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Darwin is a survivor, you have to give it that. Razed to the ground four times in its short history, it has picked itself up out of the debris to not only rebuild but grow. Darwin has known catastrophes and resurrections; it has endured misconceived projects and birthed visionaries. To know Darwin, to know its soul, you have to listen to it, soak in it, taste it.
This is a book about the textures, colours, sounds and frontier stories of Darwin, Australia's smallest and least-known capital city.
It is a place that has to be felt to be known. Readers will sense the heat, the birds, the frogs, the mosquitoes, the architecture and the logistical infrastructure that keep the moon-base that is Darwin alive. They will learn the glory of swimming amongst pandanus fronds dipping into fresh tropical waters, take in the snaking wetland topography from a bird's eye view, and learn about the swamps and mangroves from the perspective of ancient tidal powers and the entomologists charged with keeping the mosquito populations down. They will also meet some colourful local characters, the type that lend Darwin its vitality.
It starts with the screech of a roof being peeled aloft and the sudden vista of torn sky, savage rain and missile ribbons of corrugated iron hurtling above my little girl head. It is this, the uncanny howl of shredding worlds, which most people remember about Cyclone Tracy.
The book ends with a different kind of roar: that of military aircraft taking off for aerial combat drills, revealing Darwin's lesser-known identity as a garrison town in sleeper guise; as a node in America's global military arsenal. Ancient and modern, racist and tolerant, this is Darwin, the place of fundamental things.
The main purpose of this book is to give Australian and other readers an unflinching sense of the geo-strategic significance of Darwin and what it is founded on, without losing the whimsy and beauty that so deeply attracts and binds the loyalty of its residents.
A new postscript suggests how Darwin might deliver lessons for living under the climatically assaulting and culturally uncomfortable times of the Anthropocene.
If Darwin is a sentinel city, then this is a sentinel book.
'...great insight and vivid descriptions.' - Margaret Smith, The Canberra Times
'Tess Lea's book on her home town...delves into the fabric, colours, history, geography and lifestyles of this "frontier" town with great insight and vivid descriptions.' - Margaret Smith, The Sydney Morning Herald