Writerly Darwin

Signing my book off into the world. Darwin launch of “Capriccio: A Novel”








Did you know that Darwin is a Mecca for writers, artists, and all souls creative? In my three months in the Top End, I have been published in the NT Writers Anthology, been shortlisted for a literary prize, participated in a left-of-centre Writers’ Group called ‘Write Now’, been invited to Government House for a Poetry reading, and to crown it all, launched my first novel.

As if this cornucopia of writerly delights were not enough, the city of Darwin offered further delights: Brilliant theatre, dance and music at the vibrant Darwin Festival, held annually in August, monthly meetings with Darwin poets under the canopy of trees in a Coconut Grove café, an exhibition of Darwin’s fascinated history curated by the historians and presented at the prestigious Northern Territory Library, and the annual Indigenous Art Awards (NAATSIA) held in the sunlit grounds of the Museum, with stunning views of the sunset over the Arafura Sea.


Alana Valentine signing my program at the premiere of ‘Letters from Lindy’

There have been author talks, award-winning theatre, concerts, and debates. ‘Women in the Spotlight” featured the former Chief Minister  of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, Alana Valentine,the playwright who created “Letters to Lindy” and the NT Children’s Commissioner, Colleen Gwynne, who helped to expose the shocking treatment of children in detention. Over these magic three months, I have had a feast of cultural and sensual delights, and many surprises. I even won the door prize at the NTWriters’ Awards! A rare occurrence indeed. The prize went to Mary Ann Butler, playwright extraordinaire, for her award winning play, “Broken”, a sensation both in Australia and overseas.

Darwin, you are the Queen of the North. Any writer who calls herself a Territorian must stand proud. 

Darwin Mon Amour


We were greeted this Dry season by a lively green frog jumping out of the toilet bowl. Forget your city ways, it croaked, you’re living with Nature in the Top End. I was not inclined to agree until said frog had been safely deposited outside, where it glared at us from the arm of a chair while we ate our first al fresco meal.

IMG_5033Each morning we’re serenaded by bird cries: the chirping of the spangled drongo, the warbling of honeyeaters and the olive-backed oriole, all species native to Darwin. We have two resident black cockatoos, a flash of red from their tails displayed in flight.

It’s been a season of blue cloudless skies by day, cool breeze by night, with locals revelling in their release from an unusually long buildup. Climate change makes itself felt here, with mangroves dying and dams diminishing in the practically rainless wet. Easy to forget this ever-present threat as we bask in Dry season warmth and cool off in the backyard pool in nearly every home.IMG_5037

A season too of music, dance and drama as the city comes to life with its annual Festival, held each August. Lights festoon the trees and people throng to Festival Park to watch vaudeville or circus shows, and eat their way through a variety of ethnic food offered by the many food stalls. Being so close to Asia, Darwin is one of Australia’s most multicultural cities.

There are darker aspects here: the recent revelation of children being tortured in detention shocking locals and the world. Along with hundreds of others we attended a rally to call for action to redress these injustices. There are many asylum seekers awaiting visas, some under threat of return to the countries from which they fled. I did a stint giving information about DASSAN (The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network), founded by my eldest daughter, at the busy Nightcliff Markets, one of three held each Sunday.IMG_4949

Being theatre buffs, we enjoyed two excellent plays: ‘Lippy’ by an Irish company which had its Australian premiere in Darwin, and ‘Broken’ by Darwin’s own Mary Ann Butler, and for which she won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. Both were excellent productions, and so easy to get to, compared to struggling through traffic jams ‘down south’.

FullSizeRenderThere’s plenty of culture here if you know where to look, from the outdoor Deckchair Cinema, showing mostly art films and serving yummy food, to the activities for Science week. We enjoyed solar-powered movies under the stars at Darwin’s seaside ‘de la Plage’ café.IMG_4759

We are now given the title of ‘Temporary Territorian’ after spending a good part of each year in these tropic climes over twenty years, not only in the Dry, but in all seasons. Our many friends here ask ‘How was your time away?’ when we return to Darwin, as if our home is truly here and we occasionally take a trip down south. They’ve even stopped saying ‘It must be the Dry ‘cos you’re back!’

The main reason for our visit is to catch up with close family, children and grandchildren, who are lucky enough to live here and to enjoy Darwin’s carefree lifestyle. But I have a sneaky feeling that even if they weren’t here, I’d still come back to Darwin!


