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Northern Territory
alt text for flag alt text for coat of arms
Flag Coat of arms
Slogan or nickname The Territory;
The Top End
Map of Australia with the Northern Territory highlighted
Other Australian states and territories
Coordinates 20°S 133°E / 20°S 133°E / -20; 133Coordinates: 20°S 133°E / 20°S 133°E / -20; 133
Capital city Darwin
Demonym Northern Territorian, Territorian
Government Constitutional monarchy
 • Administrator Sally Thompson (2016)
 • Chief Minister Michael Gunner (ALP)
Australian territory  
 • Established by NSW 1825
 • Transferred to South Australia 1862
 • Transferred to Commonwealth 1911
 • Dissolved 1927
 • Reformed 1931
 • Responsible
 • Total 1,420,970 km² (3rd)
548,640 sq mi
 • Land 1,349,129 km²
520,902 sq mi
 • Water 71,839 km² (5.06%)
27,737 sq mi
 • Population 244,000 (8th)
 • Density 0.18/km² (8th)
0.5 /sq mi
 • Highest point Mount Zeil
1,531 m (5,023 ft)
Gross territorial product
 • Product ($m) $22,450 (8th)
 • Product per capita $92,107 (2nd)
Time zone(s) UTC+9:30 (ACST)
(does not observe DST)
Federal representation  
 • House seats 2/150
 • Senate seats 2/76
 • Postal NT
 • ISO 3166-2 AU-NT
 • Floral Sturt's desert rose
(Gossypium sturtianum)
 • Animal Red kangaroo
(Macropus rufus)
 • Bird Wedge-tailed eagle
(Aquila audax)
 • Colours Black, white, and ochre

The Northern Territory (abbreviated as NT) is a federal Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west (129th meridian east), South Australia to the south (26th parallel south), and Queensland to the east (138th meridian east). To the north, the territory is bordered by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Despite its large area—over 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third largest Australian federal division—it is sparsely populated. The Northern Territory's population of 244,000 (2016) makes it the least populous of Australia's eight major states and territories, having fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

The archaeological history of the Northern Territory begins over 40,000 years ago when Indigenous Australians settled the region. Makassan traders began trading with the indigenous people of the Northern Territory for trepang from at least the 18th century onwards. The coast of the territory was first seen by Europeans in the 17th century. The British were the first Europeans to attempt to settle the coastal regions. After three failed attempts to establish a settlement (1824–1828, 1838–1849, and 1864–66), success was achieved in 1869 with the establishment of a settlement at Port Darwin. Today the economy is based on tourism, especially Kakadu National Park in the Top End and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock) in central Australia, and mining.

The capital and largest city is Darwin. The population is not concentrated in coastal regions but rather along the Stuart Highway. The other major settlements are (in order of size) Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, and Tennant Creek. Residents of the Northern Territory are often known simply as "Territorians" and fully as "Northern Territorians", or more informally as "Top Enders" and "Centralians".


Thomas Baines with Aboriginal Australians near the mouth of the Victoria River.

Indigenous Australians have lived in the present area of the Northern Territory for an estimated 40,000 years, and extensive seasonal trade links existed between them and the peoples of what is now Indonesia for at least five centuries.

With the coming of the British, there were four early attempts to settle the harsh environment of the northern coast, of which three failed in starvation and despair. The Northern Territory was part of colonial New South Wales from 1825 to 1863, except for a brief time from February to December 1846, when it was part of the short-lived colony of North Australia. It was part of South Australia from 1863 to 1911. Under the administration of colonial South Australia, the overland telegraph was constructed between 1870 and 1872.

A railway was also built between Palmerston and Pine Creek between 1883 and 1889. The economic pattern of cattle raising and mining was established so that by 1911 there were 513,000 cattle. Victoria River Downs was at one time the largest cattle station in the world. Gold was found at Grove Hill in 1872 and at Pine Creek, Brocks Creek, Burrundi, and copper was found at Daly River.

