Northern Territory, territory (1991 pop. 132,780), 520,280 sq mi (1,347,525 sq km), N central Australia. It is bounded on the N by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea, and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Darwin is the territorial capital. In the north are lowlands, in the W central region is the Tanami Desert, in the southeast are low plains sloping toward the Lake Eyre depression, and in the southwest are the MacDonnell Ranges. The main rivers are the Victoria, Daly, Adelaide, and Roper, all of which drain into the northern seas. The climate in the north is tropical, with a monsoon season; the south becomes colder and drier as the elevation rises.
About three fourths of the population live in the Darwin and Alice Springs metropolitan areas. Australian aborigines make up about a fourth of the Northern Territory's population and own the land of 15 reservations with a total area of 94,000 sq mi (243,460 sq km); the Arnhem Land preserve is the largest. Much of this land is important to the uranium mining and tourist industries.
The territory's economic development has been accelerating in recent years. Gold is worked to a small extent; uranium, bauxite, manganese, iron, lead, and zinc deposits are increasingly exploited. Stockbreeding, encouraged by government development projects, is the major rural activity. There is very little farming in the territory. Peanuts, pearl shell, and trepang are the principal exports.
Northern Territory's first settlement was established at Port Essington in 1824 in an attempt to forestall French colonization. The settlement failed, and permanent settlement did not resume until 1869. Northern Territory was part of New South Wales from 1825 to 1863 and of South Australia from 1863 to 1911. Transferred to direct rule by the commonwealth in 1911, it was divided into two territories in 1926 but was reunited in 1931.
In 1974 the commonwealth-appointed Legislative Council was replaced by a fully elected Legislative Assembly, and in 1978 full self-goverment was granted to the territory. In the 1990s statehood became a prominent political issue, but statehood was rejected in a 1998 referendum. Also politically important in recent years has been the issue of the treatment of and opportunities for the aboriginal population. Adam Giles, who became chief minister of the territory in 2013, was the first aborigine to head a state-level Australian government. The Northern Territory elects a member with full voting rights to the Australian House of Representatives.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.