The bombing of Darwin, Australia happened 75 years ago.
Soon after Pearl Harbor took place in December of ’41, the Australian government decided to evacuate the city of Darwin. Darwin was an important Allied base on the northern edge of Australia, providing access to Asia and the pacific.
Most residents of Darwin loaded onto ships that ferried them south to the bigger cities like Perth and Melbourne and Sydney. Passengers took turns manning the scopes – looking, watching, waiting, scanning the surface of the water for periscopes.
Australia had a good hunch that the Japanese would come for Darwin sooner than later.
Sure enough in February, just a couple months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese dropped bombs on the Darwin base and the surrounding cities. Hundreds died on the first day, residents and military members both. A destroyer called the USS Peary sunk after being hit by five bombs. (USS Peary still rests in the Darwin harbor today, under about 90 feet of water.)
The Japanese air raids continued over the next few years until America finally ended the war with atom bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Japanese ambassadors, Australian governors and American military members were all present for the 75 year anniversary memorial service this past weekend.
It’s the wild west out here, a cowboy town with more jellyfish than people. Every truck has an exhaust snorkel, a spare gasoline tank, and a hatchet strapped to the hood. Palm trees, ficus trees, birds that belong on the cover of a national geographic magazine. Two seasons instead of four (that’s half!), a rainy one and a dry one
The city of Darwin (where I’m at) is closer to Papa New Guineau / Indonesia than it is to Sydney or Melbourne. The soil here is red, the water aqua green. It’s very strange to look at the water and think, there’s a whole handful of crocodiles in there somewhere, just sleeping in the mud and blinking.
My legs are sore from running because the best way to learn your new city is to run around it in a circle.
Right when I graduated college the economy crashed. And my solution for better or worse has always been, “Go wherever the hell the jobs are.” For that reason I’ve lived in a lot of tourist towns.
I feel at ease with the transient vibe of a tourist town. Tourists are happy and their faces aren’t stuck in a mold. Each day is a new experience and so people are more likely to smile, more likely to slow down, go for walks, buy another drink.
But the truth is, Northern Australia is a very weird place.
It’s weird for now, but after you live in a city for 3-6 months, you inevitably grow accustomed to the cooky and the odd. You learn how to buy groceries. You start to talk like the locals. Your brain starts to believe that where you live is normal life.
Ken Kesey committed pseudocide after being sentenced to prison for the possession of marijuana. He left a suicide note in his truck, parked it at the edge of a cliff in California, and took off with his friends to Mexico.
Huck Finn also committed pseudocide. He wanted to get away from his alcoholic father and go on adventures. There’s a brilliant scene where Huck and Tom hide in the rafters of the funeral home during Huck’s funeral. That scene made an impression on me as a kid. (What will they say about me when I’m gone?)
A pseudocode is a little death, and death is good for us in small doses.
The pressures of life expand like steam in a chamber and they need to be released or else. And sometimes man, a two week vacation just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes a vacation is a torturous little tease. The first dagger is a dreary life, but the second dagger is gazing into the future and realizing that nothing’s likely to change.
The doctor tries to patch you with pills, but really what you need is a micro dose of death and rebirth.
For some it’s a breakup or a divorce. For some it’s a new job, a new town. A psychedelic trip or a road trip. Quitting the habit you never thought you could quit.
These things feel like death. But now you’re reborn, and what will you call yourself? Maybe you’ll leave your iPhone in the drawer for a week and who cares? Time is on your side. The rainy days are even lovelier than the sunny ones. You suddenly realize that time travel is a waste. Because the men in black flashed a red light in your face and erased the past. People still warn you about tomorrow and her army of troubles, but you take it all with a grain of salt, because anyone who purports to read the future is a liar.
You’re like Huck Finn in the rafters, or Ken Kesey crossing the Mexico border. You’ve got $5 in your pocket, a sunburn on your neck, and a backpack full of apples. Once your soul is weightless, then baby you can really fly.
Did you know that 15,000 years ago the American West looked like the plains of Africa?! Lions and cheetahs chased herds of horse and elephant. Camels and giant ground sloths moped around the flat lands. Imagine the American West looking like the Serengeti.
Of course that all changed when Homo Erectus arrived on the scene. We have a pretty predictable habit of elbowing all the other mammals up into the mountains.
Right now I’m on the island of Bali in Indonesia, and around here there’s no room for large mammals like Buffalo or Elephants. However, they do have Komodo dragons, which I haven’t seen yet but plan to. I can’t miss out on my only chance to see real live dinosaurs.
And this part of the world has a remarkable history of exploration and colonization.
Long before humans made it into Alaska and down into North America (around 12,000 years ago), they had already island hopped their way from Asia to Australia (around 40,000 years ago).
THOSE guys were badass. They were some of the first to develop watercraft and explore the uncharted oceans. Essentially they island hopped – from West to East – all the way across to Australia. It was a golden age of successive human population explosions. And what’s crazy is that Australia would not have been visible from where the explorers set out, which means they were just going, casting off into the sea with no idea if they’d find another island, no idea if they’d row off the last cliff of the universe.
And when they reached Australia, they found giant kangaroos, giant pythons, land-dwelling crocodiles, 400 pound ostrich-like birds. Can you imagine? All of these creatures just walking around. And the craziest part is that the animals probably weren’t scared of humans, simply because they had never seen us before. We just showed up. How could they have known?
It’s easy to mourn the loss of a world we’ll never go back to (I’d be a fool to want to live back then). But I’m grateful that I have leaned against a 2,000 year old sequoia giant. I’m grateful that I have seen the bear and moose and mountain goats, the wild oceans and the Himalayas and man’s marvelous skylines from the vantage point of an airplane window.
The Vita-mix universe tosses the earth around on it’s geological spin cycle. I’m living in a polaroid snapshot of a curious events. I’ve got history books that help me see the past, Sci-Fi books written by insanely smart minds that help me see the future, and a 15 minute yoga practice that helps me slow down and discover where on earth I’m actually standing.
Charles Benson leaned forward at his desk and ran both of his hands through his thinning hair. It was much more grey than black these days. His top two advisors sat in black leather chairs on the other side of the office.
All three of them stared at the flat screen TV that hung on the wall. The 10 o’clock morning news segment had just begun. A young woman with the back posture of a flagpole took her seat behind the news desk, arranged a stack of papers, and began in a somber tone:
“Investigators have yet to ascertain any serious leads in the collapse of a major intersection in downtown Singapore over the weekend. A subway tunnel collapsed, causing the streets aboveground to cave in. Whole sections of roads, sidewalks, and even buildings were pulled into the hole caused by the tunnel collapse. The death count is currently at 92 and still rising. The number of injured is over 300.”
A video in the top right corner showed a helicopter’s view of the disaster. The intersection was barricaded off on all sides by police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. It looked like a black hole had opened up beneath the city and swallowed everything in it’s reach. Whole sections of nearby buildings had been broken off and pulled into the gaping hole, like a flooding river pulling off chunks of the river bank.