Letters Patent Northern Territory
Letters Patent annexing the Northern Territory to South Australia, 1863

On 1 January 1911, a decade after federation, the Northern Territory was separated from South Australia and transferred to Commonwealth control. Alfred Deakin opined at this time "To me the question has been not so much commercial as national, first, second, third and last. Either we must accomplish the peopling of the northern territory or submit to its transfer to some other nation."

In late 1912 there was growing sentiment that the name "Northern Territory" was unsatisfactory. The names "Kingsland" (after King George V and to correspond with Queensland), "Centralia" and "Territoria" were proposed with Kingsland becoming the preferred choice in 1913. However, the name change never went ahead.

For a brief time between 1927 and 1931 the Northern Territory was divided into North Australia and Central Australia at the 20th parallel of South latitude. Soon after this time, parts of the Northern Territory were considered in the Kimberley Plan as a possible site for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland, understandably considered the "Unpromised Land".

During World War II, most of the Top End was placed under military government. This is the only time since Federation that part of an Australian state or territory has been under military control. After the war, control for the entire area was handed back to the Commonwealth. The Bombing of Darwin occurred on 19 Feb 1942. It was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. Evidence of Darwin’s World War II history is found at a variety of preserved sites in and around the city, including ammunition bunkers, airstrips, oil tunnels and museums.

Indigenous Australians had struggled for rights to fair wages and land. An important event in this struggle was the strike and walk off by the Gurindji people at Wave Hill Cattle Station in 1966. The Commonwealth Government of Gough Whitlam set up the Woodward Royal Commission in February 1973, which set to enquire into how land rights might be achieved in the Northern Territory. Justice Woodward's first report in July 1973 recommended that a Central Land Council and a Northern Land Council be established to present to him the views of Aboriginal people. In response to the report of the Royal Commission a Land Rights Bill was drafted, but the Whitlam Government was dismissed before it was passed.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 was eventually passed by the Fraser Government on 16 December 1976 and began operation on the following Australia Day (26 January 1977).

In 1974, from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, the city of Darwin, Northern Territory, was devastated by tropical Cyclone Tracy. Cyclone Tracy killed 71 people, caused A$837 million in damage (1974 dollars), or approximately A$4.45 billion (2014 dollars), and destroyed more than 70 percent of Darwin's buildings, including 80 per cent of houses. Tracy left more than 41,000 out of the 47,000 inhabitants of the city homeless. The city was rebuilt with much improved construction codes and is a modern, landscaped metropolis today.

In 1978 the Territory was granted responsible government, with a Legislative Assembly headed by a Chief Minister. The Administrator of the Northern Territory is an official acting as the Queen's indirect representative in the Territory.

During 1995–6 the Northern Territory was briefly one of the few places in the world with legal voluntary euthanasia, until the Federal Parliament overturned the legislation. Before the over-riding legislation was enacted, four people used the law supported by Dr. Philip Nitschke.


Kata Tjuta pan
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Northern Territory 0216
Northern Territory towns, settlements and road network.
ISS036-E-029323 lrg
The northern coast of Australia is on the left with Melville Island in the lower right.

There are many very small settlements scattered across the territory, but the larger population centres are located on the single paved road that links Darwin to southern Australia, the Stuart Highway, known to locals simply as "the track".

The Northern Territory is also home to two spectacular natural rock formations, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), which are sacred to the local Aboriginal peoples and which have become major tourist attractions.

In the northern part of the Territory lies Kakadu National Park, which features breathtaking wetlands and native wildlife. To the north of that lies the Arafura Sea, and to the east lies Arnhem Land, whose regional centre is Maningrida on the Liverpool River delta. There is an extensive series of river systems in the Northern Territory. These rivers include: the Alligator Rivers, Daly River, Finke River, McArthur River, Roper River, Todd River and Victoria River.

