Author(s): Derek Pugh
Darwin, the unique and vibrant city in Australia's tropical north, was almost stillborn.
The Northern Territory had its beginnings under the governance of South Australia. Land was sold to investors, unseen and unsurveyed and in an unknown location. The sales raised the funds needed to found the new colony of Palmerston, the future capital of the Northern Territory of South Australia. The First Northern Territory Expedition was sent north to make it a reality. But it failed miserably and the government faced huge losses and insufficient reserves to refund its investors.
To mitigate the loss, a new venture was envisaged - The Second Northern Territory Expedition - and there was only one man thought capable of ensuring a successful survey of the north: the Surveyor General, George Woodroffe Goyder.
Goyder was an extraordinary man, full of frenetic energy and with a phenomenal work ethic. The survey took him and his expert teams of surveyors and bushmen only eight months. It resulted in the laying out of the city of Palmerston (now called Darwin), three rural towns and hundreds of rural blocks spreading over almost 270,000 hectares, all pegged out in the bush and mapped. The blocks were carved out of Larrakia and Wulna lands - without permission or compensation - and conflict with the Aborigines was an ever-present danger. Two men were speared - one fatally.
Darwin grew from these somewhat humble but tumultuous beginnings. It was the only pre-Federation Australian capital established late enough to be photographed from its first settlement, and it is a survivor of challenges and privations unheard of in more temperate climes.
Darwin's story is written on its maps. Street names such as Knuckey, McLachlan, Daly, Woods, Bennett, Harvey and Smith Streets, recall the surveyors and their teams. Suburbs such as Millner, Larrakeyah, Bellamack and Stuart Park remind us of the city's earliest days. It is the story of how the courage and diligence of a few led to the founding of the city we know today.