With some help from archives and statements by concerned individuals who have kept the history alive.. We want Darwin to be a community that has 'not lost its memory' and the 'construction of history in settler societies' does not always allow the layers of history to shine through
For those of you who would like a little overall history of your immediate location you will perhaps be interested in this outline of the amazing area surrounding Gardens Hill and Moonshadow.. There are so many stories that form a layer after layer of meaningful history that is still able to be seen and felt on an easy walk around the area.
As the history in many respects is oral, it is hard to grasp and is becoming lost in time. This is our attempt to give some meaning to the layers for the visitor to Darwin and is as accurate as we could make it.
When we came to the Tropics we were intrigued by the intrigue, by the fascinating stories of the intermingling of races. Of the amazing endeavors in a punishing climate by people ill-equipped or isolated from their loved ones and it is these layers that we cannot forget and must make available to all who visit. This way they may become fascinated and understand what it is about this city that does make it different and perhaps why we stayed and built Moonshadow.
There are stories of the visits from the Macassans or more correctly Makassar trepangers from the southwest corner of Sulawesi formerly Celebes) who visited the coast of northern Australia for hundreds of years - some say from the 1400's - to process trepang (also known as sea cucumber "sandfish"): a marine invertebrate prized for its culinary and medicinal values in Chinese markets. These visits have left their mark on the people of Northern Australia - in language, rock art, economy and even genetics in the descendants of both Makassar and Australian ancestors that are now found on both sides of the Arafura and Banda seas.
And tales that the Chinese Treasure ships with the famous Chinese Captain and Navigator Cheng Ho who was a eunuch and reputed to be 7 feet tall, was apparently in the area during his voyages to Indonesia and the Archipelego. It's likely that a detachment of one of Cheng Ho's fleets sailed to northern Australia during one of the seven voyages based upon the Chinese artifacts found as well as the oral history of the Aborigines
It is a story of native tribes people, the saltwater people. The Larrakia People now referred to as the Larrakia Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land that stretches from Gunn Point to Cox Peninsula most of Darwin itself and Mindil and the Gardens Area.
It is a story of the English settlement of Darwin from 1866 and 1869 when the Surveyor General Goyder founded Palmerston, the first permanent township of Port Darwin. His Official Botanist, Frederic Shultze armed with the seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers beans and pumpkins initiated the first Gardens of the 5 gardens established and called the area The Gardens where Moonshadow is now located.
The story of how this settlement affected the lifestyle of the Traditional Owners is covered in a small way. How the planting of the first crops in the area including sugar cane in Doctor's Gully (now Aquascene the fish feeding complex) and "The Paper Bark Swamp" which was the area of Mindil and The Darwin Golf Course - at the bottom of the hill from Moonshadow - helped make Darwin self-sufficient and led the way for the large market gardens established in 1905 by some of the 2000 Chinese residents.
These gardens ran from the edge of the current golf course through the area of the Old Cemetery and this area still has the old coconuts What is now Gardens Oval across the road from the Casino and next to the Golf Course was the site of piggeries established by the Chinese. Rainwater tanks and wells were the only source of water
Then there is the journey of Alan Cobham in 1926 from London on his land/sea plane and the landing on Mindil Beach complete with coconuts then as it is now (and one of the reasons we are so passionate about our eco-friendly polished coconut wood floors at Moonshadow)
It is a story of World War II as fought in the Tropics. The recreation areas used by the servicemen and the way that they hid their supplies in the rainforest. Part of that rainforest is still in existence in Birdsong Gully surrounding and restored at Moonshadow Villas and it is the story of a modern city destroyed and re-invented.
In the beginning.. The Mindil area was named by the Larrakia people and called this because Mindl is the Larrakia word for a small nut grass with an onion-like root which grows freely on the sandy areas. It is roasted in fire normally although it can be eaten raw and is quite delicious.
The immediate area of Mindil and Gardens Hill and Cullen Bay (the old Kahlin area) was populated by the Larrakia Tribe. There were visits from the tribes people of Tiwi Islands and there are recorded and recognized burial sites near the Gardens Hill Oval, Little Mindl and the area that is now Mindl Beach Sunset Market site. One major burial ground for the Larrakia Tribe is near the Casino and marked by Pukamani poles.
