Northern Territory — History and Culture
The Northern Territory is renowned for its remote, harsh environment. As a result, this territory has been less influenced by European culture than other parts of Australia. Indigenous Australian culture still thrives in many parts of the region, creating a uniquely traditional environment for tourists to explore. Aboriginal communities are a significant element of the Northern Territory landscape.
The area now known as Northern Territory is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land have been living in the same area for more than 50,000 years. Before European settlement, the indigenous tribes of the Northern Territory traded vigorously with Indonesian tribes, with seasonal migration between regions common.
The first European settlements of the northern coastline proved unsuccessful due to the harsh climate. However, Darwin was the first site to be settled, established by Captain John Lort Stokes and named after the renowned naturalist Charles Darwin in 1869. Alice Springs was founded by the explorer John McDougall Stuart a few years later, but the settlements of the Northern Territory didn’t gain prominence until the gold rush in the 1880s.
Nevertheless, the territory, which was part of New South Wales and then South Australia at this time, saw several British-colonial towns begin to form. In 1872, the overland telegraph lines connected Darwin and Central Australia with the cities of southeastern Australia. A rail line was constructed by 1889, and mining and cattle farming became the two prominent industries prior to WWII.
No city in Australia was more influenced by WWII than Darwin. The northern reaches of the Northern Territory were primarily controlled by the Australian and Commonwealth military. Because of this, and its close proximity to Asia, Darwin was a prime target for Japanese air raids. Several battles were fought over the city and the northern coast of the NT during the war. Today, visitors can explore the East Point Military Museum (East Point Road, East Point, Darwin) and Oil Storage Tunnels (Kitchener Drive, Darwin Wharf Precinct, Darwin) for more information.
The post-war period in the Northern Territory saw more growth in the state as it was put back on the map during WWII. The 1960s and 1970s saw plenty of reform for the suppressed Indigenous culture, with Indigenous land rights and voting rights becoming part of Northern Territory legislation. In 1978, the Northern Territory was granted responsibility for its own governance, after formerly being Commonwealth controlled. Tourists can explore the history of the Northern Territory at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (19 Conacher Street, Fannie Bay, Darwin).
Much of the Northern Territory is a hub for traditional Indigenous culture. It is one of the only places on the continent of Australia that has preserved the traditional aspects and lifestyles of ancient Indigenous tribes. Places like Arnhem Land, which is a predominantly Aboriginal region, still boast daily evidence of ancient traditions. However, for those who would like to experience the beauty of Aboriginal culture and landscapes, arrangements need to be made well in advance on most occasions. Special permits are sometimes required to explore or even see Indigenous cultural sites.
Tourists who experience Darwin will be astounded by the multiculturalism radiating from this town. Almost half the population is either Indigenous Australian or is derived from non-European origins. Explore the tranquil harmony that exists in Darwin, and bask in the many different flavors of Asian and Indigenous delights.