In the midst of the stresses of the former part of this year, I booked myself a holiday to visit L in Darwin. She was on a placement, her boyfriend was away and she was going a bit mental, so our pleasure on seeing one another was mutual.
L and I go back to 2000 whereupon, on returning from Berkeley and not wanting to live in the ‘burbs of the ‘gong for my final year, I flatted in Surry Hills with her and B, both of whom I met through my brother. I commuted to uni, which, combined with Double Honours and part time work, nearly killed me. I subsequently adopted a further three of H’s friends and to this day all seven of us remain bound by a shared history of immoderate alcohol consumption, shenanigans canvassing Kingsford, Kensington, Surry Hills and Randwick, and the neuroticism particular to over-achievers.
The house party for the Surry Hills flat was one of the best. I came up with the theme ‘Come as your deepest, darkest desire’, B designed a wonderfully witty invite requesting attendees to join us in holy flatrimony and L, social butterfly that she is, flounced around inviting every man and his dog from her med course.
I dressed as a tart, as I do with varying degrees of sophistication for every fancy dress party (barring one of L’s where I went as a bridesmaid dressed head to toe in pleated chiffon), B (now working on the reduction of railway noise and vibrations) came as a punk with attendant chain and L (now a nephrologist) was Britney Spears. SP (now working in energy efficiency) came as a Morman and submitted to having his backside whacked by L with his Bible. R (now designing microchips for Cochlear) came as Michael Jackson, only his nose of blue-tak fell off halfway through the night and he was reduced to groping his crotch to identify who he was. Two friends of Bs, fellow mechanical engineers, came as women wearing bras with lights behind them. When they pressed the lights, their breasts lit up. It was fantastic.
H, who had a proclivity for spray painting himself and his clothes with gold, came as God.
The plane trip to Darwin was surprisingly short. As always, I love views of the country from a plane, especially when the sun is setting and it lights up the seas and rivers like sheets of gold. At one stage it was impossible to tell where the sea ended and the sky began, especially as they were obscured by smoke from burning-off fires.
I sat next to a young Asian man who read the inflight magazine from cover-to-cover and, when he had finished that, asked if he could borrow my Country Style, which he perused with careful attention while I hid my smile. As we circled to land, he was reading the flight safety card.
My visions of sitting on a beach in my new bikini with a margarita to hand while breezes waved the palms were, unfortunately, quickly dispelled. One couldn’t swim in the sea, it transpired, because of the salties. If one sat in a public place in a bikini, one would be launched upon by the redneck chauvinists who attended the topless girls bar. When went out for dinner one night, I dressed very neatly in a black top, knee-length skirt and black heels and I still felt uncomfortable. There was a very strong sense of it still being a raw, frontier town.
However, the surrounding national parks were gorgeous. With L and her parents, we went to Litchfield National Park and, after a trek through scrubby bush growing out of red soil, dipped down into the rainforest and waterholes.
I love swimming and playing in water, especially pools and dams because, having grown up inland, an eight hour drive from the coast, this was all there was. So when I dived into the clear waterhole and swam under the waterfall, I got a little breathless with excitement and had to remind myself of Mrs Woodley’s swimming classes, viz. that one must stay calm in water or one will run out of air and drown.
L had brought goggles so we could see the big, blue-grey fish swimming with us. She had also, a few weeks prior, fallen into a hole at night while walking her dog and still had a scab on her knee. The fish liked this and nibbled at the scab, twice.
On another trip we went to the Darwin Wildlife Park and watched an amazing display of birds from prey, which had been trained to fly to and from the rangers in an open area. There was a barking owl, which sounded like a dog barking softly when it called, a big black cockatoo and a jabiru with glossy blue-green feathers and orange stilts for legs, stepping delicately through the reeds.
Later we met Ernie the dingo, who waited for food, and continued to stare when he realised we had none. We saw some whiprays which I thought were thrilling because I love sea creatures, though I don’t like to be in the water with them. Later, in the aquarium, we watched the saltwater crocodile do absolutely nothing. After ten minutes of waiting we went onto the next exhibit of brightly coloured reef fish, then there was a commotion. The crocodile was moving! We hurried back and watched it rise for air, then sink again, unblinking.
Although we couldn’t get beach action, I tried out my new bikini by the pool of L’s parents’ apartment. It seemed to hold everything in place satisfactorily, though I wouldn’t vouch for it in rough seas. I also started and, over the next two days, finished the third book of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy which wasn’t as tight as his former two, but at least it didn’t contain the same detailed descriptions of violence against women which I found deeply disturbing.
I couldn't keep up my coffee habit because the restuarants either didn't have, or had run out of, soy milk. Seeing my devastation, poor L took me to the only decent café in town and, after the consumption of a relatively decent soy latte, I was greatly soothed. By the time I boarded the flight to Bris Vegas however (after a chat with a taxi driver who restored old radios), I was getting antsy again, so I was very pleased to arrive back in civilisation and to have my caffeine hit the next morning.