City Focus: Darwin

By Shannon Lewis

The capital city of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia is a lively multicultural metropolis. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported the city’s population at 84,613 in 2018. According to .id community, the City of Darwin makes up 38.3% of the state’s Gross State Product, with a Gross Regional Product, as of midyear 2018, of approximately AUS$8.73bn. With a populace made up of 60 nationalities and 70 different ethnic backgrounds, Darwin is often the centre of cultural festivals and pop-up markets.

The Larrakia – who, predating European settlement, have historically been the landowners of the Darwin region – are an active part of the city’s community. Services run by Larrakia Nation, a corporation established in 1997 to protect the interests of members of the Larrakia community, include award-winning community and outreach programmes and the Larrakia rangers. 

The city’s name dates back to 1839, when the captain of the HMS Beagle landed in its harbour and named the port after biologist Charles Darwin. According to the Darwin Convention Centre website, the city itself was officially founded in 1869, and experienced a population boom in 1871 upon the discovery of gold in Pine Creek. It was granted city status on 26 January 1959, nationally celebrated as Australia Day. 

Much of the city’s infrastructure is relatively new. When Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Day in 1974, 70% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. According to the Convention Centre, it was declared Australia’s worst national disaster, with wind speeds reaching up to 217km/h. As a result, many of the materials and techniques used in Darwin’s cityscape are relatively modern, up to code with strict cyclone guidelines. 

Industries: spurring growth

According to the Darwin Convention Centre’s website, Darwin has one of the fastest growing economies in Australia thanks to its dual focus on stimulating tourism and industry. 64% of residents in the City of Darwin are employed, with 54,661 residents working according to data gathered by NIEIR 2018. With 62,766 local jobs available, according to NIEIR 2018, and 6,991 local businesses, according to ABS 2018, Darwin benefits from low rates of unemployment. According to figures estimated by the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, the Greater Darwin region, which includes Darwin city, its suburbs, Palmerston, and Litchfield, has the lowest unemployment rate across the Northern Territory regions. As of March 2019, its unemployment rate stands at 3.8%, which is actually an increase from its previous annual average of 3.4%. 

The largest industry in Darwin, according to NIEIR 2018, is Public Administration and Safety. 60% of Darwin’s workforce is made up of government employees, according to Darwin City’s official website. However, Darwin is home to many more industries, including: agribusiness, defence, international education, mining, oil and gas, renewable energy, supply and support services, tourism, and tropical health. The Port of Darwin serves as Australia’s primary link for live cattle trade with South East Asia. Meanwhile, the Charles Darwin University, located in Casuarina, one of the city’s northern suburbs, was voted one of the top five Australian universities for graduate employment and salary outcomes, according to the university website. 

Tourism is an important building block for the Northern Territory as a whole and accounts for 12% of the total workforce, according to the Darwin City official website. Within the City of Darwin, it is an important force of economic stability. The Art of Attraction Tourism Summit 2019, an event designed to discuss how to use public and street art as a driving force for tourism, has on its docket of speakers Darwin-based Tristan Minter, Director of the Darwin Street Art Festival. The Darwin Convention Centre includes an exhibition space of 4,000 sqm. 

Events slated to take place in Darwin over the next few years include the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses Quadrennial Congress 2021, the International BioIron Society 2021 Congress, and the South East Asia Survey Congress 2019. Darwin International Airport has direct flights to hubs all across Asia, while the city centre contains 5,539 hotel rooms, according to Business Events Australia. Marriott International, seeing the potential of Darwin, is in the process of building the Westin Darwin, set to open in 2022, which will make 240 new hotels rooms available to visitors. 

Darwin: Australia’s gateway to South East Asia

In some ways, the city of Darwin is closer to Asia than it is to the rest of Australia. Its geographic location places it within two and a half hours of Indonesia. It is closer to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, than it is to Canberra, the capital of Australia. A flight from Darwin to Singapore or Manila would take as long as one to Sydney or Melbourne. As a result, it has a close business relationship to Asia, often described as Australia’s gateway to South East Asia.

Darwin International Airport has had a non-stop flight to China available since 2018. The flight has been so popular that there have been demands for more of its nature. As a result, Darwin airport signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the World Routes 2019 conference with the airport of its sister city, Haikou. The intention is to open new non-stop routes between the two airports in the near future. 




Darwin’s relationship with China goes further than flights. Recently, a reception by the Chinese embassy, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, was held in Darwin. Chief Minister of Australia’s Northern Territory, Michael Gunner, was reported by Xinhua News as praising China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a “win-win” for China and Australia. This summer, Darwin was caught at the centre of a strategic battle between the United States and China. The South China Morning Post reported that the United States’ intentions to build a military facility in Darwin were set into a tailspin after the US found out about the city’s deal with Chinese company, Landbridge Group. This deal, ratified in 2015, consists of a 99-year lease of Darwin’s port to Landbridge, which gives the corporation an 80% stake in the port. 

Darwin’s interests in Asia also go beyond China. The city’s relationship with Singapore is on the verge of a major breakthrough thanks to Darwin’s connections with alternate energies. Efforts by the Australian government to decrease its carbon footprint see the energy business turning away from fossil fuels towards solar energy. Darwin served as the starting point for this year’s World Solar Challenge, a 3,000km race that has been around since 1987 to promote sustainability and solar technology. Currently in the works is a deal with energy company Sun Cable, the goal of which is to farm power from a 15,000-hectare location at Tennant Creek, sending the energy through to Singapore via an underwater cable from Darwin. This Darwin-reliant US$20bn plan has the potential to turn Australia into the primary centre for low-cost energy in a world that is moving increasingly towards carbon-neutrality. 

For more information on business topics in Australia and New Zealand, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief ANZ.

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