Northern Territory, a territory of Australia
in the north-central part of the continent. It occupies 519,768 square
miles (1,346,200 sq km), comprising 17.5 percent of the total land mass.
The mainland coastline totals 3,169 miles (5,100 km), and numerous islands,
of which Melville, Bathurst, and Groote Eylandt are the largest, add an
additional 1,305 miles (2,100 km). More than 80 percent of the territory
lies within the tropics. The capital is Darwin.
Less than five percent of the territory is
more than 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) above sea level. Most of it is low
tableland building toward rocky desert ranges in the south. The principal
one of these is the MacDonnell Ranges, a series of strongly folded structures
230 miles (370 km) long, within which lies the highest point in the territory,
Mount Zeil, at 4,957 feet (1,511 meters). The Simpson Desert, a region
of parallel sand ridges, many of them at least 50 miles (80 km) long, lies
in the far southeastern corner. The western portion is largely desert broken
by occasional rocky ranges; this area is Aboriginal reserve. Ayers Rock
and Mount Olga, in Uluru National Park, are major tourist attractions lying
220 airline miles (350 km) southwest of Alice Springs. All streams are
ephemeral, but flood quickly and heavily after storms. Vegetation varies
with soil and topography. On sand plains coarse grasses such as spinifex
are dominant, while where soils are heavier, acacias with an understory
of short grasses and forbs are common. Eucalypts often line stream courses.
The central part of the territory is a low-relief tableland between 650 and 1,650 feet (200-500 meters) above sea level. The eastern portion, the Barkly Tableland, is a featureless, virtually treeless, grassy plain. The few ephemeral streams drain to shallow depressions in which, after rains, lakes may form. West of the Stuart Highway the Tanami Desert, a vast sand plain region broken occasionally by low, rocky ranges, stretches into Western Australia. Even ephemeral streams and salt pans are rare. The shrubs and grasses in this desert are insufficient to support grazing, and this is the least populated part of the territory. Almost all of it is Aboriginal reserve.
The northern third of the territory is more varied in topography and vegetation. A low, mangrove-lined coast gives way to seasonally flooded plains carrying a heavy growth of coarse grasses and reeds. In the rest of the region there is little even terrain, and the dominant vegetation is open eucalyptus woodland with coarse grass understory. Much of the Arnhem Land (eastern) portion is a nearly inaccessible, rugged sandstone plateau; most of it is Aboriginal reserve. This region contains all of the territory's permanent, integrated drainage. Among the major rivers are the Victoria, Daly, South Alligator, East Alligator, and the Roper.
The bulk of Northern Territory soils are sandy or rocky, and low in plant nutrients. Alluvial soils suitable for cultivation occur along many streams, but lack of access to water for irrigation limits their use.
Although 81 percent of the territory lies
north of the Tropic of Capricorn, only the northern third experiences a
truly tropical climate, where tropical savanna, characterized by markedly
seasonal conditions, prevails. Warm, humid summers, during which at least
85 percent of the annual total rain falls, contrast with mild, nearly rainless
winters. Darwin's mean annual rainfall is 60.4 inches (1,535 mm), and the
mean daily temperature is 81.7°F. (27.6°C.). Coastal districts
experience occasional destructive hurricanes in summer.
All of the southern two thirds of the territory is arid or semi-arid, receiving less than 20 inches (508 mm) of rain annually; the Alice Springs mean is 9.7 inches (246 mm). Frosts are common in winter. In the far south aridity is compounded by highly unreliable rainfall, and serious droughts of several years duration are common.
In 1881 the European population was 667.
Settlement plans were unsuccessful; by 1933 Europeans numbered only 3,306.
There were 27,095 Europeans and an estimated 19,700 Aborigines in the territory
in 1961. In 1991 the census population was 175,891, or 0.96 percent of
the Australian total. The territory is the most thinly populated part of
Australia. Some 67 percent of Territorians lived in urban centers, of which
45 percent (78,139) were in Darwin. Alice Springs (25,586), Katherine (9,372),
Nhulunbuy (3,515), and Tennant Creek (3,478) were the other urban centers.
In 1991 Aborigines made up 22.7 percent (39,910) of the Northern Territory population. The majority (70 percent) lived in a variety of dispersed settlements on reserves; the remaining 30 percent dwelt in, or on the fringes of, urban centers. In 1993, 202,026 square miles (523,250 sq km), or 38.9 percent of the territory, had been set aside as Aboriginal reserve or was otherwise under Aboriginal control by virtue of land claims or purchase, with still more land claimed on behalf of the native people.
Until 1947, when the first moves toward internal representative government were made, the territory was governed directly by the South Australian or Commonwealth governments. On July 1, 1978, the territory became self governing under an administrator appointed by the governor-general and an elected legislative assembly of 25 members headed by a chief minister. Aborigines gained full voting rights in 1962. The territory is represented in federal parliament by one member in the House of Representatives and two senators.
