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Who are the traditional owners of this land? Did Charles Darwin ever visit the city named after him? What significant event, often unknown to most Australians, happened to Darwin in 1942? Our city has a fascinating history ready for you to discover.

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Indigenous History

The traditional owners of Darwin are the Larrakia (saltwater) people. Larrakia country runs far beyond the municipal boundaries of Darwin, covering the area from the Cox Peninsula in the west to Adelaide River in the east. The Larrakia people established the first trade routes in the region, trading with the Tiwi, Wagait and Wulna people as well as with Indonesian fishermen. Their stories, songs and ceremonies echo the strong connection and understanding they have with the saltwater country.

European Settlement

In 1839, the HMS Beagle with Lt. John Lort Stokes aboard sailed into the waters of what is now known as Darwin harbour. Stokes named the harbour after his former shipmate British evolutionist Charles Darwin but contrary to popular rumours, Darwin himself never visited the area.

Darwin was originally founded as Palmerston in 1869, although the port was always known as Port Darwin. The town's growth was accelerated when gold was discovered at Pine Creek in 1871. In 1911, the budding young settlement was renamed Darwin.

Darwin was granted city status in 1959 due to an extensive increase in population and economic growth.

World War II 

Darwin, alongside many other towns and communities in Northern Australia, was bombed extensively during World War II.

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.

Since the early 1960s, Council has hosted a service on the 19 February to commemorate the Bombing of Darwin. In 2011, the Governor General of Australia officially declared the 19 February 'Bombing of Darwin Day - A National Day of Observance'. 

Cyclone Tracy 

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 people returned to resume their lives in the capital city of the Northern Territory. After the cyclone the Darwin Reconstruction Commission (DRC), made up of 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.

Local Government in Darwin 

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 ceased when Darwin was bombed during World War II.

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.

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.

After the 2012 local government election, Darwin City Council was renamed City of Darwin.

City of Darwin - Darwin's Floral Emblem

It has been listed as the official emblem of the city of Darwin since 1988.

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