• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • The history of the Darwin Police Stations as told by Mark McAdie. AU-0800

Last Updated on October 24, 2021

The history of the Darwin Police Stations as told by Mark McAdie. AU-0800

Under serious construction. Just started.

Many old photographs and stories of the history of Darwin Police Stations as told by retired Darwin policeman Mark McAdie.


Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Darwin stories, its history,  and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, Don...

Introduction by Don McKenzie

My first Darwin story, so it needs a little additional Intro.

My new hobby of colourising historical B&W photos started in April 2021. For a number of reasons I had to shift my focus from Rainbow in Victoria to Darwin which happened on the 28th of September 2021. My daughter at Gray (Palmerston) was already a member of "Darwin History" and "Old Darwin" Facebook pages, so I followed suite. As "Darwin History" approved my application first, I started there.

Here I found two super-active members. There are no doubt many more.
ADMIN Andrew King, does a mandatory daily history update plus a lot more that I am still learning about. Andrew has already given me some great historical information, advice, and general guidance.

And retired NT policeman Mark McAdie. Mark has put together his story about the history of the Darwin Police Stations, which really grabbed my imagination.

I first had to win over Mark's confidence in me and what I had in mind, as he didn't know me from a bar of soap.

My idea was to gather up all of Mark's stories that are told individually over many Facebook posts, and gather them into one story on one website page.

With the modern tools that are available to us, I could make it into an interactive page. Using Facebook and Google Street View links, which includes overhead maps, I could move between Facebook stories, and the web page. Readers can put comments on either site, and add to, or correct these stories.

I may be wrong (I often am), but I don't think this has been done before, that is, a full set of interactive tools being used in a system that should in this case, grow interest in the history of Darwin. Rainbow unfortunately changed over to a private group in July 2021, and killed this option off for me.

History is about research, and the best rendition you can get of the truth. As people pass on, that history dies with them. Record it while we can.

Me, I just went from tourist to historian, and loving it.

Don McKenzie

Foreword by Mark McAdie Oct-2021

I retired eleven years ago, and moved to NSW last year from the NT, where I had been a resident for fifty years.  I spend 35 of those years in the Police Force and for the last fifteen years was President of the NT Police Museum and Historical Society.  In conjunction with the society, I published a pictorial history of the Police Force to celebrate the 150th Year of Policing in the NT last year.

Darwin's First Police Station. 1870 -1874

Click on image to enlarge to full size.

Photo and Description Mark McAdie - Darwin History FB Page.

"Police Station and Barracks 1870 -1874".

Photo: Info from Mike Owen:
The image is in the collection of SLSA B9734 'Palmerston, Medical Officer's Quarters and Senior Surveyor's Quarters ca 1870'. It bears similarities with the Warden's Office and may have been relocated from Escape Cliffs hence the sapling wall repair at one end, bodged up windows & a tin roof.

The recent upload of the 1875 Darwin Police Station has triggered me to do a series on Darwin Police Stations.  So here it is - beginning with the first one.  

If you search the internet you will be generally shown a picture of a building as the 'first Darwin Police Station".  Sadly, that building is not the first.  This building is the first.  The story goes like this - when Foelsch and his small detachment of five men arrived in Darwin in January 1870, there had been no thought given to their accommodations.  Fortunately, Dr. Peel was departing.

Port Darwin on the ship Foelsche arrived on and 'gifted' his house to the arriving police. The building on the left of the photo was the first Darwin Police Station and Police Barracks until 1874, though it may actually be the obscured building behind it, the sources are a bit unclear...

Approximate position at the corner of Anchorage and Jervois in the Port of Darwin – the building was, I believe at the foot of Fort Hill – which has long since been removed in Goyder’s Camp which was in the valley between Fort Hill and the Darwin Escarpment.

Darwin's Second Police Station. 1870

Photo: Library & Archives NT
Photographer: Foelsche, P. (Paul), 1831-1914
Citation address:
Description: Police Station, Palmerston, built 1870.

For much of 1870 the Police were not in Darwin because they were initially  required to spend their time with the Overland Telegraph work parties as that was what they had been sent from Adelaide to do.

Towards the end of the year, however, the Government Resident required them to build this building, the
second Police Station and the one most often wrongly referred to as the 'first'.

The construction was a sore point with the police as they did not see it, and cutting the timber for the Resident's home (which he also ordered them to do), as their job.  In the end they balked at putting the roof on.  The roof was finished by day labour. This building was at the corner of Mitchell Street and the Esplanade, roughly where the ramp down to the Supreme Court Building underground car park is.

The Third Police Station 

Photo: Northern Territory Library. Taken 1879.

