Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. -Maya Angelou

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Top End

Lovely Loquacious Lorikeets ..........it just rolls off the tongue.
My love affair with the Northern Territory started in Katherine our first stop in the Top End. A long hot and dusty journey from Kununurra took us through some spectacular escarpments and across the Victoria River. Termite mounds as large as dinosaur droppings covered the landscape. Not so far fetched as you might think. This whole area from Broome to Kununnura was once an vast inland sea and the first fossils of invertebrates that copulated and gave birth to live young as apposed to spawning have been found here. Another piece of useless trivia for you but the scientists get excited about the fact that this is one of the first places on earth that we got down to some serious nookie. The temperature has been climbing steadily and I am slowly becoming dessicated in the Australian heat . I have developed an obsession with water and all I think of is the prospect of a swim,even if it means Katherine's warm thermal springs.  There is only one way to rehydrate this mermaid and that is total immersion. We set up camp on some grass, a welcome relief after all the dust bowl camping of the last few weeks,and  in the shade of some tall red gums.  A crowd of candy coloured lorikeets like flying Smarties joined us to take advantage of a sprinkler and were soon squabbling over who got to bathe first.
Rare sighting of African Bushducks at thermal springs

 The true blessing of our stay turned out to be a pair of welcoming Welsh neighbours who set up camp next to us. Some people you feel you have known all your life even if you have just met. Chris and Terry O' Laughlin from Melbourne,were that rare breed. Their love of South Africa where they had spent many years endeared us to them and we had many happy hours around our respective tables reminiscing and  exchanging stories, in the company of delicious food and fine wine.

Katherine Gorge
Nitmiluk (Cicada Dreaming) is the aboriginal name for Katherine Gorge which winds along for twelve kilometers.We spent a couple of nights in this spectacular park and took a cruise up the first two of thirteen gorges with sheer rock faces seventy metres high. Bolung-the Rainbow Serpent is said to inhabit the deep water in the second gorge where in the wet season huge whirlpools form and  suck everything into their depths. Maybe that  is why the local Jawoyn people fear the place and wont fish or enter the water at this point. I found it a peaceful and tranquil place. Hundreds of little Fairy Martins build their bottle shaped nests under the overhanging ledges and the silence is palpable. A cute wallaby visited every night for some tucker. I wish I could have taken him on board.
I was excited as we drove into Darwin. I had read so much about the city, the bombings in the second world war by the Japanese and the total devastation by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.  It is a colourful, tropical, laid back city with a real sense of place which is definitely more Asian than Australian. Beautiful colonial buildings with wide verandas and palms and  frangipani trees line the streets.Its a haven for backpackers with cheap accommodation and  endless watering holes.The street markets lure you with the tantalizing aromas of food from Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. I tasted my first "crispy fried duck egg" a hard boiled egg coated in a spicy anise batter and deep fried, stuffed chicken wings,(surely life is too short to stuff a chicken wing?!) spring rolls the size of my little finger filled with aromatic pork and a sweet coconut Cambodian rice cake steamed in small baskets.Half the time I didn't know or care what I was eating, it all tasted delicious.But I drew the line at Roo........anything that says "Outback" on the menu features Roo or Croc. Not for me and besides I have an ongoing  love affair with  Roos of all kinds..........it would be as terrible as eating dog!
At the Darwin museum you can view an exhibit of Cyclone Tracy. You wander through furnished rooms filled with memorabilia of northern territory life in 1974. Radios play the weather broadcast, but no mention of the impending disaster.Finally a door shuts behind you and in a pitch black room you discover first hand how terrible the sound of it was from actual recordings taken at its height on Christmas day. You emerge to unbelievable photos of the total devastation of a flattened city.The sheer scale of the disaster is mind boggling.But true to form there are the Aussies with their indomitable optimism waving merrily from the ruins with placards "No worries mate" !
By the end of the week the humidity was soaring and a pall of smoke hung over the city,bush fires were raging and a total fire ban was in effect. It felt time to leave, you couldn't even escape the heat with a swim because of the danger of the deadly box jellyfish at this time of the year. We celebrated Tommy's 37th birthday on Mindil Beach watching the sun set over the Timor Sea,eating fresh mango and satay prawns on a stick. A Japanese Didgeridoo player moaned at the moon and we knew we were on our way down........down to the red center of Oz and another lovely lady, a town called Alice.

Sunset at Mindil Beach

Soul Food Kitchen

We had so many exotic gastronomic delights in Darwin its proving difficult to choose a recipe for the Soul Kitchen but perhaps this will tickle your taste buds. This is an authentic Aussie recipe "hearty tucker" probably went down well after the Cyclone........

Burdekin Ducks  (fancy name for corned beef fritters!)

1 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 cups diced corned beef
2 cups assorted diced veggies,(corn, potato, pumpkin,peas or any left over cooked veg)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons vegetable oil.

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together Add eggs beaten with milk. Stir in meat, veggies and melted butter. Fry in large spoonfuls in hot oil turning once and cook until golden brown. Serve warm, but they are great cold. Tomato sauce is an ideal accompaniment. Best drunk with a bottle of ice cold beer.........Enjoy!

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