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History of Parliament House Site

Early Settlement
The site of the Northern Territory's Parliament House has a long history of occupation and development not only relating to the Territory, but to Australia as a whole.

In February 1869, George Goyder, Surveyor-General of the Colony of South Australia, landed at what is now Darwin Harbour close to the present site of Parliament House. His assignment from the South Australian administration was to establish a settlement to facilitate pastoral expansion for that colony. The group arrived in a coastal barque, the Moonta, and comprised 140 people.
Mr Goyder named the new settlement 'Palmerston', a name that remained until 1911.

The area on which Parliament House is now located was then occupied by approximately 500 Larrakia Aboriginal people.

Before 1863, the Northern Territory was part of the Colony of New South Wales, but in the 1850s when the South Australian Government realised that there was an urgent requirement to identify addition arable land, it was annexed to that Colony.
John McDouall Stuart's epic crossing of the continent from south to north in 1862 cemented South Australia's claim to the land.

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Port Darwin Post and Telegraph Office
During the latter part of the 19th Century, all the Australian colonies agreed that the establishment of a communications system that would connect Australia and London should be accorded high priority. It was envisaged that the communications link would comprise an overland telegraph line from Adelaide which would then be joined to a submarine cable at Palmerston and connected to London.

In November 1871, the 1100 mile submarine cable between Darwin and Banjoewangie in Java was laid. This in turn was connected through Batavia (now Jakarta), Singapore, Europe and London on 22 August 1872.

In 1872, the first official overseas telegram was transmitted from Sydney, via Melbourne and through to Adelaide. A courier then brought the telegram from Pine Creek, near Katherine, to the Palmerston Post Office and it was then transmitted to London by way of the submarine cable.

A more substantial Port Darwin Post and Telegraphic Office was constructed in 1887, from locally-quarried porcellanite stone.
The post and telegraphic office was constructed on the site where Parliament House stands

 

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Port Darwin Astronomical Observation Pillar
The 1882 Transit of Venus would have provided an opportunity to correct the 'erroneous' true longitude of the Australian colonies and New Zealand.

Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Jimbour Queensland, where the observations were to have been made, so resort was had to 'the American method' using chronometric beats over the sub-sea cable between Darwin and Singapore.

Victorian Astronomer Pietro 'Commendatore' Barrachi, 32, was selected to be the observer at Port Darwin while
Captain Leonard Darwin, youngest son of Charles Darwin, was dispatched to Singapore. Captain Helb joined them from Banjowangie.
The exercise was a joint effort between the Australian colonies.

Barrachi arrived in Port Darwin with a sailor as his Assistant on 30 December 1882. By the end of February 1883, their work was complete and the longitude of Port Darwin determined to be 8 hours 43 minutes and 22.49 seconds East of Greenwich. This allowed the longitudes of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney to be calculated.

Pieto Barrachi returned to Melbourne where he became the extremely well regarded Victorian Government Astronomer.
Barrachi died in Melbourne on 23 July 1926 aged 75.

A plinth and plaque in Liberty Square marks what was know as the Port Darwin Astronomical Observation Pillar.

It was unveiled by Speaker McCarthy in 2000.

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Cyclone of 1897
On 6 January 1897, Palmerston was ravaged by its first recorded cyclone. Although the Port Darwin Post and Telegraphic Office was not extensively damaged and was used as a shelter for other residents of the settlement, the severe winds and flooding caused a breakdown in communications.

Postmaster General installations were badly damaged and the Overland Telegraph wire was down in a number of places.

Repairs were apparently instigated with due haste because, on 9 January 1897, the Adelaide Register's correspondent in Palmerston was able to transmit a telegram to his offices to advise of the extent of the damage and the numbers of people who were still unaccounted for.

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Liberty Square
Liberty Square was thus named during World War I as it was here that Australian Workers Union members conducted their meetings. Members of the Union protested over the perceived maladministration by the Commonwealth Government's agent in Darwin, Administrator Gilruth.

The chief Union organiser was Harold Nelson, who became the first Northern Territory Member in the House of Representatives, as an Independent Member, in 1922.

In 1918, Vestey's Meatworks, the largest employer in the Northern Territory, was closed and this, together with the earlier nationalisation of hotels in Darwin, caused extreme agitation among Union members. The situation culminated on 17 December 1918 when several hundred Union members marched in protest through Darwin and went to Government House to demand the removal of Administrator Gilruth and an investigation into his administration. This event is known as the Darwin Rebellion.

