They say if you can remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there. The same could be said of Mitchell Street, the dodgy epicentre of Darwin’s nightlife. And what would it matter anyway, you might ask, if no one remembered the Hot Potato at lock-out time, the very particular texture of a Tommo’s pie at 2am or that Tits Out happened on a Tuesday?
Still, this is our history, unfolding one dirty bar napkin at a time. Maybe future generations will sit around the campfire and sing songs about the middle-aged men with folders of scratched CDs who were billed as “live music” and the cover bands who could play any set you liked as long as it included “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. About the skinny girls with six-inch gel nails and the bearded boys who wore their best going-out thongs to impress them. About the time a legless Defence Force lad offered to buy “five Bacardi Breezers for five lovely ladies”, and then, when we politely declined, threw a chair at us and said “Fuck offffff, you fat bitches!”
Ah, the memories.
And having punched fewer Army jocks and consumed less Vodka Cruisers than many of my Territory brethren, I’m prepared to stand witness. So, let me take you back to 2007 – my Darwin going-out heyday. It was a time when Facebook was still nascent, phones came without high-definition cameras, selfies hadn’t been invented yet, and cab drivers still had to pull out paper maps when you couldn’t find your own house at 3am. Call me Samuel Pepys if you like, but we WILL remember.
Act 1, or, “In Darwin, God is a taxi driver”
“Just don’t let me near any rumbos,” my new friend Nick said. He looked sheepish. “I get a bit punchy on rum.”
“Yep. Only time I ever got into a fight. Policeman told me: Son. Rum and Coke. It’s not your drink.”
It was just your standard post dinner party small talk, on a regular Saturday night in Darwin. We were hanging out in an elevated house somewhere in Nightcliff. Fooling around with a ride on Esky that two of my mates had bought for a comedy sketch and picking at a bowl of chips that had gone soggy within 10 minutes of being out of the packet. Things had started to get a little dull.
“Let’s go out! Let’s go out! Let’s go out!” The rallying cry spread like herpes. From the living room where SingStar reigned to the plunge pool in the backyard, the collective wisdom was that it was time to find a trashy dance floor, more alcohol or a backpacker to pash, depending on personal preferences.
So town it was, as long as Nick didn’t have any rumbos. The only issue was getting there.
“No problem,” said our mate Tom. “I’ll just call God and get a taxi.”
We chortled. “Call God! Good one!”
“No seriously,” said Tom. “In Darwin, God is a taxi driver.”
We waited around 15 minutes and sure enough, God pulled up in a mini van. God’s business card sat up on the dashboard, a proud testament to the power of home printing and Comic Sans. He greeted us cheerfully.
God? Since when did you become a taxi driver?
“Weeellllll”, he said. “You could say it was a calling. A divine calling. Or you might just say my name was Godfrey.”
He chuckled to himself.
God’s taxi lurched into the night. Down Bagot Road, past the 24-hour Maccas and along the Stuart Highway. The bright lights of Sexy Land turned into endless car yards and then we were onto Mitchell Street.
God pulled up at Duck’s Nuts, a bar renowned for its array of artificial vodka flavours and a dance floor that felt like Velcro, sticky with spilled beer and mixed drinks.
He handed out his business card as we clambered out. “Have a good night,” said God. “Just call me when you’re done.” I stashed the card in my purse.
Duck’s Nuts turned into a Mitchell Street bar crawl: Lizard’s, Wisdom, The Tap. A few hours later, mascara bleeding down my face, I stumbled out of The Lost Arc to a lengthy taxi rank. The line up smelled like popcorn and mildew, nail polish and armpits. A young couple dry humped mid queue, smashing crotches and lips together in oblivious ecstasy. On the other side of the street, a victorious footy team smashed half empty beer bottles on the ground as they made their way into Shenanigans. One of the boys left a small pool of vomit sweltering on the asphalt, a passing gift to fellow party goers. Close by, a handful of country men from the local flats busked with clap sticks, a t-shirt scrunched hopefully on the ground in front of them for tips. A souped up HiLux shrieked past with Ricky Martin singing “La Vida Loca” on the car stereo.
I fumbled around in my bag, hoping to skip this whole scene and call on God but wouldn’t you know it, I had lost his number.
Act 2 – Throb, or, How to make friends and influence people
I met Ryder in my first month through a friend of a friend of an acquaintance. He was tall, quite handsome and had ridden up to Darwin from Sydney on a postie bike. Ryder liked working in the garden, capoeira and long walks on the beach. There was a 95% chance that he used to have dreads. He’d grown up in a commune in California, one of those happy families where everyone dressed in orange and learned sitar from the age of four.
Anyway, one Saturday night Ryder and I decided to go to Throb, Darwin’s premier (only) gay nightclub. In those days, Throb was super friendly and you could still smoke inside, meaning things looked hazy even before you had a stiff vodka and soda. The playlist varied, but someone on the decks definitely had a penchant for terrible drum and bass music. They probably still do but now I’m old and have a baby and what would I know.
