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An airport may not be the first thing that springs to mind when considering an artist in residency program, but Darwin International Airport (DIA) is not your traditional airport.

By Tierney White

In 2018, DIA introduced The Green Room – a tropical oasis, inspired by the nostalgia of Hotel Darwin’s infamous bar – to showcase the sights, sounds and skills of Northern Territory creatives. This year, The Green Room returns with an even bigger program and, first the first time, an artist in residence program.

Through a public call-out and application process, Off The Leash’s very own multi-talented journalist, Tamara Howie, was selected as the first cab off the rank. Her craft? Capturing the stories and portraits of those in transit through Darwin Airport.

“There were lots of different reasons why I was really interested in this residency. I love airports and people watching, and I’m really interested in the idea of individual stories in shared spaces. Airports are unique in that all different types of people are thrown together for the same reasons – they’re all going somewhere or dropping off or collecting someone – but their motivations are all so vastly different,” said Howie.

Competition was tough to say the least, DIA receiving a large number of applications for the residency. Howie’s experience as a visual artist, writer and arts professional, together with her plan to engage with DIA visitors, particularly sparked the interest of the selection panel.

DIA’s Community Engagement and Green Room Manager Claire Punch says Howie’s submission stood out because of her individuality, professionalism and creativity, and the strong connection to the space.

“The concept of recording stories drawn from Territorians, and others passing through the terminal, was an idea the selection panel felt would resonate with the audience and the arts community. The NT is such a richly diverse and inspiring place, brimming with unique characters and fascinating storytelling. We felt the idea of capturing this – and hopefully being able to share this with our passengers at some stage – would be interesting, insightful and most importantly, create a rich narrative and capture a sense of place of the Northern Territory,” Punch says.

“For many locals, Darwin Airport represents a time of adventure, change, a feeling of arriving home or visiting a new and unknown land. For those seduced by the NT who stay, these memories grow to include the arrival and departure of loved ones, an escape route to holiday destinations, and a pathway to long-lost worlds very different to life in the NT – a gateway to another world.”

Howie will spend the next few weeks trawling the terminal, observing travellers and chatting to them about their transit tales, the end result an exhibition of sorts within the terminal. But her focus is not just limited to travellers – Howie invites anyone at the airport to join her for a ‘yarn’, as tales at the airport extend beyond airplane ticket holders.

“I’m a writer so I wanted to do something written but with some sort of visual element – but I wanted to talk to people without having camera in their face… I’m still not quite sure what the final products will look like, but I like the idea of something ‘podcasty’ – something people can travel with,” Howie says.

“I’ve always been interested in people stories – the different lives they lead – especially folks in Darwin. Most people in Darwin have been to the airport at one point or another – it’s one of the places we’ve all crossed paths at some point.”

Next time you travel or drop off or collect a loved one, keep an eye out for her. She doesn’t bite. That we’re aware of...



Tamara Howie has already met a swag of colourful characters, from musicians to miners, whale divers to comedians. Howie shares a glimpse into her artist in residence at Darwin International Airport.

If you asked me to describe any airport in the world, all I could tell you is the quickest route to get out of Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. And that the border security staff at Heathrow are… thorough.

It’s the same deal for most people I’ve spoken to. They remember the experience, but not the place – except if you’ve ever spent any time at Darwin International Airport.

A parent once said to me, “thank God for whoever designed that lily pad carpet – it’s a life saver and keeps the kids entertained for hours.”

While the departure lounge on the first floor no longer features the iconic Garry Duncan designed carpet (you can still admire it in arrivals!) the memory still holds strong. One of my favourite stories I’ve been told while yarning with travellers and locals about life and airports was from my good mate, Hayley Sorensen.

“When I lived in Timor a few years ago, I hated that carpet,” she says.

“It always reminded me of stupid o’clock flights. The way the curfew worked back then, I’d arrive in Darwin at midnight and have to stay around until 6am. I’d spend hours sleeping in a corner – on my bag – in that bloody cold airport on that goddamn lily pad carpet.

“It also meant I was going back home to Timor – where there was no cheese, and where monkeys would chase you down the street, and where you couldn’t swim in the ocean because it was full of crocodiles and rubbish, all the while knowing I’d have to go back to work and sit on a plastic chair in an office with no air-con, sweating my t-ts off.

“I hated that carpet.”

Fast-forward three years.

“Here I am living in Darwin. These days, I wait at that airport at the ‘red-eye’ hour for my friends to land for a holiday. I look at the carpet now and think ‘this is happy carpet, now, bringing my friends for a holiday.’

“It’s no longer sad carpet.”

Want to share your travel story? Hit Howie up at or find her on Instagram @tamara_howie.

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