Sophie Cunningham
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Wednesday 22 April, 2009

The Great Northern Territory Adventure

Last month I went to the Northern Territory for 12 days to teach a series of writing workshops for the Northern Territory Writers Centre. It's always hard to know what people get out of these things but personally, I've never got more out of a short period of travel or teaching. And that wasn't just because of the adrenalin rush of passing road trains at 130 kilometres per hour - though there is no doubt that was pretty darn exciting. Passing a road train - 2

I arrived in Darwin about midnight on Friday March 6. The heat was dense and wet. It was hard to believe I was still in Australia - and all that tropical greenery was very shocking to Melbourne eyes. Darwin is wild town - though not, by all accounts, as wild as it was pre-Cyclone. Almost all the white people there have chosen to go up for one lifestyle reason or another and their career paths were serpentine. One of the first things that struck me was how people didn't live their lives in as abstracted a fashion as I feel we do in Melbourne. Everyone (well, you know, almost everyone) was working in indigenous communities, or making art or taking up some kind of extreme sport. People seemed to throw themselves into life at the deep end and hope they ended up swimming.

I taught a Travel Workshop at nine the next morning in the parliament house library. Was struck by how many stories involved details stories of the perils of tires blowing and then being stuck, literally, hundreds of miles from nowhere. One guy wrote about the fact that now that petrol stations are all chains like BP, rather than local businesses, they no longer keep tires. Instead you have to call a tire company that drives a tire out to you at exorbitant expense. Economic irrationalism at work.There was lots of talk of bulldust, that fine dust that lifts, like a mini dust storm, obscuring all vision - I'd never known where that saying had come from before.

I was struck by the fact that the travels written about were local (well, if you can describe as traveling thousands of k's across the Top End as local) and the focus was on landscape and place. More anecdotally alot of the people I spoke to spend time in Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia. Australia's relation ship with Asia is no abstract thing when it's so much quicker to go north than come down south.

That night I read at Off The Page at the Groove cafe in Nightcliff. After the headline act, the winner of the Northern Territory Book of the year award, Andrew McMillan, author of 'An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land'. The place was packed to the gills and had an enormous amount if energy. More than me in fact - after 4 hours I was done, but the night went on a lot longer with lots of people taking part in a very energetic open-mic event.

Darwin had well and truly wrung me dry. I collapsed in a heap and prepared to begin my 1500 km drive to Alice Springs. The first stop was Katherine, where I was speaking at the International Women's day afternoon tea. We stopped to swim at Edith Falls . Waterfallbut it was the tail end of the wet season and a couple of crocs had found their way into Katherine Gorge a few days earlier rendering one of the world's more beautiful swimming holes un-swimmable. I don't know if there is a word for the insatiable desire to swim and that desire being unrequited, but there should be. It wouldn't be until I got to Bitter Springs a few days later that I got to leap into (not so deep) water myself. Bitter Springs

It's late: I'll blog on Katherine tomorrow.

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