Northern Territory (abbreviated as NT) is a federal Australian territory in the centre and central northern regions. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west (129th meridian east), South Australia to the south (26th parallel south), and Queensland to the east (138th meridian east).
To the north, the territory is bordered by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Despite its large area—over , making it the third largest Australian federal division—it is sparsely populated. With a population of 233,300 it is the least populous of Australia's eight major states and territories, having less than half as many people as Tasmania.
The archaeological history of the Northern Territory begins over 40,000 years ago when Indigenous Australians settled the region. Makassan traders began trading with the indigenous people of the Northern Territory for trepang from at least the 18th century onwards, and very likely for 300 years prior to that.
The coast of the territory was first seen by Europeans in the 17th century. The British were the first Europeans to attempt to settle the coastal regions in the 19th century; however no attempt was successful until the establishment of a settlement at Port Darwin in 1869. Today the economy is based on tourism, especially Kakadu National Park in the Top End and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock) in central Australia, and mining.
The capital city is Darwin. The population is not concentrated in coastal regions but rather along the Stuart Highway. The other major settlements are (in order of size) Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, and Tennant Creek.
Residents of the Northern Territory are often known simply as 'Territorians', or more informally as 'Top Enders' and 'Centralians'.
Indigenous Australians have lived in the present area of the Northern Territory for an estimated 40,000 years, and extensive seasonal trade links existed between them and the peoples of what is now Indonesia for at least five centuries.
With the coming of the British, there were four early attempts to settle the harsh environment of the northern coast, of which three failed in starvation and despair. The Northern Territory was part of colonial New South Wales from 1825 to 1863, except for a brief time from February to December 1846, when it was part of the short lived colony of North Australia. It was part of South Australia from 1863 to 1911. Under the administration of colonial South Australia, the overland telegraph was constructed between 1870 and 1872.
A railway was also built between Palmerston and Pine Creek between 1883 and 1889. The economic pattern of cattle raising and mining was established so that by 1911 there were 513,000 cattle. Victoria River Downs was at one time the largest cattle station in the world. Gold was found at Grove Hill in 1872 and at Pine Creek, Brocks Creek, Burrundi, and copper was found at Daly River.
On 1 January 1911, a decade after federation, the Northern Territory was separated from South Australia and transferred to Commonwealth control. Alfred Deakin opined at this time "To me the question has been not so much commercial as national, first, second, third and last. Either we must accomplish the peopling of the northern territory or submit to its transfer to some other nation."
In late 1912 there was growing sentiment that the name "Northern Territory" was unsatisfactory. The names "Kingsland" (after King George V and to correspond with Queensland), "Centralia" and "Territoria" were proposed with Kingsland becoming the preferred choice in 1913. However, the name change never went ahead.
For a brief time between 1927 and 1931 the Northern Territory was divided into North Australia and Central Australia at the 20th parallel of South latitude. Soon after this time, parts of the Northern Territory were considered in the Kimberley Plan as a possible site for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland, understandably considered the "Unpromised Land".
During World War II, most of the Top End was placed under military government. This is the only time since Federation that part of an Australian state or territory has been under military control. After the war, control for the entire area was handed back to the Commonwealth.
Indigenous Australians had struggled for rights to fair wages and land. An important event in this struggle was the strike and walk off by the Gurindji people at Wave Hill Cattle Station in 1966. The Commonwealth Government of Gough Whitlam set up the Woodward Royal Commission in February 1973, which set to inquire into how land rights might be achieved in the Northern Territory. Justice Woodward's first report in July 1973 recommended that a Central Land Council and a Northern Land Council be established to present to him the views of Aboriginal people. In response to the report of the Royal Commission a Land Rights Bill was drafted, but the Whitlam Government was dismissed before it was passed.
The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 was eventually passed by the Fraser Government on 16 December 1976 and began operation on the following Australia Day (26 January 1977).
In 1978 the Territory was granted responsible government, with a Legislative Assembly headed by a Chief Minister. The Administrator of the Northern Territory is an official acting as the Queen's indirect representative in the Territory.
During 1995–6 the Northern Territory was briefly one of the few places in the world with legal voluntary euthanasia, until the Federal Parliament overturned the legislation. Before the over-riding legislation was enacted, three people committed suicide through voluntary euthanasia, a practice orchestrated by Dr. Philip Nitschke.