Image 2: Raising the flag in Darwin on 2 January 1911 when the Commonwealth formally took over the Northern Territory.
Courtesy Northern Territory Library, PH0298/0014
2 Early Commonwealth Years, 1911–21
The Commonwealth assumed responsibility for the administration of the Northern Territory on 1 January 1911. One of its first actions, on 3 March 1911, was to change the capital's name from Palmerston to Darwin in honour of the British naturalist, Charles Darwin. He had been previously recognised in the naming of the adjacent harbour (Port Darwin) in 1839, and many residents had for some time simply referred to their town as Port Darwin.
In 1911 the Territory's non-Aboriginal population was 3,271, a figure which included 2,673 males and 598 females. The Aboriginal population was estimated at 50,000.1
One of the few viable industries was pastoralism. In 1911 there were 255 pastoral leases comprising 108,048 square miles of land, and 201 pastoral permits comprising 53,674 square miles, and there were 459,780 cattle.2 Leases were held under different South Australian Acts, which had different terms and conditions. This, coupled with early Commonwealth legislation, proved to be a major handicap.
The only agricultural industries of any note were market gardens in Darwin maintained by Chinese residents, and a small botanic garden on the outskirts of Darwin. Indeed, in his annual report for 1911 the Acting Administrator, Samuel Mitchell, noted that there were only 'a half-dozen people who were engaged in agriculture'.3
Darwin itself was a ramshackle town with few purpose-built buildings and minimal infrastructure. There was no electric power, reticulated water or sewerage systems. Darwin's Chinatown was regarded with disfavour by white settlers as an area of vice and poor sanitation.