Cavenagh Street, Darwin in the 1930s (Gordon’s Don Hotel on the right is currently the site of the ABC)

Cavenagh Street, Darwin in the 1930s (Gordon’s Don Hotel on the right is currently the site of the ABC)

The modern day city of Darwin is located on the land of the Larrakia people, who continue to maintain cultural, spiritual and economic ties to the land.

Darwin, was first called Port Darwin after the eminent naturalist Charles Darwin. Although he had left the ship by the time the Beagle arrived in 1839, his former shipmates gave his name to the site on the map.

When the town was built, it was called Palmerston, and was the fifth attempt at permanent European settlement on the coast of what is now known as the Northern Territory.

The name for the point where the Overland Telegraph Line met the international cable coming undersea from Java was Port Darwin, and Darwin is the name still used for the city.

Darwin is the present-day capital of the Northern Territory, its administrative centre and most people live there, but it hasn’t always been the case. Between 1926 and 1931 Darwin was the capital of North Australia when the Territory was divided administratively but Alice Springs was the capital of Central Australia. During the war years, the administrative capital was moved away from Darwin to Alice Springs because Darwin was in the frontline of war, enduring Japanese bombing raids between 1942-43.

In common with the other towns of the Northern Territory, Darwin has always had a multicultural and diverse population. Before 1911, Chinese outnumbered any other ethnic group and newcomers to town sometimes found the population mix disconcerting and different from elsewhere in Australia.

Darwin is prone to cyclones in the Wet season, and the town has been devastated on a number of occasions, most famously on Christmas Eve in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy when almost all the buildings were destroyed with the loss of many lives.

As a consequence, there are few physical remains of the ‘old Darwin’. The heritage, and history of the town, though, is held in the memories of the longstanding Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Philippine and European families who continue to live there today.

 Images from the Northern Territory Library

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