The Larrakia and Tiwi use of the space, where language groups fought for land or honour and where communities interred their dead, is a different side of Darwin's history.
The enduring story of the site is that most Australian of stories: it is the story of beaches and swimming, fishing and collecting coconuts, drinking, eating and celebrating. Darwin claims a title as multicultural and multiracial, a city unlike others in Australia. The history of the Mindil Beach site, which almost equally shares between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals experiences of partying, sport, recreation and even war and death, arguably supports this contention.
It was an established rule that no Aboriginal could be buried in the white or European cemetery. So they had to bury them on Mindil Beach, and right about where the casino is now. But what they had to do, they had to put the bodies into a canoe and sail them right around Myilly Point like that and come back into Mindil Beach, and bury the dead... in later years - around about 1926 or '27 - they cut a track down there - [that's the one I was talking about, Nurses Walk] right down to the beach... the old Aboriginals still buried their dead there, but instead of coming around by canoe, they carried the dead from Kahlin down through that path to the burial grounds. ... Later on ... the Tiwis - that's the Bathurst Island people ... had several graves there with the totem poles and everything erected.????Val McGuinness Traditional Owner
This track referred to by Val as The Nurses Track is in existence today It commences at the top of Myilly Terrace and meanders down the side of the escarpment to the beach. It was a quick way round and lovely walk for off duty Nurses and Doctors to come from the site of the Old Darwin Hospital to enjoy some tropical life. The Old Darwin Hospital no longer exists but the Myilly Heritage area houses some of the last remaining tropical homes set in beautiful tropical Gardens. These homes were mostly built in the 30's
A number of Aboriginal long-term Darwin residents, which included Bobby Secretary, Topsy Secretary, Margaret Rivers, Norman Harris and Maudie Bennett, recalled Aboriginal burials on the site and actually provided lists of names of people known to be interred at the Mindil Beach site. In the end there was a sufficient weight of evidence from the oral histories of long-term Darwin residents, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to support the findings of a coronial inquest to establish that the Mindil Beach area was an Aboriginal burial ground.
After extensive discussion with the casino owners at the time and Aboriginal traditional elders from the Larrakia and the Tiwi, the bones were re-interred on a man-made island built on Mindil Creek. The site was marked by pukamani poles especially commissioned from Tiwi family members of the dead. And at the opening ceremony of the casino in April 1983 there was an accompanying Aboriginal ceremony and dance to honour their memory
The challenge is the exclusiveness of the stories about the area. There appears to be hardly any crossover. The story of the Darwin casino is not the story of the sunset markets. The story of Aboriginal art and culture marketed to modern tourists is not the story of an Aboriginal burial ground. The Story of the Botanic Garden is not of Chinese labour and market gardens nor of the invitation to the Japanese to come as a labour force in the early 1900's (declined then but who chose to 'drop in' in the 40's)
These disconnections are a product of construction of the settlers history of site narratives in a context of high population turnover where the transmission of oral histories is poor and fragmented. in the layering of the stories it also tells us something specific about the nature of Darwin's multiculturalism. The stories coexist independently, without them informing each other - so perhaps this describes the nature of the multiculturalism - resilient and informed by a strong tradition, but one which is contained within each. We hope this short history as we have heard it and researched it helps the interaction between the layers and makes for a much more interesting trip.
By the war years, off-duty troops went regularly to Mindil Beach for swimming and other recreational activities. It was seen as a safe beach and people swam 'without fear of sharks, crocodiles or stingers'. The bent palm tree 'was a real landmark,' somebody said. On warm evenings, the young service men and women would take musical instruments and crates of beer down to the beach to play music, drink and socialise away from the war. One young female officer, Joyce Johnson, recalled that 'Mindil Beach was like a city beach' - by this she means a southern city beach - 'there were nurses and soldiers and airmen all - it looked like Bondi.' During the military buildup of World War II there were some camps constructed on the beach front site and the beach was used for R&R [rest and recuperation] by military service personnel.
