Darwin, Northern Territory

Northern Territory
The Darwin skyline seen from Bayview
Darwin is located in Australia
Population 146,245 (2014)[1] (16th)
 • Density 926/km2 (2,400/sq mi) (2008)[2]
Established 1869
Area 112.01 km2 (43.2 sq mi)
Time zone ACST (UTC+9:30)
Mayor Katrina Fong Lim
  • 2,616 km (1,626 mi) from Adelaide[3]
  • 2,651 km (1,647 mi) from Perth[4]
  • 2,846 km (1,768 mi) from Brisbane[5]
  • 2,467 km (1,533 mi) from Cairns[6]
  • 2,504 km (1,556 mi) from Townsville
LGA(s) Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield
County Palmerston County
Territory electorate(s) Port Darwin (and 14 others)
Federal Division(s) Solomon
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
32.0 °C
90 °F
23.2 °C
74 °F
1,729.1 mm
68.1 in

Darwin [7] 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.[1] 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 Darwin 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10][11]


  • History 1
    • Ancient history to the end of the 19th century 1.1
    • 20th century begins 1.2
    • 1970-present day 1.3
  • Geography 2
    • City and suburbs 2.1
    • Climate 2.2
  • Demographics 3
    • Religion 3.1
    • Population growth 3.2
  • Law and government 4
  • Economy 5
  • Education 6
    • Preschool, primary and secondary 6.1
    • Tertiary and vocational 6.2
  • Recreation and culture 7
    • Events and festivals 7.1
    • Arts and entertainment 7.2
    • Recreation 7.3
    • Parks and gardens 7.4
    • Sports 7.5
  • Media 8
  • Infrastructure 9
    • Health 9.1
    • Transport 9.2
    • Utilities 9.3
  • Tourism 10
  • Aviation history 11
  • US military presence 12
  • Sister cities 13
  • Notable Residents 14
  • See also 15
  • Gallery 16
  • References 17
  • External links 18


Ancient history to the end of the 19th century

The Aboriginal people of the Larrakia language group are the traditional custodians and the first inhabitants of the greater Darwin area.[12] 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 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.[13]

20th century begins

Remains of the Darwin Post Office after the first Japanese raid in 1942
Remains of Palmerston Town Hall, destroyed by Cyclone Tracy
Lyons Cottage, c. 1925, office of the British Australian Telegraph Company

Darwin became the city's official name in 1911.

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 was further developed after 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.[14]

1970-present day

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 46,000 were evacuated, in what turned out to be the biggest airlift in Australia's history.[10] 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 20 km (12 mi) 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.


Darwin skyline from East Point in 2007

Darwin lies in the Northern Territory, on the Timor Sea. The city proper occupies a low bluff overlooking Darwin Harbour, flanked by Frances Bay to the east and Cullen Bay to the west. The remainder of the city is flat and low-lying, and coastal areas are home to recreational reserves, extensive beaches, and excellent fishing.

Darwin is closer to the capitals of five other countries than to the capital of Australia: Darwin is 3,137 kilometres (1,949 mi) away from Canberra. Dili (East Timor) is 656 km (408 mi), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) is 1,818 km (1,130 mi), Jakarta (Indonesia) is 2,700 km (1,678 mi), Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) is 2,607 km (1,620 mi), and Melekeok (Palau) is 2,247 km (1,396 mi) from Darwin.

Even Malaysia and Singapore are only slightly farther away at 3,350 km (2,082 mi), as is Manila (Philippines) at 3,206 km (1,992 mi), and Honiara (Solomon Islands) at 3,198 km (1,987 mi).[15] Ambon, Indonesia, is only 881 km (547 mi) away from Darwin.

Along with its importance as a gateway to Asia, Darwin also acts as an access point for the Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land, and northerly islands such as Groote Eylandt and the Tiwi Islands. As the largest city in the area, it provides services for these remote settlements.

City and suburbs

Map of Darwin with suburbs

Darwin and its suburbs spread in an approximately triangular shape, with the older south-western suburbs—and the city itself—forming one corner, the newer northern suburbs in another, and the eastern suburbs, progressing towards Palmerston, forming the third.

