When I have asked Australians over the years why the Northern Territory doesn’t become a state, they don’t seem to know how to answer. They bluster as if the question is inappropriate, and I’m left with the impression that the issue is not enough residents. Most Australians live far to the south. Maybe the issue is population. But maybe it’s not. The Northern Territory is booming. Darwin is one of Australia’s fastest growing cities. But then I found out WHY on my own because Ruth & I got lucky in Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital. We walked into its Parliament Building just before a public tour was to begin. We joined it with me hoping my question would be answered. It was.
Our tour guide Cassandra quickly directed our attention to a desert rose with 7 petals in the floor. This depiction of Sturt’s Desert Rose appears on the Northern Territory flag. There are 6 states in Australia and 1 territory. I surmised that the 7 petals represented these entities and hoped the answer to my question about statehood was near. But I was wrong. The ACT, Australia’s planned capital city, was the entity not represented in the rose.
The Australian Commonwealth was created in 1901. At that time the Northern Territory was a colony of South Australia. The new state of South Australia had a huge block of land with a small population that it couldn’t handle, according to Cassandra. Six years later South Australia agreed to give this territory to the Commonwealth, and 4 years later it became the Northern Territory, which will probably never become a state.
Two major news events in Australian history occurred in Darwin. The Japanese attacked its harbor 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor and 280 people died. Whether or not this meant invasion for territorial gain was not clear. A tribute to the 10 who died when the post office was bombed is in the new capitol building. Then in 1974 a tropical cyclone named Tracy with wind speeds up to 149 mph struck on Christmas Eve and 71 people died. The devastation was catastrophic, including damage done to the capitol building. This new modern, white one opened in 1994.
The tour ended on Parliament House’s 2nd floor in a hallway lined with traditional paintings of chief ministers. Opposite to them was an excellent Aboriginal painting called “Ngarra Law”. The artist, James Gaykamangu, used the typical colors of Northern Territory land in his design.
During the tour I learned that the right to make laws is why the Northern Territory doesn’t become a state. The Australian Federal Government makes changes that affect states but not territories. Why become a state and give up your independence? I soon learned that a referendum to decide on statehood was actually voted on in 1998 and almost 52% of residents voted NO to joining Australia as the 7th state.