A Better Place to Live

A better place to live

Diana Giese

Freshwater Bay Press, 2009

Book of the Month, Northern Territory Library:

'Diana Giese's book details the rise of Darwin from the ruins of World War II to the present day. Giese's family came to Darwin in the mid-50s at a time when the capital city of the Northern Territory was overgrown with vegetation, littered with remants of War damage and seriously short on goods and services. With only one radio station (the ABC) and interstate newspapers arriving days late, Darwin was quite literally behind the times.

Giese describes the many colourful events that shaped the development of Darwin in areas such as news reporting, education, sport, politics and entertainment. She also describes how the multi-racial mixture of the Darwin community managed to co-exist years before the term 'multicultural' came into common usage.

The book also features a range of photographs from the PictureNT collection of the Northern Territory Library and from Giese's own collection.'




A better place to live: making the Top End a new kind of community

 Developing community from the 1960s to self-government

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, from 1964

Darwin the fastest-growing city in Australia, 1960s

Sharing health resources, 1978

Chapter 11 

‘…a representative collection of all Australian art’

‘In Aboriginal collecting for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Director Colin Jack-Hinton aimed for ‘a representative collection of all Australian art…from the first times when it was possible to acquire those works, up to the present, and on-going’. In his collaboration with George Chaloupka on documenting the vast and ancient body of Arnhem Land rock art, the world’s longest-continuing art tradition, he laid the groundwork for the Sacred Sites register. ‘We were always a terribly active museum,’ he remembered. At the height of his directorship, there was ‘an average of 26 changing displays every year’, and a quarter of a million people were pouring annually into the Museum, more than were experiencing Kakadu or Uluru.

Jack-Hinton aimed for a core collection of fine arts ‘inspired by the Territory’, ‘the tropical north’ or work that was ‘strictly Australian…if the artist was significant in Australian art history’. His idea of setting up an annual artists’ camp, and inviting major Australian artists to the Territory, providing them with stores and a vehicle, then letting them loose, was to yield a unique collection of works that participating artists donated to the Museum. He credits this scheme with ‘creating Kakadu’ around Australia and overseas, ‘as an inspiration, as opposed to just being a tourist venue…for people to turn up in charabancs, go out with your packed lunch and look at the skyline, and then get back, look at a few cave paintings, and then bugger off back to Sydney’.’

Chapter 15

‘…the most productive and progressive years in our history’

‘By the end of the 60s, Darwin had a population of 30,000, and was the fastest-growing city in Australia.

Paul Hasluck’s 1991 assessment of the 50s and 60s was echoed in 2005 by Peter and Sheila Forrest, historians of the Territory who each week in The Northern Territory News chronicle aspects of its development. They call those years ‘arguably the most productive and progressive years in our history’. In 1991, Hasluck could note with satisfaction in a speech in Darwin that life in the Territory now had ‘a closer resemblance to the general pattern of Australian life than it had forty years ago’. Gone were self-perceptions of Territorians as big men of the wild frontier, and the north as ‘a problem’, where life was different from the rest of the country, he said.

During these years, protective and restrictive legislation circumscribing the lives of Aboriginal people had been progressively removed from the statute books. From 1954 onwards, ‘we began to see real changes’, said Hasluck. He went on to say that he felt ‘satisfaction and even some slight measure of pride in what I was able to do to make life better for a large number of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.’

…When Hasluck had moved on to his new Ministry in 1963, The Northern Territory News of 9 February noted that the Indigenous population was increasing, ‘and many are well educated and decently housed…the gigantic strides undoubtedly taken, particularly in the field of education of the young, cannot be disputed’.

Hasluck notes that those who entered Aboriginal affairs during the 1970s came into a far less difficult situation than their predecessors, one in which ‘services, utilities, works potential, communications and staff had been developed to a stage far beyond conditions in the 1950s’. New administrators rode in on the shoulders of their predecessors. Major strides had been made in overcoming disease and fostering nutrition, in education, housing and occupational training.’ 

Chapter 15

‘A better place for everyone to live’

‘By the time of self-government in 1978, life in the Top End had been transformed from the rough make-do conditions of the early 50s to a better place for everyone to live. Consider two resonant snapshots. At Bamyili in 1951, medical facilities consisted of a 10 by 12-foot wooden-framed dispensary with an ant-bed floor. There was no qualified nursing sister, so urgent cases were taken by road to Katherine. By the end of the 1960s, there was a modern brick hospital with overhead fans and vinyl floors, with a 12-bed labour ward, a dispensary, a kitchen and an infant clinic distributing milk, vitamins and fresh fruit. The senior sister and her assistants regularly examined the entire local community. Children were vaccinated against measles and TB. Of 28 babies born at the hospital, only one died. Darwin Hospital, ‘once awash, unhygienic, and open to the matron’s fowls’, had more than $4,000,000 spent on it in 1966 and 1967, including air-conditioning, to make it one of the most modern medical centres in Australia. ‘The fowls have been excluded. So has segregation. Aboriginal, Chinese, and European patients share the same wards.’

Sources include interviews with historical actors held in the Northern Territory Archives; Northern Territory Library Service Occasional Papers; correspondence, itineraries and reports of the Arts Council of Australia, Northern Territory Branch, and its Annual Reports; The Northern Territory News; and books by George Chaloupka, Paul Hasluck and Douglas Lockwood. For full details of sources, refer to A better place to live, pages 105-17.

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