Darwin, situated on the Timor Sea, is the capital city of the Northern Territory. It is the smallest and most northerly of the Australian capital cities and acts as the Top Ends regional centre. The city is built on a low bluff overlooking the harbour. It has a tropical climate and during the wet season is prone to cyclones, heavy monsoonal down pours and spectacular lightning shows.
The Larrakia people also known as ‘saltwater people’ are the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the greater Darwin area. Larrakia country extends up to 50 km inland. The original language of the Larrakia is Gulumirrgin.
Darwin is also a meeting ground for many Aboriginal communities within the Top End region, including Arnhem Land, Gove, Groote, Melville and Elcho Islands.
The Bagot Community
The story of the Bagot Community offers an insight into the history of part of the Darwin Aboriginal population. Situated on 23 hectares of suburban land adjacent to the suburb of Ludmilla, it began in 1938, as an Aboriginal Reserve established to oversee the increasing movement of Aboriginal people to Darwin from remote settlements, and to provide training in accordance with the prevailing policy of assimilation.
During the 1950s and for much of the 1960s, approximately 250 people lived at Bagot until the population stabilised to between 300 and 350, with numbers rising to as many as 400 when visitors were in town. Children attended school on the reserve. A pre-school and health clinic were also established.
In June 1973, Aboriginal residents at the Bagot Reserve indicated their desire to obtain title to the Reserve to develop it as an attractive and useful community living area. Subsequently, in 1979, vacant land previously revoked from the Bagot Reserve was granted to the Gwalwa Daraniki Association as part of a Special Purpose Lease.
In 2008, the Northern Territory Government committed to an upgrade of services and infrastructure in the Bagot Community ‘to the same standard as any other Darwin suburb’. The implementation has been managed by various Indigenous organisations, the Northern Territory Government, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). Larrakia representative organisations did speak for the Bagot Community; for many years, the Larrakia were the predominant group at Bagot but today only two Larrakia extended families remain in permanent residence.
Today, the Bagot Community with 400 residents remains a significant and influential section of the Darwin Aboriginal population.
The Long Grass People
In the Darwin and Palmerston region of the Northern Territory, there are groups of people, often referred to as ‘Long Grass People,’ living an itinerant lifestyle. Many are homeless Aboriginal people, originally from remote communities. The ‘long grass’ refers to the speargrass that grows more than two metres tall on vacant land around Darwin in the monsoon months from October to April. When dry it is flattened by storms and is usually incinerated by season burn offs. Cleared areas in the grass become hidden places to sleep for people threatened by vagrancy laws.
The Darwin fringe dwelling population, predominantly Indigenous, is diverse and consists of short-term visitors, and medium to long-term migrants from a range of Top End communities. The population fluctuates around 150 to 200 people, though the estimates vary greatly. A number of the temporary camps, or ‘Starlight Motels’ as they are sometimes called, are well established and have been populated for many decades.
KEY FACTS ABOUT DARWIN
Population: According to ABS 2011 data, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of greater Darwin is 11,099, equating to 8.6% of the total population of 120,586. Of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait population 52.2% are male, 47.8% are female, with a median age of 33.
Local Partner Organisation: Danila Dilba Health Service is a community-controlled organisation providing comprehensive primary health care services to Biluru communities in the Yilli Rreung Region of the Northern Territory. Danila Dilba has an all Biluru Governing Committee, whose members are chosen by the community, which governs the organisation (Danila Dilba Health Service, 2014).