Review of Mocco Wollert’s Life in Darwin, Northern Territory
The book title is a typical Darwin expression with good connotations, and Mocco says she is an optimist, she lives on hope and in hope. Originally from Germany, she worked hard with what she had, overcame obstacles and adapted to Australian life with her Aussie-born daughters Susan and Kim and beloved husband Niclas.
The other love in her life is Darwin, 1950s Darwin, at the Top End of Northern Territory. No supermarkets, no fancy restaurants, definitely no air-conditioning, miles and miles of dirt roads, and at that time populated by about 8,000 people. Tough, rough and ready people at that.
The strength of a woman when put to the test reverberates powerfully through Mocco Wollert’s narrative. From good, bad and ugly circumstances, Mocco’s words shine. She comes across as forthright in her opinions, honest, funny, emotional, grumpy yet ultimately loveable. She certainly faced challenging circumstances, some which made me wince and some which would have seen me walk away, but not Mocco!
The chapters of Mocco’s book are grouped under headings, for example ‘Beginning the Adventure’, ‘Career Change’ (actually a couple of career changes) ‘Health Matters’ and ‘Decision Time’ all of which prepared me for her decade of thought-provoking reading.
Understandably there are heart-rending moments like depression in ‘A Night of Gin’ and the 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastation.
I remember sitting under our ceiling fan watching the ABCTV news on Boxing Day, 26th December, as black and white film footage showed our nation the flattened landscape which was once Darwin. On a lighter note, it was rebuilt and continues to thrive, as did Mocco. Small moments often stick and I enjoyed Mocco’s recollection of wigs and frizz hair-related matters in ‘Hairdressers’ where men were taboo.
Under the subheading ‘Sport’ on page 211, I think this paragraph typifies the tenacity of Darwinites and perhaps a large area of northern Australia. “In spite of the heat and humidity, people played sport. Golf was Niclas’ passion and he became quite a good golfer with a handicap of 16. Watching today’s golf tournaments on television, I marvel at the green fairways and manicured greens. There was none of this in Darwin. The fairways were rough and, in the dry season, as dusty as a (cattle) station in drought. The ‘greens’ were sandy plains without a blade of grass.”
There are 47 photographs throughout the book, vivid examples of the era, and a pictorial of Darwin homelife which includes Mocco in weather so scorching she wore a bikini to hang washing on the Hills Hoist. And there is a great little story behind the snapshot of her small daughter meeting Queen Elizabeth II. Not telling, you’ll have to read the book!
‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ is Mocco Wollert’s tribute to Darwin, an intimate recollection of a more rugged time in 20th century Australia, told openly and honestly, and ultimately life-affirming.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Born in Germany but a true-blue Darwinite by 1960, Mocco Wollert is now a recognised poet and author who lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Mocco has nine poetry books published as well as winning prizes for poems published in newspapers and anthologies.
Her Darwin memoir ‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ was first published by Historical Society of Northern Territory and later by Boolarong Press 2017.
For information on today’s Northern Territory, visit https://www.australia.com/en/places/northern-territory.html
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