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It's a Saturday morning in mid-November at Darwin's Parap Markets. Your glasses are fogging up as you wait in line for a famous laksa, a rapidly melting mango smoothie in your hand.

Then it happens.

The first bead of sweat that had been slowly forming at the top of your neck makes its way slowly down your back. As your t-shirt clings to it, a thought crosses your mind — it's really, really hot in Darwin.

Curious Darwin questioner Patricia Dickes had the same realisation when she recently travelled to the Northern Territory from Hobart to visit her niece.

"How can people stand the climate?" she asked.

Curious Darwin has been asked this by many questioners this year — presumably by southerners.

"How do they cope with the heat and humidity on a practical level?" wondered Maria.

"How do people — dogs, cats even — possibly bear the weather?" asked Bron.

"Why is it so hot?" moaned Jason.

Curious Darwin is our story series where you ask us the questions, vote for your favourite, and we investigate. You can submit your questions on any topic at all, or vote on our next investigation.

To be fair to the Top End, Curious questioner Ms Dickes did make the mistake of heading north during the build-up, also known as the "sticky season" or the "mango madness" period, a time of high and sometimes-unbearable humidity before the monsoon arrives in late December.

Darwin locals have come up with some inventive ways to stay cool, but even a seasoned Top Ender has their limits.

Ancient Aboriginal techniques for keeping cool

Before fans and electricity, Indigenous Australians were finding plenty of ways to keep cool in the sticky build-up.

Bill Risk is a senior Larrakia elder, the traditional people from the Darwin region, and said his ancestors knew the build-up was coming from the direction the wind blew.

"We have 'barda' which is the west wind, and that wind brings rain," Mr Risk said.

Larrakia people, who have been in the Northern Territory for tens of thousands of years, were very sensible when it came to coping with the build-up, he said.

"There are many more creeks and water sources in Larrakia country than people would imagine," he said.

"We always know where to find water.

"When it's hot and it's building up as it is now, what do you look for? Water and shade, those are parts of our lifestyle that have always been with us."

Mr Risk said Darwin's botanical gardens were a favourite spot to cool down, to source food, and find fresh water to drink.

"There's springs the whole way through the botanical gardens, and fresh berries and plums," he said.

If people can't find a way to stay in the shade in the middle of the day, there are a few tricks the Larrakia people used to stay cool and hydrated during the build-up.

"When we were kids we would get a bit of spear grass… or even a small stone, and you put that in your mouth; it keeps the saliva glands working," Mr Risk said.

But he warned Top Enders to stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day, and to avoid swimming in the midday sun.

"Once you're in that salt water and the temperature is high, with the wind and the sun overhead, [you] can really blister badly if you're not accustomed to it," he said.

Electricity a game-changer for Darwinites

Spare a thought for the Territorians who migrated north from cooler climates, and who sweltered through the worst of the build-up (and the sweaty, corresponding build-down in March and April each year) without power during the city's early years around the turn of last century.

Electricity was a game-changer for Darwinites, said Katherine Hamilton from the Northern Territory Archives.

"It's only when we have a power outage that we can get a small taste of what life may have been like," she said.

Darwin was the last of the state capitals to get electricity, and wasn't connected until the 1950s. Meanwhile in Sydney, 519 homes were connected to electricity almost half a century earlier, in 1905.

Power transformed people's ability to stay cool, Ms Hamilton said.

"How we eat, how we keep food, how we shopped for our groceries, to our social lives, the way pubs kept the beer cold," she said.

"People's lives became instantly more comfortable."

Suffering through mango madness

The Northern Territory Government recently undertook heat mapping in Darwin's CBD, and found the hottest part of the city on Cavenagh Street could reach a blistering 60 degrees with northerly crosswinds.

In response, it's constructing a shade structure to cover the street in a bid to reduce overwhelming heat.

Rosie Curran's ironing shop is located near the structure, and she said ironing in the build-up could be sticky business.

"It can get extremely hot when you're standing over a steaming iron with all the lights on for a few hours a day," she said.

Some days it's so hot, she says it's not even worth putting the air-conditioning on.