The police station is the building on the right of the photo

Darwin's Fourth Police Station. 1874

Andrew King. Darwin History Facebook Page.

"Police Barracks 1876". View of the Police Office on the corner of The Esplanade and Mitchell Street.

From: Foelsche Photograph Album Notes: Bound in brown morocco leather gilt and blind-stamped on front, back and spine with moiré silk end papers. Inside front cover stamped at lower right "J.B.B.& Co. No.120". MS in pencil on recto of front free end paper "A. Searcy". Physical Description: 1 photograph album : 40 leaves ; 24.3 x 31.0 cm.Language: English Subject: Northern Territory -- Photographs

The Fifth Police Station 1875. The Esplanade.

Original Photo Source: SLSA 1870
Citation address: https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+10126

The 1875 (and fourth) Police station was directly opposite the front door of what we now know as Government House.  It seems that the Government Resident developed a hankering for the building and, in 1879, decided to build a new Police Station (the fifth in just nine years) just along the Esplanade so that he could take this building for his and Government Offices. The building to the left of this photo with the workers out front was to be the Darwin Police Station from late 1879 until 19th February 1942.  

This photo was taken as it neared completion in 1879.  The building (rebuilt) is now one of the two buildings that comprises the Administrator's Offices in the Esplanade. It is the building closest to Government House today.

On 19th February 1942, the fifth Darwin Police Station was damaged when a piece of the SS Zealandia came through the roof of the Inspector's Office and embedded itself in the concrete floor when it exploded in Darwin Harbour. This led to two related events....First, the Police abandoned the Police Station, second the Police Station was later commandeered by the Royal Australian Navy for its Darwin Operations. For the following six weeks, as long as the NT Police maintained civilian policing operations in Darwin, they operated from two adjacent abandoned houses in McMinn Street, one of which belonged to a Mr Devereaux who was a civil engineering contractor. One was the sixth Police Station, the other acted as Police Barracks in lieu of the Barracks in Mitchell Street which were badly damaged in the first raid by the Japanese on Darwin. In early April, at the direction of the Superintendent, all Police in Darwin were withdrawn and given other duties. A Police Officer Constable Lionel McFarland remained on duty at the Parap Police Station, apparently for much of the duration of the war.

Although the building above and the one in the attached photo look identical they are really not the same building the current building is a faithful replica of the original which was all but destroyed by Tracy.
This original building is shown below in a 1938 photograph.

The Sixth Police Station 

I really do not have a good fix on the location of station 6 – it was in McMinn Street and would have been at the port end of that street, I think – this is just an approximation

 You will see that this has some appeal to me in part because it is at the corner of McMinn and Foelsche Street but it also fits what little information I have.

The Seventh Police Station 1945.

The house at Lot 320 or 321 Cavenagh Street Darwin.

Photo: Australian War memorial collection.

The NT Police remained effectively absent from Darwin until the middle of 1945 when a small detachment was sent to Darwin to re-establish civilian policing in a Darwin that was returning to normal.  

They initially opened a Police Station (the seventh) in a house on either lot 320 or 321 Cavenagh Street, Darwin.  Both houses belonged to Harry Chan, who would later be Lord Mayor of Darwin.  The second house was presumably used for accommodation, which was at the time scarce in Darwin.  

There can be no doubt about the timing of this, given that the sign at the front of the Police Station appears on the next police station.

Again this is more of a best guess – though  am more sure of this than the last….

The Eighth Police Station Bennett Street.

Photo: Unknown


In 1946, when the Headquarters Component of the NT Police needed accommodation, the government initially leased, and then bought the pre-war Mendes Building in Bennett Street.  

At first, it housed the Headquarters and the Police Station as well as some other government units.  It ultimately housed Police Headquarters, the eighth Police Station and some single officer's accommodation. Although in this picture is still bears the sign of Police Headquarters by the early 1960's
Headquarters was moved to a building in Daly Street that had been Police Barracks for a time, where Tomaris Flats is now situated at the corner of Smith Street.

By the early 1960s it was, as is well remembered by old Darwin Hands, the Bennett Street Police Station.  It was damaged in Cyclone Tracy and was demolished in 1975.

Ninth Police Station 1970 

Original Photo Source: Northern Territory Library.

By the early 1970's both Police Headquarters (in what is now Browns Mart) and the Police Station in Bennett Street had become inadequate as accommodation for an expanding Police Force.  The Commissioner WJ "Bill" McLaren lobbied Government for new accommodation two new buildings were built in Mitchell Street at the corner of Mitchell and Bennett Street.  

