Thursday, September 17, 2009

Going Troppo

"Going troppo" refers to the slip into madness some people are thought to go through because of intense tropical heat. To "go troppo (tropical)" means to go crazy. Its not coincidence then that the name of a stellar architecture firm in Darwin, Northern Territory is Troppo Architects. I had an amazing time in Sydney, thanks mostly to the incredible people I met there, but I've found I get more and more ancy in densely populated cities recently. Sitting in the window seat of flight JQ73 to Darwin, I looked down over the barren red nothingness that is the outback with a sense of anticipation and wonder. Small dirt roads criss-crossed the landscape in orderly fashions, creating a subtle grid of dissected earth that almost looks comical in its attempt to tame the untamable. A few hours later the vision below changed again, revealing trees first stubbornly lifting their heads, then gathering courage and banding together to form the lush tropics.

Darwin is in the extreme Northwest of the Northern Territory of Australia. The first sight that greeted me as I disembarked from the plane was a federal police car with a crash bar and snorkel. You know you're getting somewhere serious when emergency vehicles are equipped with snorkels and heavy 4WD tires. Everything on the surface at least is a stark contrast to the relatively easy of life of those around Sydney. I saw multiple "crash repair" shops on a walk down to the water and if you possess a car people will likely ask you where your second spare tire is. Put it this way, the first snack I had at the local market was crocodile instead of corn on the cob.

There is said to be still great tensions between the aboriginals and the whites living in the area. I just arrived today so I'll decline to assess the touchy situation too deeply until I've been on the ground a bit longer. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976 though established the ability for the indeginious populations of Australia to be able to claim land they could prove had been inhabited by Aborigines. The population of the whole of the NT is only around 220,000 with Aborigines making up about a third of that. There are over 521,000 square miles, or about 2 square miles for every person. Land ownership right now breaks down to Aborigines owning about 50% of the overall territory. Its a big political deal now what is happening to the remote communities {attempting to provide aid/schools} but the tricky part seems to be what is "help" and what is regarded as force feeding of ideals. Hopefully I'll be able to get a closer look a the situation at the rural communities, but passage alone means having a permit to get into certain areas so not sure if it will pan out.

Its "The Dry" right now, with "The Wet" coming sometime in October. When the wet comes, roads are swept away, becoming impassable because of the floods. Most Australians break down the seasons of the area around Darwin into just two, wet and dry, though Aboriginal people recognize six seasons instead of our normal four {Gunumeleng, Gudjewg, Banggereng, Yegge, Wurrgeng, and Gurrung}. The quiet before the storm is what is said to be hardest on the nerves, and the murder rate noticeably jumps up every year in the weeks leading up to the first rain of the season. The escalating violence could be seen as the nerves being worn thin, similar to going to work every day in the shadow of a volcano, knowing it could erupt at any time. Along with the wet comes the cyclones...

Even with all of our might and machines and technology we have not succeded in taming mother nature. The cyclone named Tracy is testament to this. Cut to Christmas morning, 1974, Tracy sweeps through, killing 65 people and decimating 60% of the entire city. Just more of a reason that houses have to be designed of and for a place. Knowing the intricacies of a climate and what nature is capable of. A model of building taken from another place will not survive. In some ways I think of the human race as caretakers of a house where the real owners are gone temporarily on vacation. After a while we manage to convince ourselves that it is our property, but in fact we're just watering the plants {or depleting ozone levels if you're a glass half full kind of person}.

I met with Simon Scally of Build-Up-Design the other day. He was kind enough to talk to me on a friday afternoon, but showing up with a six pack of VB apparently didn't hurt. Build Up does a lot of great work, a lot of it in Arnhem land, a large portion of Aboriginal land East of Darwin. Almost everything is flown/driven the long distances to the sites, and labor is usually flown in by helicopter for 3 week stints. Sometimes local labor is used, but often times builders prefer to use people they are used to working with, also because many of the specialty trades like electrical and plumbing are not yet available. Many of the fittings/hardware are inexpensive and uncomplicated farm equipment, allowing for easy repairs and holding up under the harsh conditions. Locally made mud-bricks are used within a steel frame for lateral bracing as well as its non corrosive qualities. For forest fires, the area around the houses are cut back and raked, with the other reasoning being that footprints of anyone coming near the house at night can be seen the next day. There are so few people in many of the communities that they can be identified by their individual footprints. Being extremely superstitious, its also allows them to see evil spirits at night with more visibility.

Thoughts on Traveling #25 :

For all the LOST fanatics... How strange is it that the Darwin flag and Dharma logo look similar in shape? Also the exact same Japanese fleet that bombed Pearl Harbor also bombed Darwin in WWII. LOST was filmed in Hawaii... One of the Dharma stations is called "The Tempest", Darwin has a lot of cyclones... I think you see where I'm going with this. The conclusion is just too easy really...

1 comment:

Nicolette Mastrangelo said...

That box on stilts photo looks like a miniature version of Nick's Bldg blog site...your northern travels are amazingly fascinating, i'm still trying to squeeze in STILL in Den Haag (btw, it's gotten more interesting and I finally got that night in a yoga studio...although it was quite normal) and on a very hilarious mission to get a visa to Kazakhstan. Clap!
PS I'll see Nick again briefly in Venice/Palmanova in about 1.5 weeks.