I was watching Dragons Den last night and there were two women entrepeneurs on it who ran a creche for dogs and it started me thinkng about when I lived in Darwinand walked dogs for the RSPCA.
I would get up early, before it became too hot and cycle the six miles to where the offices were. The centre gave out free mosquito spray by the gallon to their volunteers and I had to spray myself everywhere before going out into the fields or I would have been bitten to death. They don’t tell you that, about the mossies.
Darwin is so close to the equator, millions of mosquitos abound and you have to turn yourself into a toxic wasteland before venturing out. Light aircraft fly over Darwinbay every year during the wet season, spraying the rock pools all along the beaches with poison to kill the larvae before they have a chance to hatch out.
I used to cycle past circles of Aboriginal families sitting chatting in the early morning hot sunshine. They are referred to in Darwin as the ‘long grassers’ because that is where many of them live. They’d call out and cheerfully wave hello to me as I cycled by, some of them already drunk on beer at eight in the morning. It paints quite an endearing picture doesn’t it until you understand that there is a massive alcohol problem amongst the Aboriginal people which means entire communities are homeless.
We should know, we introduced them to it.
Anyway, back to the dogs. I’d take two or three out at a time across the hot, red earth of the Northern Territory and occasionally one would slip the lead and I would have to take off, the other dogs excitedly racing alongside of me in lterally hot pursuit of my escapee. Afterwards I would sometimes cycle to FannieBaywhere there is a large, freshwater lake that I could swim in and cool off with the turtles. Lovely. Sometimes I couldn’t go in the water because it would be infested with jelly fish or occasionally with a crocodile or two which the wardens had spotted. Not many things scare me but crocodiles definitely do. They are enormous and very, very scary. Every year in Darwin up to three hundred of them are hauled out from the creeks and bays around the towns and occasionally from people’s back yard swimming pools. They are taken to farms to be harvested for meat and leather. Actually, I ate crocodile meat while I was there and found it horrible. Tough and a bit like mega greasy pork so it’s a touch ironic that I am scared of them.
Lots of people in Australiahave swimming pools or jacuzzis as standard. It is so hot it’s difficult to understand how people managed before the advent of pools and jacuzzi’s. Life would be very hard to bear if you didn’t have somewhere to cool off and it is not always safe to go into the sea but I’ll get onto that later.A number of houses in Darwin are built on stilts so in the evening, people sit beneath the house to be cool, with a barby, watching the sun set at six every night. Looking like a lightening display in the sky, it is beautiful and moving and free. You have to spray yourself liberally of course and make sure you light plenty of mosquito coils and place then near to your feet and ankles. There’s nothing more irritating than a mosquito bite on your toe, it is excruciating torture. Some people have those electric zappas in their garden to attract the mossies but I hated them as they would also attract large and very beautiful moths to the bars and there they would stick, popping and sizzling as we ate. Horrible.
It would be nice to go into the ocean to cool off but in many parts of Australia, it just isn’t safe not only because of sharks but also because of the box jellyfish. One gentle touch from their incredibly toxic tentacles can kill a strong man. In rough weather the tentacles break off and free float in the shallows, you can’t see them but they can find you and still wreak their damage. Fishermen often wear chain mail protection to step in and out of their boats on the shore but I have seen Buddhist monks in Darwin, waist high in the ocean, their maroon robes floating out around them as with nets spread, they benignly trust in the universe and karma to keep them safe.
People often ask me about funnel web spiders but they don’t inhabit Darwin, they prefer the cooler southern parts of Australia. Darwin also doesn’t have kangaroos or koalas. It does have bush fires however and it is exciting and thrilling driving or in my case, cycling past vast areas of bush land, all alight and burning.