We arrived in Adelaide mid-day July 1, then spun around and headed straight to the Top End. It’s been a bit of a climatic whirlwind – leaving 105 F in Southern Arizona, entering 60 F with rain in Adelaide, then arriving in 90 F in Darwin. It’s the heart of the dry season here. Similar to Southern Arizona, this part of the Northern Territory has a monsoonal pattern with a wet and dry season. Unlike my home in Tucson, Arizona which averages 11.5 inches of rain annually, the area around Darwin averages 68.1 inches of rain.
We’re staying in Humpty Doo just outside of Darwin with Mark, a renowned Didgeridoo musician and creator of the band eMDee and Shayote, an artist and jewelry maker. Their caravan style home is beautiful with ample outside living space and their block is full of local wildlife.
First sights the morning after a late night arrival on Thursday included a tawny frogmouth, one of my favorite Aussie critters, and green tree ants which are traditional bush tucker (wild food) high in protein and vitamin C.
The wet season this year was bad. The “wet” runs from November until April with high humidity and intense rain. The property’s billabong, typically a lush swimming hole in July, is at 10 percent capacity. During the wet a large portion of the block is underwater for months at a time. The billabong normally hosts turtles, small fish, a diversity of wetland plants, and a big old monitor lizard. Not quite enough food to attract and support crocs, which makes it a water lover’s paradise. When we arrived it was very shallow and things were pretty quiet. The land around the billabong was a beautiful mix of native grasses and shrubs. These guys have worked hard for years to make it that way by removing invasive long-grass, which (much like Arizona’s buffelgrass) follows production of cattle and is taking over large areas of the Top End.
Shay’s a great naturalist. She’s spent years observing the plants and critters on the block and learning about them from aboriginal elders, some of which she shared with us. The trick to getting nutrients from the green tree ants is to carefully snag their nest out of a tree, plop it into boiling water, stir for awhile, then drink it down. Unlike so many other critters in Australia, green tree ant bites are only mildly annoying and innocuous.
The grevillea flower, when picked fresh and given a bit of a shake produces beautiful and tasty nectar. The tender ends of the leaves of the pandanus tree, can be eaten raw and tastes like sweet cabbage – nice and juicy. The leaf fibers are used for weaving.
This sundew plant (Drosera) is carnivorous. It leaves are covered with tentacles that produce a sticky digestive enzyme which traps insects. These are abundant during the wet and taper off as things dry.
Next up, looking for salt and freshwater crocs in the bush, wallabys, a trip to the bird haven of Fogg Dam wetlands, eating local grub at the Darwin markets, and camping at Litchfield National Park.