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Darwin Aristocracy...

The Jeffs family at Railway Hill, Darwin, 1928

Early Darwin was a town governed by a strict social hierarchy, the apex of which was the Government Resident who lived in Government House – a building which survived World War II bombing and Cyclone Tracy and is still evident today. Even so, Darwin was still a remote tropical outpost.

James Watts was born in Darwin in 1913. His grandfather, Fairfax Ingram Finness, arrived in Palmerston, as Darwin was called then, in 1883. James Watts explained:

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When he went up there, he just went up looking for work, more than anything and he was working on the railway. He did work on the railways when it started, surveying – he wasn’t a surveyor but he did work with the survey gangs. And after that he started in his own businesses with the Customs and the agencies, and different things like that. He was closely associated with VV Brown, old man Brown, and they were very great friends...

Well, I always thought of him as an old man because he had a big beard. And he lived next door to us – we always lived next door to one another…

In Bennett Street, just up next door to Bell’s Corner. But I mean other than that, he used to wander away into the bush, shooting and bring back a kangaroo for tea, or something like that. He was a great hunter; he used to do a lot of shooting out on the different stations. He was great friends of the Koolpinyah people – Herbert brothers – the old Mr and Mrs Herbert, and the two boys and a girl, the daughter – great friends of theirs…

Well, houses in Darwin at that time were different altogether to what houses are now. All you had were two big bedrooms in the centre of the house, and you had about a nine or ten foot verandah right round the whole of the house. And the verandahs were generally made of bamboo; and three strands of bamboo, woven through wire, down, all the way around the house, and that’s to allow the circulation of air through the place. And you didn’t sleep in a bedroom, you slept on the verandahs. Sometimes the ladies slept in the bedrooms, but it was too hot. They were made of galvanized iron, roofs – no ceilings.

[Northern Territory Archives Service NTRS 226, TS 605 and NTRS 219, TP 747, James Watts]
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