The older part of Darwin is separated from the newer northern suburbs by Darwin International Airport and Royal Australian Air Force Base. Palmerston is a satellite city 20 km (12 mi) south of Darwin that was established in the 1980s and is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Australia.[16] The rural areas of Darwin including Howard Springs, Humpty Doo and Berry Springs are experiencing strong growth.[17]

Mitchell Street in Darwin CBD

Darwin's central business district is bounded by Daly Street in the north-west, McMinn Street in the north-east, Mitchell Street on the south-west and Bennett Street on the south-east. The CBD has been the focus of a number of major projects, including the billion dollar redevelopment of the Stokes Hill wharf waterfront area including a convention centre with seating for 1500 people and approximately 4,000 square metres (43,000 sq ft) of exhibition space. The development will also include hotels, residential apartments and public space.[18] The city's main industrial areas are along the Stuart Highway going towards Palmerston, centred on Winnellie. The largest shopping precinct in the area is Casuarina Square.

The most expensive residential areas stand along the coast in suburbs such as Larrakeyah and Brinkin,[19] despite the slight risk these low-lying regions face during cyclones and higher tides.[20] The inner northern suburbs of Millner and Coconut Grove and the eastern suburb of Karama are home to lower-income households, although low-income Territory Housing units are scattered throughout the metropolitan area.[21] The suburb of Lyon was an addition to the Northern Suburbs. Development and constructor took place in 2009 and 2010 and became home for a number of affluent Darwin residents and local/recently posted military families above the rank of Sergeant or Flying Officer.


A wet season storm at night in January

Darwin has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw)[22][23] with distinct wet and dry seasons and the average maximum temperature is remarkably similar all year round. The dry season runs from about May to September, during which nearly every day is warm and sunny, and afternoon humidity averages around 30%.[24]

There is very little rainfall between May and September. In the coolest months of June and July, the daily minimum temperature may dip as low as 14 °C (57 °F), but very rarely lower, and a temperature lower than 10 °C (50 °F) has never been recorded in the city centre. Outer suburbs away from the coast however can occasionally record temperatures as low as 5 °C (41 °F) in the dry season. For an exceedingly lengthy 147 day period during the 2012 dry season, from 5 May to 29 September, Darwin recorded no precipitation whatsoever. Prolonged periods of no precipitation are common in the dry season in Northern Australia (particularly in the Northern Territory and northern regions of Western Australia) although a no-rainfall event of this extent is rare. The 3pm dewpoint average in the wet season is at around 24.0 °C (75.2 °F).[24]

The highest temperature recorded in Darwin was 40.4 °C (104.7 °F) on 17 October 1892 at the Darwin Post Office station, while the lowest was 10.4 °C (50.7 °F) on 29 July 1942 at the Darwin Airport station, which is further from the coast and routinely records cooler temperatures than the post office station which is located in Darwin's CBD. The lowest maximum temperature on record was 18.4 °C (65.1 °F) on 3 June 1904 while the highest minimum was 30.7 °C (87.3 °F) on 18 January 1928.[24][25]

The wet season is associated with tropical cyclones and monsoon rains.[26] The majority of rainfall occurs between December and March (the southern hemisphere summer), when thunderstorms are common and afternoon relative humidity averages over 70 percent during the wettest months.[24] It does not rain every day during the wet season, but most days are warm to hot with plentiful cloud cover; January averages under 6 hours of bright sunshine daily. Darwin's highest Bureau of Meteorology verified daily rainfall total is 367.6 millimetres (14.47 in), which fell when Cyclone Carlos bore down on the Darwin area on 16 February 2011.[27] February 2011 was also Darwin's wettest month ever recorded, with 1,110.2 millimetres (43.71 in) recorded for the month at the airport.[24]

The hottest month is November, just before the onset of the main rain season. Because of its long dry season, Darwin has the most daily average sunshine hours (8.4) of any Australian capital with the most sunshine from April to November. The sun passes directly overhead in mid October and mid February.[28] Climatically Darwin has more in common with Manila than Sydney because it sits well inside the tropical zone.

