Don’t Miss Stokes Hill and Other Historical Gems on a Top End Trip
Named after evolutionary theorist, Charles Darwin, this tropical city is best known for its sultry climate, but has many hidden historical gems that shouldn’t be missed.
The smallest state capital in Australia, Darwin became the regional centre in 1911 after separating from South Australian administrative control. Rebuilt several times in its history due to cyclones and WW2, there is still much of historical interest in Darwin, as well as several unique attractions for a traveller visiting Australia’s “Top End”. Best visited during the dry season (May to August) – the temperatures are only a couple of degrees lower, but the energy-sapping humidity is usually absent.
Stokes Hill Wharf
[singlepic id=273 w=320 h=240 float=left]Originally a busy wharf catering to the needs of European settlers, this was the landing place of the telegraph wires from Java that enabled the Overland Telegraph across Australia. Nowadays, Stokes Hill Wharf is better known as an early-evening eating precinct. Although it shuts early (by 9pm), getting a take-away from one of the many cafés and restaurants on the wharf, then sitting overlooking the water’s edge and watching the moonfish and barra snap up any stray chips thrown down to the spotlit waters, is a unique and popular Darwin experience. The wharf (which has historical interest from the Japanese bombings) also features extensively in the upcoming “Australia” movie by Baz Luhrmann.
WW2 Oil Storage Tunnels
Initially built to safeguard precious oil reserves during WW2, these tunnels were reopened to the public in 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. Although eventually relegated as a failed concept that couldn’t provide sufficient protection from aerial assault, some of the tunnels saw usage in the 1950s for fuel storage and can be viewed on a self guided tour which includes an interesting set of historical photographs on display within the tunnels.
George Brown Botanical Gardens
Established 130 years ago as an experimental garden for plants of economic importance, the Botanic Gardens have survived both WW2 and numerous cyclones. The rainforest gully and loop walk contains over 350 species of palms and has species endemic to the Tiwi Islands just offshore from Darwin, and the gardens are is one of only a few in the world to have mangroves and other marine/estuarine plants within its collection.
Fannie Bay Gaol
Now a museum and, according to the NT Govt’s website, one of the Northern Territory’s most important historical sites, the erstwhile penal institution for Darwin was in use from 1883 until 1979. The stone cells and gallows are a grim reminder of the harsh life of an Australian convict in times past.
Darwin may be the smallest of Australia’s regional centres, but it has several unique historical attractions for the Top End visitor.
First published on Suite 101 in Nov 2008.