Francis Bay ( called ‘The Duck Pond’ by the locals ) isn’t your typical place of profound beauty and its certainly not on the tourist list. But if you are interested in the working class side of Darwin (and a feed of prawns or mackeral), this is the place to bring your camera. It is the home of The Top End fishing and pearl industry.
How to get there
It’s only a short walk from the CBD and most days you just follow your nose. The smell of the sea and diesel fuel rises above this busy harbour and wafts into the city when the wind blows in from the south. If you need directions, head towards the Convention Centre and turn left into Francis Bay Drive. You will not miss it. Darwin isn’t a big place.
You may be wondering why you would go to one of the busiest places in Darwin to take photographs. You won’t find many cameras down among the nets and chains. This is business. If its not barramundi or prawns, its pearls and sea slugs. For its size, The Duck Pond is home to some of the most lucrative businesses in the Top End. There is a public toilet and shower in the carpark but it’s by key access only. Go before you leave home or the hotel. At the entrance to the bay there is a cafe that will cook local produce for you. The coffee is good, too. It opens early.
It’s never cold so light clothes are in order. The mosquitoes can get savage so spray up. The busiest times are Easter to October but there is always some action. If you visit during The Wet (October to Easter) expect a shower of rain.
Get there early but be quiet. A fisherman with a hangover is not one to be reckoned with. The boats take on a ghostly appearance in the first light. Your tripod is essential.
As the Sun comes up, faces will appear from portholes as life emerges from the bowels of the trawlers.
You will be looked upon suspiciously, so nod politely and grunt an appropriate greeting. Don’t expect a reply until after the first cigarette and coffee.
Often the boats will come in at night and unload their catch in the morning. There is an etiquette to adhere to. Stay out of the way and wait to be spoken to. Trucks and forklifts will not deviate from their chosen task or path just because you have an expensive camera in your hand.
If someone speaks to you, this is a signal to listen to their story. They will be happy for you to take their photo if you ask. They will also expect royalties if you sell their picture to National Geographic. It’s always wise to agree. A deck hand who can splice one inch wire rope with her front teeth always deserves an affirmative answer.
Your photographic editing eye will need to be in full swing to isolate the detail from what appears to be general chaos. The textures of life are abundant.
Leave the big guns at home. Wide and short tele will work. No flash. It scares the dogs. Tripod for the early or late hours. Try not to look like a tourist.
This place has it’s own peculiar beauty. One thing is for sure; you will have plenty to keep you interested.
If the ‘Austral’ is in the bay you can get a kilo of Endeavour prawns to take home. They vary in size but you usually get 3 to 5 prawns in a kilo. At the top of the hill going out you will also see the sign for fresh barramundi fillets from the last jetty. That will do nicely for dinner.
This is a guest post by Tom Dinning who, besides being a professional photographer, teacher and mini-celebrity in the Light Stalking community, has also shared some very popular tutorials in the forums and in other posts.