Inside Darwin’s stunning new Tropical Light exhibition

What to see at Darwin’s incredible new installation, by artist Bruce Munro.

There’s something magical about summer evenings in the Top End: balmy night breezes carry the scent of frangipani, people move at a languid pace and an electric crackle in the air heralds ongoing rainstorms. 

As if you need further inducement, this summer Darwin is the home of Tropical Light, a city-wide exhibit by renowned light installation artist Bruce Munro – his largest work on Australian shores to date. 

Eight creations from the UK-born artist are dotted along a 2.5km self-guided art walk through the city, interspersed with contributions by local artists. A number of Munro’s installations were inspired by the Top End – here are a few of our favourites.

 

Bird is the word

Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro

The gathering of the Clans, Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro: Credit TNT

Wander through leafy Civic Park at the moment, and you’ll spot a rather strange grove of trees. The Gathering of the Clans is a cluster of Hills Hoists festooned with neon pegs, accompanied by a deafening soundtrack of avian song. When Munro moved to Australia in his youth, he grew fond of our feathery residents, but developed a particular grudging admiration for the noisy Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. “While it is a beautiful bird to look at with its snow-white plumage, sunny crown and rhadamanthine disposition, its screeching cry was particularly cruel after one too many beers the night before,” he says. Decades later the memory inspired the Gathering, his vision of Australia’s loudest and most colourful birds coming together for a good old yarn.
Want to see the real thing? The more than 400 bird species that call Darwin and surrounds home make it a twitcher’s paradise at any time of year. But now is one of the best times to visit Fogg Dam (an hour’s drive out of Darwin), with the heavy summer rains swelling wetlands carpeted in lily pads and drawing water birds of every shape and size. 

 

Got the message

Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro: Credit TNT

Telegraph Rose, Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro: Credit TNT

You’ll hear Telegraph Rose before you reach Bennett Park. Every 15 minutes this spindly nest on the lawn in front of Parliament House starts to strobe and emit high frequency blips – the universal language of Morse code. This is no random message; it’s the very first Morse message sent from Australian soil, beamed out of Darwin in 1872 on the completion of the Overland telegraph – “We have this day, within two years, completed a line of communications two thousand miles long through the very centre of Australia, until a few years ago a Terra Incognita believed to be a desert.” The structure is constructed out of 700 glowing fishing rods planted vertically in the soil, in a nod to the Territory’s love of fishing, and arranged in the shape of a Sturt Desert Rose – the Northern Territory’s floral emblem.

For the history buffs: Discover Darwin’s colourful history during daylight hours. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility offers a spooky interactive exhibit of the Bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942, as well as a history of the RFDS presented by a hologram of its founder Reverend John Flynn. 

 

Here comes the sun

Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro

Telegraph Rose, Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro: Credit TNT

Also known by locals as the ‘green season’, the summer months in the Top End are accompanied by an explosion of plant life. This abundance inspired Munro, who planted his own flowers on the Peninsula Lawns along the Darwin Waterfront – Sun Lily. Based on his well-known Fireflies installations, Sun Lily is a ghostly field of flowers shaped like the spider lily, which blooms around Darwin in the muggy heat of summer. “Every jot of one’s life experience influences the art you make,” says the artist. “Sun Lily is a hybrid of a new flower coming into bloom as it soaks up the tropical summer; a fitting tribute to a beautiful Australian flower.” 

Want to get back to nature? Many people skip Kakadu National Park in the wetter months. But in doing so, they miss it in the throes of Gudjewg, one of six traditional seasons recognised by the First Nations owners, when the famous landscapes is drenched in green and teeming with an explosion of wildlife… and no crowds. 

 

Blink and you’ll miss it

Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro

Green Flash, Tropical Light, Darwin, Bruce Munro: Credit TNT

Standing in the skeleton of Old Town Hall – a reminder of the devastating Christmas Day in 1974 when Cyclone Tracy blew through town – is Munro’s tribute to a rare meteorological phenomena; Green Flash. The green surge of light sometimes sighted at the end of sunset or just before dawn is a longstanding obsession of Munro’s. “I’ve always wanted to make a green flash to represent the first time Serena [Munro’s wife] and I would have seen the sun sink into the sea when we arrived in Darwin,” he says. “While living in Australia in my 20s, we spent many memorable sunsets, and occasional sunrises, attempting to capture the elusive green flash with our cameras.” To bring it to life, Munro threaded fine filaments through an orb made up of 1820 illuminated bottles, which shift through the colours of the sunset – from a burnt orange to a deep ruby red. The challenge is to capture a photo of the illusive moment when the entire structure surges green. 

Want to chase the green flash? Join the locals admiring Darwin’s famed sunset at Mindil Beach or Nightcliff foreshore each evening. Those Top End sunsets take on new levels of technicolour brilliance during the tropical summer, when storm clouds (a spectacular sight in their own right) blow pollution out of the atmosphere and create a dramatic canvas for streaks of pink and yellow. 

 

Bruce Munro: Tropical Light is on now until 30 April 2020.

 

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