The smallest, wettest and most northerly territorial capital in Australia, Darwin is the capital and most important city of the Northern Territory. Facing onto the Timor sea, it has about 150,000 inhabitants and is well-known as an important port city as well as having a military base located there. It is worth noting that this Australian city is where one of the country’s extremely rare episodes of war occurred: the Japanese fleet of aircraft carriers responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 carried out a bombing raid on the city of Darwin on 19 February 1942. This was not the only disaster that led to the substantial redevelopment of the city, however; the city was also hit by some dramatic cyclones in 1897, 1937, and finally Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
The strategic location of the port of Darwin
The importance of this northern Australian capital is mainly due to its port. As regards international trade, Darwin port is in a highly strategic position. The city of Darwin is actually nearer to the capitals of 5 foreign countries than it is to the capital of Australian itself, in fact. Canberra, Australia’s capital city, is 3,137 kilometres from Darwin, whereas Port Moresby, the capital of Papua Nuova Guinea, is 1,818 kilometres away; Dili, the capital of East Timor, is 656 kilometres away; Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is 2,700 kilometres away and the capital cities of Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan) and Palau (Ngerulmud) are about 2,500 kilometres away. So it is clear why this city – founded in 1869 with the name Palmerston – is a natural hub for international trade.
Darwin Port in brief
Darwin Port extends over a large and composite geographical area, with several physical locations along the coast of the city, the main points being Stokes Hill Wharf, Cullen Bay and East Arm Wharf. In total there are 4 docks, including East Arm Wharf, which was opened in 2000. Generally speaking, the commercial area of Port Darwin is mainly situated around East Arm Wharf, whereas Fort Hill Wharf is chiefly used as a terminal for cruise ships. Darwin Port is a fundamental access point for all flows of trade from the north, and is also seen as a key element in providing support facilities for mining offshore deposits of gas and oil in the Timor sea and to the west of Australia.
Development plans for Port Darwin
The history of the port of Darwin over the last 10 years has seen an important novelty with significant repercussions for its future. It all started in 2012, with the election of the Country Liberal party, which decided to sell off or lease various public assets. These included Darwin Port itself, which, in 2015, received expressions of interest from 33 companies. At the end of the tendering process, the Chinese-owned Landbridge group won the bid for the lease of Port Darwin; as a result, the chief minister, Adam Giles, granted the Chinese company a leasing contract for 99 years, in return for a payment of 506 million Australian dollars.With this extremely long leasing period to count on, the Landbridge Group is setting up various activities for the development of Port Darwin: some are relatively limited operations, such as the expansion of the refrigeration facilities, while others are decidedly more important. For example, the Landbridge Group wish to enable larger cruise ships to dock in the harbour, by carrying out dredging work; this in the knowledge that Darwin is currently the third largest Australian terminal in numbers of cruise ship passengers.
The construction of a new port
Having granted the management of Darwin Port to the Landbridge Group, the Australian government is now seriously considering the construction of a new port. More specifically, 1.5 billion dollars would be made available for a new port facility in the Northern Territory, more precisely in Darwin, in order to have an important counterpart to the Chinese infrastructure within a few years’ time. The former Minister of Finance, Simon Birmingham, had in fact confirmed that the new port would be completely separate from the present structure managed by the Landbridge group, while remaining fully within the geographical area of Darwin port. “As more structures are gradually developed to support industries at the geographic level, other opportunities and roads become available for other purposes, such as defence,” explained Birmingham. So it is clear that the issue of Darwin Port is important not only in terms of trade but also for military reasons.