Darwin is the capital of
the Northern Territory. It is also the only town (city) of any size along the
northern coast of Australia. As such, it is the major shipping and commerce port for
all of the northern half of the country west of Cape York. This may sound
impressive, but you have to remember that even though we are talking a land area about the
same as the entire plains region of the US, there are only about 1 million people half of
whom live within a few hours drive of Darwin.
Darwin and the surrounding suburbs look like any other port and
fishing town. There are memorials everywhere to both the world-war II attacks by the
Japanese and the destruction caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. These two events seem
to be the only significant points in the areas history.
The commerce in town supports the government
functions and a fairly large backpacker community. The backpackers (predominantly 20
something Europeans) use Darwin as a jumping off point for travel to the many scenic parks
in the area, trips to Ayers Rock and exiting Australia for Indonesia. Sitting in the
side walk cafes, you could mistake Darwin for a refugee centre for Northern European
homeless. You hear Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish and occasionally a little English
from a horde of blonde haired youth with packs on their backs. Something as an
American I have not seen before in such numbers.
Our approach to Darwin was very uneventful. I
was a little bit disappointed though, I had been told that the Australian
would fly over us, demanding radio contact and query us as to our intentions, where we had
been, who was on board, etc. Not only were we not contacted, I didn't even see a
Coast Watch plane until I was just north of Cairns on the east coast. We could have
been a freighter full of illegal immigrants and nobody would have known.
On arrival at Darwin though, the customs officers
more than made up for this oversight. The check in procedure included the usual
paperwork, quarantine taking off the boat anything that looked edible (particularly fruit,
vegetables, meat, and anything with milk in it), including our 6 boxes of Paul's (made in
Australia) UHT milk, and immigration checks. Customs then brought in a sniffer dog
that went through the entire boat. This is where the problems started.
Apparently, Dave D. is something of a party animal
back home, not that I would ever accuse him of doing anything illegal. It seems that
he may at one time worn a pair of shorts to a social function back in Vermont where
substances that are considered controlled in Australia had been present. This left a
residual odor on them that the dog very quickly detected. When the customs officers
asked Dave if he had ever been around such substances as this might explain the dog's
reaction, he put on his best innocent face and said "Oh no, I would never do anything
like that!" That was all customs needed to rip the entire boat apart.
They emptied every locker, opened every container, and removed every cover plate on the
It took them about two hours before they left us with
a well ruffled boat. On leaving, one of the customs officers turned to us and said
"OK, you win, we can can't find anything, just for my knowledge, where did you hide
it?" I still wonder if that line has ever worked? Is anyone really
that stupid? Probably, especially if they are in the drug trade.