Bombing of Darwin

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.

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The Truman Show

 

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.

My problem is that I was born suspicious.

Pseudocide

Darwin CBD Sunrise

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.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” -Stephen King: Thursday, May 7th

Charles Darwin toiled for decades to research and compile his great work,  “The Origin of Species.” It was his life’s work.

I can read “The Origin of Species” in a week or two. Now I know just as much as Charles Darwin knows about pigeons and selective breeding and natural selection.

It doesn’t seem fair. Darwin was hard-fought to come by all of that knowledge. He paid dearly for that knowledge with the only currency that matters – hours.

The poet Gary Snyder said that, “In Western Civilization, our elders are our books.”

Everyone is a reader. People who say they aren’t readers haven’t been found by the right book yet. Or maybe those people don’t like to eat books. Maybe they like to eat movies, radio shows, podcasts, or conversations with friends.

Because of course books, the physical things, are just vehicles. The Ideas and the Stories are the heart, the real nourishment, the real magic. (Ideas and Stories are savvy businessmen. They don’t care how they get moved around, as long as they’re being shared one way or another.)

It hurts my brain to think of how much value I’ve ingested through books, through people like Tolstoy and Da Vinci and John Green and a million others. By producing their works, artists give unique gifts to the universe.

I hope I can be a giver too and not just a taker.

But this impulse of mine is not about repayment. I don’t feel guilty or that I’m required to pay a debt. That would be a shitty feeling.

It’s more like… there’s a party going on. This party is filled with artists who are charging into their fears, sweating, grinning, loving, and releasing their one-of-a-kind butterflies into the wild. I want to join that party. For almost thirty years I’ve waited for an invitation to that party, but it never came, so now I’m inviting myself.