Turtles and Fine Art

Our final morning in Darwin was spent buying some snack food for the car, and visiting the beautiful Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which featured a fascinating exhibit on Cyclone Tracy, which wiped out Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974. We went to a fancy restaurant for lunch, since there won’t be any more fancy restaurants for weeks. Then we headed to Nauiyu, home of the Merrepen Arts and Sports Festival.

The Merrepen Arts Festival has a hundred or so oil paintings by local Aborigine artists for sale, ranging from $250 to $3500. They were shown for inspection, and offered for sale Sunday. A few will be auctioned. There were also many pretty fabrics and silks for sale. The sports aspect of the festival is happening continuously on the local football field. We didn’t really know what game we were watching; it turned out to be Australian football, which has a ball shaped like an American football, no markings on the field, and completely different rules.

In the evening there was a concert, featuring some fire dancers, Leah Flanagan from Darwin with her band, Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier from Melbourne and local favorites the Emu Sisters. Deborah Conway was the hit, with interesting lyrics and great mandolin/steel guitar/guitar work by Mr. Zygier. The Emu Sisters aroused lots of enthusiasm, but they basically alternated between two songs about three times, and were a little tuning-challenged.

Sunday morning we went to the art sale, were disappointed to see that the $550 work we wanted was immediately snapped up, probably before the shopping spree officially opened, and arrived at the $950 work we wanted, a depiction of barramundi caught in nets, simultaneously with a Polish expatriate who was kind enough to let us have it. Afterwards we walked over to a fire pit where some elderly Aborigines were cooking two wallabies and two turtles. We watched them open up the pit and start slicing open the critters. We got to taste some turtle liver and a turtle egg, as well as a little meat from turtle and wallaby. Also the local version of bread, which they called Damper. Also a plant they called Yams, but it has nothing to do with anything we or any other culture calls yams, being a kind of spiny tuber. It tastes like potatoes.

In the afternoon we drove north to Litchfield National Park, where we saw “magnetic termite mounds”: a species of termite makes very thin mounds which are on a north-south axis to minimize exposure to the sun. Seeing a whole field of them aligned was quite interesting. Most of the other mounds we’ve been seeing are more generally cylindrical, though some are twenty feet tall. We also saw three cute waterfalls, but it was a little too late in the day to go swimming, and there was also the issue of not having the campsites fill up. The National Park camps don’t take reservations.