Anchorage has six sister cities, one of which is Darwin. Darwin is located at the top of Australia and is the capital of the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is one of the most interesting and wildest places in Australia, much like Alaska is to the United States. When I came to Australia, I was drawn to Darwin much in the same way as I was drawn to Anchorage when I moved there in 2004. The remoteness, the ruggedness and the wild west perception to name just a few things. After spending two months in Darwin, I realized just how many similarities these two cities share.
There are two major differences between Anchorage and Darwin, the climate and the animals. Darwin is in the tropics and Anchorage is in the subarctic. Basically, Darwin is hot and Anchorage is cold. The other big difference is the animals. Darwin, like much of Australia, has some pretty scary animals. These include sharks, crocodiles, poisonous jellyfish, deadly spiders and snakes and all kinds of weird birds. Anchorage has some scary animals too but at least you can usually see them coming. These include moose, bears, salmon, whales, beavers, and lots of birds. Of course there are other differences, Darwin is about half the population of Anchorage, but these were the major ones that stood out to me.
For two cities so far apart I was really taken aback by how similar they are. One of the first things I noticed was the people and lifestyle. Darwin, just like Anchorage, is very laid back. You don’t get that corporate vibe and you will often hear people remark about the yuppie and pretentious people in Sydney. The outdoor lifestyle is also a big part of each city. Both places offer unique and stunning scenery and people love going out to hike, fish, camp and hunt.
I was amazed at how fast I could meet people in the business and political community. Much like Anchorage, Darwin is a small place and most people are friendly and accessible, even powerful ones. I was even able to meet with Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim, who has been to Anchorage, to discuss the sister city relationship.
Darwin, like Anchorage, is also a port city. Both ports are important for goods coming into the state or territory. Both cities are very far away from the major cities in their countries. The Northern Territory, much like Alaska, is huge. Alaska is just a bit bigger than the Northern Territory. Both also have very small populations for their size, the NT being around 211,000 and Alaska being around 740,000. Even though Darwin is smaller than Anchorage, both cities are home to about half the population of the state or territory.
Another major similarity is tourism. Tourism is very important to the economies of each city. And strangely enough, their peak seasons are at the same time. People love coming to Alaska in the summer to enjoy the great weather and long days. People love coming to the Northern Territory during the winter (Northern Hemisphere summer) because of its location. Darwin has two distinct seasons, the wet and dry. During the dry it is warm while much of the rest of Australia is cold. This attracts a lot of people from southern Australia to Darwin to get out of the cold. Cruise ships visit both cities and people love driving up in RVs. Seeing RVs in the NT during tourist season is just as common as in Alaska during tourist season. Both cities are also home to international airports that are not only important to tourism but also cargo.
Anchorage and Darwin are also both very strategic places for their countries. Anchorage because of its proximity to Russia and Asia and Darwin because of its proximity to Asia. Because of that both cities are home to military bases. Those bases are important economic engines for both cities. In fact, when I was in Darwin there were around 1,200 US Marines and Army personal there for training exercises. Many of them came to the bar I was working at and a few were stationed in Anchorage in the past.
Much like Alaska, while in Darwin I observed there are three kinds of people in the Northern Territory:
- People who are born there. These are the minority in both places.
- People who are running from something. Maybe personal problems, maybe legal problems, maybe just starting over.
- People who come to make money.
Both Anchorage and Darwin are home to many folks who work in the natural resources industry. Alaska and the Northern Territory are both rich in natural resources like oil, gas and minerals. Because of that, the pay is higher than the other parts of the countries. Both places also have a high transient population.
Both places are also home to large indigenous populations. In Anchorage, Alaska Natives, and in Darwin, Aboriginal Australians. Anchorage and Darwin are both home to many indigenous people who come from their villages or communities. Unfortunately, both groups suffer from many of the same social problems. In fact, they are almost identical. Much work remains to be done in both places.
Having lived in Alaska for 12 years, I came to understand it was a pretty wild place. People work hard and play hard. But the two months I spent in Darwin made me realize just how wild the Northern Territory is. Drinking and partying are facts of life in Darwin. Mitchell Street, the main street in town, is always full of people having a good time at any of the many bars and clubs that can be found on it. One of my favorite events was jello wrestling at one of the pubs. It often ended with the women naked. I spent Territory Day, the one day fireworks are allowed in the Territory, with a mate who had lived there for two years. We purchased some serious ordinance and went to his place, a bit out of the city. The night got wild and it reminded me of spending New Years or long summer days at the cabin with my friends in Anchorage. But it was just getting started. We went to the neighbors house where they were filling trash bags with oxyacetylene and blowing them up!
My two months in Darwin were fun and memorable. Even though it is far from Anchorage, with a much different climate, it felt like home in many ways. The people, the lifestyle and the vibe between both places is incredible and strikingly similar. I could not think of two better sister cities.