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Daly Waters

Daly Waters is a small outback town in Australia's Northern Territory, just off the Stuart Highway, about 620km south of Darwin and roughly 850km north of Alice Springs. Although it's permanent population has never reached three figures, the township has a well documented heritage. It is famous for having Australia's first international airport, the oldest pub in the Territory and as a significant breakthrough during the explorer John McDouall Stuart's first crossing of the continent from north to south.

 In May, 1861, Stuart's party entered the area whilst heading north, where they importantly found water, and named it Daly Waters after the then Governor of South Australia, Sir Dominic Daly. Reaching here for the party was a milestone after finally breaking through difficult thorny scrub which had thwarted the previous expeditions. The John McDouall Stuart Heritage Trail around the edge of the town follows a route designed to commemorate 150 years of Stuart's achievements on crossing the continent and back again. The walk (1hr, graded easy) is flat and marked by red arrows; a brochure with a map inside is available from the Daly Waters Pub. Stuart's feat of exploration paved the way for the Overland Telegraph Line, which opened up communications between Australia and the rest of the world.


The area's traditional Aboriginal owners, the Jingili people, believe the Dreaming tracks of the Emu and the Sun travelled through here en route to what is today the southern parts of the Northern Territory. It wasn't until the 1820's when the first permanent inhabitation was established here by European settlers when Mr and Mrs Bill Pearce opened up a 'Drover's Store' which still stands today in the form of the Daly Waters Pub. The original building is still intact and contains an array of historical artefacts. The town was built with the help of the Jingili people, although they do not live here anymore.


The Daly Waters Airfield (above) opened its hangar doors for the London to Sydney air race of 1926. An important staging post in the early days of aviation, Amy Johnson landed here on her famous flight from England to Australia in 1930. During that decade, it became an international airport, serving as a refuelling place for the early Qantas flights. The Pearce family were responsible for the servicing of aircraft and feeding passengers at the airfield here for many years, including military aircraft during World War II when it acted as a rear guard during the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. Suring the war years, it also served as a stop for the evacuation of civilians from enemy territory with up to six aircraft every fifteen minutes landing here at peak times. The hangar itself is the oldest in the Territory.


The Daly Waters Pub (above), previously mentioned, was constructed by Bill Pearce using Cypress Pine, which is resistant to attack by termites. Forming the centrepiece of the township, its interior today is certainly worth a visit as it contains a bewildering array of business cards, t-shirts, bras, banknotes, licence plates and all sorts of memorabilia from passing travellers wishing to leave their own mark (as did this page's author!). The pub has had a liquor licence since 1893 and is a popular place to stop for people travelling up or down the Stuart Highway. This far flung outback establishment is well known for its "world famous" Beef & Barra which is served from the BBQ every evening from April to September. At other times, a range of meals are also available, including barra burgers.

The building above was first used as a post office. Daly Waters grew in size in the early post-war years which meant a post office was required to replace the old telegraph station. The new exchange and post office was completed in 1951. In 1963, it was converted into a police station, which opened in 1964, operating as a shared facility. Both the exchange and post office continued here until they were transferred in the 1970's. The building has seen many other uses, including as a courthouse, dentists, informal school and community centre.

The Stuart Tree (above) is another attraction of the township. When Stuart stayed here, camping for 14 days in 1862, he is reputed to have carved his initial "S" into this tree which stands just outside the town. Today, all that is left is apparently a feint mark on the tree which is now just a stump (please contact us if you know where the "S" is!). For many years, the tree was part of the nearby telegraph station and was barely noted until the early years of World War II with the influx of military personnel who took an interest in it, subsequently erecting a fence around it and putting a plaque in place, in response to a request from the civil administration.


1. Exploring the Stuart Highway and Oodnadatta Track Adelaide to Darwin. Balhannah, SA: Tourist Information Distributors Australia.
2. In situ public information boards and literature.
3. Rawlings-Way, C., Worby, M. and Brown, L. (2013). Central Australia. Footscray, Vic.: Lonely Planet.

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