The territory's share of Australia's gross
domestic product (GDP) -- the total output of marketable goods and
services -- is only 1.2 percent; however, on a per capita basis, it
is 20.7 percent greater than that for Australia as a whole. In 1991 the
gross state product was $5.26 billion ($A4.0 billion), to which minerals
contributed 26.3 percent, public administration and community services
19.6 percent, trade 11.3 percent, construction 8.4 percent, and manufacturing
4.6 percent. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing accounted for only 3.3
In 1991 mineral production was valued at $2.46 billion, of which crude oil accounted for 46.5 percent, gold 16.5 percent, manganese 12.6 percent, uranium concentrate 11.1 percent, and bauxite 8.0 percent.
Oil production commenced from three fields in the Arafura Sea in 1986. Commercial quantities of natural gas were discovered in the Amadeus Basin in the late 1970's, and in 1986 a 950-mile (1,500 km) pipeline brought it to Darwin; most of the energy now used in Darwin, Katherine, and Alice Springs is gas generated. In 1992 these mineral fuels accounted for 38.6 percent of the territory's exports.
In the early 1980's modern technology brought about a resurgence of gold mining. The principal fields are in the Pine Creek district, site of 19th-century workings, and the western Tanami Desert. Manganese mining, begun on Groote Eylandt in 1965, is the source of 90 percent of Australian production. Uranium was discovered at Rum Jungle, 44 miles (71 km) south of Darwin in 1949; the deposit was mined out by 1971, but was soon replaced by rich deposits in the Alligator rivers district, 140 miles (225 km) east of Darwin. High grade bauxite was discovered on the Gove Peninsula in the early 1950's, and a new town, Nhulunbuy, was built to service mining, which began in 1971; a portion of the bauxite is reduced to alumina on site. Mineral exploration has declined in part because of uncertainty concerning lease tenures following the 1992 High Court "Mabo" decision that fundamentally changed Australia's policy on native land rights.
Although of low economic productivity, herding utilizes vast areas of the territory that otherwise would make no contribution to the economy. In 1994 there were 269 herding properties, 67 percent of them privately or family owned, 19 percent company owned, and 14 percent owned by Aboriginal interests. In 1991 cattle numbered 1.4 million head. There is an active trade in live cattle to countries in Southeast Asia. Despite several attempts, cereal cropping has not prospered; in 1991 only 8,370 acres (3,387 hectares) were used for such crops. Since 1980 horticulturalists have enjoyed some success with mangoes, cantaloupes, grapes, and bananas. Manufacturing is strongly oriented toward assembly and fabrication processes associated with the construction industry. Prawns, barramundi, and cultured pearls are the major fishery products.
As the major port on the north coast of Australia, the port of Darwin has both strategic and commercial importance, especially with respect to trade with nations to the north. Major exports are mineral fuels (39 percent by value), while machinery and transport equipment account for 54 percent of imports. Because of the territory's isolation and internal distances, air transport for both freight and passengers is widely used. Darwin shares its international airport with the Royal Australian Air Force, and there are major airfields at Katherine and Alice Springs. All other towns and most herding properties also have airfields. In 1992 there were 12,684 miles (20,412 km) of roads in the territory, 29 percent of them paved. A standard gauge railroad connects Alice Springs with the national network at Tarcoola, South Australia.
Tourism is the territory's major growth industry. Both overseas and domestic tourists are attracted by its unique landforms, expansive landscapes, unusual flora and fauna, and frontier character. The territory hosts more than one million visitors annually.
The Northern Territory became responsible for its own educational system in 1979. In 1991 primary and secondary enrollments were 33,570, of which 34 percent were Aborigines. The Northern Territory University, located in Darwin and founded in 1989, together with a trades and technological education system, had 50 percent each of a combined enrollment of 6,823. The Menzies School of Health Research, a postgraduate institution specializing in tropical medicine, is based at the Royal Darwin Hospital.
The Northern Territory began with three settlements
made between 1824 and 1849 to forestall possible Dutch claims. As an administrative
entity the Northern Territory dates from 1863. Plans for development foundered
because of government mismanagement and delays; a permanent settlement
was finally made on the present site of Darwin in 1869. The completion
of the overland telegraph line in 1872 and the discovery of gold built
up the population and created a herding industry, but attempts to establish
tropical agriculture failed.
During World War II Darwin was an important military base; the Japanese bombed the city and installations around it 64 times in 1942 and 1943. After the war the military left much needed improvements in transport and communications, which greatly assisted a renascent mining industry. On Christmas Eve 1974 Darwin was devastated by Cyclone Tracy which, despite loss of life (64 dead or missing) and property, focused national attention on the region as never before. When self-government was attained in 1978, it may be fairly said that a new era opened for the territory's economy and government.