First Stop: Construction City

Despite having lived in the capital of the Northern Territory for four months almost to the day, I find myself reflecting regularly on the rather strange existence I find myself leading. Without giving an example of what my days entail it’s so hard to explain what my life in Darwin is like.

I drive a battered ute to the shed where mine, and my life partner, Brooke’s day working at an electrical company begins every morning. Dressed in high vis shirts, unfortunate half-mast trousers with sixteen pockets and walking boots, we trudge onto site only to be greeted by 13 teams of electricians, our always amicable yet rarely seen big boss Matthew, Rusty Russ ‘Love Muscle’ (our manager), Joe ‘The Pacer’ O’Carroll, the Aussie trio of Frank, Greg and Scoooo’y – the slowest speaking man in history – and finally, Darren and Luke. The indomitable duo with enough personality for the whole of Australia, Wales and Kent put together, who got us our jobs in the first place. Although both Brooke and I are essentially administration staff (and a position we weren’t even employed for in the first place), our responsibilities stretch way beyond the usual requirements of office-bound bitches. Of late, for example, while Brooke creates invoices for absolutely everybody; placates sulking Irishmen, Welshmen, Englishmen and Aussies with the promise of increasing work opportunities; upholds unparalleled patience with a gesticulating, 6 ft. 7, hyperactive rugby player hailing all the way from Barry Island (Darren) and, when she’s not doing all that, buys cufflinks for the head of SEQ to ensure he remains at all times, sophisticated and sweat-free; I am out testing the work of our electricians.

For anyone who has never visited Darwin, it is essentially a city under construction. There are roadworks absolutely everywhere. Traffic controllers, or lollypop ladies in hardhats, are taken on in their hoards to stand in the baking sun and 90% humidity for 12-14 hours a day while their male backpacking counterparts dig trench upon trench and skid along newly built roads in forklifts. There are potholes absolutely everywhere. In addition, every electrical company going are getting in on a piece of the National Broadband Network action. That is, the installation of fibre-optic cables underground; the whole reason why Brooke and I are employed and working over 60 hours every week (the Sabbath off – thank God). There are vans adorned with conduit and cables on every street, with 20 something year old lads from all an array of countries always somewhere nearby either doing a lot or doing very little. It must be fairly humorous then, to everyone who knows me well, to think that I, Kate Hutchinson, succeeds to exist within this world. A world in which I must drive 400 litres of diesel to the local construction site on the daily in order to fill up every machine and therein complete all an array of fear-inducing manoeuvres under the watchful eye of a leathery-skinned employee named Gunner.

Every morning begins with the consumption of a croissant and an Ice Break – iced coffee being the obligatory beverage for every working Territorian – while sitting on the dusty trailer of the ute with my fellow tester and friend from Germany, Franzie. I then spend the day driving solo through the streets of Leanyer and Wanguri, stopping every few minutes to wail a greeting to the homeowner from the other side of a locked gate and usually past several angry looking dogs. The testing itself is a fairly straightforward process, requiring the ability to manipulate a portable computer system, handle fibreglass delicately when splicing (a slight stretch for me) and read results on a graph. However, somebody both as clumsy and as frequently scatter-brained as myself should probably not have been honoured with the responsibility of opening street pits to diagnose and rectify problems at the multiport existing within. Case point: the first pit I opened, I immediately fell in. Backwards. After forgetting I’d opened it. Despite my failings in practicality I do enjoy my job no end, specifically because I could have never foreseen that I would be doing it. And now, because of the pretty awesome working environment, (wages!) and as was always inevitable, the fact that Brooke and I care what happens to this project that is only in its infancy, we will be doing it until November. 7 months from the moment we arrived on Mitchell Street.

The glum prophecies that we were told by our now incredible group of friends – the ‘Malakas’, as they are more commonly known in honour of the sour-faced Greeks they work with – on our first evening in Darwin have surprisingly come true. When we innocently asked what Darwin was like, an Austrian caveman told us that he only managed to ‘escape’ once in a year of being here, and that we would have to be sure we did the same. A long-haired and bearded French-Canadian said he could not understand how he was still here after 10 months when the sole recreational activities one can indulge in are: 1) getting drunk 2) drinking beer 3) going to the pub after work on a Friday. In high-vis. A German who needs absolutely no introduction (probably) said in his Queen-like manner, “Baby! It is… Isn’t it?” The thing is, nobody can really put their finger on why Darwin gets a grip on their hearts leading them to constantly extend their stay. It probably isn’t the terrible music in Darwin’s primary club, Monsoons, that we persist to go to every Saturday. It probably isn’t the fact it’s impossible to hide from people when you look rough because everybody knows everybody, and everybody stays for months on end. And it probably isn’t the fact that in the hottest state of Australia, you can’t cool off in the sea because there are too many crocodiles, box jellyfish and other things that can kill you.

But it could be partially to do with the outright absence of pretension everywhere you look. Yes, that may mean that civilised Sunday afternoon discussions of world politics are silenced before they have even begun by the din of those enjoying the unashamed debauchery of the ‘Sunday Sesh’ – all of whom will make it uncomplainingly, if not still drunk, to begin their respective 60 hour weeks in the morning. And it may mean that it’s easy to get frustrated as a traveller that your mind isn’t constantly expanding through the absorption of captivating and unfamiliar sights, sounds and culture. But it does means that a slightly trendy cafe emerging like an unimaginable mirage from between shops named ‘We Build Sheds’ and ‘Precision Tiling: For a Quality Lay’ is appreciated by its modest clientele in ways it never would be in say Sydney or Melbourne. It means that when a group of ‘specialists in the underground European house and techno scene’ host an impromptu bush rave, 300 music lovers will hastily scramble onto the buses that will take them 2 hours from civilisation and into their hedonistic heaven. And they will proceed to make friends only on account of their attendance at said rave and will discuss and relive it for their remaining time in Darwin. It means that the best possible way to spend your weekend is not browsing round overpriced city attractions (there really aren’t any) but floating on your back at the bottom of a glorious waterfall in Litchfield National Park thinking to yourself that in that moment, life really could not be better. And it definitely means that friendships are made without frills and fancy, but by personalities that have been stripped bare coming together over a beer and barbecue.