Writer’s Block


No wonder I’m having trouble putting pen to paper, or bum on seat. Here in tropical Darwin a strange soporific haze hangs over me, and what seemed once imperative now gets relegated to the ‘maybe later’ pile. Somehow the joyful and terrifying task of writing recedes into dreamland. You might think this is a good thing, drifting around in Lotus Land, yet its very pleasantness scares me – just not enough to face that blank page or screen. Yes, I have a bad case of Writer’s Block. In spite of some unsympathetic writers telling us ‘there’s no such thing, it’s mere laziness, so get the finger out etc. etc.’ I and others swear it exists. Here’s what some writers have to say on the subject:

F Scott Fitzgerald Photo: Wikipedia

‘Let’s start with one of the most famous examples of writer’s block ‘ writes Lee Kofman, in her post Alcohol, Insanity & Other Methods for Unblocking Writer’s Block’ – that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose frequent bouts of this condition are forever imprinted on the history of modern literature. In response, Fitzgerald consumed alcohol liberally, often going on a bender (gin was his favorite medicine). But then, it is also possible that it was his drinking that caused much of his blockage, which intensified in his final years. Still, this isn’t a cautionary tale. I suspect that more moderate amounts of booze may prove useful to some for seducing our inner muses.’

Lee  writes: ‘Another strategy to prevent the onset of writer’s block comes from another famous sufferer – Hemingway. A bullfight aficionado who fought in the First World War and reported on the Spanish civil war, when asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, Hemingway said: ‘A blank sheet of paper.’ And here is his advice how to conquer this terror:’

Ernest Hemingway, photo from Google images
Ernest Hemingway, photo  Google images

Stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next… and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it… But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

Re-blogged from Lee Kofman’s post ‘Alcohol, Insanity & Other Methods for Unblocking Writer’s Block’ from her Blog ‘Lee Kofman: Author, writing teacher, mentor’, at www.leekofman.com.au



Darwin in the Wet

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Here in February the air is heavy with moisture, sweat, and an all-encompassing blanket of sticky heat. There’s that special Darwin smell, a mixture of wet earth, tropical air, and the ubiquitous spices of lemongrass, curry leaves, cumin and chile. We could be somewhere in south-east Asia.

“Fecund” is the word to describe Darwin in the Wet. Everywhere gorgeous blooms are exploding into vibrant colours. On the way to the noisy crowded Rapid Creek Markers on Sunday we had to stop and witness delicate pink blossoms opening on the overhanging tree. They looked like tiny tutus with a dainty fringed skirt decorated with the diamonds of raindrops. Other plants sprout spontaneously wherever a stray seed happens to fall, like the fragrant basil that accidentally grew in my daughter’s garden.

At the Markets it seemed every second woman was either pregnant or carrying a baby. Toddlers wearing rainbow-coloured singlets and little else trailed along behind their parents. Every imaginable vegetable was on display, some quite unknown to us southerners. It was hot and steamy, so we made straight for the icy cold mango and lime juices – so cold they make your brain freeze.

Even the clouds looming overhead are gravid with their own pregnancy. We wait thirstily for them to give birth to the first of the monsoonal rains which will bring longed- for release from the longest Build-up ever.

Last night it actually rained, great sheets of water pounding on the roof. In our sleep we stir and smile with relief, knowing the morning will be cooler. Soon the frogs join their guttural chorus to the downpour. In the morning I see a tiny, shiny green frog sitting perfectly still on the doorstep, and tiptoe over it.

This is an Australian city like no other.

Darwin in the Dry


Clear blue skies, balmy days, cool nights. Temperature in Darwin today 29deg top, 16 low. Cool for Darwin. Locals are shivering. Out come the doonas,  bed socks,flannelette sheets. It’s not  uncommon to see hoodies and fleecies being worn, when the temperature is in the low thirties. In the dry, the breeze off the Arafura Sea is cool and refreshing. Gone is the stillness, stickiness, and heaviness of the humid build-up. The rains of the Wet have dried up, leaving almost empty water-holes and a sky so blue and clear it’s like a child’s painting.

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Another name for the Dry is the ironically named Mother-In-Law Season. Granny flats are suddenly occupied by families who’ve driven or flown the 4000 kms to be with their loved ones. Grey nomads in their vans and motorhomes invade the caravan parks, and NSW, Victoria, and Queensland number plates fill the streets. The letters page of the NT News abounds with snide suggestions such as ‘Southerners Go Home’ while the front page inevitably bears an image of the latest crocodile scare.

We from Down South are greeted in a friendly fashion with ‘Must be the Dry; you’re here again.’

I hasten to defend myself, assuring Darwinites that I’ve been here in  the Wet, the Build-up, and the Knock-Em Down seasons, as well as the Dry. Admittedly it’s supremely satisfying to be revelling in warm sunny days while those at home are freezing.

The markets are on again, now that the rain’s stopped; stalls overflow with brightly coloured  tropical fruits, the like of which we rarely see down south. Likewise the Deckchair cinema, where we recline on cushions under a clear starlit sky, and watch movie after movie on the Big Screen.

It’s the long school holidays here: four weeks in July, perfect weather for camping. The families pack their camper trailers or bundle tents into their 4x4s, and take off for Kakadu, Litchfield, or the Douglas Daly hot springs, where you can bathe in a blissfully hot natural thermal spa, while feet cool in the colder currents.

There’s been a flurry of end-of-term concerts, a circus performance starring three of our four grandsons, school reports presented for inspection.

Our time here is drawing to an end all too soon. So this year we’ll be braving Sydney’s winter a lot sooner than usual.  😓 Cheers, Dina  💦😎