Darwin’s community is filled with colourful stories of how the Top End became home. (Supplied: Doug Grey)
Why do you call your city home? What drew you there and why did you choose to stay?
Recognised as “the last frontier” and the land of opportunity, Darwin has always occupied a special fascination for the rest of Australia.
The Northern Territory capital is home to about 130,000 people, and although some are born and bred, many have come from across the country and overseas to root themselves in the red soil.
Curious Darwin is our story series where you ask us the questions, vote for your favourite, and we investigate. You can submit your questions on any topic at all, or vote on our next investigation.
Over the past year, many of you have written from all over the country to ask about the fluctuating population, what sort of people come, and why they have chosen to relocate to the tropical Top End.
For four individuals, varying in ages, demographics and cultural backgrounds, Darwin is the only place they could ever call home.
“I arrived with $20 in my pocket”
With no more than $20 and a backpack, Anthony Venes started his life in the Territory. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Anthony Venes, originally from Queensland, said much of his youth was spent saving money to fund his frequent travelling.
“Every opportunity to travel, I would do it — once I had saved enough, I would book a flight,” he said.
“In early 1990, I was in Penang, Malaysia, running pretty low on cash, and I figured I had to get home at some stage.
“I walked into a little dodgy travel agent on a side street and asked, ‘what’s the cheapest flight to Australia?’ and they told me it was Darwin — about a month later, I boarded that flight.”
With no more than $20 in his pocket, Mr Venes started his life in the Territory.
“Before I left Asia to return home, a friend gave me that $20 that started my life Darwin, and beyond all the strange trinkets I had picked up from my travels, that was all the money I had to my name,” Mr Venes said.
“The same friend told me, ‘Find what you love and do that for a living’.
“For me, it was travelling, and so I set myself up to start working as a tour guide.
“I started out in Kakadu National Park, followed by the Tiwi Islands, and true enough it was on that adventure that I met my wife.”
Mr Venes said the Territory had offered him a wealth of experiences that he could not have gained anywhere else in the country.
“I now have two sons who are born and bred Darwin boys,” Mr Venes said.
“This town offers opportunities that far outweigh the rest of the country — this is home and I don’t plan on ever leaving.”
As for the friend who loaned him that fateful $20, Mr Venes said he “owes him a lot more”.
“I regularly tell the story of how I got to Darwin, and I think that friend knows how thankful I am … but I am not sure I’ve ever properly repaid him the $20,” he said.
Over 3,000 kilometres in 3 days
Doug Grey and his friends experienced the adventure of a lifetime. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
In the winter of 1979, Doug Grey and a friend packed the back of their Holden station wagon with cases of beer and a few spare jerry cans and set off on a road trip from Shepperton, Victoria, destined for Darwin.
“It was over a few beers with some friends that we decided all of us were going to drive to Darwin,” he said.
“Two went in their car through the centre and we decided to cut through regional New South Wales and Queensland.”
Mr Grey has called Darwin home ever since this spur-of-the-moment decision, and said the adventure was “eye-opening for two country boys”.
“We all planned to meet at the Darwin Post Office on the Saturday, we left on the Wednesday … because we broke down in Yass, so that set us back,” he said.
“We took the drive in turns, but we powered through the beautiful Queensland outback — I can still remember stopping in Boulia to eat the final cut sandwiches my mum had made us.”
Mr Grey and his co-driver Burt drove over 3,000 kilometres in three days to reach Darwin. (Supplied: Doug Grey)
Mr Grey said the change in scenery once they crossed the NT border was “magnificent”.
“I had never seen anything like it,” he said.
“We had covered over 2,000 kilometres at this point … and suddenly the land was stark with only the occasional tree.”
Unbeknownst to Mr Grey and his road-tripping friends, they had decided to arrive in Darwin on a historic day.
“We arrived in Darwin at midnight on the Friday … and the next day the town transformed: there was traffic everywhere, massive crowds and police patrolling the streets,” he said.
“The Saturday we had arrived was the beginning of the very first Bougainvillea Festival.”
Now recognised as The Darwin Festival, the original celebration in July 1979 featured events including the Bougainvillea Queen and the Grand Parade through the city streets.
