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, extracts

Nicholas Hasluck Launches
Nicholas Hasluck launches the book at the Northern Territory Library.

Ward, Hargrave and Brennan made stirring speeches, and called for and manned select committees into constitutional reform. The Report of the 1957 committee asked for Territory members with full voting rights in the House of Representatives and the Senate; a majority of elected members in the Council; and limited responsibility over the Territory’s budget. When Canberra ignored their demands, in April 1958 they resigned as a group. In the election that followed, all were enthusiastically voted back in.5

A subsequent meeting with Hasluck led to changes in the Act which governed Territory administration so that the Territory member could vote on matters to do with it. An Administrator’s Council was set up. There was provision for the election of two more members, and the appointment by the Administrator of three non-official, non-Public Service members, representing mining, pastoral and business interests. Together, these new members, with the elected ones, had the potential to push through their own bills. Said Reg Marsh: "Hasluck argued that [the official members] should so present the government’s legislation, that we always won the vote of those three, who were like a jury. We had to be good enough to win their vote."

The three new members were determined to show that they were not government stooges. When Marsh moved the first formal motion "to get Parliament going…that government business had to take precedence", which ‘lets you establish the business paper and control the operations of the House", the three voted together that government business should not take precedence.6  "What we had to do then was to have a business committee. That committee organized each day’s business paper."7

Marsh noted that a nominated member was also "a citizen; he lived in the community and he was subject to all the pressure that came on him from the community, not from us [the government]".8  So were the official members. It was in essence a Council of Territory patriots. "As fruits of that patriotism…they got self-government."9  Said Marsh: "You see, while there’d be fights, and the [bills] might be amended, by and large the legislation introduced was legislation that was needed and was beneficial. The elected members were just as keen as anybody else to see that the law of the Territory was improved."10  "I could have arguments with people, but we were all in the same boat after the argument was over." Marsh understood the interdependence of Territorians: "people just depended a bit on each other. I think mutual dependence is a good thing, because it produces reciprocal situations." '11
(Chapter 13)

‘Young people now make up eighty per cent of the entries’ T.A. Kissel

A Better Place to Live
Eisteddfod competitors prepare to go onstage at the Gardens Amphitheatre.
(source: PH0351/0014, Giese Collection, NT Library and Information Service, Darwin)

The North Australian Eisteddfod Council was set up in 1957. It involved performers from across the community, in competitions in everything from lieder to mime. A unique component was the participation of hundreds of Aboriginal competitors in dance, campfire singing ("didgeridoo and singing sticks optional"), choirs, vocal duets and verse speaking. The little halls reverberated to stamping feet and singing sticks as groups from Bathurst Island, Daly River and Beswick Creek danced. Walpamur Paints offered a prize for "two songs of own choice in native dialect". Some of the Aboriginal school choirs performed in local languages. In 1962, Yirrkala Methodist Mission choir sang Jinaga Bala Tarbal, a version of Away in a Manger. By 1961 indigenous choirs outnumbered those of the Darwin schools.12  In 1969, 500 of the 800 competitors were Aboriginal, and more than 1000 people packed the Gardens Amphitheatre to see the finals of the traditional music and dance competitions.13  Some Eisteddfod performers went on to make careers. Film star David Gulpilil first competed as a fourteen-year-old, beating off all competition from senior dancers. Marilynne Paspaley, daughter of the pearling dynasty, went on to act on television.

The Eisteddfod involved a wide range of Top Enders. Businesses and local dignitaries offered cash prizes, were sponsors ("additional general donations from the ABC, The NT News, A.E. Jolly, Martin’s Newsagency, Jeanette Frock Salon, C.J. Cashman and Co. and His Worship the Mayor") and took out display ads in the program. By 1962, Darwin High School Headmaster T.A. Kissel announced that "young people now make up eighty per cent of the entries. This is good for it augurs well for the future and reflects...that this is a young and virile community." '14
(Chapter 10)

'In 1964, Ken Waters, the Member for Arnhem in the Legislative Council, introduced a Bill to set up a Museums and Art Galleries Board of the Northern Territory. Again, there was a grand plan. Museums and art galleries were to be established, acquired or received for maintenance, control and management. Waters became the Board’s first Chair. A year later, its Annual Report confessed, with refreshing candour: "In its first year of existence, the Board can boast of no achievements whatsoever in respect of recordable events."

It was, however, offered many helpful suggestions about possible sites. Then in 1970, the right person arrived to push the cause. One-man powerhouse Dr Colin Jack-Hinton, the first Director, helped refurbish the old Town Hall, the sandstone heritage building opposite Brown’s Mart. A flurry of collecting began. Before the paint was dry, there were exhibitions of pottery made by Aboriginal people at Bagot and Bathurst Island, a collection of Police Inspector Folsche’s nineteenth-century photographs, and a display of French lithographs. By August 1973 the restored building stood in a lush tropical garden behind a white picket fence.15

But this museum was only a shell. It needed far more display, storage and office space. Then even what was there was swept away. The morning after Cyclone Tracy, the staff salvaged what they could of the collections. For the next six years the Museum operated out of an insurance company building. It took until 1977 to settle on a new site at Bullocky Point, just down from Darwin High School.

