THE MAKING OF
In Darwin, every corner has a story. But its history can be hard to see. Destroyed four times by cyclones and war, Darwin's been rebuilt over and over. In between the shiny high-rise are all sorts of secret spots to discover. But you need someone local to show them to you. Whether you've lived in Darwin for a while or are just visiting for a few hours, let this app be your guide.
When I first moved to Darwin, I struggled to understand it. There were stories of war, wild weather, colonialism, alcohol, termites, humidity, disease, but none of it seemed to add up to what I saw around me. The city seemed to defy all the odds. I embarked on an accidental four-year journey through the (somewhat limited) history books trying to understand how it came to be. If you dig deep enough, there are beautiful collections and archives that tell little-known stories of this tropical city. But they can be difficult to access and you need to know what you're looking for, and who has the time! There was little out there that tied the many different chapters of Darwin's history together, that brought its characters to life and reconnected this modern city to its roots. This tour attempts to do just that. It's the tour I wish I'd had when I first came to Darwin.
Sound is a powerful way to transport you. In an Australian first, this walking tour is recorded binaurally. It was recorded using a special microphone that features human-shaped ears with little microphones in them. It creates immersive 3D stereo sound, so when you listen, things are happening to your left or your right, or above you or below you. You can feel exactly where they are. It creates a strange sort of augmented reality, where it's hard to tell what's real and what's not. I wanted to see whether this technology could be used to create the sounds of the past, to transport you back in time.
For it to work, the binaural sounds needed to be real and needed to sound like Darwin, there was no way of faking it. Therefore the soundscapes are all pieced together from hours and hours and hours of recordings made across the Territory over many months. Hundreds of locals were involved in the recreation of these historic soundscapes. People rode bikes and horses from left to right and back again till the effect was just right. I waited in carparks for hours to get a single recording of a curlew. The Deckchair Cinema played particular 1930s tunes mentioned in old oral histories in their crowded cinema so that I could re-create the sounds of the old Star Theatre. A local aviation family flew their 1930s biplane (one of only a few left in the world) over my head at East Point to help bring a certain story to life. Bar staff clicked glasses, friends lit fires (safely) and let me break into their chook pens at 5am in the morning to record the roosters crowing. Locals supported the project at every level.
Then in 2023, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) decided to commission a second tour of Fannie Bay Gaol, the Territory's first permanent prison site with Johanna Bell of StoryProjects. After months of research, particularly in the oral history collection 14 personal stories of those inside were brought to life with soundscapes created on site, again with with dozens of volunteers. MAGNT also licensed the original tour, A Tale of Four Cities, giving it new life. Both tours are now on the free Darwin Audio Tours app.
Territorians have a particular way of telling stories - there's humour and heartbreak and a kind of hardness too sometimes. Charlie King and Richard Fejo epitomise that kind of voice. There's hardly a corner of the Territory they don't have a connection with or a story about. Then there's the Mills family, traditional custodians of Darwin who made me think entirely differently about what the real Darwin is and what the responsibilities of making a tour like this really are. Not to mention the families of the characters featured in the tour.
I don't live in Darwin any more, so these are my parting gift - a kind of love letter.