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Northern Territory

Far in the north of Australia lies a little-known land, a vast half-finished sort of region, wherein Nature has been apparently practising how to make better places. This is the Northern Territory of South Australia The decline and fall of the British Empire will date from the day that Britannia starts to monkey with the Northern Territory.
- A.B. ("Banjo") Paterson, 1898

This rather ominous prophecy by the bush balladeer "Banjo" Paterson, author of "Waltzing Matilda", is still the way many Australians view the frontier lands of the Northern Territory , usually known as "The Territory", or simply "NT". Even the name conjures up a distant, untamed province and, to an extent, this is so: just over one percent of Australians (170,000) live in an area covering nearly twenty percent of the continent. Until recently this tiny population and lack of economic autonomy explained why The Territory never achieved full statehood. There was talk that by the new millennium the NT would have become the seventh Australian state (with a few strings still held by the federal government) but provincial politics has put this in the same basket as Australia becoming a republic. Incidents like the failed euthanasia bill (quickly quashed by Canberra) and extremes like mandatory sentencing (a fortnight in jail for a first offence, two months for a second, and so on), which has been linked in the press with some Aboriginal deaths in custody, give liberals the impression that some Territorian necks are redder than Ayers Rock at sunset.


Territorians relish this tough, maverick image, as well as the extremes of climate, distance and isolation that mould their temperaments. In this utmost corner of the country, drifters get washed up, fugitives cower and failed entrepreneurs pursue another abortive venture or become politicians. That great Australian institution of the "character" is in his element here, propping up the bars and bolstering the mythology of The Territory's recent lawless frontier history in what Xavier Herbert once described as the "Land of Ratbags". His classic 1938 novel, Capricornia , remains a scathing allegorical saga of the early Territorian years, based on Herbert's experience in 1930s Darwin.

Within The Territory's boundaries there's evidence of the most recent colonial presence set among the oldest-occupied Aboriginal sites in Australia. Darwin , The Territory's capital, is a prospering tropical town - a year-round temperature in the low thirties compelling a laid-back lifestyle. Travellers the world over flock here to explore the Top End (as tropical NT is known), primarily Kakadu National Park 's prolific wildlife and the Aboriginal art sites. Adjacent Arnhemland , to the east, is Aboriginal Land, too - and out of bounds to casual visitors, although a few tours are now beginning to visit this never-colonized wilderness of scattered communities. Heading south, you arrive at Katherine , where nearby gorges within the Nitmiluk National Park are the town's principal attraction. At Katherine, the Victoria Highway heads west, past the Gregory National Park to Western Australia, while to the south, just beyond the thermal resort of Mataranka , a road winds east along the palm-fringed Roper River to the Gulf Country. Here, Borroloola , a briefly thriving and lawless outpost, once on the Gulf stock route from northern Queensland, has since been bypassed into oblivion.

By the time you reach Tennant Creek you're out of the interminable light woodland and passing pastoral tablelands on the way to the central deserts surrounding Alice Springs . By no means the dusty Outback town many expect, Alice makes an excellent base to explore the natural wonders of the region, of which that famous monolith, Ayers Rock - or Uluru - 450km to the southwest, is but one of many. This is one of the finest areas to begin to learn about the Aborigines of the western desert, among the last to come into contact with European settlers.

Also See:
Travel Details
Aborigines In The Northern Territory
Explore Northern Territory

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