When I commenced work on this history in 1970, the Northern Territory was largely ignored by people outside its bounds, except perhaps for the anthropologists. Australians generally were as ill-informed about the Territory as people overseas are of Australia: it was a good place for a holiday, but not a place to be taken seriously. During the last decade, the situation has changed dramatically, not least because of the attention focused on Darwin after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974. Internally, too, there is a new dynamism exemplified, and in many ways sustained, by the attainment of responsible self-government in 1978.
Ten years ago, a certain amount had already been written about the history of the Northern Territory, of course. However, the bulk of this embodied the attitudes which then prevailed towards the Territory. Except for the works of A. Grenfell Price, The History and Problems of the Northern Territory (Adelaide: A. E. Acott, 1930), F. H. Bauer, Historical Geography of White Settlement in Part of Northern Australia: Part 2 - Katherine Darwin Region (Canberra: CSIRO, 1964), Ross Duncan, The Northern Territory Pastoral Industry 1863-1910 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967) and those of a few others, little could be regarded as scholarly work. Then again, while there was a number of unpublished theses and works which dealt with specific features of the Territory's history, such as that of M. C. Hartwig which looked at white settlement in Central Australia, few attempted to examine the history of the Territory over an extended period in order to determine the manner in which individual features of the Territory's history were related to one another, and to major features of Australian history in general. This book, then, seeks to advance the understanding of the history of the Northern Territory by analyzing the history of the region from 1863 to 1911 during the time when it was part of South Australia.
In 1863, the South Australian government, acting for a population of only 140,000 persons, sought and obtained control over the vast region to the north of the colony, now known as the Northern Territory. Contemporaries believed this to be "a new world", possessing valuable pasture lands and large rivers, the occupation of which "would open out to the stockholders a large and important market for their surplus stock; it would open up to their sons a new field of labour and of enterprise; and it would open up to the agriculturists a market for their produce". At a stroke, the area of South Australia was more than doubled. The colony's parliament immediately encouraged Europeans to settle and to develop the region, and for the following forty-eight years successive administrations initiated, encouraged and supported all manner of projects which were calculated to realize the alleged economic potential of the northern dependency. None of these efforts met with the success which had been anticipated, and by 1910 the public debt on the Northern Territory account was nearly £4 million. However, despite the debt and the numerous failures in the Northern Territory, there were lobbies in Adelaide which opposed all suggestions that South Australia should relinquish control of the region. The eventual transfer of control of the region to the commonwealth government on 1 January 1911, was accomplished in the face of this opposition. ………………..