National parks

See also: National parks of the Northern Territory


NorthernTerritory koppen
Köppen climate types in the Northern Territory
Fires in Northern Territory, Australia
Satellite image of fire activity in central Australia.
Average monthly maximum
temperature in Northern Territory
Month Darwin Alice Springs
January 31.8 °C 36.3 °C
February 31.4 °C 35.1 °C
March 31.9 °C 32.7 °C
April 32.7 °C 28.2 °C
May 32.0 °C 23.0 °C
June 30.6 °C 19.8 °C
July 30.5 °C 19.7 °C
August 31.3 °C 22.6 °C
September 32.5 °C 27.1 °C
October 33.2 °C 30.9 °C
November 33.2 °C 33.7 °C
December 32.6 °C 35.4 °C
Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The Northern Territory has two distinctive climate zones.

The northern end, including Darwin, has a tropical climate with high humidity and two seasons, the wet (October to April) and dry season (May to September). During the dry season nearly every day is warm and sunny, and afternoon humidity averages around 30%. There is very little rainfall between May and September. In the coolest months of June and July, the daily minimum temperature may dip as low as 14 °C (57 °F), but very rarely lower, and frost has never been recorded.

The wet season is associated with tropical cyclones and monsoon rains. The majority of rainfall occurs between December and March (the southern hemisphere summer), when thunderstorms are common and afternoon relative humidity averages over 70% during the wettest months. On average more than 1,570 mm (62 in) of rain falls in the north. Rainfall is highest in north-west coastal areas, where rainfall averages from 1,800–2,100mm (72–84 in).

The central region is the desert centre of the country, which includes Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, and is semi-arid with little rain usually falling during the hottest months from October to March. Central Australia receives less than 250 mm (9.8 in) of rain per year.

The highest temperature recorded in the territory was 48.3 °C (118.9 °F) at Finke on 1 and 2 January 1960. The lowest temperature was −7.5 °C (18.5 °F) at Alice Springs on 17 July 1976.


See also: Demographics of Australia
Estimated resident population since 1981
Population estimates
for the Northern Territory
1901 4,765
1956 19,556
1961 44,481
1974 102,924
1976 97,090
1981 122,616
1991 165,493
1996 181,843
2002 200,019
2006 192,900
2011 211,945
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
(Est Resident Pop)

The population of the Northern Territory at the 2011 Australian census was 211,945, a 10 per cent increase from the 2006 census. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated a June 2015 resident population of 244,300, taking into account residents overseas or interstate. The Territory's population represents 1% of the total population of Australia.

Yulara from helicopter (August 2004)
Aerial view of Yulara

The Northern Territory's population is the youngest in Australia and has the largest proportion (23.2%) under 15 years of age and the smallest proportion (5.7%) aged 65 and over. The median age of residents of the Northern Territory is 31 years, six years younger than the national median age.

More than 100 nationalities are represented in the Northern Territory's population, including more than 50 organisations representing different ethnic groups.

The 2011 Census revealed that the most common ancestries in Northern Territory were Australian 23.9%, English 19.4%, Australian Aboriginal 14.7%, Irish 6.2% and Scottish 5.1%.

In terms of birthplace, according to the 2011 census 25.4% of the population were born overseas. 2.5% of Territorians were born in England, 1.9% in New Zealand, 1.7% in Philippines, 0.9% in India and 0.5% in the United States.

Glen Namundja
Glen Namundja, an Australian Aboriginal artist from Arnhem Land, at work

Indigenous Australians own some 49% of the land. The life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians is well below that of non-Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory, a fact that is mirrored elsewhere in Australia. ABS statistics suggest that Indigenous Australians die about 11 years earlier than the average Australian. There are Aboriginal communities in many parts of the territory, the largest ones being the Pitjantjatjara near Uluru, the Arrernte near Alice Springs, the Luritja between those two, the Warlpiri further north, and the Yolngu in eastern Arnhem Land.

