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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

4 World War II and Planning for the Future

With the abolition of the North Australia Commission in June 1931, North and Central Australia were combined once more as the Northern Territory. Robert Weddell, the former Government Resident of North Australia, was re-appointed as Administrator. A new Land Board was created to oversee the management of rural lands. Unlike its predecessor, this Board did not have a representative from the pastoral industry.

Despite the crippling effects of the Great Depression, some improvements were made in the Territory. Electricity was provided to Darwin in 1932 and Alice Springs in 1937. The Electric Light and Power Ordinance 1935 regulated the supply and cost of electricity to residents. A reticulated water system, however, would not be operational in Darwin until 1940.

Joseph Carrodus, who served as Secretary to the Department of the Interior from 1935 to 1949, spent the months from April to October 1934 as the Territory's acting Administrator. In a report prepared following his return to Canberra, Carrodus recommended that the Administrator and other branch heads make periodic visits to the inland during each dry season. He wrote: 'Darwin is not the Territory; it gives no indication of the conditions prevailing inland'.1 He felt that such visits would facilitate greater contact with local settlers who, he said, liked to 'discuss issues on the spot'. He also encouraged more visits to the Territory by Canberra-based officials, and felt that there should be greater consultation with the Northern Territory Administration with regard to important proposals or schemes relating to the Territory.

Darwin's prime location for the fledgling aviation industry became apparent in the 1930s. Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly from England to Australia, landed in Darwin in 1930. In 1934 an England to Australia air service was established with Darwin as a regular stopover. Qantas constructed a hanger for its aircraft, which was completed in August 1934 and located near the then airstrip (now Ross Smith Avenue in the suburb of Parap).

In 1937 Charles Lydiard Aubrey Abbott – known as Aubrey Abbott – was appointed Administrator of the Territory, replacing Robert Weddell. He had previously served as the Minister with responsibility for the Territory in 1928 and 1929. His appointment was criticised, primarily by large pastoral interests.

As Minister, Abbott had criticised pastoral companies for their poor management practices. In a report completed after a Ministerial visit in 1929 he had written, 'they [the pastoralists] felt they were martyrs and it was the duty of the Federal Government to support them and make their holdings profitable'.2 It is likely that the British company Vestey's was orchestrating the opposition to Abbott's appointment, no doubt because of his criticisms of the company's property management practices. Abbott acknowledged as much in a letter to Prime Minister Joseph Lyons.3 Abbott was also a supporter of the Barkly Tableland Cooperative which, had it proceeded, would have benefited pastoralists on the eastern Tableland more than those in the western Victoria River District, where Vestey's properties were located.

Abbott would preside over a tumultuous period in Northern Territory history, one which included war, the bombing of Darwin and Katherine, the perceived threat of invasion, and plans for post-war development. His wife, Hilda, would later write of their experiences in the Territory under the title 'Good Night, All-About'.

Selected records relating to the administration of the Northern Territory in the 1930s
National Archives, Canberra
Department of External Affairs / Home and Territories /Home Affairs / Interior – correspondence files, 1903–38 A1
C L A Abbott papers – photographs, 1917–64 M10
Minutes of meetings – Northern Territory Land Board, 1931–38 A1, 1938/1181
R Weddell papers – folder containing photographs and newspaper clippings, 1931–36 M1498
Report on administration of the Northern Territory by J A Carrodus, 1934 CP764/2
Prime Minister's Department – correspondence files, 1934–50 A461
H H Abbott papers – transcript of Good Night, All-About, 1951 M65
National Archives, Darwin
Administrator's office – correspondence files, 1915–78 F1
National Library of Australia, Canberra
C L A Abbott papers – photographs, 1917–64 MS4744, box 11 folders 4 and 5
C L A Abbott papers – visitors book, Government House, Darwin and Alice Springs, 1937–46 MS1674
Northern Territory Archives Services
C L A Abbott papers – book of press cuttings, 1925–32 NTRS3


Chapter notes | All notes

1 NAA: CP764/2, Report on the administration of the Northern Territory by J A Carrodus, 1934.

2 NAA: A1, 1938/4979, Minister's visit to north and central Australia; report by C L A Abbott following his visit to the Northern Territory, June 1929, p. 7.

3 NAA: A461, B412/1/2 part 1, Northern Territory administration, 7 November 1936.


Chapter 4
World War II and Planning for the Future