Darwin is a wonderful place to shop, especially if you're in the market for Aboriginal art, with galleries selling paintings and other artworks from across the Territory (from the Western Desert to the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land). Otherwise, there are some excellent markets and a reasonable bookshop.
Buying Aboriginal Art
Taking home a piece of Aboriginal art can create an enduring connection with Australia. For Aboriginal artists, painting is an important cultural and economic enterprise. To ensure you're not perpetuating the non-Indigenous cash-in on Aboriginal art's popularity, avoid buying cheap imported fridge magnets, stubbie holders, boomerangs or didgeridoos. Make sure you're buying from an authentic dealer selling original art, and if the gallery doesn't pay its artists upfront, ask exactly how much of your money will make it back to the artist or community.
Look for the black-over-red Indigenous Art Code (www.indigenousartcode.org) displayed by dealers dedicated to fair and transparent dealings with artists. According to the code, ask three questions:
- Who is the artist?
- Where is the artist from?
- How does the artist get paid?
An authentic piece will come with a certificate indicating the artist's name, language group and community, and the work's title, its story and when it was made. If the vendor can't produce this information, keep walking. You can also check that the selling gallery is associated with a regulatory body, such as the Australian Commercial Galleries Association.
Where possible, buy direct from Aboriginal arts centres or their city outlets (see www.ankaaa.org.au for art centres in the Northern Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands and the Katherine area); this is generally cheaper and ensures authenticity. You also get to view the works in the context in which they were created. The places owned and run by community art centres ensure that a better slice of the proceeds goes to the artist and their community.
Darwin has one of the best collection of markets of any Australian city, and they're worth planning your visit around.
Mindil Beach Sunset Market Food is the main attraction here. But that's only half the fun – arts and crafts stalls bulge with handmade jewellery, fabulous rainbow tie-dyed clothes, Aboriginal artefacts, and wares from Indonesia and Thailand. As the sun heads towards the horizon, half of Darwin descends on the market, with tables, chairs, rugs, grog and kids in tow. Mindil beach is about 2km from Darwin's city centre; it's an easy walk or hop on buses 4 or 6, which go past the market.
Parap Village Market This compact, crowded food-focused market is a local favourite. There's the full gamut of Southeast Asian cuisine, as well as plenty of ingredients to cook up your own tropical storm. It's open year-round.
Nightcliff Market A popular community market north of the city in the Nightcliff Shopping Centre. You'll find lots of secondhand goods and designer clothing.
Rapid Creek Market Darwin's oldest market is an Asian marketplace, with a tremendous range of tropical fruit and vegetables mingled with a heady mixture of spices and swirling satay smoke.
Malak Marketplace This small market (around 70 stalls) is very much food-focused with an emphasis on organic farmers' produce and healthy eating, as well as a few stalls selling arts and crafts. It's a fun place to spend a Saturday evening.