Drivers of change in Darwin's hinterland

  • Jan Salmon

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    Today Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, is a tropical modern metropolis of 120,000 people. Darwin’s hinterland displays a complex mixture of rural living; a multi-million dollar horticulture industry; conservation and water catchment protection areas; and Aboriginal lands. However, surprisingly this development did not occur through the traditional pattern of the transformation of rural land from agriculture. Darwin shows a startlingly different picture. Most of the lands in the hinterland, even in the 1950s, were tropical savannas essentially unchanged for thousands of years, except by the Aboriginal traditional owners of the land who hunted and gathered and managed the landscape with fire. The development of Darwin, when mapped using GIS software, shows that counterurbanisation occurred in the 1960s when the savannas were transformed into rural residential lots. Later agriculture grew out of counterurbanisation from the enterprises of residential hobby farmers. This thesis examines why the development of Darwin departs from the traditional model.

    Part of the explanation lies in the colonial history of Darwin. Historically Darwin was established as an administrative outpost for firstly the South Australian and later the Commonwealth Government rather than being a city that evolved organically. Land sold to speculators in the 1860s was not taken up until the 1960s. Commonwealth experimentation with agriculture continually failed because the environment did not respond to traditional European farming methods. Unlike most tropical savannas in northern Australia, the pastoralists never established a stronghold over Darwin’s hinterland. Finally and significantly, the land in the hinterland was mainly freehold land, while land in the urban area was successively made leasehold through compulsory acquisition by the Commonwealth Government.

    The implication of this case study of Darwin is that settlement does not have to be premised on agriculture. Access to freehold land and the capacity to commute aided by the Commonwealth’s tight control of land and housing supply were the initial drivers of counterurbanisation in Darwin.
    Date of AwardDec 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorHeather Aslin (Supervisor), Owen Stanley (Supervisor) & Dean Carson (Supervisor)

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