The Northern Territory's pastoral industry

Pastoralism and the Northern Territory

Over the past 150 years the Northern Territory has drawn a good part of its 'Territorian' identity from the pastoral industry that operates across its rural expanses.

Following John McDouall Stuart's 1861–62 crossing of the country from Adelaide to Point Stuart (east of what is now Darwin), the pastoral and agricultural potential of the lands he had traversed was of great interest.

During the late nineteenth century a substantial part of the Territory was acquired by pastoralists under pastoral leases issued by the South Australian government, which administered the Northern Territory from 1870 until 1911. It was on these pastoral leases the Territory based much of its economic and social development.

The station 'community'

In a place where cities and towns are few and far between, the pastoral stations of the Territory have been valuable (and often the only) points of reference on a map. They also often provided the community around which people lived. They have been a place of employment, a place of residence, a place of birth and death, and a location for providing numerous government services, including education, health, welfare, census collection and law enforcement.

Records on the pastoral industry

The National Archives office in Darwin holds a range of records relating to the pastoral industry in the Territory, including:

  • the issue and management of leases
  • investigations and reports into the leasehold system
  • census and welfare records relating to Aboriginal people

Many records use the station as a location on which to focus dealings with people.

The stations of the Territory have a rich history. For many researchers of the pastoral industry, these records are an invaluable source of information for historical, social and economic studies, and for research into personal and family histories.

Maps and plans of pastoral leases

The National Archives Darwin office also holds maps and plans detailing pastoral leases in the Territory at different points in time. These are available for viewing in the research centre.