SouthportIts difficult to believe now, but Southport was a place of great significance during the first two decades of European settlement in the Top End. In fact, in its brief heyday it seriously rivalled Palmerston (Darwin) because it became a busy port for the hinterland goldfields.
Southport was one of the four original towns laid out by Goyder's survey party in 1869. The original survey provided for 335 half acre blocks, plus parks, reserves and roads, and a cemetery - totalling almost 500 acres. Streets were named after people in Goyder's party, the main street being Cherry Street - Cherry was a surveyors' chainman.
The new town was located about 25 km from Darwin as the crow flies, across the harbour, at the junction of the Darwin and Blackmore rivers. Its swift early growth occurred because ships could unload cargoes bound for destinations "upcountry". By unloading at Southport much of the overland journey around from Darwin was avoided. However, that advantage was lost once the railway opened in 1889 and thereafter Southport quickly declined.
In 1870 - 1872 Southport came to life when it was used as a landing place and depot for Overland telegraph construction teams. From 1872 the entrepreneur and mining promoter John Lewis used Southport as a port for provisions bound for the goldfields. Lewis was associated with the Telegraph mining company, which had six teams of horses on the road between Southport and Yam Creek and Pine Creek. In early 1873 Lewis built a jetty at Southport to handle stores shipped from Darwin. He also built a powder store for explosives. Other mining companies also established stores and depots at Southport.
More permanent settlement at Southport seems to have begun in 1872 when the government began work on a jetty and erected a store there. By late 1873 the first minor rush to the goldfields had stimulated Southport's growth. There were then 5 stores, the Royal Hotel, a saddler and several blacksmiths at Southport. Makeshift buildings were giving way to more permanent structures of timber and iron. Many early identities in the town had come from the Victorian goldfields.
In 1874 a telegraph office opened in the town and there was a second hotel and a Wesleyan Church. Later in 1874 the Southport population was sufficient to enable a cricket match to be played among townsmen, and then a Southport team sailed across to Darwin to beat that town's team.
In its heyday (1870s) Southport was a favoured place for the holding of farewells for people leaving the goldfields. It was also a venue for outings by Darwin people who travelled by steam launch to the "City of the Mangroves". The voyage across the harbour took about four hours, depending on tides. Concerts and athletics carnivals were also held.
At peak times there were said to have been up to sixteen ships anchored at Southport, waiting to unload cargo for the goldfields. The government jetty was not complete until 1874, and there were problems with the large tidal range - often the jetty was too high out of the water to permit unloading.
Southport declined in the 1880s, even before the railway opened, because of a general decline in traffic to the goldfields. By 1885 there was one hotel, three stores, and one each of a saddler, blacksmith, and wheelwright. There was also a Chinatown with about 100 buildings, including dwellings and stores. Gradually the Chinese dominated the place as white interest in the Top End goldfields declined.
The town was more or less abandoned from 1890. At about that time the NT Times observed "Southport has always been a livelier place than Palmerston - alas, no more."
Well, perhaps, because in recent years the Southport area has been rediscovered as a place to live.