10 Customs, Immigration and Population
The Northern Territory has a small and widely scattered population occupying a large land mass. It was sometimes a transitory population: in the Commonwealth era public servants would often be posted to the Territory for a term of not more than two or three years. Other people would come, stay for a few years, and then either remain permanently or return 'down south'.
The Northern Territory was never a destination for British convicts nor did it have to cope with the large numbers of overseas migrants that the southern States experienced. Yet there had been a consistent flow of migrants even before European settlement.
Macassans from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi seeking trepang travelled to the Northern Territory from the 15th century onwards and traded with local Aboriginal people. Chinese immigrants in search of gold came from the 1870s onwards. Later Japanese pearlers began to arrive.
Most early white arrivals were prospective settlers who came to Darwin from South Australia or other colonies. Their numbers increased considerably with the discovery of gold in the 1870s. Others came to work on the overland telegraph line (completed in 1872) or the railway line from Darwin to Pine Creek (completed in 1889).
In 1911 the Territory's non-Aboriginal population was 3,271, a figure which included 2,185 Europeans and 1,302 Asiatics. It was estimated that there were approximately 50,000 Aboriginal people.1 The population in 2011 is estimated at 220,000.2
1 NAA: A1, 1911/16191, Northern Territory taking of the census, 1911.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics website; www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS (accessed 3 January 2011).