anti-darwinians in darwin

Tonight I'm in a Kinko's in downtown Sydney, but I've spent the last five days or so in the exceedingly weird city of Darwin. I spent a lot of my childhood in Bermuda, and so am used to palm trees, scorching pavement and strangely Anglophilic customs, but Darwin is pure tropics, a wet-and-dry season odyssey of heat and humidity, spear grass and mudwasps, ibises, crocodiles that jump from the water (when prompted with buffalo meat), and cockatoos whose call sounds like a high-speed car accident. Darwin is also a tourist trap for Australians who want a bit of the safely exotic. Mostly what they get here is a bit of surfing and long nights of imported beer and overpriced food.

Yesterday morning we drove out of the city along the Stuart Highway (the only road out of Darwin) to see a man who had turned a bare plot of land bordering the Adelaide River into a kind of mangrove sanctuary. He dug out a water hole in the back, which fills up in the wet season and slowly turns to a pit of dust by July. A floating fence along the back keeps dogs out in the dry season and crocodiles out in the wet. His house is built to a set of unorthodox standards for withstanding the cyclones that periodically crawl along the coast of the Northern Territories. Most of the house, which was really one gigantic room with a few half-walls defining bedroom and bathroom, had walls of strong mesh wire and louvered windows. Even when he closed the doors you felt as if you were outside but sheltered, which is a curious but relaxing state. I wanted to sit and drink coffee there until late afternoon, when I could get up and jump into the watering hole out back.

Regrettably, we had to pack up eventually and head to another house nearby, built to an entirely different set of standards by a family of Seventh-Day Adventists, who had survived Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Their neighbour had been decapitated by a flying sheet of corrugated iron, which at the time was the prime building material in Darwin. They were of the opinion that they had been saved by the Lord, but were not sure why their neighbour, who seemed nice, had escaped the watchful eye of God when that big sheet of metal zipped out of the darkness at 200 miles an hour. They gravely informed me that the bad things of this world were attributable to Satan and the good to God. I also found out why good people suffer and die: first they are tested, and then God deems them ready. Or ripe, or something. Sickness and decay must be like fine perfume to that Seventh-Day Lord.

The 7th-Day folk owned what was perhaps the most grotesque dog I had ever seen, a bizarre cousin to a pit bull with a serious snorting problem and what appeared to be gigantic nipples along with the regular set of male dog genitalia. He snorted so loudly that we had to stop the interview whenever he licked his testicles, which was frequently. I refrained from pointing out to a family who didn't believe in evolution that they lived in the city of Darwin and owned a pet that was surely an evolutionary anomaly. It may have actually been a platypus.