Darwin History

From tropical backwater to sophisticated metropolis, Darwin has undergone an incredible metamorphosis.

Long before the Brits arrived, Darwin was home to Aboriginal people who had trading routes with Southeast Asia and imported goods from south and western Australia.

The Dutch made an appearance in the 1600s, creating the first European maps of the area.

But the first British person to discover Darwin’s harbour was John Stokes, captain of the Beagle, in 1839. He named the area after former shipmate and naturalist, Charles Darwin.

While the Overland Telegraph Line was being laid between Port Augusta and Darwin, workers uncovered gold near Pine Creek, about 200km (125 miles) south of Darwin. Miners and machinery flooded the city and in the early 20th century, an airport sprung up and further gold was discovered at Tennant Creek.

However, by the start of WWII, Darwin remained isolated, with a population of just 2,000 and limited infrastructure and road links.

The arrival of 10,000 Allied troops to defend the northern coastline immediately made Darwin a target. In 1942, Japanese bombers raided the city 64 times, killing around 900 people and destroying 77 aircraft and several ships.

In the 1950s, the town grew steadily, spurred on by the discovery of uranium and iron ore. In 1959, Darwin was granted city status.

By the early 1970s however, Darwin was still pretty cut off from the rest of the country, particularly during the wet season when roads became impassable.

Then, on Christmas Eve 1974, the city was almost entirely wiped out by Cyclone Tracy, which dealt out the highest wind speeds ever seen on the Australian mainland. The 45,000-strong population was suddenly depleted, as residents were evacuated.

The rebuilding that followed has resulted in a well-planned, modern city, which continues to thrive today.

Did you know?
• The didgeridoo originally came from Arnhem Land, east of Darwin.
• The B52 bomber at the Aviation Heritage Centre is one of only two on display in the world outside the USA.
• The Ghan train first rolled into Darwin from Adelaide on 4 February 2004.

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