Darwin occupies one of the most lightning-prone areas in Australia. On 31 January 2002 an early-morning squall line produced over 5,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes within a 60-kilometre (37 mi) radius of Darwin alone – about three times the amount of lightning that Perth, Western Australia, experiences on average in an entire year.[8][29]
Climate data for Darwin Airport (1941–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 36.1
Average high °C (°F) 31.8
Average low °C (°F) 24.8
Record low °C (°F) 20.2
Average rainfall mm (inches) 426.3
Average rainy days 21.3 20.4 19.6 9.3 2.2 0.6 0.4 0.6 2.3 6.9 12.4 16.9 112.9
Average relative humidity (%) 70 72 67 52 43 38 37 40 47 52 58 65 53.4
Mean monthly sunshine hours 176.7 162.4 210.8 261 297.6 297 313.1 319.3 297 291.4 252 213.9 3,092.2
Source: [24]


Major overseas born populations[30]
Country of birth Population (2011)
United Kingdom 4,646
Philippines 2,893
New Zealand 2,505
India 1,346
Greece 972
Indonesia 915
China (excl. SARs and Taiwan) 789
Germany 705
Thailand 623
Vietnam 567
Malaysia 544
Ireland 449

In 2006, the largest ancestry groups in Darwin were, Australian (42,221 or 36.9%), English (29,766 or 26%), Irish (9,561 or 8.3%), Scottish (7,815 or 6.8%), Chinese (3,502 or 3%), Greek (2,828 or 2.4%), and Italian (2,367 or 2%)[34]

Darwin's population is notable for the highest proportional population of Indigenous Australians of any Australian capital city. In the 2006 census 10,259 (9.7 per cent) of Darwin's population was Aboriginal.[35]

Darwin's population changed after the Second World War. Darwin, like many other Australian cities, experienced influxes from Europe, with significant numbers of Italians and Greeks during the 1960s and 1970s. Darwin also started to experience an influx from other European countries, which included the Dutch, Germans, and many others.[36] A significant percentage of Darwin's residents are recent immigrants from South East Asia (Asian Australians were 9.3% of Darwin's population in 2001).

Darwin's population comprises people from many ethnic backgrounds. The 2006 Census revealed that the most common places of birth for overseas migrants were the United Kingdom (3.4 per cent), New Zealand (2.1 per cent), the Philippines (1.4 per cent) and East Timor (0.9 per cent). 18.3 percent of the city's population was born overseas, which is less than the Australian average of 22%.[35]

Darwin has a youthful population with an average age of 33 years (compared to the national average of around 37 years)[37] assisted to a large extent by the military presence and the fact that many people opt to retire elsewhere.[38]

The most common languages spoken in Darwin after English are Greek, Italian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Cantonese.[35]


Darwin is essentially a multicultural secular city, however, Christianity has the most adherents in Darwin with 56,613 followers accounting for 49.5 per cent of the population of the city.[39] The largest denominations of Christianity are Roman Catholicism (24,538 or 21.5 per cent), Anglicanism (14,028 or 12.3 per cent) and Greek Orthodox (2,964 or 2.6 per cent).[40] Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews account for 3.2 per cent of Darwin's population. There were 26,695 or 23.3 per cent of people professing no religion.

Population growth

Darwin is one of the fastest growing capital cities in Australia, with an annual growth rate of 2.6 per cent since the 2006 census. In recent years, the Palmerston and Litchfield parts of the Darwin statistical division have recorded the highest growth in population of any Northern Territory local government area and by 2016 Litchfield could overtake Palmerston as the second largest municipality in metropolitan Darwin.[41] It is predicted by 2021 that the combined population of both Palmerston and Litchfield would be 101,546 people.[42]

Law and government

Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
In the Legislative Assembly

The Darwin City Council (Incorporated under the Northern Territory Local Government Act 1993) governs the City of Darwin which takes in the CBD and the suburbs. The Darwin City Council has governed the City of Darwin since 1957. The Darwin City Council consists of 13 elected members, the Lord Mayor and 12 aldermen.

