Last Cab to Darwin - Review

VJ 311

Last Cab to Darwin - Review

Darwin Sunset: 7pm Nightcliff- ABC TV News comes alive amongst the sound of a swirling fan in my flat in Nighcliff-Darwin. View out to Mandora and harbour entrance. Longrass mob camp out in the mangroves here and barking owls call at night. I made use of the endless storm action from my front and back verandas in tropical Darwin.

Last Cab to Darwin…is a great geography lesson for those that think Darwin is Broken Hill, or Alice Springs….and I am not knocking either of the arid townships, as I have never been to BkH, and even though I only stayed in the Alice for a short spell, I enjoyed it, and a few of my friends from Sydney love the joint. However, for those that think the Top End is barren, well, I have never seen a water buffalo or crocodile in the desert as yet! While the film also portrays Darwin as being culturally accepting in comparison to the NSW desert town, but perhaps that too is a cruel cliché to the ‘Hill’ in itself. 


As my close buddy and fellow storm-chaser is currently on his way, driving across the arid inland with his wife to once again set up in Darwin, it seems fitting that I should lament upon this nicely made film. It is a wonderful flick, though the class-clique humour is obvious. Yet, the actual beauty of the film stems from the innocence of the two main characters and their friends. The end is nothing short of sad-beauty, a special finality indeed.

All the actors involved in this humorous, though deeply heart-felt story, do very well in their roles.  I won’t go into detail in regards to this, as they all deserve a round of applause. It is a long film, but I love a good flick that keeps on rolling. What I do like most however, is that I got to see some places I know intimately. Even though to this day the most honest account of true Top End life is portrayed richly within Rolf De Heer’s film Charlie’s Country, starring David Gulpilil, I want to share some of the secrets of the Darwin scenery in A Last Cab to Darwin with you here.

• The Daly Waters Inn: I first visited this place in 1996 and was blown away by the massive lorikeet and galah flock the following morning, high up on the electrical wires surrounding the oval, across the road from the pub. Driving up to Darwin from Nimbin, I again visited this place 10 years later. I placed my Southern Cross Uni-Lismore-Student Photo-ID on the wall, as they do in the film (try and find it), and like the young fella on the film I too enjoyed my conversation with the English bar lady! ‘Ooh La La’, but carry on. I last visited the Daly Waters watering hole in 2011, on my way back to NSW. This wee town is perched on the edge of the tropical monsoon savanna lands and tropical semi-desert region. 

• Berry Springs: This exotic location is to be found just out the back of Darwin and  is where they take Rex (Mick C) for a swim in the film. The water is actually more turquoise than is depicted in the film, and archer fish spit at insects on the pandanus fronds here. If you take a walk in the jungle (no desert) behind the lagoon, you will find the most massive old banyon (fig) tree, and part of the walk enters onto the tropical savanna. A friend was wallowing here by himself in the springs below the main tourist lagoon, and an eel decided to bite him on the leg! I also sat in the shallows here by myself not long after, and in the centre of the lagoon, leading out towards the ocean; a young bloke announced that he saw a huge barra underneath him. I found this alarming as its predators might have also been sharing time with us. Three days later they pulled a croc out of the lagoon at around the 18-feet mark, just metres from where I was bathing!!!!! Never again will I swim there, and in the wet season it is full of crocs anyway, but the main lagoon is too nice to resist its tropical charms. 

• East Point Nature Reserve: A point in the film; where everyone in the cinema begins to quietly leak tears, or are trying their best to hold them back; takes place in this nature reserve withholding WWII history and monsoon rainforests. This is where Rex and his English friend visit the ocean side, and I might add that the English actress is very good in this film. I used to grab a seafood laksa from Parap markets on a Saturday morning and head out to East Point to watch the storms brew in the uber humid air. The colourful cliff faces and aqua-clear ocean water from here are outstanding. The park is only 5 minutes drive from the city, just up the road from the museum perched upon Fannie Bay. Of an arvo, and with one eye cocked on an incoming croc-filled tide, I would jog along the extensive sand flats between my home in Nightcliff, and out to East Point. 

• The Doctor’s Clinic: The old tropical louvered-house on the show is typical of the pre-Tracy era. I used to live in a house up on stilts in the rainforest, with my brother in the northern suburbs of Darwin back in 96, which had wooden floors and aluminium louvers all the way along the side of the house, wooden louvers made for the interior walls. Modern houses in Darwin also have louvers, as you are meant to open both sides of the house to depressurise the place when cyclones move through. I am not sure if anyone does this though, as your place would be like a washing machine! I spent four days in Cyclone Carlos…my ‘cyclone diary’ was published that same week in the NT News.

• The Long Grass: I heard the confused man sitting next to me in the Palace Cinema in Byron Bay repeating the term ‘Long Grass’ when Rex and the English nurse were searching for their friend in hiding. If you have lived in Darwin you know what this term means straight away. ‘Long Grassers’ are itinerants of all colour who come to Darwin for various sporting and social engagements, or come into town from Indigenous communities to the Royal Darwin Hospital for health check ups, and they sleep rough in the long grass. The native sorghum grows to great heights in the Top End wet season, as do the introduced African grass species. I had Tiwi Islanders and Arnhem Land groups living in the mangroves across from my flat. I used to visit and chat to them most days, with their little fire places besides the old stone wall Larrakia fish traps on the ocean rock platforms. They camp out and collect fish and shellfish. Not all Long-grass mob are drinkers, but some are.

“There’s a whole new life to be lived out there, go and experience another part of Australia”



@ Ian Browne Academia

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