“Everybody was drinking beer in public, climbing buildings and taking up positions of verandas to watch the parade; it was incredibly vibrant,” he said.
Mr Grey said the Territory provided him with opportunities and adventure. (Supplied: Doug Grey)
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I like this place, I reckon I might stay’.”
Mr Grey said his station wagon completed the drive from Victoria to Darwin twice over before he officially settled in the territory in the early 1980s.
“I got my start in Darwin and now I will never look back, I am forever grateful for the life Darwin has given me,” he said.
“I was a young blue-collar bloke who didn’t have much going for him, but the Territory offers opportunities and prospects to get ahead.”
Renting from a crocodile farmer
Native flower farmer Irene Hennessey moved to Darwin when she was five. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Irene Hennessey and her six siblings moved to Darwin when she was only five years old.
Her journey started in Perth, passed through a circus, and ended at a chicken slaughterhouse where she re-connected with her mother.
“One of my brothers worked with the circus, when we picked him up we saw how angry the elephants looked,” she said.
“An elephant broke loose and stampeded us, we all jumped into the car and took off — that was how we started our journey to Darwin, being chased by an elephant.”
Ms Hennessey explained how wild Darwin was during the early 1970s and said her start in the Territory was difficult.
“We lived on the chicken farm originally, before renting from a crocodile hunter … we followed my mum between her jobs, which meant we experienced a lot of what the Territory had on offer,” she said.
In 1974 after Cyclone Tracy, the family relocated to Western Australia, but it wasn’t long before Ms Hennessey and her mother had a hankering to return to the Top End.
“We just kept coming back,” she said.
“I now feel like our family is ingrained in the soil here, we are a part of the history here — we have watched it change dramatically.
“I think I’ve experienced more of the Territory than most Territorians can say they have, as born and bred Darwin folks.”
Ms Hennessey said her mother fought against all odds to provide for her family. (Supplied: Irene Hennessy)
Now a flower farmer who dresses the NT’s Government House with vibrant native blooms, Ms Hennessey said it’s because of her mum that she feels anchored in Darwin.
“My mother passed away eight years ago of cancer, but she was the strongest person I have ever known,” she said.
“To be a single mother of six kids in the 70s, she was abused by her husband, and yet she found a new life for all of us without any prospects.
“She always wore colour and a hat, and she never gave up — I refused to leave Darwin after she passed. I will never leave.”
Ms Hennessey said her siblings have all spread out across the Territory and wider Australia, but they all still discuss how they came to Darwin.
“It’s our responsibility now to share these stories with our grandchildren and nieces and nephews; they are unbelievable stories, but they are true,” she said.
Applied for over 700 jobs
Angelo Razafimamonjy hopes to inspire other African families to relocate to Darwin. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Angelo Razafimamonjy was told Darwin was the only place in Australia that could offer him a temporary visa.
Madagascan musician-turned-miner, Mr Razafimamonjy moved to Darwin in September 2015, which took two years of planning and paperwork.
“I failed my first application because of my English; I also had to prepare and train my family for a move to the other side of the world,” he said.
“Although I was then successful on my second attempt, I was told the migration laws had changed and I was no longer eligible for the visa.
“I was told [by immigration authorities] that the NT was the only place that would happily host myself and my family of six.”
According to Mr Razafimamonjy, Darwin chose him.
“Before leaving Madagascar, my friends and I watched The Pursuit of Happyness as a precursor of what to expect when moving to a challenging new country — I was prepared for the worst,” he said.
On arriving in Darwin, the family discovered there were only two other Madagascans in the community, and Mr Razafimamonjy said they had to start their life from scratch.
“I was in a very high position in my field in Madagascar, but in Australia, I had to start again,” he said.
“For 18 months, I washed cars … and in that time, I counted, and I had applied for over 700 jobs before finally achieving a job in my chosen field.”
Now, Mr Razafimamonjy has started writing about his experiences migrating to Australia and hopes to provide a hand guide for African families planning to settle in Darwin in the future.
“The book is called Black Candy — the story is of my life and how to reinvent yourself in a new place, how to start fresh and rebuild,” he said.
“I did struggle when I arrived here, but now we are happy here.
“I now feel I have a duty to tell my story and help others who are hoping to call Darwin home.”
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?