Darwin has a long relationship with the nations of the Pacific rim. Shortly after the city was founded in 1863, 186 laborers arrived from Singapore to work in the Northern Territory gold mines, and by the end of the century, Asians easily outnumbered European settlers. Today, the impact of the Asian community on the city is easy to see when you drive from Harry Chan Avenue, named after one of Darwin's two Chinese mayors, to the Mindil Beach Market, one of several Asian markets in the city. Given Darwin's relative isolation from the rest of Australia and its proximity to Asian national and industrial capitals, it is little wonder that it has become Australia's "gateway to Asia."
Whereas Asians account for about seven percent of Australia's total population about a quarter of Darwin's population is of Asian origin. In fact, Indonesian is taught in schools, and soccer teams play in Singapore. Although sizeable, the Asian community is not the only cultural influence here. Over 50 ethnic groups live in Darwin, including Greeks and Italians, who settled in the early 20th century. In fact, Paspaley Pearls, one of the wealthiest companies in Darwin, was founded by a Greek settler.
Amid this multi-cultural backdrop, Australia's "Asian capital" looks hopefully north, establishing a Trade Development Zone to cultivate economic relationships with Asian markets. With its large Asian population and drive for more Pacific rim economic ties, Darwin is on the vanguard and may provide a social blueprint for Australia's future.