More than 54% of Territorians live in Darwin, located in the territory's north (Top End). Less than half of the territory's population live in the rural Northern Territory.

Rank Statistical Local Areas 2011 Population
1 Darwin 78,925
2 Palmerston-East Arm 30,098
3 Alice Springs 28,449
4 Litchfield 20,039
5 Katherine 10,355
6 Nhulunbuy 4,383
7 Tennant Creek 3,515
8 Wadeye/Victoria-Daly 2,682
9 Jabiru 1,271
10 Yulara 991


Tjuki tells a dreaming story about Manpi (pigeon)
A local Aboriginal Australian named Tjuki tells a dreaming story about Manpi. Storytelling and oral traditions are an integral part of Aboriginal mythology which is practiced by Indigenous Australians throughout the Northern Territory.

In the 2011 census Roman Catholics form the single largest religious group in the territory with 19.7% of the Northern Territory's population, followed by Anglican (10.6%), Uniting Church (10.1%) and Lutheran (7%). Buddhism is the territory's largest non-Christian religion (0.8%), followed by Hinduism (0.4%) and Islam (0.3%). Around 20% of Territorians do not profess any religion.

Many Aboriginal Australians practice their traditional religion, the belief in the Dreamtime.


Warumungu native
A Warumungu man

There are more than 100 Aboriginal languages spoken in the Northern Territory, in addition to English which is most common in cities such as Darwin or Alice Springs. Major indigenous languages spoken in the Northern Territory include Murrinh-patha and Ngangikurrungurr in the northwest around Wadeye, Warlpiri and Warumungu in the center around Tennant Creek, Arrernte around Alice Springs, Pintupi-Luritja to the south east, Pitjantjatjara in the south near Uluru, Yolngu Matha to the far north in Arnhem Land (where the dialect Djambarrpuyngu of Dhuwal is considered a lingua franca), and Burarra, Maung, Iwaidja and Gunwinggu in the center north and on Croker Island and the Goulburn Islands. Tiwi is spoken on Melville Island and Bathurst Island. Literature in many of these languages is available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.


See also: Transportation in Australia
The Lasseter Highway connects Uluru (Ayers Rock) to the Stuart Highway.

The Northern Territory is the most sparsely populated state or territory in Australia. From its establishment in 1869 the Port of Darwin was the major Territory supply for many decades. It was damaged in the 1942 Japanese air raids and subsequently restored. In the late 1960s improved roads in adjoining States linking with the Territory, port delays and rapid economic development led to uncertainty in port and regional infrastructure development. As a result of the Commission of Enquiry established by the Administrator, port working arrangements were changed, berth investment deferred and a port masterplan prepared. Extension of rail transport was then not considered because of low freight volumes.

Today the NT has a well connected network of sealed roads, including two National Highways, linking with adjoining States and connecting the major Territory population centres, and other important centres such as Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. The Stuart Highway, once known as "The Track", runs north to south, connecting Darwin and Alice Springs to Adelaide. Some of the sealed roads are single lane bitumen. Many unsealed (dirt) roads connect the more remote settlements.

The Adelaide–Darwin railway, a new standard gauge railway, connects Adelaide via Alice Springs with Darwin, replacing earlier narrow gauge railways which had a gap between Alice Springs and Birdum. The Ghan passenger train runs from Darwin to Adelaide, stopping at Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Kulgera in the NT.

The Northern Territory is one of the few remaining places in the world with no speed restrictions on select public roads. On 1 January 2007 a default speed limit of 110 km/h was introduced on roads outside of urban areas (Inside urban areas of 40, 50 or 60 km/h). Speeds of up to 130 km/h are permitted on some major highways, such as the Stuart Highway. On 1 February 2014, the speed limit was removed on a 204 km portion of the Stuart Highway for a one-year trial period.

Darwin International Airport is the major domestic and international airport for the territory. Several smaller airports are also scattered throughout the Territory and are served by smaller airlines; including Alice Springs Airport, Ayers Rock Airport, Katherine Airport and Tennant Creek Airport.

