Sunday, June 21st 1987 (4pm)
The youth hostel at Darwin was 12km out of the town centre. It was in a former remand centre and it wasn’t too well disguised as a hostel. I was offered a car share heading to the Kakadu National Park the next day but I decided I wanted a bit of a rest before heading off again. I opened a can of beef stew and heated it for dinner. I read some more of “We of the never never” and caught an early night.
Monday, June 22nd 1987
It was certainly tropical in Darwin. It was over 30 degrees and seemed a world away from the cold damp Melbourne that I had left just 3 weeks ago. I listened to the “John Laws” show on the radio and had a chat with a prospective English teacher from Essex before eventually venturing out on the bus.
Darwin is a spread-out city but it does have a central core. I headed there and after quite a long jounrey the bus drew up at the Smith Street Mall.
After spending the last 3 weeks mainly on the road I was impressed with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Darwin. I wandered up and down the mall and chose a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The lady serving was so glad she had persuaded me to have the $4.50 beef and black been with rice special rather than the $3 one that she forgot to charge me.
I decided to go and have a look at the Casurina Nudist Beach but I got on the wrong bus and ended up at the Casurina Shopping Centre instead. I jumped on another but ended up back in the centre of Darwin. The bus schedule was a closely guarded secret and asking the almost universally unfriendly bus drivers seemed pointless too.
I got on another bus for the Museum at Famie Bay but the driver forgot to call the stop and I ended up at the terminus. I gave up and headed back to the centre again and from there on a bus back to the hostel. When I got back the warden explained that part of the problem with the bus service was the disgruntled drivers. They were planning a strike for later in the week.
In the evening I sat in the bed reading whilst the RAAF conducted operation “pitch black” outside. Jets screamed backwards and forwards across the night sky as the city came under simulated attack from pretend Indonesians. It is “orange land” trying to invade “blue land” they said on the TV. Perhaps the Indonesians could run a better bus service I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
Tuesday, June 23rd 1987
I got my first ride out towards Kakadu (200km east) with a guy staying in the Youth Hostel. I was lucky; he was heading out in his hire car somewhere else, but he was able to drop me 40km closer.
Better still I was now on the Arnhem Highway heading towards the park. After 30 minutes a truck driver stopped and I spent the next 80km in the cab of an old Mack. The elderly toothless driver was delivering sand from Darwin to somewhere to the east. He didn’t talk much but he waved at every single vehicle going the other way. He alternated between smoking cigarettes and swigging Coke from about 3 successive cans. He dropped me at Mary River.
There was a pub there and a sign. It said “This is it!, Good Day”. There were also some genuine buffalo hunters gathering in the pub car park. I chatted with them but they weren’t heading in my direction.
After 20 minutes I got a lift all the way to Jabiru. It was in a Chrysler Station wagon with an American lad, two Aussies and 2 mongrel dogs. They were really good fun and we stopped and had a chiko roll together. They were heading to Ibbiri, but just before Jabiru they had a problem with the wheel and stopped to mend it.
I offered to help but they didn’t need me, so I walked to the Ibbiri turn off to see if I could steal a march on them. It was about 3pm by then and I waited no longer than 10 minutes at the turn off.
The lift that I got up that 40km dirt track to Ibbiri was amongst the best I have ever had. It was an Italian guy driving a Holden hire car with his Spanish girlfriend as the passenger. In the back was an aborigine police warden who was showing them both around. He knew an awful lot about Kakadu and he shared it all with us.
When we arrived at Cahills Crossing he explained how he had to retrieve the body of a crocodile victim there. We were introduced to Kakadu Man- “Bill” and a couple of the other rangers. He even took us to see some of the cave paintings that he told us most people don’t get to see.
They dropped me at the camp site at Ibirri Rock and I pitched my sleeping bag in the undergrowth. I figured that I had not had any problems sleeping outside so far, so I would be fine. In a more tropical setting that turned out to be completely wrong of course. The mosquitoes wouldn’t leave me alone and they attacked me the whole night. I only got a few bites before I decided that staying awake and swatting them was the better course of action.
Wednesday, 24th June 1987
After a cold shower I hiked up to Ibirri Rock, the scene of the rock in Crocodille Dundee, and finally fell asleep on the top of the rock just as the sun was rising. Eventually I woke to a beautiful view of the surrounding swamplands. After looking at a few more cave paintings, I hiked back to the crossing for a breakfast of a violet crumble chocolate bar.
Feeling refreshed, I walked up the road and saw another hitcher. He introduced himself as Jandrau, an Italian Swiss from near Lugano. For the next 4 hours we hitched together down to Yellow Water. We got lifts from an Irish Supermarket Salesman, an expatriate from Manchester and a retired Australian couple who were doing a round-the–country tour in a camper van.
We decided to do the 4:30pm Yellow Water cruise and we waited with a few Victoria Bitters. The boat cruise was excellent, 3 crocodilles and a beautiful sunset. There was some excellent bird life but the English tour guide was a bit over the top.
Dinner was a fry it yourself smorgasbord of mixed grill on the BBQ with a lot of salad to accompany it.
As darkness fell, I began to fear the mosquitos again. Jandrau took pity on me and allowed me to share his 3 man tent. The motel told us not to pitch the tent anywhere near their grounds so we went to the Cooinder airstrip and pitched it on the perimeter. I slept remarkably well, not surprising as I was missing a whole night from the night before. The mosquitoes couldn’t get me in the tent.
Thursday, 25th June 1987
We took it in turns to watch out for the motel people as we crept inside and had a shower in their shower rooms. Once showered and presentable, we headed to their breakfast room and ordered coffee and toast.
After Breakfast I said goodbye to Jaundrau (he was heading to Pine Hill) and started out on the road to Cooinda. I put my thumb out at 8am and was picked up at 8:10am by 3 guys heading for Noulangie. They dropped me at 8:25 and I was almost immediately picked up again by a trainee ranger. He took me to Jabiru and chatted with me the whole time telling me stories about the cave paintings.
He dropped me at Jabiru at 9:00am and I waited less than five minutes again until two Darwinites in a Toyota Land cruiser picked me up. They didn’t talk much but we were back in Darwin at 11:40. My best hitching ever, I couldn’t have made it any quicker driving myself.
I spent most of the afternoon swimming in the hostel pool and chatting with a girl from Oldham. In the evening I got a lift into town and purchased a 126 dollar coach ticket to Cairns leaving on the Saturday.
Whilst I was in town the miserable local bus drivers finally called their lightning strike and walked out of work. I was stranded 16km from the hostel. I wandered around wondering how to hitch back, but luckily I met up with 3 other hostellers and we managed to get a taxi. We were lucky as taxis were in short supply.
Thursday evening was spent having a few drinks in the ROAB club.
Friday, 26th June 1987
I spent most of Friday in the swimming pool at the hostel. This time talking to a girl from Scotland who had finished her Australian adventure and was now heading the short hop over to Bali in Indonesia.
When the buses started running again in the afternoon I ventured in to the town. I had a last look around and bought some provisions for my long coach trip to Queensland.