This guide has been produced to commemorate the centenary of the Commonwealth Government's acquisition of the Northern Territory from South Australia. The Commonwealth assumed responsibility for the administration of the Northern Territory from 1 January 1911. Its administration ended with the granting of self-government on 1 July 1978, although, for particular functions, the Commonwealth still maintains a strong presence in the Territory.
The guide's prime focus is the Commonwealth's period of administration (often referred to as 'the Commonwealth era'), although it does begin with a chapter on the South Australian period from 1863 to 1911 (see chapter 1), and there is selected coverage of Territory issues and events after 1978.
The chapters in the guide focus on specific periods and events during the Commonwealth era and use them as a means to present and describe the key archival collections that are available. The guide does not claim to be exhaustive: it does not seek to include every record associated with the Northern Territory. Importantly, it does aim to educate and inform, and to highlight many areas of further research.
The majority of records listed in the guide are in the custody of the National Archives of Australia – mainly held by the Canberra and Darwin offices. Also listed in this guide are records in the Northern Territory Archives Service, located in Darwin, and some in other institutions, including State Records of South Australia, the archival authority for the South Australian Government; the National Library of Australia; and the Australian War Memorial.
After the Northern Territory achieved self-government in 1978, a number of administrative functions – including local services, lands and mining – passed from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory Government. The records dealing with those functions, which had previously been in the custody of the National Archives, were transferred to the Northern Territory Archives Service. This occurred in accordance with the fundamental archival principle that 'records follow function', that is, if a particular administrative function moves from one level of government to another, the records dealing with that function are also relocated.
Archives of the Northern Territory are sometimes fragmentary. There are several reasons for this – first, the harshness of the tropical climate, which has been a distinct deterrence to long-term preservation of records. Second, the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, with the subsequent evacuation of civilian administration to Alice Springs and the imposition of Australian military administration in the 'Top End' for the duration of World War II. Third, there was the destruction of Darwin caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Nevertheless, substantial quantities of records are available for research, both in Darwin and Canberra.