The City of Darwin electorate is organised into four electoral units or wards. The names of the wards are Chan, Lyons, Richardson, and Waters. The constituents of each ward are directly responsible for electing three aldermen. Constituents of all wards are directly responsible for electing the Lord Mayor of Darwin.[43] The mayor is Katrina Fong Lim after council elections in March 2012.[44]

The rest of the Darwin area is divided into 2 local government areas. One of these is designated as a City, and the second, which is on the city's outer fringe, has the title of Shire. These areas have elected councils which are responsible for functions delegated to them by the Northern Territory Government, such as planning and garbage collection.

The Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory convenes in Darwin in the Northern Territory Parliament House. Government House, the official residence of the Administrator of the Northern Territory, is located on The Esplanade.

Also located on the Esplanade is the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. Darwin has a Magistrate's Court also which is located on the corner of Cavenagh and Bennett Streets quite close to the Darwin City Council Chambers. Darwin's police force are members of the Northern Territory Police Force. Darwin's Mitchell Street, with its numerous pubs, clubs and other entertainment venues, is policed by the CitySafe Unit. The CitySafe unit was recently credited with reducing violent crime in and around Darwin City.[45] Darwin has a long record of alcohol abuse and violent crime with 6000 assaults in 2009,[46] of which 350 resulted in broken jaws and noses – more than anywhere else in the world, according to the Royal Darwin Hospital.[46]


The Supreme Court in the city center

The two largest economic sectors are mining and tourism. Mining and energy industry production exceeds $2.5 billion per annum.[47] The most important mineral resources are gold, zinc and bauxite, along with manganese and many others. The energy production is mostly off shore with oil and natural gas from the Timor Sea, although there are significant uranium deposits near Darwin. Tourism employs 8% of Darwin residents, and is expected to grow as domestic and international tourists are now spending time in Darwin during the Wet and Dry seasons. Federal spending is a major contributor to the local economy as well.

The military presence that is maintained both within Darwin, and the wider Northern Territory, is a substantial source of employment. The continued involvement of the Australian Army in the stabilisation of East Timor has swelled the military population of Darwin to over 11,000 individuals as of 2001. There is also a substantial United Nations presence in Darwin, since Darwin serves as the staging centre for UN workers and contractors en route to nearby East Timor.

Darwin CBD (Central Business District), circa 2005

Darwin's importance as a port is expected to grow, due to the increased exploitation of petroleum in the nearby Timor Sea, and to the completion of the railway link and continued expansion in trade with Asia. During 2005, a number of major construction projects started in Darwin. One is the redevelopment of the Wharf Precinct, which includes a large convention and exhibition centre, apartment housing including Outrigger Pandanas and Evolution on Gardiner, retail and entertainment outlets including a large wave pool and safe swimming lagoon. The Chinatown project has also started with plans to construct multi-level carparks and Chinese-themed retail and dining outlets.[48]


Education is overseen territory-wide by the Department of Education and Training (DET), whose role is to continually improve education outcomes for all students, with a focus on Indigenous students.[49]

Preschool, primary and secondary

Darwin is served by a number of public and private schools that cater to local and overseas students. Over 16,500 primary and secondary students are enrolled in schools in Darwin, with 10,524 students attending primary education, and 5,932 students attending secondary education.[50] There are over 12,089 students enrolled in government schools and 2,124 students enrolled in independent schools.[50]

There were 9,764 students attending schools in the City of Darwin area. 6,045 students attended primary schools and 3,719 students attended secondary schools. There are over 7,161 students enrolled in government schools and 1,108 students enrolled in independent schools.[51] There are over 35 primary and pre – schools, and 12 secondary schools including both government and non-government. Most schools in the city are secular, but there are a small number of Christian, Catholic and Lutheran institutions. Students intending to complete their secondary education can work towards either the Northern Territory Certificate of Education or the International Baccalaureate (only offered at Kormilda College). Schools have been restructured into Primary, Middle and High schools since the beginning of 2007.

Tertiary and vocational

Darwin's largest University is the Charles Darwin University, which is the central provider of tertiary education in the Northern Territory. It covers both vocational and academic courses, acting as both a university and an Institute of TAFE. There are over 5,500 students enrolled in tertiary and further education courses.[51]

Recreation and culture

Mindil Beach markets

Events and festivals