David Whitley trudges along to Darwin’s sunset market like a moody teenager, and ends up a convert.
I grew up in a market town. I know what markets are like – someone bellows “fresh bananas” all day, an old woman sells rubbish old books and the other stalls flog cheap boxer shorts that wouldn’t even get past Primark quality control.
Abroad, things tend to be little different. You might get different types of fruit being shouted about, whilst if you’re in an area vaguely frequented by tourists, the pants will be accompanied by colourful bits of cloth that you’ll never wear and ‘trinkets’.
For those unaware, trinkets are little pieces of handmade crap that get buried behind a bookshelf when you get home and realise that they’re rubbish.
Unfortunately, my beloved wife adores wandering around such markets, squirreling up things with no discernable purpose. And as a trade-off for regularly making her hike miles through the desert without breakfast or coffee, I had resigned myself to a night at Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Market.
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Unsurprisingly, the market has got plenty of tat for sale. There are glass butterflies, miracle cures for itchy mosquito bites, cheap T-shirts and brightly coloured sarongs. It’s mostly standard market fare, but at least most of it is unique and handmade by the stall holder.
More importantly, however, the market is a deeply appealing place to spend a Thursday or Sunday night. And I didn’t think I’d find myself saying that.
This is partly because of the setting. Mindil Beach plays host to some of the world’s best sunsets, and as the sun goes down, people flock from the stalls to the sand to watch the great ball of fire colour in the sky. It becomes a shared moment amongst locals, visitors from elsewhere inand overseas tourists. No-one needs to say anything, ostentatiously link arms or anything mawkish like that – it’s just an unspoken bond.
Then, of course, there’s the food. Part of what makes Darwin so likeable is that it has a huge Asian influence. It is, of course, nearer tothan it is to . And the food stalls provide a brilliant tapas trail from the Philippines to Timor L’Este via Japan, and Sri Lanka.
The Aussie influence remains, however – there’s none of the hassle that can plague such hotspots in Asia proper and the Roadkill Café proudly grills up Aussie meats such as emu, kangaroo and camel that careless drivers knock down on the highways.
But the key thing about the Mindil Beach market is that it managed to keep me entertained. At one end, a hardcore didgeridoo drum ‘n’ bass collective kept the energy up, while a local band played tracks from their new album at the other.
There was also the chance to watch artists at work – one chap was making extraordinary pictures of Uluru using spray paint and a knife.
But most entertaining of all was watching the succession of mugs line up to take on a little bike. Its steering was the wrong way round – turn the handlebars left and you go right, and vice versa – and all you had to do was ride it a short distance without falling to win $50. Everyone had their theories, everyone thought it looked easy, but no-one managed it. And watching them fail was compulsive viewing.
But the final nail in my coffin, showing how far I’d succumbed, was when I actually found myself buying something. Two simple ceramic Anthony Gormley-esque figurines locked in an embrace, doubling as salt and pepper shakers were my downfall. Yes, they sound kitsch, and they probably are – I must have just been taken by the Mindil Beach vibe.