Jack-Hinton, a master mariner who had once sailed his self-built Indonesian boat into Darwin, built up a unique collection of wooden sea-going craft, including a Vietnamese refugee boat and one of pioneer pearling master Nick Paspaley’s early luggers, named after his wife, Vivienne. Jack-Hinton was one of the initiators of the Territory’s engagement with its Asian and Pacific neighbours.16  He also fitted easily into the Top End’s casual multicultural mix. "One of the things that’s always attracted me to the Northern Territory is the fact that it is…an amalgam of people from a whole variety of backgrounds, who do not lose their backgrounds, who do not lose their cultures, who can survive with them, and integrate, within the Northern Territory. I think this is one of the lovely things about the Northern Territory, this is what it has to offer the rest of Australia, and indeed the rest of the world, as a situation of tolerance."17

It was not until after self-government, in 1981, that the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, a spacious waterside complex flooded with light, was opened by Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowan. It was the first major building constructed during Paul Everingham’s first period of office as Chief Minister. After an initially stormy relationship between these two strong characters centred on raising sufficient funds and selecting a site, Everingham became "terribly supportive" of Jack-Hinton.18

From the beginning, Jack-Hinton had a vision for collections covering Southeast Asian archaeology and his own specialist area of maritime history. He recruited researchers in marine biology. He built up links with museums and art galleries in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific and the Philippines, "our neighbours". "The Museum pioneered those links, which government was able to [use as we] moved into contact with Southeast Asia. We were already bloody there…pioneering things like the Darwin-Ambon yacht race, the Makassar Regatta."19

An aerial view of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, in the centre, with Darwin High School behind it.
(source: PH0056/0005, NT Museum Collection, NT Library and Information Service, Darwin)

With his swashbuckling style, Jack-Hinton did well among the Top End’s colourful characters. Very early on, he saw the necessity of getting out in the field to meet people and make personal contacts with artists and donors. For this, he needed a proper vehicle. When the bureaucrats quibbled, he simply went out with Ken Waters and bought something suitable. The local bureaucrats refused to reimburse them. So they sent a telegram to the Minister for Territories: "We have acquired a vehicle for the Director of Museums and Art Galleries, as this is absolutely essential for him to conduct his business, particularly in the field," they announced. The bureaucrats were instructed to pay up. "We won!" exulted Jack-Hinton.20

In Aboriginal collecting, he 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".21  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,22  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.23

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." '24
[Chapter 11]

1 Peter and Sheila Forrest, The Northern Territory News, 15 March 2005, p. 28
2 Ibid.
3 Interview with Reg Marsh by Helen Wilson, NTRS 226, TS 90, 1984, Tape 2, NT Archives Service
4 Paul Hasluck, ‘Pioneers of Post War Recovery’, Sixth Eric Johnston Lecture, published as NT Library Service Occasional Paper No. 28, Darwin, 1991
5 P.F. Donovan, ‘The Commonwealth and the Northern Territory, 1911-78’, typescript, NT History Award, 1980
6 Interview with Reg Marsh by Francis Good, NTRS 226, TS 1028, 2001, Tape 1
7 Reg Marsh, 1984 interview, Tape 2
8 Ibid., Tape 2
9 Ibid., Tape 1
10 Ibid., Tape 2
11 Reg Marsh, 2001 interview, Tape 2
12 North Australian Eisteddfod Council, Souvenir Programmes, 1961, 1962
13 The Northern Territory News, 9 July 1969, p. 16
14 T.A. Kissel, Foreword, Souvenir Programme, 1962; also used in section head
15 Ibid., pp. 7-8
16 Interview with Colin Jack-Hinton by Francis Good, NTRS 226, TS 908, DAT 2, 1997, NT Archives Service; quote also used in heading
17 Ibid., DAT 3, p. 2
18 Ibid, p. 7
19 Ibid, DAT 2, pp. 10-11
20 Ibid., DAT 1, p. 11
21 Ibid., DAT 2, p. 9
22 See George Chaloupka, Journey in Time, Reed, Sydney, 1993. Chaloupka was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Northern Territory University in 1998, in recognition of his "long and outstanding contribution to the Northern Territory and its people…particularly through his research and classification of art styles and his services to Aboriginal art and culture".
23 Jack-Hinton interview, DAT 2,  p. 10
24 Ibid., DAT 2, pp. 5, 9, DAT 1, p. 11

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