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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Civil aviation

Darwin's aviation history began with the arrival of an aircraft piloted by Ross and Keith Smith in 1919 as part of the England to Australia air race. Staniforth Smith, the acting Administrator, who met the Smiths on their arrival on 10 December 1919, later described the incident as 'the most important event in the history of Darwin since 1872, when Australia was first connected with Asia and Europe by a submarine cable'.2 Two days earlier – on 8 December 1919 – Captain Wrigley made the first recorded aircraft landing in the Territory when he landed his plane at Alexandria station.

In time two airports were built in Darwin: a civilian airport in the suburb of Parap, and a military airport, which is essentially the site of the present-day airport in the suburb of Marrara. The civilian airport's principal runway was located on what is now Ross Smith Avenue.

By the 1930s aviation was emerging as a popular form of transport, and Darwin's location meant that it was an ideal stopover on the Sydney to London route. Services began on a regular basis in 1934. That same year Qantas established a hangar in Parap which may still be seen.

The emerging aviation industry led to the establishment of the Department of Civil Aviation in 1938 on an Australia-wide basis to ensure the safety of civil flying, licensing of pilots, and the safe carriage of passengers and mail. At the same time an office was established in Darwin.

Darwin's two airports – civilian and military – were bombed during World War II. The civilian air base was closed in 1946, and all operations moved to the military location at Marrara.

Selected records relating to civil aviation matters
National Archives, Adelaide
General policy – aerodrome development records, 1939–59 E1404
Northern Territory correspondence files, 1940–50 AP445/2
National Archives, Darwin
Photo of aircraft at Alexandria cattle station, 1919 (NAA: NTAC1970/8, 614) NTAC1970/8
Correspondence files, 1949–58 NTAC1980/459
Records relating to the operation of Darwin Airport, 1954–98 E1585
Correspondence files relating to Commonwealth assets in the Northern Territory, 1956–90 E856
Correspondence files, 1957–78 E338
Civil aviation property functions, 1958–59 F425, C134
Maps and plans relating to Northern Territory aerodromes and authorised landing areas, 1961–ongoing E1288
Correspondence files relating to aerodromes and authorised landing areas within the Northern Territory, 1964–ongoing E1289
Photographs relating to aerodromes and authorised landing areas within the Northern Territory, 1964–88 E1315
Aerodrome and authorised landing area – field (survey) books, 1968–ongoing E1286


Chapter notes | All notes

2 Northern Territory, Annual Report of the Acting Administrator for the Year ended 30th June 1920, p. 3.


Chapter 15
Other Administrative Functions