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Darwin, NT

Dynamic, multicultural and exciting tropical capital of the Northern Territory.

Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory. Located between Beagle Gulf and Port Darwin and situated on Fannie Bay, it is a thriving and prosperous centre which has become the vital service centre for the Top End. While the city has its own attractions - the evening markets, the cruises on Fannie Bay, the exceptional restaurants on the shoreline, the interesting history of the its bombing during World War II - most visitors use it as a base to explore the surrounding area. It is an easy starting point for people wanting to explore the wonders of Kakadu National Park, Litchfield Park and the Tiwi islands. It is wonderfully multicultural and has a true tropical ambience. At times the visitor can wander the town and feel as though they have stepped into a Joseph Conrad novel. There is an overlay of wildness that belies the comfortable suburbia which surrounds the central business district. It's a city to be enjoyed like a good party, where a myriad of cultures (more than 100 nationalities at the last count) have mixed together to create a vibrant and fascinating potpourri like nowhere else in Australia.

Location

Located on Fannie Bay on the northern coast of Australia, Darwin is the administrative capital of the Northern Territory.

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Origin of Name

Darwin, or more correctly Port Darwin, was named by Captain J.C. Wickham who, exploring the coast aboard the HMS Beagle in 1839, named the bay after Charles Darwin who had once sailed in the Beagle. In 1869 the settlement was renamed Palmerston but in 1911 it changed back to Darwin.

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Things to See and Do

Darwin Walking Tours
Central Darwin is ideal for walking. These walking tours take only two hours and cover the Japanese invasion during World War II, the building of Parliament House, the Old Town Hall ruins, the impact of Cyclone Tracy, the monuments to the early explorers and the changes wrought by the Overland Telegraph to Darwin. Check out http://www.darwinwalkingtours.com or tel: (08) 8981 0227.

Bicentennial Park
One of the best ways of learning the history of Darwin is to walk the length of Bicentennial Park (it runs between The Esplanade and Port Darwin). It has a series of historic placards telling the story of the city and there are a number of important monuments to important people like the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt who walked from Queensland across to the area.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Aboriginal Art Galleries
Darwin has a large number Aboriginal art galleries ranging from strictly art for tourists to fine art. For an excellent overview of Aboriginal art, visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which has an excellent representative collection of the best of local indigenous art. The collection on display at the Northern Territory Supreme Court, in which there are fine examples of works from the desert country around Alice Springs. If you're eager to buy some indigenous art, the artists' co-operative Maningrida Arts & Culture is a sales outlet for the Territory's oldest Aboriginal Arts Centre located 400 km east of Darwin in Arnhem Land. It is located at 32 Mitchell Street, check out http://dnaag.com.au/artist/maningrida-arts and http://www.maningrida.com. Tel: (08) 8979 6100.

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History

* For tens of thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans along the coast, the area around Darwin was occupied people from the Larrakia language group.

* It is now widely accepted that Chinese explorers reached the north coast of Australia in the 15th century.

* It is likely that the Portuguese, who had occupied Timor as early as 1513, had made the journey across to the mainland around that time.

* There is evidence that by the 1600s the Dutch, travelling from Batavia, had explored the coast and drawn maps.

* In 1839 Port Darwin was explored by Lieutenant John Lort Stokes and named by Captain J.C. Wickham when they travelled along the coast in the HMS Beagle.

* The settlement of Darwin was the end point in a long attempt to settle the north coast of the continent. There were failed attempts at Escape Cliffs, Port Essington and Fort Dundas. While in charge of the area, the South Australian government sent the Surveyor-General to the area in 1869.

* In 1869 the settlement was renamed Palmerston. It was surveyed and plans for leases were drawn up. This attempt would probably have failed had it not coincided with the construction of the Overland Telegraph.

* In 1870 the first pole at the northern end of the Overland Telegraph was placed in the ground.

* In 1872 Government House, a remarkably beautiful house overlooking Darwin Harbour, was built.

* The first Government House was pulled down and rebuilt in the 1880s and that building, known as the 'House of Seven Gables', still stands.