"With all the machines going, it's so hot in here there's really no point trying to cool the shop," Ms Curran said.

"I can live without an air-conditioner, but I can't live without my fan, I drag it around like an intravenous drip.

"It follows me everywhere, but it makes me feel quite comfortable."

Rosie Curran offers Ms Dickes some advice: "You just mop your brow and keep going."

Darwin's breezy Beverly Hills

Alastair Shields grew up in Darwin, and despite being well acclimatised to the Top End heat, he knows it can be uncomfortable for southerners.

"It can get very hot and sweaty, but you have to embrace it," he said.

To help escape the sweaty conditions, he has turned his driveway into a tribute to old Hollywood glamour.

"Obviously it used to be a carport, and we discovered after living here for a couple of years that it catches the best breeze," Mr Shields said.

The carport is now known as "Beverly Hills in Parap".

"Beverly Hills was really the thought, a tribute to the old-style 70s glamour of Hollywood, with a retro twist," Mr Shields said.

Aside from the cool breeze that sweeps through Beverly Hills in Parap, Mr Shields stays cool with the help of a waterbed.

"I don't know about the science of it, but the waterbed always manages to stay just that few degrees cooler than the temperature around you," he said.

He remembers when his parents bought their first air-conditioner. Before that, they just relied on fans to keep cool.

"It was before Cyclone Tracy so maybe I was seven or eight," Mr Shields said.

He says air-conditioners were still pretty rare in Darwin then, and the majority of people lived in louvered houses.

"My parents eventually got one of those nice box air-conditioners in their bedroom, and as a special treat on a particularly hot and sticky night I'd be allowed to drag the mattress off my bed and drag it into their room and nestle down in the air-con, which was a great treat," he said.

The science of staying cool

Dr Matt Brearley is a thermal physiologist and studies the effects of heat on the body.

He said that too much heat is a very similar feeling to a hangover from alcohol.

"A lot of people say it's all about hydration, and I challenge that," he said.

"Hydration is important, but it's your body temperature that will affect you the most, so we need to cool you.

"We've called it a 'heat hangover' because tradies were reporting to us symptoms towards the end of their shift of nausea, headache, lethargy, loss of appetite, just generally feeling tired and over it."

Lowering the internal body temperature is just as important as staying hydrated, he said.

"Whether you ingest ice, or jump in a pool, or sit in a dark air-conditioned room, you have to cool your body down, and if you don't, that's when you can get into real trouble," Dr Brierley said.

How does Darwin compare to other hot climates?

Meteorologist Pieter Claassen has crunched the data, and says Darwin takes the cake for humidity nationwide.

"We do have a really good dry season which the Queensland tropics don't have, but during our wet season we see much higher dew points than the Queensland tropics, so I would say Darwin is the stickiest place in Australia," he said.

Mr Claassen reckons the build-up is the most unpleasant time to be in Darwin.

"You see the humidity go up, and there isn't much relief in terms of rainfall; it's an oppressive time to be in Darwin," Mr Claassen said.

He said humidity makes it much harder to cool down, compared to dry heat.

"When you get out of the pool in dry heat you can feel a lot cooler, but in the humid heat it doesn't have the same effect," he said.

And not even copious sweating will cool you down in the topics.

"Sweat does not evaporate because the air is as humid as the skin, so in the dry season we lose that sweat but in the wet it can just make us sticky," Mr Claassen said.

Darwin getting hotter and sweatier

Without global warming, Top Enders would've experienced drier conditions, but the heating of the planet is countering that dry trend, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"We are seeing the ridge to the south of Australia strengthening, and it's that ridge which brings us those nice dry winds that we see during the dry season," Mr Claassen said.

The bad news: global warming is fighting that trend, and will ultimately make Darwin hotter and stickier.

"It's kind of a battle of two forces; right now we're seeing those drier trends prevail but overall the global warming trend should win," Mr Claassen predicted.

That's very bad news for Top Enders, who'll have to keep getting creative while waiting for the rains to come.

While you're here… are you feeling curious?

ABC