About Richard
The Journey
World Friends

< previous report | next report >

Report: #14
Date: November 18, 1999
Subject: Darwinian Interlude
Location: Darwin, Australia

Dear Friends,

On with the fun boys and girls;

Now there's a big chunk of lovely Indonesia missing between this report and my previous one. But if you really want to know in detail how I was kept busy side-tracking to a Balinese 70-body mass cremation, side-stepping Komodo Dragons, and side-splitting with laughter with hospitable, humourous folk of Flores, perhaps you'll have to wait for the book, the movie. Or maybe you could telephone me if you ever find out my telephone number.

In the mean time it's time for a new country, a new continent and almost a new ......errr.....millenium?? But maybe that's at the end of 2000, technically. New YEAR is a safe enough term. I just hope the millenium bug buzzes right on by you all (except for those of you who might possibly make money out of it) and that peace and prosperity will rain on you in abundance at that time and beyond.

This moment finds me in a town named after the man whose name is synonymous with the theory of evolution of species. Though I heard it was just someone else's work he made famous. Fraudulent or not, the name of this town is still Darwin.

I've been here for over 3 weeks now!!! Not that I like the place incredibly (except the Woolworth's superstore.....well, the Tim Tam (chocolate biscuits) section to be precise). I'm doing my best to blame my latest) attack of inertia on a combination of culture shock; devastating foot rot; necessary unwinding after the year-long, 2-months-at-a-time race across Indonesia; waiting for a new passport, new vital plastic card and new bike-bits; and wading through 22 rolls of slide photos and sorting and grading them to a select few which, I hope will provide you guys with a few seconds of diversionary eye candy. Of the aforementioned excuses, I mean reasons, I suppose that the culture shock might be the only item of any possible intrigue; I'm English. This is Australia. [And the people just remarkably voted to maintain the Queen of England as their head of state!!!!] What possible culture difference can there be to shock me. And before any of you Aussie bashers pipe up with some smart comments about there being no living culture amongst Australians, I must say that that has nothing to do with it.

I had been in Asia for most of the last eight years. Eight years -ish being mostly in a minority, and often a minority of one, in terms of skin colour, language and activity. Eight years -ish balancing amidst the chaos that is Asia (except for Japan and Singapore, that is), adapting my tongue and ears to strange tones and utterances, and getting used to the barrage of yells, shouts and cheers of the people I pass. Perhaps I should call it reverse culture shock. Now I'm just a minnow in a shoal of a few million minnows. Part of the wallpaper so to speak. So I have to make some re-adjustments in the self-importance department. I hope that my ego didn't get too inflated when I was the big, white, bicycle man. But I can see there's readjustment necessary. And there's a kind of loneliness I need to tackle because people here don't notice me. Though rightly so.

They are warm and welcoming and friendly in the shops and along the clean streets and out in front of their neat gardens. But not to ME in particular. They don't know me from a local except when I open my mouth. And even then maybe not, because Darwin is very cosmopolitan in it's mix of accents from all corners of the Earth. It's good that that is their general way with strangers, but I'm still trying to figure out, with the cynical lobe of my brain, if their "Have a nice day" way is for real. Perhaps it's as conditioned a reflex as the "Hello Mister!!!" of Indonesia.

I have heard tourists complaining of disappointment over it being "too like America" here. But I've never been to the USA so I can't comment on that.

And I had a weird feeling that I can't exactly describe when I saw the white members of staff doing the menial cleaning jobs in my hostel. Actually, all the Australian staff are white. It's just that those jobs, like cleaning the toilet etc. are usually the domain of the uneducated or poor across a large part of Asia. I suppose I'd succumbed to some subconscious conditioning of my own.

Almost everywhere I went in mainland Asia, I was considered to be some kind of rich millionaire, even though I had holes in my gloves, shoes and shorts and was riding a bicycle. All white people were incontrovertibly and unfathomably rich in the eyes of the Asian masses. Perhaps some of that hype had rubbed off on me.

And I haven't seen any Kangaroos yet. But I suppose downtown Darwin is not where they congregate. I've only seen a sign warning of them on the road from the airport (where customs officials had kindly and fastidiously cleaned my bike-mudguards to make sure I wasn't transporting living or growing things into their country. Like foreign Kangaroos perhaps). But I have seen Possums.

As for encounters with Aboriginal people (who, I was told by an Aussie dorm-mate, get A$20,000 [US$10,000-ish] on their 18th birthday from the government, and then immediately blow it on fast cars, alcohol and more alcohol etc. Like most unrestrained 18year olds would) have been fairly limited and a bit saddening; a once proud race reduced to begging for a buck to buy booze (my presumption given the paint-stripper power of their breath on close approach). But I hear that their bodies can't break down alcohol well, so when they get drunk, they stay drunk for days, maybe a week!

The complexities of why many Aboriginals have become disadvantaged would take up endless volumes, of course, and would be open to equally endless arguments. But I hope for more hope in my planned 6 months or so in Aus.

My head is just about straight (in it's own warped way), my bicycle is straightened out and revitalized with shiny, smooth, new Shimano power transmission, and it just remains for me to leave the computer and launch myself out onto that notoriously straight-as-a-laser-beam highway. I'm not really worried by the tales of blistering, shade-less, desert heat; unwavering, high-speed road trains (that "take 4Km to stop and will run right over you if you don't get off the road!"); snakes; mossies; "big fellers" (crocodiles); plagues of flies; centipedes which have a bite like a branding "though you won't die"; etc etc etc. Australians seem to delight in trying to dissuade me from doing anything adventurous.

But perhaps before I go, just one more Tim Tam. Oh, and I've got to stay a little longer to write a birthday card to my nephew, Daniel. And......

See Ya In a While. Richard

PS Please reply to

I look forward to your replies and comments.

< previous report | next report >