But the main reason to go was for the floorshow. Throb held (probably still does, but see prior disclaimer about the baby) a stupendous floorshow every Friday and Saturday night. Foxxy Empire, Marzipan, Katherine Gorge and the other Queens teamed up with the Pussy Cats (straight girls for the Defence Force end of the market) and sometimes a midget. The floorshow was all leather, lycra and feathers, with a thin plot based around Barbie, Batman or whatever was playing at the movies that weekend. The humour was bitchy and up the ass, but winsome at the same time. Everyone loved it. Or I should say, nearly everyone loved it.
With all this ahead of us, Ryder and I jumped on the postie and headed into the city. We stood out the front drinking long necks on Smith Street while the sweat dried off. We hadn’t been there long when we were approached by a couple of older men.
One had a ‘70s panel beater haircut, the other was missing a snaggle tooth.
“You guys from around here?”
Yeah, yeah we are, I said.
I probably would have ignored them, but Ryder was a share-the-longneck-with-all kind of guy.
“What are you up to this fine evening, gentlemen?” Ryder asked.
“Just moved here,” said one. “Gonna get one of those jobs in the mines tomorrow, make a shitload of money. Just looking for a place to drink tonight.”
“We were at the Vic,” said his mate. “But now we’re looking for somewhere else. Whadda you guys doing?”
“We’re just about to go to Throb,” said Ryder. “It’s a fantastic club, very friendly. I think you’ll like it. Why don’t you head on up and we’ll see you in there.”
We kept drinking our longnecks and watched the would-be miners walk up a set of stairs studded with drag queens, Tongan bouncers, a good cross-section of Darwin’s gay community, and a few confused but happy army jocks.
They came back down about two minutes later.
“What’s the matter?” Ryder was genuinely perplexed.
The miners looked at us with disgust. One of them raised his fist, but the other pulled him away and they strode back into the night, muttering faggot cunt, faggot cunt.
I suppose they went back to the Vic Hotel, but I never saw them again.
I hope they made shitloads of money in the mines.
Act 3 – The Fake Hens Night
I was sitting on a balcony with some friends. They lived in a block of flats that just hugged the edges of the CBD, a great place to watch the rolling storm clouds, the Mindil Beach fireworks and the drunks stagger in and out of The Frontier Hotel. Someone had just come back from Mitchell Street and reported a heavier than usual load of Hens and Bucks traffic. Apparently, the road was awash with ladies in candy pink veils and tiaras and men in Team Buck t-shirts, clutching yard glasses.
I had recently learned that the Hens or Bucks Night was an essential Darwin rite of passage, as important to any wedding ceremony as the rings and cake. And Mitchell Street always played host to these big groups of women dancing to Madonna in pink sashes and novelty sunglasses, to the gangs of men singing “Here’s to Jezza, he’s true blue”, as they stumbled down the road always—always!—with a mate called Damo who for some reason decides to wear a dress and then wets himself after 15 Jagerbombs. The bridesmaids favoured the various dance floors; the best men and grooms-to-be could usually be seen heading in and out of the Honey Pot, a strip club that tried to class up the joint by demanding clientele wore collared shirts. What happened on tour stayed on tour. But if the Hens found the Bucks or vice versa, all bets were off, and maybe the Kuta honeymoon as well.
Judging by the prolific nature of bachelor(ette) parties, everyone in Darwin seemed to be tying the knot.
Or were they?
Just how many people were really getting hitched in this town that seemed to mostly live in sin? Maybe Hens and Bucks outings were just another excuse—in a town that needed no excuse—to get rowdy, down litres of grog, flirt, buy penis straws and cadge booze from strangers?
“We could do that,” I posited to the girls. “Not the wetting yourself in a dress bit…but we could have a Hens night and get loads of free drinks. All we need is a bridal veil and a sign written in lipstick. No one even needs to get married.”
Left to me, the Fake Hens Night would have remained just a drunken dream. But luckily I have a friend called Martina. Some people say, others do. Martina is in the latter camp, a woman of action, and within a week, we were at The Cav with a flashing dildo on a string and an itinerary on laminated card. In exchange for our presence, Martina had convinced a number of establishments to give us rounds of drinks, several bottles of Yellow Glen and even some platters of bruschetta. She also brought along a bag full of vinyl bikers hats, plastic swords and a box of lurid make up, and had devised multiple dares and games, the outcomes of which usually led to one being forced to wear one of the costumes or said dildo on a string. My friend Sarah offered to be the Hen De Jour, and as we downed glasses of cheap champagne, we toasted her imaginary husband to be and his equally imaginary entourage of hot groomsmen.
Just as we’d hoped, our party attracted a feast of attention. And men – both with and without their children’s names tattooed on their biceps. More and more drinks flowed from behind the bar and into shot glasses, schooners and plastic champagne flutes. There were bar stool massages for all; a misguided game of limbo. Hens stumbled on and off the dance floor. We ran into my boss, and within half an hour he donned one of the biker’s caps with faux metal chain and was duly decorated in blue eye shadow.
Around 2am, I stumbled out of the pub and straight into a taxi. Unfortunately this one was not driven by God. Scrunched up like an old tissue, I passed out on the back seat. We got to my block of flats on Chapman Road and the taxi driver woke me up.
“That’ll be $23.50,” he said. And then he leered over the top of me.
“By the way, I like your breasts…”
I jumped out of the cab as quickly as I could and raced into my unit. I locked the door behind me, and I swore off booze and Mitchell Street and Hens Nights forever. Or a few weeks, at least.