“Go down the Stuart Highway, turn left at the Macca's, and then turn right. Walk up a bit, and you'll see all the bikes out the front. You can't miss it.”
“Okay, great. But, um, what's the address?”
“Go down the Stuart Highway, turn left at the Macca's, and then turn right. Walk up a bit, and you'll see all the bikes out the front. That's the address.”
I pause, trying to imagine exactly where he meant, and how long it would take me to walk there. 20 minutes?
“Right. Well, I knock off at 5 so I will be there at about 20 past, does that suit you?”
“Um, 5.20pm? Is that okay?”
I leave the office, walk up McMinn Street and out onto the Stuart Highway. I'm sweating within a minute, and after a couple more rain starts pelting down. What is this sticky wet hell I've consigned myself to? I dig my still-damp rain jacket out of my bag and chuck it on.
Soon enough I see the golden arches. I think about how it would be to sit in McDonalds for awhile, eat some fries and wait out to the rain. But I really need this bike, and I wanna make it fast, so I take a left and then a right, just like the guy told me. The rain is pouring down so hard now that I can barely see through my fogged up glasses. Just as I am preparing to give up, I catch a glimmer of silver bicycle handles, and then five old bikes in various states of disrepair tied to a wire fence. The back of the fence is covered in black tarp. Is this a squat or the world's most obvious meth lab?
I can't find a bell or anywhere to knock, so I call out a few times, each time sounding more girlish and alone. I call him again. He picks up after a few rings.
“Hey, it's Sam. I'm here.”
“Um, I'm here. You know for the bike? I am at your place now. Out the front.”
“Out the front?”
“Yeah, I can see bikes, a black tarp, is this your place?”
The black gate swings open, and a guy in his forties in an ancient grey surf singlet and even older stubbies appears. He's got no shoes on and has a bit of a crazed look in his eyes.
“Hi, Terry? I'm just here to check out the bike?”
“Yep, yep, come in.”
He closes the gate behind me. I follow him into his workshop, and immediately notice his hair cut. He's bald on top and he's shaved the sides of his head, leaving a kind of quarter mohawk sticking out at the back. I wonder if it's some sort of white pride hair signal that I really should know about. Then my attention swings over to the 50 or so bikes everywhere, all seeming to be missing some key ingredient like a wheel or a seat. Fuck, it's a bicycle chop shop. Were all of them stolen, or just most?
“Grab that white thing” Terry says, pointing at something jutting out from piles of crap stacked pretty much everywhere. I obediently walk over and start pulling at the white thing, still none the wiser as to what it is. Then a rooster starts crowing, which gives me a start.
“That's Little Buddy, he'll try and beat you up if you let him.”
Little Buddy barrels towards me, and starts pecking at my brand new work shoes. Little Buddy's feet are covered in a strange fleshy red body cloth, and his beak starts making little dents in my shoes, so I discreetly try to kick him away. When that doesn't work I use the white thing as a shield and retreat back towards the relative safety of Terry.
He gestures for me to put the white thing over near the bike that he has pulled out and started cleaning. The bike is neither the brand, size or colour of the one from the Gumtree ad. I consider saying something, but instead just stand there, holding my white thing. I look down at it again, wondering if I am allowed to put it down now? Then it hits me that it is in fact a run of the mill Ikea fold-up chair. I unfold it and take a seat.
Terry has a brush in his hand and is cleaning off the bike with some sort of fluid. Water? Washing up liquid? Degreaser? I have no idea. I sit there watching him, while he begins to lecture me about all things Darwin.
“The first thing you need to know about Darwin is that the backpackers here are fucked. They'll all turn up at the start of the Dry. They treat this place like garbage. They come here from Germany or France or wherever the fuck, and they use this place as their own personal dumping ground. They've got no respect for anyone, they just take and take and take. I make sure to rip them off big time when they come knocking on my door looking for a bike. I am so sick of fucking customers.”
I look around at his place. It's somewhere between a mechanic's workshop and a drug den, with a single mattress lying on the ground.
“My bitch is over there on the couch, lazing around cos she's pregnant. You can go over and touch her belly if you like. Her name's Savage. Palm Island Pointer. A real Top End dog.”
I get up and walk over to Savage, a sweet-looking mutt who appears extremely tired of being full of puppies. I give her a very tentative pat on the head, avoiding her belly region altogether so as not to accidentally bring on the birth.
