December 03, 2015

Horse 2033 - The Rather Short And Pointless Existence Of The Territory Known As Central Australia

A client of ours lives in the smallest territory on the Australian mainland, both in terms of population and size, Jervis Bay Territory. This strange phenomenon of geography was gazetted as belonging to the Australian Capital Territory in  1913 but for reasons that are unbeknownst to me, became its own territory in 1989. It doesn't really have self-government in the way that either the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory does and for the purposes of Federal elections, it forms part of the House of Representatives seat of Eden-Monaro and counts towards New South Wales elections for the Senate but because it isn't part of New South Wales, the population don't vote in NSW State Elections because they are not part of the state of NSW.

The weird thing is that I know a bit about the anomalies of American Geography, such as the fact that Puerto Rico is an Unincorporated Organised territory and that Palmyra atoll with zero population is an Incorporated Unorganised territory, but when it comes to knowing the details about the geography of the country in which I live, I am mostly hopelessly ignorant.
I only found out today about the existence of another territory in Australia, albeit one that was and then was no more.

Again, for some reason that I'll not pretend to know the answer to, in 1926 the Commonwealth Government passed the Northern Australia Act. This had the effect of dividing the Northern Territory into two pieces, either side of the parallel 20° South. The act which is many pages long (see the link below*) specified that the capital of the new territory would be Stuart Town (which was renamed Alice Springs in 1933) and that the territory would be called Central Australia.

The thing that really makes no sense to me is why this was even done in the first place. The territory of Central Australia proved so pointless that the Northern Australia Act 1926 was repealed in 1931 and it was returned to the Northern Territory; which I should point out didn't even get ceremonial government until 1945 and what we would consider responsible government until 1974.

When thinking about the possible Northern Territory Statehood referendum which may or may not coincide with the 50th anniversary of the so-called "Aboriginal Referendum", in 2017, I wonder what could have possibly been going through the heads of legislators in the late 1920s.
I have already written that I think that the Northern Territory should be given statehood but even I see the very obvious objection that the whole population of the Northern Territory is less than the local government area of Blacktown City Council, where I live in metropolitan Sydney. If even now the entire of the population of the Northern Territory is only about a quarter of a million people, what were they thinking in 1926?

The short lived territory of Central Australia as far as I can ascertain, was afforded zero Senators, had a single member of the House of Representatives and who was only voted for in that capacity in two elections, was still under the umbrella of administration from Canberra and the only real capacity that it had which even looked remotely like government, was from Alice Springs local government area (which I've not worked out what it was called at the time) and a one man Government Resident of Central Australia.
This means that in the less than five years of its whole pointless existence, that the territory of Central Australia had no legislative or administrative powers whatsoever. Not that that matters terribly much because apart from the fact that most of it doesn't really have anyone living in it, as far as I can make out it never held any Territory elections either.

With nobody alive who would have voted on the legislation to create and repeal the existence of Central Australia, the only way that I'm likely to find out why this appendix ever found itself hanging off of the great intestine that is Australian geopolitical history, is to scour the parliamentary record of Hansard. The chances of me actually bothering to do that are pretty trivial but still non zero. This being the case, I'm going to do what every great historian that can't be bothered to do research does (I'm looking at you Livy); that is, I'm going to just make stuff up.
My theory is that in 1926, the population in the Northern Territory might have just eclipsed that of Tasmania in 1901. If Tasmania was a state, then why shouldn't the Northern Territory become one? I'm willing to bet that somewhere, even in 1926, that political strategists who were hoping to achieve statehood for the Northern Territory thought that this might be the best way to get some leverage with the Commonwealth. Of course I have literally no idea at all but for lack of any sensible narrative whatsoever, its the best I can come up with.

Of course the most sensible solution would be to just grant statehood to the Northern Territory and extend the state line between it and South Australia westwards and everything north of the lone would belong to the Northern Territory but the chances of that happening actually are zero.
Such a thing would never happen but it still makes more sense than why a pointless territory came into existence for less than five years and disappeared again into the annals of history and legislation.
If Victoria has on its number plates "On The Move" and Queensland has "The Sunshine State", then Central Australia can have "Why Did We Ever Even Exist?"

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