The Waiting

Three weeks into my top end odyssey, and things are going slowly. I have done some useful research, but am itching to do my field trip to Croker Island, and from there, a boat trip to Fort Wellington, Raffles Bay. I can’t do that until I get a permit, which is in train, but meanwhile, I have come across an extremely important booklet, which will be invaluable for my quest.
A visit to the Northern Territory Archives has been the most productive of my researches so far in tropical Darwin, although the parliamentary library, a section of the gleaming tropical multi million parliamentary building, has also been useful, as has a trip to the museum. An important part of the history of Fort Wellington, was the visits by Macassan traders to the region, as they sought the trepang, or sea slug, which they traded to the Chinese, who valued it highly for its taste, its health benefits, and not leastly, for its aphrodisiacal qualities. The parliament library has been a good source of information on the Macassans and their ways.  

 

The museum’s excellent maritime section, has a Macassan Prau, built in recent times, but in the style of those which plied the coast for perhaps two hundred years, before they were banned from Australian waters in 1906. 

 

Macassan Prau

The Northern Territory Archives was to produce the most exciting discovery so far. I had found on the net some references to a field trip to Raffles Bay, by the local Historical Society, which for many years had a man called Peter Spillet as its driving force. I had expressed my interest in all things relating to Raffles Bay to Cathy, of the NTA, and she called to let me know that she had a file on Raffles Bay for me to look at. I was delighted to discover a thick file containing information about a trip to Fort Wellington, Raffles Bay which had been undertaken by the Historical Society in 1966, with the support of two army personnel, who also supplied a Land Rover and trailer in support of the other vehicle. 

This trip was a huge undertaking, with few well defined tracks, and with those that were used subject to collapse, resulting in bogged vehicles, trailers overturning, and much back tracking and bush bashing before they attained their goal. When they did find the fort, which had been abandoned in 1829, they photographed and documented what was left thoroughly, and importantly for my part, got an accurate fix on the location. It was type written notes at the beginning of the folder, but buried amongst the stack of paper work, much of which was correspondence to a Singapore printer, was a printed booklet, with all of the information, including the photographs and some drawings of the journey, put together by the late, and much revered Peter Spillet. 

Cathy supplied me with a brochure for the Historical Society, and I contacted and spoke with Yvonne Forrest, who was aware of the publication, but she was not hopeful that I could find a copy for myself, something I desperately wanted. The next morning I got a phone call from a lady who had been contacted by Yvonne. She had two copies of the booklet, and was happy to post one to me, provided that I then paid for it by return mail. This is the kind of thing which makes it all worth while coming up to Darwin, and it provides me with the perfect field guide for my excursion to Raffles Bay.

For now, it is the waiting. The booklet, at the time of writing this blog, has not yet arrived; nor has my request to the Minjiling Community on Croker Island for some signatures from Traditional Owners in support of my visit, before I submit my permit application to the Northern Land Council. There is a pace to things here in tropical Darwin, which pays scant regard to the email, fax and internet driven world, and which allows things to proceed in their own good time, and that is the way it will unfold. In truth, it is a pace which suits me.

 

Post Script: Since writing this blog, I have received the booklet (above) and today (25th) my signatures from Croker came through. Off to Croker Island soon, via Murin Air.


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