Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin is the largest city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, with a population of 136,245. It is the smallest and most northerly of the Australian capital cities, and acts as the Top End's regional centre. Darwin was originally a pioneer outpost.
Darwin's proximity to South East Asia makes it an important Australian gateway to countries such as Indonesia and East Timor. The Stuart Highway begins in Darwin, ending at Port Augusta in South Australia. The city itself is built on a low bluff overlooking the harbour. Its suburbs spread out over some area, beginning at Lee Point in the north and stretching to Berrimah in the east. Past Berrimah, the Stuart Highway goes on to Darwin's satellite city, Palmerston, and its suburbs. The region, like the rest of the Top End, has a tropical climate, with a wet and a dry season. The city is noted for its consistently warm to hot climate, all throughout the year. Prone to cyclone activity during the wet season, Darwin experiences heavy monsoonal downpours and spectacular lightning shows. During the dry season, the city is met with blue skies and gentle sea breezes from the picturesque harbour.
The greater Darwin area is the ancestral home of the Larrakia people. On 9 September 1839, HMS Beagle sailed into Darwin harbour during its surveying of the area. John Clements Wickham named the region "Port Darwin" in honour of their former shipmate Charles Darwin, who had sailed with them on the ship's previous voyage which had ended in October 1836. The settlement there became the town of Palmerston in 1869, and was renamed Darwin in 1911. Having been almost entirely rebuilt twice, once due to Japanese air raids during World War II, and again after being devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, the city is one of Australia's most modern capitals.
The Aboriginal people of the Larrakia language group are the traditional custodians and the first inhabitants of the greater Darwin area. They had trading routes with Southeast Asia (see Macassan contact with Australia), and imported goods from as far afield as South and Western Australia. Established songlines penetrated throughout the country, allowing stories and histories to be told and retold along the routes.
The Dutch visited Australia's northern coastline in the 1600s, and created the first European maps of the area. This accounts for the Dutch names in the area, such as Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt. The first British person to see Darwin harbour appears to have been Lieutenant John Lort Stokes of HMS Beagle on 9 September 1839. The ship's captain, Commander John Clements Wickham, named the port after Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who had sailed with them both on the earlier second expedition of the Beagle. In the early 1870s Darwin felt the effects of a gold rush at Pine Creek after employees of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line found gold while digging holes for telegraph poles.
In 1859 the colony of Queensland was excised from New South Wales and initially included the area of the Northern Territory. Four years later in 1863, the Northern Territory was annexed from Queensland by the colony of South Australia. On 5 February 1869, George Goyder, the Surveyor-General of South Australia, established a small settlement of 135 people at Port Darwin. Goyder named the settlement Palmerston, after the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. In 1870, the first poles for the Overland Telegraph were erected in Darwin, connecting Australia to the rest of the world. The discovery of gold by employees of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line digging holes for telegraph poles at Pine Creek in the 1880s spawned a gold rush which further boosted the young colony's development.
In early 1875 Darwin's European population had grown to approximately 300 because of the gold rush. On 17 February 1875 the SS Gothenburg left Darwin en route for Adelaide. The approximately 88 passengers and 34 crew (surviving records vary) included government officials, circuit-court judges, Darwin residents taking their first furlough, and miners. While travelling south along the north Queensland coast, the Gothenburg encountered a cyclone-strength storm and was wrecked on a section of the Great Barrier Reef. Only 22 men survived, while between 98 and 112 people perished. Many passengers who perished were Darwin residents and news of the tragedy severely affected the small community, which reportedly took several years to recover.
1900 to present
The Northern Territory was transferred to federal administration in 1911 and Darwin became the city's official name.
The period between 1911 and 1919 was filled with political turmoil, particularly with trade union unrest, which culminated on 17 December 1918. Led by Harold Nelson, some 1000 demonstrators marched to Government House at Liberty Square in Darwin where they burnt an effigy of the Administrator of the Northern Territory John Gilruth and demanded his resignation. The incident became known as the 'Darwin Rebellion'. Their grievances were against the two main Northern Territory employers: Vestey’s Meatworks and the federal government. Both Gilruth and the Vestey company left Darwin soon afterwards.
Around 10,000 Australian and other Allied troops arrived in Darwin at the outset of World War II, in order to defend Australia's northern coastline. On 19 February 1942 at 0957, 188 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin in two waves. It was the same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, though a considerably larger number of bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town. These were by far the most serious attacks on Australia in time of war, in terms of fatalities and damage. They were the first of many raids on Darwin.
Despite this major attack, Darwin's development was furthered considerably during the war, with sealed roads constructed connecting the region to Alice Springs in the south and Mount Isa in the south-east, and Manton Dam built in the south to provide the city with water. On Australia Day (26 January) 1959, Darwin was granted city status.
On 25 December 1974, Darwin was struck by Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people and destroyed over 70% of the town's buildings, including many old stone buildings such as the Palmerston Town Hall, which could not withstand the lateral forces generated by the strong winds. After the disaster, 30,000 people of a then population of 43,000 were evacuated, in what turned out to be the biggest airlift in Australia's history. The town was subsequently rebuilt with newer materials and techniques during the late 1970s by the Darwin Reconstruction Commission, led by former Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones. A satellite city of Palmerston was built south of Darwin in the early 1980s.
On 17 September 2003 the Adelaide-Darwin railway was completed, with the opening of the Alice Springs-Darwin standard gauge line.