The life of a full-time travelling musician is rarely dull. Not only are we lucky enough to have the privilege of performing alongside greatness on stage, we also on occasion get to travel to some tasty destinations for work and today is no exception. Just the mention of the name Darwin conjures up exotic images of sun-drenched harbour walks, vibrant markets, dangerously seductive crocodile-infested waters, vivid coloured skies blanketing bright red Northern Territory dirt and general tropical thoughts of all kinds. It’s been seven years since I last visited Darwin so am thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of the Bob Dylan Tribute ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ at the Darwin Railway Club.
Any air travel needed to be undertaken within Australia with more than one hours’ duration, and I know Dobe Newton from the Bushwackers will whole-heartedly agree can only be on Qantas. Tiger Airlines has been putting in a valiant effort as of late, as has Virgin (who have relaxed their rules of baggage allowance for musicians through APRA). And ever since they provided ‘all-responsibility and no-care’ with my accordion on one ill-fated trip, Jetstar remains an all-round disappointing experience. There is a certain amount of tactility and romanticism associated with Qantas like the intoxicating aroma of a soft, well-worn leather jacket. Complimentary SMH at the gate, your own personal iPad with movies, a free hot-meal are just some of the features that Qantas won me over with when it was time to book the flight to Darwin.
In 30 Degree temperatures, a fairly mild but ever so gentle ferocious humidity blasts me on arrival. Feels like a storm is on its way to this troposphere town but turns out is a tease only and more a sign of whats to come over the next six months. As soon as I check into the hotel, am out of my tight black Sydney Winter jeans and boots and into the Havianas and shorts quicker than you can say ‘Story of the Hurricane’.
Slightly peckish and with a few hours to kill before sound-check at the Club I get pointed in the direction of the Parap Village which is directly across from the hotel where I discover a fabulous supermarket, Parap Fine Foods. This establishment has been run by an Italian family for years and they have an extensive stock of top-shelf gourmet selections of all kinds. It takes me by surprise and spend the next hour perusing labels of local and imported jams, sauces and spice mixes. The fruit and veg section is all local and mostly organic. Then I spot the Deli with an incredible display of chocolate sweet delights and macarons, salamis and a cheese component equating the quality and quantity of anything found in a French Fromagerie.
I can’t decide on a cheese and this must be obvious to the woman behind the counter as have stared glazed-eyed for some time. She offers assistance and decides for me, giving me a sample of a German Sheepskin Milk Picasso which is divine. Being the end of the role due to the popularity of this cheese, she wraps it up and hands over 200 gms worth with a discount at $14 adding she likes her cheeses to go to a good home and I reassure her this will be the case. This woman knows her cheeses. I also purchase local vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata Olives drenched in lime and garlic and a 2010 Mount Benson Merlot from South Australia. Forty-five dollars later, and all I wanted was a snack 🙂
The Darwin Railway Club is a fascinating place. This is the first time I have performed at a Club that raises their own chickens and uses the eggs for spinach pies, grow their own herbs and also harvest ducks for consumption. They recently held a feast night where these ducks were (sorry vegetarians) after being raised lovingly, then put to sleep, prepared and served up for the members. Welcome to Darwin! Before the gig, I order a glass of Shiraz and forgetting am in the NT for a moment, shudder at the fact that the bottle comes out of the fridge. After mentioning this to the bar-girl she responds in her NZ accent to just give it two minutes when it will arrive at room temperature. Of course it will.
The Green-Room where we are hanging before the gig with the local Darwin Musicians in the Tangled Band tonight is the hottest room in the building. I learn later this room is also a completely cyclone-proof bunker made of solid concrete. Unlike performing at the Gympie Muster last weekend in arctic temperatures where the lights on the stage being LED based no longer generate any kind of heat, we are exposed to the old faithful R & R full-on-heat emitting old-school globe variety. The Band also cooks, renditions of Maggies Farm and Subterranean Blues are well executed by these local talented Darwinite Musicians.
Thanks to the Qantas In-Flight Magazine, I have already read about the Parap Markets held every Saturday being touted as a must-do on the Darwin tourist agenda. How serendipitous that I am here on a fleeting twenty-four hour visit, staying directly opposite where these markets occur. The produce is primarily of South East Asian flavours – mountains of chillis, coriander, paw-paws, mangoes, garlic, ginger and accompanying spices. Lebanese flavours are also represented along with reams of tye-dyed clothes and locally crafted silver jewellery. But it is the food that is impressing me here and I circle around in a holding-pattern deciding on what just to go for. Instinct tells me that anything will be good so I go for a Thai spicy chicken larb style salad, a watermelon, lime and ginger juice plus a Lebanese custard desert drenched in rose-syrup. Heaven. I also purchase a Chilli Sauce, made with only birds-eye chillis, garlic and lime. NO SUGAR or preservatives of any kind and is very hot according to the grocer who has made it himself.
Oddly, there appears to be some media action rustling up with TV cameras all assembling in the vicinity of where I am. A quiet buzz turns into frenzy as none other that Kevin Rudd appears out of no-where. All of a sudden I am engulfed by a sea of zoom-lenses and a tsunami of paparazzi, surreal indeed. Now there’s a traffic jam and general mayhem surrounding the previous serenity of the Parap Markets and people are asking Kevin to move-on. Something tells me he’s not here for the Laksa 🙂