I'VE always loved the Northern Territory; it's always been good to me.
My first experience was as a 22 year old with a Kombi van, following the sun around the country. When I landed in Darwin, I got a job as a waiter and spent six happy weeks swapping stories, songs and bodily fluids with like-minded travellers from all over the world.
Several years later I got offered some work teaching music courses in Indigenous communities. I drove an HZ panelvan halfway across the country for 12 weeks work and a bit of adventure and ended up staying for two-and-a-half years. In that time I worked in desert communities, on the Tiwi Islands and in Arnhem Land before starting a family and taking a more sedentary job in Darwin. I loved the lifestyle of the hot tropics but the humidity and the distance eventually brought us back to the North Coast.
So it was exciting to plan a holiday back to the Territory recently. It was the first time since we left nearly nine years ago and my eldest, Ruby, wanted to see the house where she spent the first year of her life. My wife and I were keen to re-visit places we used to hang out and we wanted to show our kids the great things the Territory has to offer: the landscape, the national parks, the Indigenous culture, the multicultural markets and winter days that are a beautiful 30 degrees every day.
And we did all that, but I know that if you asked my kids what the best thing was about a holiday in the Northern Territory they would say bunk beds, buffet breakfasts and a car with electric windows.
We could have hired a car in Lismore and driven to a hotel in Ballina and they would have been just as happy.
And a holiday with kids in tow is a very different experience to my previous encounters with the Territory. Could we go to the outdoor cinema? No - there was nothing G-rated and no babysitters to call on. Could we go to that nice-looking restaurant overlooking the harbour? No - they didn't have a kids' menu and the oven roasted barramundi with lemon bèurre blanc wasn't going to cut it so we found somewhere that had fish and chips.
But overall I'd say it was a success. This was our first family holiday, other than camping or visiting extended family, since a 'challenging' trip to Tasmania a few years ago. We tried to put a two-year-old in a campervan; unfortunately she didn't like driving or sleeping in the van and would scream until we did something about it. I spent so much time pushing her on the swings that I could have written a guidebook to kids' parks in south-east Tasmania.
But the Territory's always been good to me. I don't think we visited any kids' playgrounds this time.