cyclone on Christmas Day 1974, the second time the city was virtually destroyed.

When we emerge from the museum the weather has changed and big grey clouds spit rain, cooling the air. We drive past the old Qantas Hanger, decide that the automotive displays are not for us and, despite the occasional drop and, in part, because of it, proceed to the nearby George Brown Botanic Gardens. These lovely, lush gardens feature walks through tropical forests and past sculptures, offering shady green relief for the eyes.

The rain stays away.

Now the day is cooler we want to enjoy the outdoors further, driving onwards to Nightcliff Jetty. A couple of food vans are parked nearby and Alex orders an ice cream roll. Then we take a stroll along the jetty, feeling the breeze and admiring the huge cumulus clouds far offshore.

We continue on to the Casuarina Coastal Reserve, walking on a track between fields of tall spear grass reeds waving in the breeze. On the lonely beach there is time to listen to the wind and the waves and gaze out at the early evening sun painting the edges of the clouds with gold. 

As I stare at the cloudbank I am reminded of the tropics, of other beaches and of flying high above them in the late day. And I wonder, what do I actually want to do? Do I still like the flying or now is it just the destination. What do I dream of? Is it eating a meal by the beach and watching the storms, or is it more? I do not know.

On the way back we stop at Cullens Bay and seek out Cathy’s Place for some mudcrab. It looks right, has the right atmosphere, sitting on the edge of the luxury marina. Cathy, a brusque Cantonese speaker, comes out several times to feed bread to the family of ducks below, along with many types of big hungry fish. The Singapore Chilli sauce isn’t quite right, but the crab itself makes the mess very worth it. It is a treat, for eating was a large part of our purpose for visiting Darwin.