But the oral histories also record a darker side in the story of the wartime history of Mindil Beach. In the tropics in February in the wet season it was important to bury the bodies very quickly, and they were buried where they came ashore at Mindil Beach. Hard to imagine but many of the people who died where in ships or on the harbor and the tide washed them to a traditional burial place.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
The gardens were established on their present site in 1866; this was the third attempt by European settlers of Darwin to establish a site where plants of economic importance could be tested for their suitability in the tropics. Initially the collection of the gardens was focused on economic gardening and the ornamental plantings. It is easy for visitors "from Down South" to forget that Darwin is both geographically and temperamentally a 'city in the tropics'. Therefore the city's Botanical Gardens (enter via Gardens Road) are something worth visiting. Started in the late 1870s by the German botanist Dr. Maurice Holtze they contain over 400 species of tropical plants.
Holtze had worked in the Royal Gardens in Hanover and the Imperial Gardens in St Petersburg before migrating to Australia where, from 1878-1891, he was government gardener at the Palmerston Botanic Gardens. An extract of the history of the Gardens by George Brown the last curator of the gardens is as follows:"The government officials, being typical philistines in terms of horticulture, put him in charge of the production of fruit and vegetables for their tables but Holtze rebelled saying that the 'raising of cabbage heads was not the greatest ambition of the true botanist'. With his son, Nicholas (who became curator of the Gardens in 1891) Holtze began a series of experiments to see whether the climate of the 'top end' was suitable for the growing of tropical crops. He experimented with rice, rubber, coffee, tobacco, peanuts, sugar and other less well known crops and advocated that the Northern Territory could become a rice bowl"
The Gardens now cover 42 hectares and are full of the most exotic tropical plants including Tamarinds and trees thought to be originally planted by the Makassar. They are less than a two minute easy walk from Moonshadow.
At Moonshadow we are in the fortunate position to be situated adjacent to a stretch of Rainforest and native vegetation which was known as Birdsong Gully. There is a small creek which runs heavily in the wet season and supports many examples of wild-life and butterflies, birds and frogs. This area and the areas around the villas are maintained organically.
In vines we have pepper vines, passionfruit vines with particular emphasis on "Panama Gold" An evergreen vine producing large, yellow-skinned fruit with a juicy, aromatic pulp that is generally sweeter than black passionfruit and "Tropical Yellow, An evergreen vine producing round, yellow-skinned fruit with a juicy, aromatic pulp. Yellow passionfruit need cross-pollination to produce fruit so needs multiple plants. We are also in the process of growing Vanilla beans from the Vanilla Orchid Vanilla planifolia is indigenous to Mexico and may have been used up to 1000 years ago by the Totonac tribe as a flavouring. The Tontonacas still grow vines with almost religious devotion because to them it was the gift of the gods. It is not uncommon to have a few vines growing around their houses. These are watered every day as if they were the Tontonacas most valuable possession. The vanilla beans were used as a tribute to the Emperor of the Aztecs. They are difficult to grow and can take years to fruit.
We have Tamarind Trees which now bear fruit. These were originally grown by Makassar Traders who came for Trepang. It is an evergreen tree, 18 - 25 m in height, native to tropical Africa. It is a traditional shade tree of villages in Africa and India. It is grown for its edible pods, which are dark brown and sweet when ripe. The leaves and flowers are also eaten. The tangy fibre from the pods is used in curries and sambals. The timber is strong and termite-proof, used for furniture and tool handles. It needs a seasonal dry season to encourage flowering so perfect for Darwin.
We are currently trying to establish Miracle Fruit plants which change sour items to sweet. and produce two crops per year, after the end of the rainy season. It is an evergreen plant that produces small red berries, with flowers that are white and are produced for many months of the year. The seeds about the size of coffee beans In tropical West Africa, where this species originates, the fruit pulp is used to sweeten palm wine. Historically it was also used to improve the flavor of bread gone sour.
Attempts have been made to create a commercial sweetener from the fruit, with an idea of developing this for diabetics Fruit cultivators also report a small demand from cancer patients, because the fruit allegedly counteracts a metallic taste in the mouth that may be one of the many side effects of chemotherapy.