“Yeah, the elusive dingo of Darwin jumped the fence and knocked her up again. He got her last time too. I reckon they must be smitten with each other. The council lady was so nice to me about it last time she was pregnant, but now she's being a real bitch about it this time around. She's threatening to fine me for not registering her and not having her de-sexed and all that shit. I'm not going to do that, it's fucking barbaric. That council woman, what a fucking bitch. That's another thing you need to know about the Territory, there's all these little fucking bureaucrats trying to tell you what to do all the time.”
“Sounds like Sydney” attempting to make a joke. It doesn't land.
“Nah it's worse here, cos everybody is so fucking stupid. I swear, sometimes I feel like the only intelligent person in this whole fucking place. Well except you Sam, you seem like a very sensible young lady. What did you say you did again?”
“Um, I'm a lawyer for poor people.”
“So do you deal with heaps of Abo's? I know you're not meant to call them that but I can't help it, that's what I learnt to call em when I was young. I love Abo's you know, real good people.”
“Yeah, we have quite a few Indigenous clients, for sure. It's good like that, lots of variety.”
“That's the other thing you need to know about Darwin. Do not fuck with the Abo's here, cos they have black magic. Do you know about their black magic?”
“Um, no I don't think I've head of that.”
“If you give them stuff, like ciggies or booze, some of that good shit will rub off on you, so make sure you're always carrying a pack of smokes, really strong ones, like JPS's. Don't leave them in a full pack though or they'll rob you blind. Just have one or two in a pack at a time. Then you can give them one and they won't be able to ask for more, and they'll appreciate it more.”
“Right, okay. Strong cigarettes. Will do.”
“And if you see any shit going down with them, like a old guy bashing a young girl, what do you do?”
“Uh, like what should people do, or what do I think that I would do?”
“What would you do?”
“Don't do a fucking thing Sam. Just don't get involved in that shit. That is probably some family shit that's been going on for centuries. You know what'll happen if you try and interfere?”
“They'll both fucking turn on you and start beating the shit out of you. I've seen it happen! Just don't get involved. It seems sick I know, but you just have to leave them to it.”
Terry's got the bike up the right way around now, and is fiddling around with the brakes. It seems like I might actually get out of here alive, and with a bicycle to boot.
“Also, you planning on going anywhere when you are here?”
“Well you know, probably Litchfield and Kakadu at some point.”
“Sam, don't go to Kadadu. You know what the locals call it? Kakadon't. Get it?”
“Yeah, like, don't go?”
“Yeah. Just don't. It's a fucking rip off.”
Any hope of getting out of Terry's workshop before dark fades as he turns the bike on its side and starts hammering at the disc brakes.
“And you'll be needing a basket too, a sensible lady like you.”
“Um, sure, that would be great. Thanks.”
Terry finds a brown wicker basket from his collection, and starts bolting it onto the back.
“Do you know about the midges here? They can fucking kill you. If you scratch the bites they’ll go septic and kill you. Seriously. I’ve seen it happen. What kind of repellent are you using?”
“Um, I think it's called Bushman.”
“Is it the green bottle, 80% DEET? You gotta make sure it's 80% DEET otherwise you're fucked.”
“Um, I think it's in a red bottle...”
“The red one's no good. Get the green one.”
“Did you see two stupid fucking girls from England died in the bush recently? Bet they were covered in bites. Backpackers never think of anything, you see them walking around with big welts all over their faces, even those pretty girls. But they don't look too fucking pretty with all those bites all over them though do they?”
“I guess not.”
“Get the green one Sam. But do not get that shit in your mouth okay, it tastes terrible. Trust me.”
“I trust you Terry.”
Terry keeps working on the bike, and giving me tips about Darwin as the sun fades. Somewhere along the way it dawns on me that Terry is a lonely man, and that he might very well keep me here all night if I don't start winding things up.
“Well, the bike's looking great Terry. My housemates must be wondering where I am, though, I'm meant to be making them dinner tonight.”
I imagine all my hungry non-existent housemates banging their empty bowls on my dinner table.
“So, how much do I owe you?”
“$80. Well $90 because I put the basket one, but it's okay, you can have it for $80.”
“Come round and see the puppies when they're born, they're due any day now.”
“Definitely. I bet they're going to be be really cute.”
Terry opens the gate for me, and I wheel the bike out onto the street.
“Sam, make sure you get a good bike lock okay? People in Darwin, they're fucked like that, they'll steal anything.”
“I will Terry, I will.”