History of Darwin

Darwin was founded in 1869 and was originally called Palmerston. The port of the city was always known as Port Darwin and the city was eventually renamed to Darwin in 1911. The harbour was discovered in 1839 by Lt. John Lort Stokes, who named it after a former shipmate British evolutionist Charles Darwin.

The town's growth was accelerated when gold was discovered at Pine Creek, 200 km south, in 1871.

Prior to 1937 when Local Government functions were taken over by the Commonwealth, there were attempts at introducing Local Government to Darwin but none were successful.

In 1939 a Darwin Town Management Board was formed comprising three Commonwealth Government officers and a Citizens’ Advisory Committee. However it did not exist for long as World War II soon intervened with Darwin bombed heavily by the Japanese in 1942.

Darwin was the scene of the first enemy attack on Australian soil during WWII. At 0958 hours on 19 February 1942, a strike force of 188 carrier-borne Japanese aircraft dropped the first bombs on Darwin, killing more than 243 people. That first air raid destroyed many public buildings, including the post office (where 9 people perished after a direct hit on the bomb shelter). Eight allied ships were sunk in Darwin Harbour and 24 allied aircraft were destroyed. A second enemy air raid at noon that day targeted the Darwin RAAF base.

Between February 1942 and October 1943, the Japanese launched more than 60 air raids over Darwin.

When Darwin returned to civilian control after the war, a new Town Management Board was formed comprising officials and a representative group of residents.

In September 1953, the Local Government Bill was introduced into the NT Legislative Council. Its progress was delayed by extended debate and an election. The Bill was finally passed in November 1954 and the Local Government Ordinance was given assent in November 1955 providing for a Darwin Municipal Council.

A Northern Territory News street poll on 18 November 1954 concluded most Darwin residents were in favour of Local Government.

On 1 July 1957 the people of Darwin elected for the first time a Mayor and 12 Councillors. There was much enthusiasm at the time for granting of self-governance with a voter turnout of more than 85 per cent on Election Day, 29 June 1957. Council’s first elected Mayor was Lucius (Bill) Richardson.

On Australia Day, 26 January 1959 Darwin was granted city status due to an extensive increase in population and economic growth.

Darwin was the scene of the biggest airlift in Australian history after Cyclone Tracy devastated the city in the early hours of Christmas Day 1974. Cyclone Tracy killed 66 people and injured thousands more. Many of those who died or were injured were struck by flying debris.

More than 30,000 of the city's then 43,000 people were evacuated to cities and towns all over Australia immediately after the devastation of Tracy. But for many Darwin was a hard place to stay away from and many people returned to resume their lives here. After the cyclone the Darwin Reconstruction Commission (DRC), comprising Federal, Territory and Local Government representatives, was involved with the running and rebuilding of the city which gradually turned Darwin into the most modern capital city in the nation.

In May 1975, Darwin elected its first female Mayor, Dr Ella Stack, who also played a strong role in the Darwin Reconstruction Committee.

In 1978 the Commonwealth passed The Northern Territory (Self Government) Act 1978 establishing the Northern Territory as a distinct political entity under the Crown, with limited state-like powers, effective on 1 July 1978. Each year on this date Territory Day, 1 July, marks the celebration of the Northern Territory gaining self-governance with firework displays held at various locations around the city.

In November 1979 Dr Stack became Darwin’s first Lord Mayor.

On 1 July 2007, Darwin City Council commemorated its 50th anniversary since self-governance with birthday celebrations and the placing of a time capsule in Darwin’s Civic Park.



Lord Mayors (from 1979)

Lord Mayor


Katrina Fong Lim


Graeme Sawyer


Garry Lambert


Peter Adamson


George Brown


Alan Markham


Alec Fong Lim


Cecil Black


Ella Stack

1979 -1980


Mayors (1874–1979)



Ella Stack


Harold "Tiger" Brennan


Lucius Richardson


Harry Chan


Harold Cooper


John Lyons


Lucius Richardson


John Lyons


J Burton


Robert Toupein


Vaiben Louis Solomon