Parap markets are a world within a world.
Like some strange little island in the middle of the shopping centre car park, it is not just a buffet of culinary choice but a life buffet. A cross-section of Darwin and the Territory, there are so many things to see, hear and smell.
Gawking tourists, locals tucking into a breakfast laksa. Long grass mob busking with clap sticks, singing in language. Quirky jewellery, printed cheese cloth dresses and real crocodile feet back scratchers.
It’s got it all.
There is a kid on a trombone murdering the Star Wars theme song. Pork buns, chilli noodles, bbq pork ribs, lime juice smoothies, satay chicken, fresh coffee and humidity all co-exist. You half expect that Anthony Bourdain is going to be lurking around here somewhere. It’s a strange paradise.
I’m ostensibly up here to network and tick another thing off my bucket list.
I’m up here with some friends and my eldest son Clay, who has just turned 14. The trip is a birthday present, of sorts.
Sometime over Christmas we had the idea to head up to Darwin and watch the Tiwi grand final. Before we knew it, we were on a plane to the epic, mysterious north.
We got into Darwin about 1.30pm and battled through the primordial humidity to the hire car. It was like wading through a steaming pot of pea and ham soup. The hire car was like the Hades foyer. The aircon laboured to make some order in the chaos.
We got to the backpackers in Parap and unloaded.
First stop, the quality provedore of over the road.
“It’s like Singapore, it’s five bucks for a Coke!” my mate Patrick Chaney jested.
Second stop, the bottle shop for a few beers.
Last stop, the pool.
In four years’ time, Clay will be old enough to have a beer. I scratched my head as to where the time went.
The adults cracked a beer as the kids smashed a softie.
Collectively, we exhaled.
The next day we woke slowly. I had arranged for us to meet ex-Essendon and Port Adelaide champ Che Cockatoo-Collins for coffee. I met him 10 years ago in Canberra. He ambled over the street with a cheeky grin and acquiesced to all who asked for selfies.
He managed to get me and the young lad on the door for the Michael Long function that night at the AFL NT grand final.
Coffees complete, he headed off to another meeting.
We grabbed some lunch and organised ourselves to head out to Litchfield National Park.
The drive took us through Batchelor, and then Florence pool.
The heat was brutal as we scaled down the stairs like mountain goats dripping with sweat and anticipation.
There were heaps of tourists.
We stripped off and hit the drink. It was magical. The water was cool and the undercurrent from the falls was strong. We swam out to get away from the English chavs who had settled in with cans of Jacks and Coke. We looked up and admired the rock walls spilling with water.
Clay scaled the rock wall that led to a ledge a good two storeys up.
He didn’t do it for the ‘look at me’ moment but the ‘because it’s there’ approach.
He jumped in and came up with a Cheshire grin.
I smiled back.
The connect is unspoken.
Clouds gathered and it was if the dimmer switch had been turned down.
The fat drops came. They became harder and harder still.
One of our mates remembered the mobile phones.
We scrambled up the bank to the sodden towels that wrapped the technology.
We got to the car and unravelled the precious cargo. We waited until we got back to Darwin before testing the phones. All good. We laughed.
We cracked a drink and got ready for the football. Clay and I headed off early to meet Cockatoo Collins at the St Mary’s club rooms.
We joined a table with Cockatoo-Collins, Sturt champion Michael Graham and Michael Long and his wife Leslie. Michael got up and shook our hands before heading up to the Michael Long Centre for the official function.
I had a chat with Mary Durack who was accompanying Bennie Lew Fatt who was to be inducted into the hall of fame.
St Mary’s were playing the West Coast Eagles of the competition, Wanderers (I’m going for the Saints). They are coached by Dean Rioli and boast ex-AFL players Andrew Lovett and Nathan Djerrkura and a brace of Motlops, namely Shannon and Daniel. St Mary’s have Riolis and a couple of Longs.
To quote Bruce McAveney, the game’s potential was delicious.
The elevated outdoor concourse starts to fill as I chatted with Neil Balme who was there to present the medals. I razz Cockatoo-Collins who has brought a jacket he will clearly not need due to the humidity.
It’s Darwin couture: jeans, polo shirts, dress shorts. Simon Minton-Connell was there with shorts, thongs and a Fitzroy Stars polo.
Clay tugged at my shirt: “Dad, Andrew McLeod is standing behind us.”
Indeed he was.
“Go take a photo with him,” I said.
“But Dad, he is a super star.”
The game started. It was skillful and willing. St Mary’s had early injuries and, in the end they got down to 18 on the bench. The humidity made the ball like a rope-less soap. The ability of the players in these conditions was astounding. In the end, St Mary’s prevailed by two points.
I was exhausted having watched it.
Michael Long was smiling like a new father.
The next morning, we hopped on the charter boat to Tiwi.
