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Donga: Taking a look inside a weird and wonderful Top End architectural curiosity

people outside a demountable home with signs all over it
Vermin at his Darwin property with 105.7 ABC Darwin's Richard Margetson.

105.7 ABC Darwin: Will Tinapple

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Like many people in the Top End, Paul moved north for a bit of work — then he fell in love with the fishing, barbecues and a lovely lady, had a few kids, and found himself still in Darwin two decades later.

Yet he was not a true Territorian until six years ago, when he transformed a vacant block of bush outside town into a bespoke example of Top End architecture.

"A massive man's donga."

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FACEBOOK: Paul's Donga

Essentially a 320-square-metre steel shed, Paul's designer home rivals an aircraft hangar, although this is probably justifiable given the family's collection of vintage Chevy trucks.

"You've got to keep the sun off your toes. You can't leave your prized collections outside. You can't leave nanna out in the storm," he said.

"We've got diesel generation, a 60,000-litre water tank and gas and hot water.

"So when the cyclone comes, bring a carton of beer and 20 litres of diesel."

It is just one of the many homes celebrated by Show Us Your Donga, a web series by 105.7 ABC Darwin that for the past few months has been exploring the Territory's most weird and wonderful homes.

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Thisbe at her Darwin donga with 105.7 ABC Darwin's Rebecca McLaren

105.7 ABC Darwin: Will Tinapple

Typically defined as temporary or demountable housing, nobody is quite sure where the word donga even came from, let alone when the strange architectural trend started to come about.

At the high end of the market, a lovingly restored suburban Darwin office might offer some clues about the evolution of the humble donga.

Designed by Sidney Williams and Company, a Queensland architecture firm prominent during World War II, it was once one of 6,000 tin structures hastily erected in the Territory during the war and military years.

It managed to survive the cataclysmic Cyclone Tracy on Christmas 1974 and is today Darwin's last visible Sidney Williams Hut.

"It's beautiful that it has lived on to tell the connection, to tell the story of what's happened in Darwin," owner Jo said.

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FACEBOOK: Jo's donga

Fast-forward decades past the Sidney Williams Hut years and the word donga means many things to different people.

There are the big and bold dongas owned by the likes of Paul; Territory mansions with interior "man caves" lined with stubby holders.

Others like Frankie and Gaia have carefully crafted an eco-friendly bush mansion made from recycled materials, salvaged glass doors and smooth wood.

"I feel in love with the Northern Territory. I fell in love with this man and we've created our dream," Gaia said.

There is also an elevator for the dog — a pulley system that brings Nibble's kennel upstairs when he cannot be bothered with the spiral staircase.

people in a demountable home with a pond and slide
Mike with his slippery slope in rural Darwin with 105.7 ABC Darwin's Tim Moore and Adam Steer.

105.7 ABC Darwin: Will Tinapple

Remote doctor Mike also has his very own version of bush ingenuity.

Drive down the dusty road to his block and he will hear you coming, a whole kilometre away, via the inbuilt trip wire that rings a doorbell in his donga's living room.

Once you arrive, you might be invited to take a dip in his billabong, connected to the verandah via a slippery slide.

"I was from the city and ready for a tree change," Mike said.

Size is not everything

For some, size is not everything. It is what you do with your donga that counts.

Iranian migrant Shah arrived in Australia in the 1980s, however it was not until he moved to the Top End to find better paying work that he found his true passion.

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Shah's Mahal is a work in progress.

105.7 ABC Darwin: Will Tinapple

He has been building "Shah's Mahal" for years now, digging out a back pit for an outdoor shower entirely by hand with a shovel for 12 months.

It is a work in progress with no walls and he admits the "bugs can get pretty thick" in the evening, however he loves living amid bush and nature.

It is a philosophy — whether intentional or not — eschewed by many donga lovers.

Scratch at the aluminium and many will tell you stories of architectural defiance, or perhaps an unintentional dalliance.

people in a demountable home with crocodile heads
Nic and Weed live in Southport.

105.7 ABC Darwin: Will Tinapple

"This was dirt floor and no roof for about five years when I was first here," Weed, a donga owner out in coastal Southport, said.

"I just had a swag on the floors for years."

Then he met his life partner Nic, an artist with a love of skull painting.

"I ask him to build me a bench and he builds me a bench," she said.

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FACEBOOK: WEDD AND NIC

These days they have a home with a pebbled garden, a pool for two crocodiles — one an adolescent, the other a white albino mongoloid — and an outside patio that can be hosed down after a mud crab feast.

Weed claims it is missing just one thing — "a brewery".

"We brew about 130 to 140 longnecks a week. That's sort of enough to keep us in business. Sometimes we get behind."

It is not a problem often experienced by Vermin, for he has a lever system that pulls a bright blue esky full of beers from one donga to another.

And yes, Vermin has several dongas. It is a donga duplex; a veritable Disneyland of Territory history covered in historical artefacts and hidden nooks of rusting kitsch.

"I'm very staunch on being happy," he said.

Do you live in a Northern Territory donga? The ABC wants you to get in touch.