The first was a new Police Headquarters which was quickly followed by a new Police Station, connected via an enclosed 'sally port' which allowed for the safe transfer of prisoners from
vehicles to Police Watchhouse (cells).  Both buildings were pivotal to the Police response to Cyclone Tracy.

Tenth - Berrimah Police Station 1985

Photo: Unknown

Commissioner Peter McAulay had reached the conclusion that a city the size of Darwin (population then approximately 75,000) could not support multiple police stations and given the layout of the city and the growth that was planned to occur in what was to be Palmerston and Litchfield Shire that a police station
situated in Berrimah would be best placed to meet the needs of Darwin into the foreseeable future.  

As a consequence, both Darwin and Casuarina Police Station were closed, and a central base of operations set up at the Berrimah Police Centre. The Berrimah Police Centre therefore became the tenth Darwin Police Station in 1985.  It was, as we will see, not a popular change, either in the Police Force or with the public at large.

This eleventh police station opened in 1989.

Photo: Unknown

Even the Police Commissioner does not really get the final say in Police Operational matters.  The demand for police stations from the public does not recognise operational realities and is driven by perceptions of policing that are not necessarily in sync with how Policing is undertaken.  

The public place a premium on a permanent police presence on the ground.  This eventually led to a review of the closure of the Darwin Police Station.  Because the changes were driven by the public and not by operational need, the return to a Darwin Police Station came about in stages.  The first stage was the opening of a “Police Office” which was merely a front counter in a shop in Harry Chan Arcade next to the then Woolworths in Smith Street.  

The number of staff operating out of this office was gradually increased and the daily coverage of operating times was also gradually increased. This eleventh police station opened in 1989.  The photo is of the building some years later after it had been refurbished into an office building.

The Twelfth Darwin Police Station.

In 1990, the Harry Chan police shopfront had become inadequate for the increasing number of Police operating out of it.

As a result, the Police Force negotiated a return to the Mitchell Street premises that had been the ninth Police Station. However, a combination of the need and the availability of the building meant that only the lower floor of the building at the rear (which had been the Property Office in the ninth Police Station), in West Lane was leased.

This was the twelfth Darwin Police Station. No photo is available - if you have one I would be pleased to have a copy.

The Thirteenth Darwin Police Station on the occasion of its closure.

Photo: Unknown

By 1995, changing policy within the Police Force led to a decision to open a new fully staffed police station in Darwin.  By this time, the remainder of the ninth Police Station in Mitchell Street had become available and, ironically, the thirteenth and ninth Police Stations were effectively the same building.

The primary difference between these two police stations was that due to the Watchhouse facilities at the Peter McAulay Centre being newer and much more modern, the cells at Mitchell Street were never put into use as a permanent watchhouse, though it was staffed once or twice as an alternate watchhouse. The photo depicts the staff of the thirteenth Darwin Police Station on the occasion of its closure.

Google street view:

Fourteenth Darwin Police Station

Photo: Mark McAdie 2016

The site in Mitchell Street had simply become too valuable to remain in Government hands and it was sold out from under the Police Force to the Territory Insurance Office for redevelopment.  

They owned it for a year or two before demanding to take possession in 2001.  The Police Force planned to develop a new Police Station in a public/private partnership with Randazzo Developments, but the time frame was much longer than allowed by the TIO.  This led to the identification of a temporary Police Station at 79 Smith Street, Darwin.  The building in question had, for some time been known as the MLC Building and the part to be occupied by the police had, until a short time before, been occupied by the Automobile Association of the NT (AANT).

Arrangements, including some minimal modifications to the building, were soon made and the Darwin Police Station was moved to 79 Smith Street in the latter half of 2001.

Again, I have no good photo of this Police station but here is one of the car park.

Google street view:???

The Fifteenth and present Darwin Police Station.

Photo: Mark McAdie

The fourteenth Darwin Police station was always intended to be temporary and  after two years of development, a new station (the Fifteenth and present Darwin Police Station) was opened in Knuckey Street, in the Mitchell Centre, Mitchell Street in 2003.  

The Knuckey Street Police Station is unusual in that whilst the front counter is in a shopfront on Knuckey Street, the remainder of the Police Station is on the Second (Watchouse), Third and Fourth Floors of that tower, ground floor space is a development such as this is just too valuable to be used for office space.  

At the time of the opening parts of the upper floors of the building were used to house offices of Executive management of the Police Force, including the Commissioner of Police.  

By tradition, the Headquarters of the Police Force is where the Commissioner’s Office is so for a time, this building was also Police Headquarters.

Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Darwin stories, its history,  and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, Don...

5/5 - (4 votes)

Last Updated on October 24, 2021

You may also be interested in reading these Related Articles...
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}