Telecommunication technologies

There have been several programmes/strategies implemented that highlight the need for an upgrade of the telecommunications infrastructure in the Northern Territory to provide high speed broadband technologies to all residents—especially for the disadvantaged Indigenous residents of remote communities.

One such the programme was undertaken by Perry Morrison and published in Urban Studies in 2000. It was entitled "A Pilot Implementation of Internet Access for Remote Aboriginal Communities in the "Top End" of Australia. Which involved implementing an internet and email access programmes, to the four remote aboriginal communities of Milikapiti, Port Keats (Karudu Numida), Titjikala and Pirlangimpi. The overall project was a success; however it did expose some areas of concern, such as the lack line of quality in numerous communities throughout the territory. This resulted in an inability to provide internet services to these communities. An upgrade in telecommunications infrastructure was thought to be the answer to resolve this issue.

A letter was sent to the Australian House of Representatives Communications, Information Technologies and the Arts Committee by Minister of Corporate and Information Services by Peter Toyne on 18 June 2002, enquiring into the opportunity of providing wireless technology to all Territorians. The letter highlighted the high cost of expanding the existing terrestrial broadband infrastructure (particularly in remote areas) and compared it to the fast and cheaper alternative of a wireless network. However, to be consider viable the wireless technology would have to be proven to be reliable and affordable to all Australians.

The Remote Areas Telecommunications Strategy for 2003–2008 was commended to the Commonwealth Government by Toyne. It focuses on delivering better telecommunication services to the indigenous residents of remote communities. It will also make such telecommunication services reliable and affordable, so that all Territorians have the ability and opportunity to partake in the information age. The government hopes to achieve these goals through the following strategies:

  • Equitable access: by delivering broadband services to remote communities, at the same cost of (within two years of introduction) the same Broadband services being provided in urban areas of Australia, and by developing infrastructure in one hundred and twenty remote communities throughout the Northern Territory. To provide quality large capacity telecommunication services to these areas over the five year period from 2003 to 2008.
  • Driving Demand: By providing education on consumer rights and responsibilities to the indigenous residents of remote communities. Targeting the indigenous residents of these remote communities by providing culturally appropriate content and applications. Also by improving private sector and government services to these remote communities.
  • Partnerships: Securing funding Territory wide to provide solutions to telecommunication infrastructure. Collaborating with indigenous organisations to develop, culturally appropriate content and applications, which will be utilised in the remote communities.
  • Efficient Delivery: Reducing the telecommunications cost to government, by forming agreements with local and remote community councils. Combining their access and demand needs to provide affordable telecommunication services.
  • Community Delivery: By supplying constant assistance in the remote communities by way of an entity or organisation, that assists the residents of the communities with any problems or issues. This entity or organisation could also liaise with the government, private sector and telecommunications organisations.
  1. 4. An article in the N.T. Business review dated 13 December 2007 by Anastasia Govan. Entitled "Broadband debate the key to NT's future". In which Govan writes" Despite all the noise about broadband during the weeks of the recent federal election, high speed telecommunications remain an elusive pipe dream for most of the Northern Territory" (2007 p.007) Broadband debate key to NT's future. The article addresses the fact that the residents of remote Territory communities (most of whom are indigenous Australians) have little or no ability to access basic internet services. Such internet services are readily available in other states and taken for granted by most Australians. The gap in the quality of telecommunication services provided to the remote communities (if any in some cases), compared to the standard provided

In metropolitan areas of Australia is only getting bigger. To rectify this problem a strategy utilising both optical and wireless technologies is needed. To delivery these high speed broadband services to all Australians. As Govan (2007 p.007) (Broadband key to NT's future) states "This issue must be addressed in the next six to two months if we are to maintain our global Competitiveness". Australian's reputation as a nation of innovators and problem solvers is in peril, unless changes to telecommunication infrastructure are created and implemented.-->

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