One of the more predictable parts of Christmas while growing up was the inevitable and boisterous singing of that ridiculous ditty, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Clearly a tune from ye olde British times (how many partridges do you see on the drive down to Alice, after all), the song itself actually made no sense. Why your true love would send you Eleven Pipers Piping instead of, say, a new Xbox, was never satisfactorily explained to me. Nor was the significance of Five Golden Rings, even though that was the only bit of the song that anyone actually sang in unison or indeed remembered the lyrics to. So, in the interest of making it a tad more relevant to both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, here is an amended version set in the Territory, or as I like to call it, ‘On the twelfth day of Christmas, my best mate sent to me…’
Twelve Drunks a’ Dancing: Nothing says Christmas in Darwin like the Twelve Pubs of Christmas pub crawl. Don a skimpy Santa suit and join the throngs rolling up Mitchell Street in a lively riot of red, green, pom-poms and vomit. If you can make it to Pub #7 (usually Monsoons or Wisdom) without staggering sideways into a bike rack or calling on the services of a pedicab, you’re doing better than just about everyone. For pure, unbridled, intoxicated mischief, it’s second only to St Patrick’s Day at Shags. Alternatively, pick up half a dozen slabs of XXXX Gold at the drive thru and throw a pool party. That is, if you have a spare week or two to sit in the queues generated by the Banned Drinker Register, and the patience to put up with the foul moods of the BWS and Thirsty Camel staff created by the queues generated by the Banned Drinker Register. Just don’t forget your ID, because in a dazzling display of NT logic, holding a valid drivers’ licence while purchasing enough liquor to survive the apocalypse equates to the responsible and moderate consumption of alcohol.
Eleven Mud Crabs Nipping: If you’re on the slightly lazy side, dunking a pot in a likely-looking bit of water then heading to the pub until the tides change is a good first foray into fishing. If you don’t own a boat, or indeed crab pots, find someone who does and who preferably has a working knowledge of depth sounders. Territory Taste member Kelly and her Fishing Expert beau Ed are regular crabbers (although it must be said that Ed, while enthusiastic, isn’t very good at it), and recently brought a couple of spares into the office for our fearless GM. Said GM was handed the bag, which she opened with the eagerness of a small child opening a particularly large Christmas present. She let out a piercing shriek and staggered backwards over a desk, flinging the bag as far from her as she could. She was genuinely horrified, and more than a little disgusted, to discover that they were still alive.
Ten Barra Biting: Still on the fishing theme, why not celebrate the festive season with a Million Dollar Barra? Heck, I’d settle for one with a $10,000 tag. If you’ve been following the comp in the NT News you will have reached the conclusion that the easiest way to bag one of these bad boys seems to be to take one of your mate’s kids fishing, preferably one who has never cast a line before. Those cheeky little so-and-sos manage to hook the big one, first cast, every time.
Nine Pints of Northern: I’d never heard of Great Northern Mid-Strength before I came to Darwin, which is a shame because it would have saved me a lot of hangovers and subsequent trips to KFC during my twenties. One of the Territory’s best kept secrets, this delicious draught has actually been brewed in Cairns since 1927, so these guys really get how to produce mid-strength brews that can be consumed in bulk during periods of peak humidity. One of the few beers that you can begin drinking at 9am and still be vertical come sunset, once you’ve got nine of these under your belt go and find the aforementioned Twelve Drunks and make some new friends. One little word of warning though: once you’ve become accustomed to mid-strength, approach any full potency beer with caution. I hit up the Oktoberfest Beerhall at Sky City Pavilion last month and was only three pints into something German before it occurred to me that it was only 4pm, I was extremely drunk and had to cycle home to cook dinner. How I made it without going A over T into a hydrangea bush is beyond me, but I’m pretty sure the cornflakes and jam I served up to my bemused housemates was outstanding.
Eight Laksas Leaking: Boy do Territorians love a laksa. Ever since Rendezvous moved premises to their swishy Mitchell Street restaurant next to Deck Bar, it’s been a bit more of a trek from the office and to be honest, a little far to be returning with enough food to feed the whole team. I miss the old place, tucked down the back of Star Arcade in The Mall with a gaudy, LED-lit façade less than 30cm across and barely a metre high, and an access hatch you had to crawl through after giving Biff the Bouncer the password. Always packed with happy campers and friendly staff, to eat in meant climbing over all the other diners (sometimes twice) and inserting yourself into an absurdly small booth seat that was just a little big for one but not quite roomy enough for two.
Seven Savs at Stonehouse: This delightful establishment on Cavenagh Street is only a year old, but has already cemented itself as one of the premier drinking venues in the Darwin CBD. Hugely popular with the after-work crowd, the accommodating staff and superior wine list at Stonehouse are directly responsible for my nearly missing an international flight last week. I popped in for a pre-holiday tipple with my associate Laverne, and was so enamoured with the place that we polished off a whole bottle of rosé before getting stuck into a mighty fine shiraz. By the time we made it to dinner we were well on the way to merriment. I did make it to the airport on time, but was so… relaxed that I failed to realise the security checkpoint had moved to a different part of the building, and sat there staring glassy-eyed at the boarded up departure area for a good two hours wondering where all the other people were.
