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Darwin is the capital of Australia's Northern Territory and a former frontier outpost. It's also a gateway to massive Kakadu National Park. Its popular waterfront area has several beaches and green areas like Bicentennial Park. Also near the water is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, displaying Southeast Asian and Pacific art, plus a pearling lugger and other seafaring vessels.Pre 20th CenturyThe Aboriginal people of the Larrakia language group are the traditional custodians and the first inhabitants of the greater Darwin area. They had trading routes with Southeast Asia (see Macassan contact with Australia), and imported goods from as far afield as South and Western Australia. Established songlines penetrated throughout the country, allowing stories and histories to be told and retold along the routes. The extent of shared songlines and history of multiple clan groups within this area is still contestable.The Dutch visited Australia's northern coastline in the 1600s and landed on the Tiwi Islands only to be repelled by the Tiwi peoples. The Dutch created the first European maps of the area. This accounts for the Dutch names in the area, such as Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt. The first British person to see Darwin harbour appears to have been Lieutenant John Lort Stokes of HMS Beagle on 9 September 1839. The ship's captain, Commander John Clements Wickham, named the port after Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who had sailed with them both on the earlier second expedition of the Beagle.In 1863, the Northern Territory was transferred from New South Wales to South Australia. In 1864 South Australia sent B. T. Finniss north as Government Resident to survey and found a capital for its new territory. Finniss chose a site at Escape Cliffs, near the entrance to Adelaide River, about 60km northeast of the modern city. This attempt was short-lived, however, and the settlement abandoned by 1865. On 5 February 1869, George Goyder, the Surveyor-General of South Australia, established a small settlement of 135 people at Port Darwin between Fort Hill and the escarpment. Goyder named the settlement Palmerston, after the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. In 1870, the first poles for the Overland Telegraph were erected in Darwin, connecting Australia to the rest of the world. The discovery of gold by employees of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line digging holes for telegraph poles at Pine Creek in the 1880s spawned a gold rush which further boosted the young colony's development.In February 1872 the brigatine Alexandra was the first private vessel to set sail from an English port directly to Darwin many of whom were people coming to recently gold finds.In early 1875 Darwin's white population had grown to approximately 300 because of the gold rush. On 17 February 1875 the SS Gothenburg left Darwin en route for Adelaide. The approximately 88 passengers and 34 crew (surviving records vary) included government officials, circuit-court judges, Darwin residents taking their first furlough, and miners. While travelling south along the north Queensland coast, the Gothenburg encountered a cyclone-strength storm and was wrecked on a section of the Great Barrier Reef. Only 22 men survived, while between 98 and 112 people perished. Many passengers who perished were Darwin residents and news of the tragedy severely affected the small community, which reportedly took several years to recover.
The Larrakia had a vibrant traditional society based on our close relationship with the sea and trade with neighbouring groups such as the Tiwi, Wagait and Wulna. These groups shared ceremonies, songlines and intermarried.
When the first settlers arrived in the Darwin area, the Larrakia provided them with food. Despite conflict and marginalisation, from the beginning the Larrakia participated in the cultural life of the early settlement, and lived in and around the city, before we were moved out to camps further away from the city. Many popular sites around Darwin also hold specific meaning for Larrakia people, such as Stokes Hill, Mindil Beach, Rapid Creek and Casuarina Beach.
What area is Larrakia Land?The Larrakia people are the traditional owners of the Darwin region. Our country runs from Cox peninsula in the west to Gunn Point in the north, Adelaide River in the east and down to the Manton Dam area southwards.Larrakia Land Claim
The Larrakia have the longest running land claim in the Northern Territory, the Kenbi Land Claim. The court found in favour of us, but there has been no transfer of land ownership. Larrakia’s native title rights were controversially rejected in 2006. Despite receiving no legal recognition of continued connection to country, the Larrakia people continue to care for our land and water. We continue to preserve our stories and culture, making sure they are passed on to the next generation.
Larrakia People Today
Larrakia PeopleToday, we are a vibrant Aboriginal nation numbering around 2,000 people. Larrakia are broadly recognised for their strengths in performance, music and art. Many Larrakia have achieved mainstream success as doctors, lawyers, sportsmen and hold senior positions in government and other organisations.
Larrakia feel particularly strongly about our role as Traditional Owners for the Territory’s capital, looking after visitors to our country. We continue to be active in the political sphere, but we are also diplomatic, willing to work with people to achieve the best outcome even from a position of disadvantage. We aim to foster partnerships according to the cultural protocols, which we ask you to understand and respect.
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