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Voice of Real Australia: Howard Springs is in the national spotlight but don't forget the donuts

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Howard Springs was better known for its bakery's donuts before the quarantine came along.

Howard Springs was better known for its bakery's donuts before the quarantine came along.

Howard Springs was really only well known in the Darwin area for one thing - giant donuts.

The little village's bakery belies its humble shopfront and was a go-to stop for delicious sugary treats on steroids.

A pub, little shopping centre, petrol station, a vet, and some schools, little else.

The bakery's popularity was such that it grew into the nearby Coolalinga shopping centre.

Today Howard Springs is the nation's citadel against COVID-19.

The Centre for National Resilience no less, this year's clear Oscar winner for silliest name.

Some time this weekend the flights are expected to resume from India to bring home those thousands of stranded Aussies, via quarantine at Howard Springs.

As one of the few reporters who has ever been there, and lived nearby for years, let me paint a picture.

First, no-one is more surprised than those living in the Top End that this worker's camp has taken the national spotlight.

The Northern Territory is not well known for doing these sort of things terribly well.

Tight discipline and the NT aren't always used in the same sentence.

There is a cowboy culture about the Territory, that's why folks up there love the place so much.

Laid back, often thumbing their nose at authority, people up there don't like to be told what to do.

For example, you don't need a licence to drive a boat on the famous barra waterways.

There was electoral hell to pay when it was suggested a 0.05 limit should be imposed on those licence-less pilots.

Yet the NT has run the tightest of ships at the resilience centre, not one case of coronavirus has escaped, ever.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited there recently and called it the best facility in the world.

The fact there's never been a case of community transmission of this highly infectious disease anywhere in the Territory is remarkable.

The workers' camp accommodated workers at a Japanese-owned gas plant built on Darwin Harbour.

The workers' camp accommodated workers at a Japanese-owned gas plant built on Darwin Harbour.

Sure, there's not many people living up there, and there's a lot of space between those that are there.

There have been 168 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the centre opened its doors in July 2020 to the almost 7000 people who have passed through.

All have come from overseas, mostly returning Australians with the occasional US Marine who has arrived for joint military exercises.

The Howard Springs facility is not an old mining camp, it was built to house the thousands need to build a huge gas plant deep inside Darwin's harbour.

The media likes to say it is on the outskirts of Darwin, but it's actually 25km away, across the Stuart Highway from Palmerston.

The gas plant has Japanese owners, they needed the gas to keep Japan's lights on after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

Supposedly the biggest factory of its type in the southern hemisphere, it gave Darwin a tremendous economic boost.

Palmerston was the fastest growing urban region in Australia for several years.

That's all over now, the gas plant is built and the ships dock just long enough to pick up the gas and then head home.

Darwin's economy, which relies heavily on Canberra anyway, has tanked since and is basically broke.

That's how the NT does things.

The Centre for National Resilience has been one of the NT's greatest success stories in recent times.

The Centre for National Resilience has been one of the NT's greatest success stories in recent times.

It was so busy partying while the Inpex building boom was on, it sort of forgot to prepare for the hangover.

Howard Springs is where the workers lived. They were bussed to work.

Where this facility works and hotel quarantine hasn't is the individual accommodation blocks of each resident, still in reasonable nick.

Thousands can safely and comfortably stay there, the only real problem is the number of cases coming from India.

Health facilities in the Darwin area can only cope with so many, some say about 100 at any one time.

But back to Howard Springs.

Before the centre sprung to life, it was well known, yes for donuts, but also for its bush blocks, a hectare or two in size mostly bordered by lush tropical growth.

No-one really knew what to do with the centre when the workers left, so Inpex just handed it over to the government which really didn't know what to do with it either.

How it looks from the air, you can see the school with more than 600 students at the bottom of the picture. Picture: Google.

How it looks from the air, you can see the school with more than 600 students at the bottom of the picture. Picture: Google.

When it was sprung on citizens without warning that it was to become a quarantine centre they reacted as you would expect.

Just over one fence is the Darwin region's second biggest school, a private one at that.

Parents were alarmed, what if flies carried the virus across or sick people sucked on the fence and their kids sucked on the same piece of wire?

You have to remember, back in the early days we didn't know a lot about how the virus behaved, we still don't.

The centre has been run by federal authorities through AUSMAT and in recent weeks the feds have been handing over control to the NT government.

That worries locals deeply for reasons we have already explained.

The NT.

Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Tuesday, Not Thursday and definitely Not Then - they will be carrying the can for Australia.

Remembering some of our most vulnerable people live up there in Third World conditions with pre-existing chronic health problems.

If it wasn't for the incredible success of the facility so far, you would be nervous for the future.

Or just go fishing, that'd be the NT thing to do.

- Chris McLennan is a national agriculture writer for ACM and former editor of the Katherine Times in the NT.

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