Six Stingers Stinging: The sting of the box jellyfish is said to be the most excruciating pain in existence to any living being on the planet, and that’s a very good reason why the tropical waters of the Territory coast are empty of human life for the majority of the year. There’s nothing about a box jellyfish sting (or indeed the Irukandji) that isn’t going to make you want to lie down in the aircon with a tub of ice-cream and season three of Gossip Girl on Netflix. Vinegar is handy at soothing mild stings (with the exception of the Portugese man o’ war, which is not strictly a jellyfish), but if it’s the box variety you’ve brushed up against, you’re about to feel very uncomfortable indeed. If you’re out of vinegar and still need to enter the water, cover yourself head-to-toe with pantyhose. Yes, you will look like a git, but you’ll live to drink another Northern. (Note: Full-body pantyhose are not a deterrent to crocs, sharks or NT News photographers.)
Five Cyclone Warnings: Ever since Cyclone Tracy devastated the Top End in 1974, the humble Cyclone Kit has become an essential feature of every Darwin pantry. We haven’t had a cyclone make landfall in the Territory since Lam and Nathan livened things up in 2015, but warnings have been on the rise. There was one in place when I moved to the Territory a few years ago; slightly alarmed, I asked my new boss how best to go about preparing a kit for one. She looked thoughtful for a bit, then nodded sagely and informed me that the first things stripped from the shelves of Woolies during an official Warning were cigarettes, beer and vodka. The NTES doesn’t include any of these items in their annual Cyclone Kit list, which seems a tragic oversight to me. I understand that tins of baked beans and spare AA batteries are probably pretty handy, as is a little fresh water, but three days without aircon or Internet in the company of people that annoy you become pretty unbearable unless you’re three sheets to the wind and wondering whether peanut butter goes best with dried noodles or buffalo jerky. In other news, if I wasn’t on the BDR when I started writing this article, I certainly am now.
Four Markets Open: With the Dry Season weather go the bulk of the tourists and the madness of Mindil, but the hardier folk at Parap, Rapid Creek, Nightcliff and Berry Springs go all year round. If you can find a car park at Parap on a Saturday without threatening anyone with a club lock, go for the affogato at the Just Coffee cart or half a dozen por pia from one of the many bain maries. Rapid Creek is best for fresh Asian veg, Nightcliff has a dazzling array of harem pants, second hand books and a play area for the kids, and Berry Springs has Berry Springs and lots and lots of mangoes.
Three French Backpackers: While the Dry is obviously peak backpacker season, some of the hardier folk stick around for the storms and the thunder. The unluckier ones can be spied clutching ‘SLOW’ signs at the edges of roadworks in full hi-vis gear with a desperate look that suggests fruit picking in Queensland wasn’t that bad after all. For those who are sober enough to manage something a little more complex than a sign on a stick, you’ll find them manning the tables at Char, describing succulent cuts of beef, all zee creemey sauces and taking you bottle-by-bottle through the wine list. I don’t know if any of them actually know what they’re talking about, but the accent makes them all sound incredibly clever, irresistibly sexy and a little as if they’ve recently arrived from the set of My Kitchen Rules.
Two Feral Chooks: They’re smelly, dirty and look like they never really got their heads around the concept of evolution. A bulbous body, a tiny, squat head housing an equally tiny, squat brain and endowed with comically small wings, they never really get airborne unless within close proximity of a ceiling fan. With a particular proclivity for spraying crap in four different directions at once, trust me when I say you really don’t want one of these in your house. My boss had one once. Like an advert for insurance company, it came barrelling in through the open concertina doors, spent some time defecating extravagantly in the kitchen before decamping to the living room and landing on the antique dining table. Her husband, who always keeps his head in a crisis, threw a signed copy of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals at it and it rose, flapping, squawking and shitting hysterically before coming to rest atop an immensely fancy Murano Glass vase. This exquisite piece of art had been nursed like a baby for 18 hours on the flight back from Venice, was one of a kind and valued at $15,000. As you can imagine, it was a very long time before anyone breathed again. Fortunately the vase survived (not sure about the chook), but the concertina doors remained shut for many, many months afterwards.
And an Ibis in a Mitchell Street Skip: You may be aware that our wise, clever and intelligent nation is on the brink of voting the humble Bin Chicken as Australian Bird of the Year. (Why these things still go out to a public vote is beyond me, you think we would have learned after Boaty McBoatface.) Also known as the Rare East Point Bird, these squawking, squabbling, hook-nosed pests are a prolific part of NT life. My associate Laverne and her field partner Tim have been tracking, studying and monitoring these demented creatures for the vast majority of 2017, and I think are alone in the country in perceiving some sort of beauty or nobility in them. For the rest of us, the Ibis is a stain on our parks and public eating areas, and perhaps one of the only animals on God’s green earth that is equally happy nibbling on a bit of waxed paper from a Maccas cheeseburger or the turd of a cat.
Merry Christmas NT, may your prawns be fresh and your crackers be stuffed with non-racially offensive jokes.