North to Darwin

Tuesday, June 16th 1987

I decided to create a sign to hitch with. I got some cardboard from one of the boxes at the hostel and obtained a marker pen. I was just finishing the second “N” on Tenant Creek when Phillip came running up to me. He was in a much better mood. He had met some people at breakfast and had already secured a lift for us both.

The lift was in an old Holden Kingswood owned by a Danish married couple. Tony and Claudia were in their late-twenties and from just outside Copenhagen. They had bought the car to tour the country for a couple of months and intended to sell it again when they were done.

The journey began at 11am. The Danes were a really nice couple and we all got on really well. Sitting in the comfy rear seats of the Kingswood with Phillip was absolute luxury compared with bouncing around in the back of the Ute.

As we went north the scenery got greener, the weather got hotter and the termite mounds got bigger.   We passed about 30 road trains coming in the opposite direction. These large 3–trailer-articulated trucks created a load of dust and turbulence as they went past.

We made Tenant Creek, 500km north of Alice by 5pm and we all checked into the Youth Hostel. It was a long-narrow building occupied, strangely enough, by workers from the local electricity board.

There wasn’t an awful lot to Tenant Creek. There were a lot of Aborigines though, one of the largest settlements I saw.


Phillip and I had a quick walk round and then returned for dinner. We grilled pork and ate it with bread whilst chatting with the Danes. They told us they had enjoyed the day with us and they were happy to take us both on towards Katherine with a stop at Matoranksa. We readily accepted and offered to pay some of the fuel costs. They declined.



Wednesday, June 17th 1987

We made an early start from Tenant Creek and we were soon making good progress on the 600km stretch to Matauranka. The trip from Alice Springs the day before had seemed like a transition from autumn back to spring. Now we were heading back into summer with the temperatures getting into the late 20’s.  We had an uneventful run and made Maturanka by 2pm.

Maturanka homestead was based around Mataurnka thermal springs. Tom and Claudia pitched their tent. I dived straight into a pool full of OAP’s who were obviously enjoying the thermal water for its reputed therapeutic powers. I spent an hour relaxing in the lagoon and then the rest of the time sunbathing. Phil and I had a few beers with a couple of barramundi fishermen and after using the Youth hostel facilities, we decided to sleep out in the open.

We got a couple of boxes of wine and lit a little camp fire close to where the Danes had put their tent. We were joined by Guy who was from Darwin and who was hitching south for a job interview. Claudia had a guitar and Guy was quite a good singer so we sat all round the fire singing and drinking. It was a really neat atmosphere almost like something out of a film. It was a warm night and eventually I climbed into my sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep.


Thursday, June 18th 1987

I woke up early again and went for a dip in the pool before breakfast. I had a bit of toast and coffee and then sunbathed again. It suddenly felt like summer again. The bougainvillea was in full bloom and everyone was in shorts and t-shirts.

We left Matauranka at noon. Tom had trouble starting off as the old 74′ Kingswood’s gears meshed and we had to un-jam them before we could proceed.   We eventually got moving though and then made a little stop to expect the homestead used in the film “We of the Never, Never”. Katherine was only 100km up the road and we were there by mid-afternoon. We went grocery shopping and said goodbye to Phil. We wished him luck in his job interview in Katherine and then the three of us headed off the 32km track down to a campsite at Katherine Gorge.

The campsite was in a delightfully scenic spot. Tom and Claudia pitched their tent and they told me they wanted to stay two nights. I told them I was in no hurry and had no objection. They seemed happy and I decided to give them some space. I agreed to meet them again on the Saturday morning for the journey on to Darwin.


I walked along the Katherine River for about 2 miles and then chased Kangaroos on the way back. I found a nice little spot to pitch my sleeping bag in the open air and sat by myself reading the copy of “We of the Never, Never” I had picked up in Katherine.


Friday, June 19th 1987

I had an absolutely fantastic bush walk by myself. I left about 8am and returned about 6pm. It was strenuous but rewarding. I saw no-one the whole walk. I walked up the escarpment at Lily Pond then down through the rain forest to Butterfly Gorge. I got a beautiful view of the third and fourth gorges there. After a sandwich for lunch, I walked up Windolf and had a superb view of the first and second gorges.


The final stretch of the walk was on a narrow trail through thick bush. I suddenly realised I was being followed by a large emu. It was quite scary as he was obviously stalking me. Every time I stopped he would stop. If I ran he would run. I am sure his intentions were honourable, but it was a bit disconcerting. Eventually I dived sideways into the bush like a lunatic and watched him flash past.

I wandered up to the main campsite and had a brief chat with an American girl, a legal aid lawyer from New York, and then returned to spend the evening in the same spot as the previous night.



Saturday, June 20th 1987

I met up again with Tom and Claudia. I told them about my walk and they told me about a canoe trip they had made. We pottered around, left about noon and we got to Adelaide River by 3:30pm. There was a “Horse Weekend” event on and we stayed to watch the last two horse races of the afternoon.



After a shower at the campsite we returned in our best clothes to the Bushman’s Dance. To be honest, it wasn’t really much, just a third rate-disco. I had a surprisingly comfortable night on the floor of the campsite washroom.


Sunday, June 21st 1987

We returned to the Horse Weekend event after breakfast. We watched a horseman showing his skills off guiding a steer through a series of flags. It got a little tedious after a while and I visited the prize tent. There I inspected the array of prize winning produce and tasted a little bit of the best of the home made damper. There were children’s stamp collections to look at as well. I was relieved when Tom and Claudia finally decided they had had enough at 1pm.

We called in at a crocodile farm on the way into Darwin. It was home to 5000 crocodiles . They had examples of both of the main Australian species; the comparatively friendly freshies and the tourist-killing “salties”. We arrived at feeding time and were able to watch the “salties”, some up to 5m in length, chomp on recently killed chickens. It was quite amazing to see the jaws crunch down. Apparently they can put about five and a half tons of pressure onto the victim.


After we were done with the crocodile farm, Tom and Claudia dropped me at Darwin Youth Hostel, said goodbye and headed off for a few days of nude sunbathing on Cassurina beach.

Melbourne to Darwin map from diary


Darwin and Kakadu