Monday, December 12, 2011

Darwin During the "Build-up Season"

Map picture

The most memorable thing about our visit to the northernmost city in Australia, Darwin, was not the city itself, but rather its weather.

As we were finishing breakfast, Lisa and I looked outside the ship and saw the most massive wall of dark foreboding clouds that I can ever recall having seen. DSCN0327This dark wall covered 180° of the horizon, and in the distance we could just faintly make out the sound of lightning. Obviously, as we left the ship, we both grabbed an umbrella for our half day adventure in the city of Darwin.

As we started out our driver/guide started to discuss the weather of the city. I was only half listening, but I did perk up when I heard her refer to the "build-up season." That was a completely new term to me, and so I stopped her commentary and asked if she would be kind enough to explain what that meant. Apparently Darwin has three seasons of weather. It has the dry season during their summer months, the wet season during the winter and in between the dry and wet seasons, they have what is called “the build-up season.” During this time, the weather is at its most uncomfortable, and Lisa and I were actually witnessing that firsthand. The dark wall of weather which we had witnessed while having breakfast, had now become a most imposing force. The winds were completely calm, and in so far as I could tell, the storm system did not appear to be moving. It was simply sitting offshore literally sucking the air out of the atmosphere. Now I know it is impossible to "suck the air out of the atmosphere," but as the storm system built, it raised the humidity to almost 100%, which when added to the stillness of the air producing a sense of literally being suffocated.

The storms also generated massive lightning displays, and as we were driving along the shore, I saw many, many people who had set up cameras on tripods in an effort to record the oncoming display. Indeed at one point during our trip, I sat down and took a break while Lisa was shopping, and there was a local magazine which featured an article on how best to shoot the lightning displays that occurred during the "build-up season."

Anyway our guide explained that this weather pattern was quite typical for the three months of the year preceding the wet season. Usually the storms would just lie offshore and produce this uncomfortable environment, but as the wet season approached they would slowly began to drift over the city dumping over 36 feet of rain on the city during a three-month period of time. Today this particular storm did decide to slide over the city, and we experienced a massive rainfall in an extremely short period of time. It had two immediate effects aside from simply drenching everything with water.DSCN0335 First it lowered the humidity level instantly, and second it dropped the surface temperature considerably. The oppressive conditions that we had experienced just an hour before, were now virtually gone. So, I share with you this newfound meteorological knowledge, which at least in my mind was unheard of and a most impressive display of nature’s strength.

Darwin itself was somewhat of a disappointment to me, but in all honesty having never been there, I really did not know what to expect. It has a population of only 120,000 people, and therefore it is a relatively small city. For the most part, it is quite modern and I quickly learned that when one discusses Darwin, there is one date which defines the city's history, and that date is Christmas Eve in 1974. On that date, the city was hit by cyclone Tracy, and from everything I could understand, the city was virtually destroyed. During our short tour, our guide discussed what the city had looked like pre-Tracy, and which buildings had survived. It was most obvious from the display in the museums, and from informational signs located around the city, that very little had survived and at that it is a tribute to its citizens that the city was even rebuilt. So then the discussion turned to the post Tracey reconstruction.

I was also surprised to learn that the city of Darwin besides being the northernmost city on the continent of Australia is quite literally closer to, and in some ways more connected to Asia than any other part of Australia. If you look at a map, you will realize that Darwin is almost located in the Asian chain of islands. This accounts for the fact that its weather is much more tropical than that of any other part of Australia.

Since this was our first stop in Australia, it might be interesting to note that it is the only continent in the world to be ruled by one government. In landmass, it is approximately the size of the United States mainland. From the city of Darwin to the southern city of Melbourne, it is roughly 3100 km, or a little over 2000 miles direct line distance.

Because of the rainy conditions, I got very few photographs, and what I did get was not very good because the sky was very dark. Deciding it would be best to stay indoors, we drove to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which was interesting. It was a large and somewhat modern museum that housed primarily indigenous art from the aborigines. From there, we were given a driving tour "in the rain" and after an hour and a half of driving up and down the city of Darwin in a pouring rain I started to feel like this was turning into a "spam in a can tour.” The rain finally subsided, and we were able to visit the town's center where I was able to photograph the parliament building for the Northern Territory, the rebuilt Christchurch CathedralDSCN0366, and Government House where the administrator of the territory lives.


At that point, both Lisa and I had become tired, as well as bored, and so we asked our guide to return to the ship. In looking back on our day, it was a little unfair to be down on the city of Darwin. It obviously had been through a great deal in its past, and it was lucky to even be in existence today. They have done a lot to rebuild. They are in an isolated part of Australia and do not have much in the way of natural resources or income. They are, however, home to several large military installations. In fact, Darwin is where President Obama will be sending a large contingent of Marines, which he announced during his recent visit to Australia. I'm certain that the large military presence in the city has to do with its proximity to Asia.

Today is a leisurely day at sea. The conditions of this sea still remain so calm, that the only way I know the ship is moving is to look outside. We are headed to a location known as Thursday Island, which is still in Australia. At this point, I know nothing about it, but you can join with me in the adventure of learning more when we arrive tomorrow.

I will try to post some pictures this afternoon, but as I said, I got very few and what I did get was not very good. However, all I can do is share what I saw.

I hope everyone is well!


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