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Last Updated on October 12, 2023

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

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...

Click on any location or date below to take you directly to that item or keep scrolling to see the entire article. 

The Background to this Page

Foreword by Mark McAdie

I retired eleven years ago, (2021) 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 in 2020.

Please Note: This story only coverers Darwin's main operational Police stations, and not satellite stations such as Parap in the past, or Nighcliff's current station.

Retired NT Police Officer, Mark McAdie

An Introduction by Don McKenzie

This is my first Darwin story, so I thought you may like a bit of background to it.

Let me tell you about my journey into preserving history. I stumbled upon a new hobby in April 2021, colorizing historical black and white photos, and soon found myself drawn to Darwin's history. As luck would have it, my daughter introduced me to the "Darwin History" and "Old Darwin" Facebook groups, where I connected with two super-active members, Andrew King and Mark McAdie.

Andrew generously shared his knowledge of Darwin's past, and Mark's fascinating storytelling about the history of Darwin Police Stations captured my imagination. However, I needed Mark's approval to make my idea a reality - to compile all of his stories, previously told individually on Facebook posts, into one comprehensive story on a website page. And to make the page more interactive, I utilized modern tools like Facebook and Google Street View links, including overhead maps, so readers could switch between Facebook stories and the website. Readers could also add comments and corrections to these stories.

My vision was to create a system that would increase interest in Darwin's history. I remain convinced that history should be preserved while it is still possible. I believe that history is about research and the best rendition of the truth, and we should strive to record it before it's lost forever.

And so, I transformed from a tourist to a historian, and I'm loving every moment of it.

Don McKenzie

A recent upload of an image title the 1875 Darwin Police Station to the Darwin Facebook group, triggered me to do a series on the Darwin Police Stations.  

If you search the internet you will generally be shown a picture of a building titled the 'first Darwin Police Station".  Sadly, that building is not the first. The building below is the first.  

1870 - Darwin's First Police Station and Barracks

Photo and Description Mark McAdie - Darwin History FB Page
Photo: Info from Mike Owen

It is believed that when Sub. Inspector Paul Foelsche and his small detachment of troopers arrived in Darwin in January 1870, there had been no thought given to their accommodations.

Fortunately for them, Dr. Robert Peel was departing Port Darwin on the same ship that Foelsche had arrived on. Dr Peel had arrived in Darwin in 1868 as part of Goyder's Survey Expedition and 'gifted' his house to the arriving Police. 

Darwin's First Police Station

Temporary Police Station and Barracks 1870

Old Darwin Police Buildings Colourised

The 'gifted' building is thought to be the one on the left of the photo, and was used as the Police Station and Barracks until 1874. In truth, sources are unclear as to whether this is the building or if the actual building is be obscured behind those in the photograph.

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 and a tin roof.

The location

This property was located at the corner of Anchorage Court and Jervois Road, which is believed to be at the foot of Fort Hill.

This has long since been removed. This area was known at the time as Goyder's Camp and was in the valley between Fort Hill and the Darwin escarpment. 

This is the approximate position of the first Police Station as it looks today.

1870 - 1874  Darwin's Second Police Station

Darwin (Palmerston) Second Police Station
Darwin (Palmerston) Second Police Station

For much of 1870, the Police were not in Darwin. They were initially sent to Darwin from Adelaide to help the work crews with the laying of the Overland Telegraph.

Towards the end of that year however, the Government Resident redirected them to them to build this building for use as a Police Station, as well as his own personal residence. 

The construction was a sore point with the Police as they did not see cutting timber and constructing the Resident's home as their job. In the end they balked at putting the roof on, and so the roof was finished by day labour.

This is the second Police Station and the one most often wrongly referred to as the first Police Station.

This building was located near the corner of Mitchell Street and The Esplanade. It was roughly where the ramp down to the Supreme Court Building underground car park is today.

Darwin Supreme Court House

Approximate location of the 2nd Police Station today.

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

Citation address: https://hdl.handle.net/10070/728521

1874 - 1875 - Darwin's Third Police Station 

Darwin's 3rd Police Station
Darwin's 3rd Police Station Colourised


The Police Station is the building on the right of the photo, closest to the camera. 

Photo: Northern Territory Library. Taken 1879.

1875 - 1880 - Darwin's Fourth Police Station


Andrew King. Darwin History Facebook Page.

"Police Station 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

1880 - 1942 The Fifth Police Station, The Esplanade

The 1875 (and fourth) Police station was directly opposite the front door of what we now know as Government House.

This photo was taken as it neared completion in 1879.  

Darwin Police Station 1875
Darwin Police Station 1875

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

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) further along The Esplanade so that he could take this building for his own and Government Offices. 

The building on the left of this photo (with the workers out the front) was to go on to be the Darwin Police Station from late 1879 until 19th February 1942.

What happened to the 5th Police Station after the Bombing of Darwin

On 19th February 1942, the fifth Darwin Police Station was damaged. When the SS Zealandia exploded in Darwin Harbour, a piece came through roof of the Inspector's Office and embedded itself in the concrete floor. 

This led to two things happening. 