Kev, the skipper, who looks like an extra out of Big Wednesday gets down to business on the safety:
“In this side of the boat you are all good. On that side of the boat is all the things that can sting you or eat you. Stay on this side of the boat”.
He smiled, we laughed and nervously looked over the edge.
As the boat headed north, Clay started to turn a whiter shade of pale.
“I Just want us to turn back” he whimpers.
I advised him to lay down as close to the wheel house as he could.
He did and promptly nodded off.
Upon waking, he drank some water and spewed again before his eyes rolled and the sweat turned his face opaline.
As the Tiwis come into view, he focused on the horizon. He came good.
After we got off the boat, we walked up to Warramiyunga oval, the MCG of the Tiwi. Grand Final day is the only time of the year you don’t need a permit to come on the island.
We already decided on the boat to go with the Tuyu Buffaloes and not the Muluwurri Magpies. We were buoyed when we saw a painted sign out the front of a house in Tuyu colours (double blue): “Go Chiko #21.”
We did a reccy of the oval and noticed the reality TV show The Recruit was being filmed. The supremely fit Recruits were playing the Rio Tinto Footy Means Business side. On the side line Mick Malthouse in Recruit gear was talking into the camera as the carnival swirled around him.
We sniffed out the Tuyu team getting their pregame prep on. Language both local and blue was spoken. As the players ran out we nestled into a Tuyu enclave along the boundary.
The tension and heat increased as the players lined up and the national anthem was sung.
Chiko was on the bench, a tallish sinew with a cropped Mohawk and a determined look in his eye.
The game starts and intensity was the driver.
Players hooped and looped balls, the skills were razor sharp and entertaining.
Dogs regularly ran onto the oval and after each goal, the fans’ screams raised an octave or two.
The Magpies, through the solid work of Lindsay Moreen came away with the win.
Magpies 11.9 (75) Buffaloes 9.9 (63).
As we headed back to the boat we heard a commotion coming up the road behind us.
It was Chiko, unhappy that his team had lost and was being consoled by his partner. They angrily trudged past us as car loads of Magpies supporters drove by honking horns, smiling, singing.
We got back onto the charter and gently motored away from the Tiwi.
Some of us headed to the bow of the boat to chat and enjoy the cool breeze. I sat with my feet hanging off the bow with Clay. The water splashed our feet.
I ask him how he was.
“Good,” he says.
He loved the match and loved the day.
He was itching for his season to start.
Why I asked, knowing the answer.
“Because I just wanna play. I’m pumped from what I saw today,” he said.
We sat in silence for the next 10 minutes as we fixed our gaze on the horizon.
“How do I get better at my football, Dad?” he asked.
“Well you have to start listening more to Shaunny Mac” (he’s lucky enough to have the 228 game champion for the Dockers as his coach).
“You also have to stop throwing your hand up for a fend-off into the other players faces – it makes you look dirty”.
Clay protests that he only got caught a few times doing it.
I advised him that even if he gets away with it 9 times out of 10, the tenth time might be in a grand final. A cheap free kick might cost him dearly.
He nods his head. I also suggest he needs to get fitter. There are many who falter climbing the AFL mountain because the base camp does the best meat pies and frozen Cokes in town.
Talent is one thing, drive is another.
He started to take photos of the sunset to the west, as we headed due south the sky filled with storm clouds and lightning. The lightning increased.
Someone got on their phone and discovered a storm was about to hit as we approached Darwin.
The sky was a conflict of raking electrical tension and an almost full moon that had stepped out of the wake of the storm. The milky sheen coming off the water was hypnotic and calming as the rain spits made the deck wet.
We nervously joke about the film The Perfect Storm.
Finally we make it and the rain just kept coming.
Our skipper Kev shook our hands and seemed relieved that he can head home for a Bundy. In the end it’s not the nasties in the water that get us but the sting of the drops from the sky.
Parap Pizzeria was quiet when we got there to order up big. We were damp but elated.
Teenagers stomachs are like the sea, always churning, wanting. We headed to our room. Sated, we turn in.
The next morning was just like yesterday was and tomorrow will be.
At the airport, who should be sitting there with the cheeky grin still on his face surfing the net but Cockatoo-Collins. Chaney was with us too and we chatted about the upcoming Four Corners episode on the Essendon supplements scandal. He shook his head at the great club he used to play for.
He looks at his watch and was time to head off.
He paused at Clay as he gripped his out-stretched hand.
“So long, Clay. Good to meet you. What an experience, hey?”
It was heartfelt.
Clay nodded, one iPod plug in his ear.
Chaney and I return to our computers to try and clear the backlog of work emails, but the conversation returns to Tiwi.
“I’ve got a great pic of the scoreboard. I loved those blokes who kept score,” he said as I too gravitated back to my own photos.
We vow to return and the plans begin again.