Australia’s northernmost capital city marked its 150th birthday this week in a mute fashion.
Most folk living here would hardly know it happened at all, let alone celebrate the event.
It was the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Territory last year, we blew the fireworks budget then.
Even after such a long time, Darwin still clings precariously to existence – physically and financially.
Without taxpayer support from the rest of the country, it would hardly be a capital at all.
Darwin 150 years ago was a camp site hacked out of the tropical wilderness entirely due to its wonderful natural harbour, bigger than Sydney’s.
Other experiments to settle in the north had already been abandoned as bad ideas due to remoteness and extreme weather.
The lack of fresh water, the bugs, and yes the crocodiles, made maintenance of life a challenge.
Even when it seemed all the hard work had been done Darwin was very nearly wiped off the map several times – by Japanese bombing in World Two and Cyclone Tracey in 1974.
More bombs were dropped on Darwin in February 1942 than in the earlier assault on Pearl Harbour.
European settlers found it almost impossible to survive here even after 69 years spreading inland from Botany Bay.
Not that much has changed, many people only survive today by the miracle of air conditioning.
The Larrakia people, who thankfully have legal status as the Traditional Owners of Darwin, had happily made this their home for thousands of years.
More than a century ago, politics intervened after South Australia was granted ownership of the Territory and its government looked to profit from the deal.
Blocks of land were sold in the Top End to an adventurous breed of settler but to make the deal stick legally the government had to send a surveyor to map the place.
South Australia’s Surveyor-General George Goyder set sail with 135 men and women to do just that.
They arrived on February 5, 1869, and set up camp in an area just below where Darwin’s Government House sits today.
Goyder’s team surveyed a new town on the escarpment above Goyder’s Camp, which was not even Darwin at all, but was then known as Palmerston, named after a British Prime Minister.
It only became Darwin in 1911 when control of the Territory passed from South Australia to the Commonwealth.
Palmerston today is a planned sister city 20km down the Stuart Highway which only came into being a generation ago.
The origins of Darwin’s name remain interesting, however.
A now-famous exploration sailing ship, the HMS Beagle, happened to blow into the harbour in 1839 with a Lt. John Lort Stokes aboard.
Even with an eight metre tidal range they were awed by the size and depth of the place.
The famed naturalist Charles Darwin had been a shipmate on previous voyages but was not even aboard that day when the harbour was given his name.
The Dutch had been wandering up and down the northern coast for many years and Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt still bears their Dutch names, a twist in history.
Darwin became a city in 1959.
Today it has a population of about 122,000 (Palmerston 34,000).
The entire NT only has about 250,000 people all up, little old Hobart could almost swallow the whole lot whole.
And you see that Goyder must have picked a good spot because most Territorians either live in Darwin or Palmerston.
The folk living in the rest of the place, all 1.4 million square kilometres of it, have plenty of room to stretch out in.
The NT became self governing in 1978 and there is little chance any time soon it will became the state of Northern Australia.
Despite Goyder’s efforts, there are so few people here they cannot possibly pay for themselves or hope to govern such a large chunk of land without the support of the rest of Australia.
Only the GST keeps the NT afloat, and even that’s a struggle in modern times.
Famous for still allowing the sale of fireworks, there were no skyrockets on Monday in Darwin for the 150th, we’re too broke for that.
Instead there are a few exhibitions to mark the occasion.
After all Goyder had a street named after him in 1955, to our famously laid-back way of thinking, that should probably suffice.
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