Port of Darwin
Review and History

Port of Darwin is the main port and capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. Located on Australia’s north central coast, it lies on a peninsula at the northeast entrance of the Port Darwin Harbor. Port Darwin is an inlet of Beagle Gulf off the Timor Sea. The harbor was founded by John Stokes, from the HMS Beagle that carried naturalist Charles Darwin. The city has been rebuilt twice: once after Japanese air raids during World War II and once after devastation from Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

Port Darwin supports the surrounding pastoral and mining areas. Its economy also depends on a combination of government business and a variety of local industries that include tile and brick-making, oil exploration, uranium, fruit growing, exporting cattle, and pearls. In 2004, the urban area of Port Darwin was home to almost 110 thousand people.

Port History

The modern, multi-cultural Port Darwin grew out of a pioneer outpost and port. The first inhabitants of the area were the indigenous Larrakia people. They traded with nearby peoples in Southeast Asia and as far away as western and southern Australia. Dutch vessels visited the coastline in the 1600s and created the first maps of the area.

In September 1839, the HMS Beagle sailed into the harbor. In 1869, South Australia’s surveyor general and 135 people established a small settlement at Port Darwin. In the early 1870s, Port Darwin began to grow after telegraph company workers found gold at Pine Creek while digging holes for the telegraph poles. By 1875, about 300 Europeans had come to Darwin seeking gold.

South Australia originally settled the Northern Territory, and it administered the government until it was transferred to the Commonwealth in 1911, when Darwin got its official, and modern, name. From 1911 to 1919, the area was embroiled in political turmoil leading to the “Darwin Rebellion” where demonstrators burned the Administrator of the territory in effigy, demanding his resignation.

In the early 1940s, thousands of Allied troops arrived at Port Darwin to defend the country’s northern coast. On February 19, 1942, the same Japanese warplanes that attacked Pearl Harbor struck Darwin. The first of many raids on Darwin killed over 200 people and destroyed much of the town. Despite this pressure, Port Darwin continued to grow. In 1959, Port Darwin was granted status as a city.

In 1974, the city fell victim to Cyclone Tracy. Seventy-one people died, and more than 70% of the town was destroyed. After the storm, more than half of the city’s population was evacuated by airlift. The town was rebuilt during the late 1970s with newer materials and more resistant building techniques. The Adelaide-Darwin railway was completed in 2003, connecting two of Australia’s most important port cities.

Port Darwin’s two most important economic sectors are mining, energy, and tourism. The mining industry is based largely on gold, zinc, bauxite, and manganese. Energy production is based on offshore oil and gas from the Timor Sea. Today, tourism employs 8% of Darwin’s residents, and tourism is expended to grow in the future. Australia’s military maintains a presence in Port Darwin and is a major employer. Conflict in East Timor brought the military population in Darwin to over 10 thousand, and many United Nations workers use Darwin as a staging center.

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