* The period from 1870 to 1900 saw successive waves of settlers. The Chinese who had worked on the Overland Telegraph established a thriving Chinatown.

* By 1881 the town had a population of 3,451.

* The Fannie Bay Gaol was built in 1882-3.

* The Old Police Station, the Court House and Cell Block were constructed in 1884 by the architect John George Knight, the Government Resident for the Northern Territory. They were destroyed by Cyclone Tracy.

* By 1891 the population of Darwin had grown to 4,898.

* In 1911 the name of the settlement was changed from Palmerston to Darwin.

* In 1918 the Australian Workers Union demanded the resignation of the Territory Administrator in which has become known as the Darwin Rebellion.

* During World War II The Police Station, Court House and Cell Block were occupied by the Royal Australian Navy and became known as HMAS Melville.

* On 19 February, 1942 188 Japanese planes attacked Darwin. 243 people were killed.

* In 1942-1943 Darwin was bombed repeatedly by the Japanese imperial forces.

* The Territory's last execution occurred at Fannie Bay Gaol in 1952.

* Darwin became a city on January 26, 1959.

* On Christmas Day, 1974, Cyclone Tracy, Australia's worst natural disaster, devastated the city. At 3 am the anemometer at Darwin Airport recorded winds of 217 km/h before it stopped working; winds of up to 250 km/h were estimated to have hit the city; total damage exceeded $1 billion and 71 people were killed; about 26,000 people were airlifted out of the city and over 1000 people needed medical attention; 16 people were lost at sea; the ABC radio station, 8DR, was off the air for 34 hours; over 70 per cent of all buildings in the city were seriously damaged.

* In 1978 The Police Station, Court House and Cell Block were rebuilt.

* The Fannie Bay gaol was closed in 1979

* In 1982 the gaol became the Fannie Bay Museum.

* During the 1980s the city of Palmerston was built 20 km south of Darwin central.

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Visitor Information

Tourism Top End, 6 Bennett Street, tel: 1300 138 886.

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Accommodation

It is worth remembering that Darwin, like the whole of the Northern Territory, relies on earning the bulk of its tourist dollars between May and October and consequently the price of accommodation during that time is nearly twice what it would be in the southern states. It is recognised that the prime accommodation is located on The Esplanade. It has excellent views across the harbour and is easily accessible to the CBD.

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Eating

Four Suggestions
Breakfast at the Roma Bar
Rumour has it that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban used to breakfast here regularly during the filming of Australia. It had been a favourite with David Wenham who, apparently, recommended it . Breakfast degenerated into a paparazzi field day, disrupting the regulars with their coffee and pancakes. Enjoy the ambience and good coffee at this haunt of Darwin's journos, pollies and lawyers. Roma Bar, 9-11 Cavenagh Street. Tel: (08) 8981 6729; check http://www.romabar.com.au.

Cullen Bay Marina
If your tastes turn to fresh fish by the water's edge, there are good restaurants at the Cullen Bay Marina with tables overlooking the marina. The choice of food styles is extensive. An ideal place to relax as the sunsets over Port Darwin. Check out http://cullenbaymarina.com.au/5.html.

Char Restaurant
If you want something with a decidedly tropical-colonial feel try Char Restaurant on the corner of The Esplanade and Knuckey Street. It has tables under palm trees, a lazy tropical ambience and a multicultural menu. It's real Somerset Maugham country. A gin sling is essential. Tel: (08) 8981 4544 or check http://chardarwin.com.au.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Darwin's famous outdoor markets boast a decidedly eclectic range of street food (more than 60 stalls) ranging from Indonesian and Malay to Chinese, Sri Lankan, Greek, Portuguese, Brazilian, Vietnamese and Thai. Buy a takeaway meal and watch the sun set over the harbour. Check out http://www.mindil.com.au.

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Useful Websites

The city's official site is http://www.darwin.nt.gov.au; the main tourism site is http://www.tourismtopend.com.au/regions/darwin-region.

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