The actions of the Union members resulted in Administrator Gilruth and his family being removed to Melbourne in February 1919.

Liberty Square again became a focal point in Darwin during the 1930s Depression when unemployed labourers gathered to seek work at union rates and protest over the discontinuance of the ration system.

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World War II
By the second half of the 1930s, the Darwin Post and Telegraphic Office had expanded and occupied almost an entire block between the new Hotel Darwin and Government House. It included the Post Office proper, the telegraph office, the telephone exchange, cable company offices, stores, staff residences and staff messes.

In 1937 the Commonwealth assumed most of the British Australian Telegraph's land and buildings. This action was to facilitate a more efficient postal service arising from progress in aviation.

As the second world war became imminent following Japan's invasion of China and Hitler's occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Lyons Commonwealth Government announced, in June 1938, that Darwin would be developed as a large military base that would be linked strategically to Singapore. In addition to these preparations for possible enemy attack, it was anticipated that Darwin Post and Telegraph Office would become a strategic communications centrer.

By the end of 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the fall of Singapore and the occupation of Malaya, it seemed inevitable that Australia would be attacked and this would occur most likely from the north.

In December 1941 and January 1942, evacuation of women and children to southern centres was undertaken and by February 1942, it was estimated that only about 60 civilian European women and children remained in Darwin. Important administration records and other materials were also relocated to southern centres.

On 19 February 1942, 188 Japanese aircraft were involved in an attack on Darwin, the prime targets being the Darwin Wharf, the naval vessels in Darwin Harbour and, as anticipated, the Darwin Post and Telegraph Office. The official death rate on that day was 243 people with many more being injured. Darwin was to undergo another 63 enemy bombing attacks during the ensuing 18 months.

Ten people were killed at the Post Office during the first of the raids and the buildings were virtually razed. Those who lost their lives were the Postmaster, Hurtle Bald; his wife, Alice and daughter, Iris; Archibald Halls; Arthur Wellington; Jennie Stasinowsky; Jean and Eileen Mullen; and Emily Young, all of whom were employees of the Postmaster General.

After this raid, the site was abandoned and telegraphic responsibilities were assumed by the Army from a site in Cavenagh Street. The less damaged building of the Post Office complex were used by Naval personnel between 1942 and 1945 and the gutted remains of the original Post Office were used as a temporary repair shop for Northern Territory Administration vehicles.

During the construction and fit-out of the Parliament House, the Speaker, Members and Clerks of the Legislative Assembly, were conscious of the responsibility to appropriately commemorate those who were killed and to maintain this significant historic site.
A remnant of an original porcellanite wall of the Post Office was relocated to the historic lobby, the entry to the Northern Territory Library, together with a piece of shrapnel that was recovered from the ruins.
A commemorative plaque was laid in the Main Hall which is purported to be the exact location of where the bomb fell.

On 18 February 2000, the eve of the annual commemoration of the Bombing of Darwin, Mr Speaker McCarthy hosted a reception to unveil commemorative panels in the Main Hall. The panels comprise of photographs and biographical information of the ten people who were killed in the first raid and photographs and information relating to the former Darwin Post Office.
Surviving relatives of some of those victims travelled to Darwin for the event.

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Legislative Council and Assembly
The ruins of the Post Office buildings remained on this site until 1954 when they were cleared to construct a building to house the Legislative Council, which had not had permanent accommodation since its appointment in February 1948. An opening ceremony for that building was held on 25 March 1955 and was presided over by His Excelllency the Governor-General, Sir William Slim and the Minister for Territories the Honourable Paul Hasluck.

Meetings of the Legislative Council were conducted in this building between 1955 and 1974 and the fully-elected Legislative Assembly continued to occupy it from November 1974 to December 1989. The building was extensively damaged during Cyclone Tracy in December 1974 after which major repairs were undertaken.  However, by the late 1970s, it was evident that this building was inadequate for the efficient operation of the Legislative Assembly.

Some are of the view that the impact of Cyclone Tracy was a catalyst for demands by Members for a new Parliament. After many impediments and delays, the decision to proceed with construction of 'State Square', to comprise a new Parliament House and Supreme Court, was announced in 1988.

Construction of both buildings extended over approximately six years and the new Parliament House was officially opened by the Honourable Bill Hayden AC, Governor-General of Australia, on 18 August 1994.

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