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Darlene Chin has one major regret in life – that she wasn’t born in Darwin.

Her mum was heavily pregnant when the family drove 3500 kilometres to the Gold Coast for a holiday with family.

And that’s how one of the Northern Territory’s leading retailers came to be born in Southport.

“I never admit that I wasn’t born in Darwin,” she says. “I’m a Darwin girl through and through. I still ask my mother, ‘What were you doing having me born in Queensland?’”

Darlene owns Attitude for Men, a high-end boutique in Darwin city centre, and also has a wine and spirits wholesale business with her husband, Darryl Thomas.

What makes a good business owner?

“Tenacity, hard work, loving what you do. You can’t just give up when things get tough. “I love working, I love being in the shop. I find it a challenge to leave and go home at the end of the day. I work seven days a week, and I’m proud of the service we provide.

“What drives me is the simple pleasure of making people happy by helping them find clothes that they love.

“I can’t imagine selling my business. I had an offer a while back and turned it down straight away.”

Darlene comes from a family of business people – her parents, John and Margaret, owned petrol stations when she was young, which meant she and her four brothers were brought up serving fuel, washing windscreens and pumping up tyres.

“That was my introduction to customer service. It has stayed with me.”

She is celebrating 30 years in retail, one of the toughest and most volatile sectors of the business world. Darlene’s great-grandfather Chin Toy came to the Northern Territory from China in 1883, only nine years after the first Chinese men arrived to work on the Pine Creek goldfields.

Her grandfather Sam was born in Darwin but was sent to China to be educated and to marry.

It was an arranged marriage, which lasted for 48 years until Sam’s death in 1968, and he and Sue Wah Chin had 11 children. Darlene’s father John was born in Darwin in 1939.

Over the generations, the Chins have made an enormous contribution to the Territory, economically, socially and politically.


In many ways, they represent the face of Darwin – a happy, multicultural society made up of dozens of ethnicities.

It wasn’t always like that.

Early Chinese migrants worked their own small claims on the goldfields, often picking over those abandoned by European miners as unprofitable, and established market gardens.

They endured appalling racism, including a law passed in 1888 to restrict Chinese immigration to the Territory.

Today, the NT’s 6000-strong Chinese- Australian population is prosperous, respected and at the forefront of business innovation.

Darlene went to Stuart Park Primary and Nightcliff High schools in Darwin and, for a couple of years, a tiny school at Frances Creek when her father went to work on the iron ore mine.

Her parents were strict and protective of their only daughter, but it was a happy, relatively carefree childhood of playing with friends, Girl Guides, piano lessons, sport and pony club.

She remembers sheltering with her family in the car parked under their elevated home in Nightcliff as Cyclone Tracy tore the Territory’s capital city apart on Christmas Day 1974.

The family – mum, dad, Darlene and brothers Graeme, Wesley, Ashley and Gregory – went to live in the workshop of the service station they owned on Smith Street, sleeping on camp stretchers and bathing in a sawn-off 44-gallon drum.

Darlene was soon evacuated in a Hercules plane to live with family friends on Stradbroke Island in Queensland for three months.

“It was marvellous – summer days, lots of swimming.

“But for years after Tracy I cried when a storm broke out. I’m a cryer though – people think I’m tough but I’m a pussy cat. I would still find it hard to go into the Cyclone Tracy room at the museum.”

After finishing year 12, Darlene went to the University of New England to study a Bachelor of Arts, but dropped out after a year.


She then went to the old NT Community College, which evolved into Charles Darwin University, to train to be a teacher, but dropped out again.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

So she took a job in a video store and found that one of her jobs was to mail pornographic movies to customers around the country.

Darlene married at the tender age of 20 and moved to Perth with her husband and later Melbourne for six years.

She found living in a big city and being away from Darwin a valuable growing-up experience.

But nothing was to toughen her up more than suffering severe sexual harassment by an employer in Melbourne.

It was a traumatic chapter, which took several years to resolve via the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board.

She was awarded $10,000 compensation, a good payout in those days, and returned home in 1992 to open a business in the Stone House building, which her family had owned for generations.

“Going into business on my own was nerve-wracking and hard work. I had a temp job at the same time to help make ends meet. But I grew to love it, and thankfully it turns out that I’m ok at it.

“I built a bedsit at the back of the shop and lived there for 10 years. I had the best time and made so many friends.”

Darlene opened Attitude for Men, which is popular among fashionconscious Territorians – but it has to compete with the huge clothing chains, which have such tremendous buying power that they can sell massproduced clothes for a pittance.


“It’s a shame that high-quality, specialist, independent boutiques such as mine are dying out. We offer such a great shopping experience compared with the rest – knowledge, service, expertise.

“What would Darwin do without Attitude for Men? We’d be left with just the mass-produced fast fashion and rubbish.”

Darlene has been a long-term advocate for the retail industry – she has been on the committee of the Darwin City Retailers Association for five years and was on the board of the now-defunct Darwin City Promotions.


“The sentiment for supporting local businesses was so strong during 2020-21, but that seems largely to have dissipated as people return to travelling,” she says. “It’s a crying shame that initiatives to remind and encourage Territorians to buy from their home-grown businesses have all been forgotten.

“The profits of national retailers don’t stay and circulate through our town.

“It’s crucial that independent retail is supported by Government, property owners, and the community. Otherwise we risk the grim possibility of our capital city without quality, locally-owned retail offerings in the CBD.”

Darlene’s parents are in their mid-eighties and live in retirement in Howard Springs. She visits every week.

Despite her deep love of working, Darlene admits that at the age of 58 retirement has started to cross her mind.

“But what would I do? There is great longevity in my family – my grandmother lived until she was 99 and many members of my family live well into their nineties, so I have to consider a very long retirement.”

Darlene loves her home town.

“Nobody can love Darwin like a Darwin kid does,” she says. “And no one knows what Darwin lacks like a Darwin kid who left. By all means we should let our children spread their wings, but lure them back with tall tales of success at home, incentivise them to return and bring their big-city ideas with them, and celebrate their achievements when they make cool things happen right here.

“We seem to have awards nights for everything, even the Public Service. We have a Million Dollar Fish competition, but what long-term effect does that have on our lives?

“What about the Returned Darwin/ Territory Kids Awards, with a million dollar prize pool for people of any industry who come back, get a great job or start a business, and make a real and sustained positive impact in our towns?”