Firstly, the Police abandoning the Police Station after the bombing. For the next six weeks as the NT Police maintained civilian policing operations in Darwin, they operated from two adjacent abandoned houses in McMinn Street. 

This then provided the opportunity for the Royal Australian Navy to commandeer the site of the 5th Police station for its Darwin Operations. 

In early April 1942, at the direction of the Superintendent, all Police in Darwin were withdrawn and given other duties. One Police Officer, Constable Lionel McFarland remained on duty at the Parap Police Station for much of the duration of the war.

This original building as shown in a 1938 photograph.

Although these buildings 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 Cyclone Tracy in 1974. 

The rebuilt building is now one of the two buildings that comprises the Administrator's Offices on The Esplanade. It is the building that is closest to Government House today.

1942 - 1942 The Sixth Police Station

After the 5th Police Station on The Esplanade was abandoned due to damage during the first bombing raid on Darwin in February, 1942, the NT Police continued operations from two adjacent abandoned houses in McMinn Street. 

Updated 5-April-2022.

After further investigation, I now believe that the Police Station and Barracks are in the photo above. Circled in Green.

Mark McAdie
It does fit what little description we have of that police station, in which case the elevated house is probably the one that was used as a police station.

That is not only my thought on the station, but it is on the corner I have always mentally pictured it on. Thanks very much for the feedback Mark.

One of these houses became the sixth Police Station, while the other acted as Police Barracks. This was in lieu of the Barracks in Mitchell Street which were also badly damaged in the first raid by the Japanese on Darwin. 

Six weeks after the first bombs fell in Darwin, in April 1942 all Police in Darwin were withdrawn and given other duties.

There really isn't a good fix on the location of Station 6. An approximation is that it was in McMinn Street and would have been at the Port end of that street. The corner is McMinn and Foelsche Street which fits what little information is known. 

1945 - 1946  The Seventh Police Station

The Northern Territory Police remained effectively absent from Darwin until the middle of 1945. A small detachment was sent to Darwin to re-establish civilian policing in a Darwin which was starting to return to normal.  

The 7th Police Station was initially opened in a house on either Lot 320 or Lot 321 Cavenagh Street, Darwin.

The 7th Darwin Police Station
The 7th Darwin Police Station

Photo: Australian War memorial collection.

Both houses belonged to Harry Chan, who would later be Lord Mayor of Darwin. The second house was presumably used for accommodation which was scarce in Darwin at that time.

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, the location is a best guess although this location is more probable than the previous Police Station. 

1946 - 1970  The Eighth Police Station

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. 

Photo Source: Unknown

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.

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.

Today, this where Tomaris Flats is now situated, at the corner of Smith Street.

1970 - 1985  The Ninth Police Station

By the early 1970's, both the 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. 

Commissioner WJ "Bill" McLaren lobbied the Government for new accommodation. Two new buildings were built in Mitchell Street, at the corner of Mitchell and Bennett Streets.

1970 - Darwin Police Station
1970 - Darwin Police Station

Original Photo Source: Northern Territory Library.

The first was a new Police Headquarters which was quickly followed by a new Police Station. These were 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.

1985 - 1989  The Tenth Police Station

Commissioner Peter McAulay, had reached the conclusion that a city the size of Darwin (which had a population then of approximately 75,000) could not support multiple Police Stations.  

Given the layout of the city and the growth that was planned to occur in what was to be Palmerston and Litchfield Shire, it was decided that a police station situated in Berrimah would be best placed to meet the needs of Darwin into the foreseeable future.

Berrimah Police Station
Berrimah Police Station

Photo: Unknown - Peter McAulay Centre

As a consequence of the new centre, both the Darwin City and Casuarina Police Stations were closed, and the central base of operations was set up at the Berrimah Police Centre.

The Centre in Berrimah therefore became the tenth Darwin Police Station in 1985. This was not a popular change, either within the Police Force or with the public at large.

1989 - Darwin's Eleventh Police Station is Opened

Photo: Unknown

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. 

Even the Police Commissioner does not really get the final say in Police Operational matters. 

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”. This was merely a front counter in a shop in Harry Chan Arcade next to the old 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.

1990 - 1995  The Twelfth Darwin Police Station

By 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 became the twelfth Darwin Police Station.

No Image Available

No photo is available - if you have one I would be pleased to have a copy.

1995 - 2001  The Thirteenth Darwin Police Station

By 1995, changing policy within the Police Force led to a decision to open a new fully staffed police station in Darwin city.

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 the Watchhouse facilities at the Peter McAulay Centre were newer and much more modern. This meant the cells at Mitchell Street were never put into use as a permanent watchhouse, although 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.  Source: Unknown.

2001 - 2003  The Fourteenth Darwin Police Station

Photo: Mark McAdie 2016

The site in Mitchell Street had become too valuable to remain in Government hands and it was sold out from under the Police Force to the Territory Insurance Office (TIO) for redevelopment. TIO owned it for a year or two before demanding possession in 2001.

The Police Force had 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 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.

2003 - Current  The Fifteenth Police Station

Photo: Mark McAdie

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...

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Last Updated on October 12, 2023

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