Dec 13, 2012 3:28PM

Photo Diary: Oyster x The Northern Territory Part 1

Markets, sunsets, skulls, pubs, palm trees and crocodiles.

Earlier this year, I was invited to go to the Northern Territory with Canon for a six-day photo safari (!) to test out their new range of cameras — the EOS 650D and PowerShot D20. I still don't really know why I was invited because, while I am a self-confessed Instagram genius, when it comes to using a camera that isn't an iPhone I'm like a technologically-challenged parent whose index finger magically ends up appearing in every frame. Additionally, I'm not really the adventurous type. My idea of adventure is purchasing a new brand of dip at the supermarket. I love a free trip though, so of course I took up the offer. As I read about the many terrifying versions of nature in the itinerary, I thanked my past self for watching so much Man vs. Wild, which provided me with a wealth of accurate survival knowledge. Little did I know what I was in for — the Northern Territory is the wildest place I have ever been (but thankfully at no point was I required to use a camel carcass for shelter).

We arrived in Darwin, and the first taste of the city was girls in bikinis on the side of the road holding up a handmade car wash sign. I felt like I was in LA. Our first destination was the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, which I was told was a "Darwin institution". At the markets, which were swarming with people, there was hippie shit (crystals, Happy High Herbs, Bob Marley textiles, incense), jerky, animal skulls, novelty t-shirts, crocodile dumplings, Tex Mex, Japanese food, European tourists, buskers breathing fire, local black kids dancing to live didgeridoo music played over psychedelic trance, horses, and the best sunset I have ever seen. It was a pretty good metaphor for the cultural melting pot that is Darwin itself, which is made up of over 60 nationalities — including the traditional landowners, the Larrakia Aboriginal people. 

The next morning we set off at some repulsively early hour in safari vans with tour guides who wore crocodile teeth around their neck as though they had slain some with their bare hands. (I kept this in mind the rest of the trip every time I thought I was going to die, which was a lot.) We headed east towards Kakadu National Park, stopping at the Bark Hut Inn, an iconic roadhouse pub which was once a buffalo shooters' camp. Taxidermy animals hung on walls and a heavily tattooed man, who looked like a long lost member of the Grateful Dead, pulled beers behind the bar.

Once inside Kakadu National Park we walked to Nourlangie Rock, an art site located in an outlying formation of the Arnhem Land Escarpment. Here, some of the oldest and most secret, spiritual and sacred marks of humanity are etched into rocks. Being there really made me realise how totally fucked up our colonialist history is and, not for the first time in my life, I found it very problematic to be here and be white.

We hiked up a Ryan McGingley-worthy cliff at Nawurlandja to watch the first of many amazing sunsets. Apologies for getting all Huckleberry Finn, but it was the kind of environment that floods you with an overwhelming sense of peace. That night was coincidentally my birthday so back at the camp site I celebrated the only way I know how; by drinking Moët from a plastic cup. 

The next morning I used all of my newly-acquired adult willpower to resist throwing a tantrum when awoken at 5am to go on a 'boat cruise' at the Yellow Water Billabong. When I think 'boat cruise', I think P. Diddy on a yacht wearing some breezy all-white ensemble, but this set-up was more akin to a ferry of fear. The Yellow Water Billabong is inhabited by saltwater crocodiles, the largest of all living reptiles, who have a reputation for being territorial, aggressive, opportunistic and adaptable predators. Let me paint a picture: they can weigh up to 1,000 kilograms, and grow up to up to 5.5 metres. The hunting technique of these motherfuckers is known as the 'death roll' (great name for a hardcore band), whereby they grab onto their prey, roll it over and then drag it into the water, flagellating it around until a limb or chunk of flesh separates and can be swallowed. COOL STORY BRO.

As I boarded the so-called 'boat', I wondered where the tranquilliser guns were kept. (Turns out there were no tranquilliser guns.) Not even twenty minutes in to the 'cruise', I had already seen at least three crocodiles swimming in the water, emerging on the surface for a moment, and then ominously disappearing into its murky depths. I was surprised to see a group of locals in a tiny tin boat casually cruising the river. The worst bit was when we stopped near a bank to observe one sunning itself. I told myself it was a very elaborate statue and imagined the soothing sound of a harp.

Part two coming soon...