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Gove and Nhulunbuy

Northern Territory


Community, Business and Visitor Guide

Gove and Nhulunbuy Local History

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The town of Gove and Nhulunbuy are situated in the Northern Territory of Australia and share a rich local history. The region is known for its ancient Indigenous culture and the impact of European exploration in the 19th century.

Before the arrival of European explorers, the land that is now Gove and Nhulunbuy was occupied by Yolngu Aboriginals for thousands of years. These Indigenous peoples interacted with the coastal environment and established a rich cultural heritage that is still preserved and celebrated today.

It was not until the mid-19th century that European explorers began to arrive in the region. In 1838, Captain John Clements Wickham of the HMS Beagle discovered the Goulburn Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria. These islands would serve as a major trading hub for the Macassans, who were Indonesian fishermen and traders who had been visiting the region for hundreds of years.

During this time, European sailors and traders established a presence in the region, and the first official Europeans to visit the Nhulunbuy area were the Dutch in 1623. The Dutch recorded the Indigenous peoples of the region and noted the trade in sea cucumbers and pearls. Throughout the 19th century, the coastline of the area was explored and recorded by European cartographers.

The history of Nhulunbuy began in 1963 when the Australian government granted a mining lease to Rio Tinto to establish a bauxite mine at the nearby Gove Peninsula. The mining operation would require extensive infrastructure, including a port, townsite, and railway. In 1968, the first bauxite was shipped from the Gove Peninsula to the world.

The establishment of the mine led to the creation of the township of Nhulunbuy. The townsite was designed to provide housing, schools, health facilities, and recreational opportunities for the mine’s workforce and their families. The town was also built to accommodate Indigenous residents who were displaced by the mining operation.

The Indigenous peoples in the region have played an important role in the development of the Gove and Nhulunbuy areas. Traditional owners have worked closely with mining companies to ensure that their cultural heritage is respected and protected. The Yolngu people have also established their own economy with an emphasis on tourism, including the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, which showcases Indigenous art and culture.

Nhulunbuy and Gove also have a rich history in sport. The Gove Peninsula Surf Life Saving Club was established in 1980 and continues to provide a vital service to the community. The Gove Netball Association was founded in 1972, and the Gove Junior Football Club was established in 1974.

Today, the Gove Peninsula is a world-renowned bauxite mining site and the region continues to attract visitors from around the globe who come to experience its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. From the ancient Indigenous culture to the impact of European exploration to the establishment of modern infrastructure, the history of the Gove and Nhulunbuy areas is rich, diverse, and ever-evolving.

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