Darwin, Australia

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Darwin is a city and port in northern Australia. It is the capital of the Northern Territory, and by far the largest city in that territory. The harbour was discovered and named in 1839 by Lt John Lort Stokes of H. M.S. Beagle who named it after the biologist who had been on that ship on its circumnavigation of the world between 1831 and 1836. In 1869 the site for a new town and surrounding pastoral leases was surveyed - to be called Palmerston. It was renamed to agree with its harbour when control of the Northern Territory was transferred from South Australia to the Federal Government in 1911. (Palmerston is now the name of a rapidly growing satellite town, begun in the 1980s, some miles to the east of Darwin.)

Darwin's fortunes were given a boost in the early 1870s when the Overland Telegraph Line was completed and workers on the line discovered gold at Pine Creek, about 250 km south. Suddenly Darwin was Australia's telegraphic gateway to the world while a goldrush was getting under way in its hinterland. The goldrush was to bring the Chinese - the "ABCs (Australian Born Chinese) are still a force in the political and social life of the city.

Darwin is the most cyclone-ravaged city in Australia. The city of Darwin was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy during the night of December 24–25, 1974, killing at least 66 people, and destroying 80% of the buildings in the city of 46,000 population. Darwin's utilities were knocked out and 35,000 people were evacuated.

World War II

In World War II, Darwin was the target of Japanese bombing attacks between February 1942 and March 1943.

The first attack on Darwin was on the morning of February 19, 1942. It was launched from a Japanese carrier group which included the fleet carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu, all of which were veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack.[1] The attacking force consisted of over 150 carrier based bombers, with 36 escorting Zeros. Another attack by over 50 land-based, twin-engine bombers took place at midday. The bombings sank the destroyer USS Peary and several other ships, and destroyed several buildings.[2] The Japanese lost only a few planes in the raid, while several defending Allied planes were shot down. t least 243 people were killed, mostly on the ships that were sunk.

This attack, and another attack on the town of Broome on the northern coast two weeks later, raised fears that Japan would invade Australia next. Many officers in the Japanese military wanted to do exactly that, but other objectives (such as the attack on Midway) were given priority, and the invasion never materialized.

Darwin endured more raids, but the Japanese effort was more focused on dislodging Allied forces from New Guinea, so the city would usually go several weeks between attacks. On March 18, the American Ninth Pursuit Squadron, equipped with P-40 Warhawks, arrived at Darwin to take up defense duties. Japanese bombers attacked again on April 4, and the fighters downed four Mitsubishi "Betties" and probably downed a Zero for the loss of two P-40s. Subsequent raids suffered similar losses.[3]


Growth was sluggish after the War until the development of the uranium mine at Rum Jungle 50-odd km south in the early 1950s. Darwin was proclaimed a city in 1959. During the sixties and into the seventies Darwin became a boom town. It was the first touchdown for the waves of migrants - the "Ten-Pound Poms" and others - flying in from the Northern Hemisphere. The Federal Government was pouring money into infrastructure and personnel associated with Aboriginal Welfare ("Welfare Branch" was the largest branch of the Northern Territory Administration) and new mines were opening in the hinterland. Tourism was booming and Darwin was the gateway - both in and out - for the "hippy trail" between Australia and Britain. It was a "young" town and a place where a large proportion of the workforce were on 2-year contracts or the like.

By the mid-seventies more families were starting to stay - perhaps aided by the improvements in air conditioning technology - Darwin has one of the most uncomfortable climates of any "European" town. Building codes, forced by the deprivations of Cyclone Tracy, were in favour of housing more in tune with the rest of the country and away from the pre-1974 houses on stilts. It has been noted that less than half the population of Darwin in 1990 had lived in Darwin before Tracy.

The current population is about 130,000. Since 2003 it is the northern terminus of the north-south rail line linking it to Adelaide and the rest of Australia. The current "Track", the Stuart Highway, is now a well maintained highway 2000 miles south, replacing the narrow weather-challenged road built by the Army during World War II that only went as far as Alice Springs, 952 miles to the south.


  1. A History of War at Sea, by Helmut Pemsel, Naval Institute Press, 1975
  2. The Lonely Ships, by Edwin P. Hoyt, Jove Books, 1976
  3. P-40 Warhawk Aces of the Pacific, by Carl Molesworth, Osprey Publishing, 2003