Dateline, Darwin: There are probably more subtle ways to let it be known you’re on holidays, but frankly I’m in shock.
Walking along the main street of the NT capital we’ve witnessed, quite literally, the descent of man: the free fall from proud indigenous culture to glassy-eyed beggar in a block.
The first true local we encounter at a prominent corner near the start of the Mitchell Street tourist precinct has the demeanour of a professional busker.
Coins trickle steadily into his wooden bowl as he chants and wields a pair of handsome, hand-painted clapsticks.
Further down the block a second man has improvised. But substituting traditional instruments with twigs proves less successful and little money drops into his plastic cup.
A few doorways down the third man has no sticks at all. He sings lustily, but by now visitors have the tunnel vision of old Darwin hands and most side-step him sightlessly. There’s 60 cents on the filthy T-shirt before him.
The fourth man – encamped in a greasy alcove between fast-food shops – has no hope, but will not let people ignore him.
He lunges angrily at passers-by, thrusting out his hand and cursing when they fail to give.
It’s not just about alcohol or drug abuse. The long-grassers, as these homeless folk are known, are symptomatic of a much wider socio-economic problem in the Territory.
To start with the homelessness rate there is 15 times higher than the national average.
With three-bedroom houses now costing an average of $700 a week to rent and a median of $630,000 to buy, it really is the Top End.
PS: Pinched the photo from ABC may possibly be Alice Springs, but Darwin picture depressingly similar