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The complete guide for graduates moving to Darwin

Jaymes Carr

Moving to Darwin as a graduate offers tropical, balmy winters and unique opportunities. Check out these tips on how grads can make a smooth transition.

Do you want to impress your friends (or possibly bore them to death)? Here’s a trivia question that should do the trick: how did the city of Darwin get its name? As it turns out, the first Europeans to visit Darwin sailed aboard the H.M.S Beagle, which, on a previous expedition, had carried the naturalist Charles Darwin throughout the tropics (including to the Galapagos Islands, where he began to develop his ideas concerning evolution).

Hence, in 1839, when the H.M.S Beagle entered a harbour and named it after Darwin, Charles Darwin himself was back in England publishing a memoir that he named... The Voyage of the Beagle. (At this point, you should pause to gauge the reaction of your friends: are they impressed? Or bored? Perhaps it’s best not to push your luck either way.)

The city of Darwin sits on a low promontory overlooking Darwin Harbour and, for many thousands of years, was inhabited exclusively by its traditional custodians, the Larrakia (or Gulumirrgin) people. Nowadays, Darwin is home to about 146,000 people, making it the largest city in the Northern Territory, but the smallest capital city in Australia. Despite its size, Darwin is still an important employment hub, especially for graduates launching careers in mining, tourism, and the defence force.

Pros and cons

Pros

You can connect to the rich history of Australia’s Indigenous people

To be fair, this isn’t more true in Darwin than it is in Australia’s other capital cities, all of which were occupied by Indigenous Australians for up to 80,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. However, Darwin has a higher proportion of Indigenous residents than the other state capitals and also functions as a gateway to the many Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory. This makes it an especially rewarding place to learn more about the history and culture of Australia’s first people, whether by attending a Larrakia event, visiting the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, or go on a cultural tour led by an Aboriginal guide.

Darwin has are more markets than a single marketer could ever market

There will be more on this in the shopping section of this guide: for now, you should know that Darwin has markets throughout the year that sell fresh produce, art, clothing, crafts, shoes, food, and practically everything else. Given that it has a six-month dry season during which it is sunny every day, it makes sense that Darwin has become the place for people who prefer to shop outside.

It’s easy to stay in touch with nature

In the next section, you’ll learn about all the ways in which Darwin can make it a little too easy to stay in touch with nature. But, assuming you avoid the crocodiles and irukandji, Darwin offers a wealth of pleasant ways in which you can clear your head and connect with the natural world. For example. Its many parks and gardens, such as the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens and East Point Reserve, are criss-crossed with hiking trails and cycling paths. You can also visit a butterfly farm, have a safe crocodile encounter, or go on a day-trip to the genuinely stunning Litchfield National Park

Darwin Florence Falls

Fireworks are legal (once a year)

Territory Day happens on the first of July each year and celebrates the Northern Territory achieving self-governance on 1 July 1978. In the lead up to Territory Day, you can buy fireworks. Isn’t that cool? It’s pretty cool. Before you stock up, read this short guide by the Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service. Pro-tip: don’t light a firework that you’re holding and point it at somebody. That’s stupid and dangerous (and something some people still do…). Also, don’t let off fireworks on any day that isn’t Territory Day. It’s illegal.

Cons

There are crocodiles everywhere. No, but seriously.

Darwin is the place where all of the jokes about Australian wildlife, and its determination to kill you, become strangely relevant and, as a result, hardly a joking matter. So let’s state this particular downside with appropriate seriousness: saltwater crocodiles are extremely dangerous to people and pets. (Look how big they are!) Over the past decade and a half, the number of fatal crocodile attacks has increased.

Crocodiles are present in all waterways in the Northern Territory and are sometimes even seen in Darwin Harbour. In fact, Darwin has more crocodiles than anywhere else in the world. Consequently, it is never 100% safe to enter bodies of water (this includes lagoons, lakes, the ocean, waterways, canals, and so on). Never. You should only swim in areas that are clearly marked as designated swimming spots. Even then… you guessed it! There’s no guarantee that those areas are safe or free from saltwater crocodiles.

To recap: there are crocodiles everywhere. You will not survive an encounter with one. Be safe. Don’t be stupid. Also, here is a list of public pools in Darwin.

Do not underestimate the danger of crocodiles. Never enter their habitats, provoke them, feed them, pursue them, smile at them, or go anywhere near them. Crocodiles of all sizes are dangerous. In the unlikely event that you survive an attack, call emergency services (000) immediately.  

It’s not just crocodiles…

First of all, kudos for finding a designated swimming spot and following appropriate safety protocols to minimise the risk of a crocodile encounter. Before you enter the water though, you should know that crocodiles (sadly) aren’t the only iconic death-machines floating around Darwin. Thus, a second rule: never swim in the sea between October and May, because that is the season for box jellyfish.

Locals call them ‘stingers’, but that’s a bit like calling a crocodile a ‘smoocher’: the box jellyfish is the most venomous creature on the planet and can kill a person in two to five minutes. Most box jellyfish are too small (1 cm3) and transparent to be seen with the naked eye.

Of course, there’s some comforting news too. The box jellyfish has only managed to kill 64 people since 1883. But clinics in the Northern Territory admit around 40 people with jellyfish stings each year. Thanks to modern antivenoms, most survive, but only after experiencing immediate and excruciating pain followed, in some cases, by the feared Irukandji syndrome: a combination of agony, nausea, hemorrhaging, and ‘a sense of impending doom’. As with crocodiles, it is imperative that you follow safety protocols. Again, here is that list of public pools in Darwin.

Do not underestimate the dangers of box jellyfish. Even dried out box jellyfish (i.e. on the beach) can discharge their stingers, causing injury or death, if rehydrated. Some symptoms take time to develop. If you are stung, contact emergency services (000) immediately.

It’s not inconceivable that crocodiles and box jellyfish, held aloft by a tropical cyclone, might come to you.

The wet season in Darwin brings with it the threat of tropical cyclones. On three occasions (in 1897, 1937, and 1974) cyclones have flattened the city, leading it to be almost entirely rebuilt. In March 2018, Cyclone Marcus left tens of thousands of Darwin residents without power or drinking water.

In the event of a cyclone warning, it is critically important that you follow the advice laid out in the Northern Territory Emergency Service cyclone action guide and, if your own home is unsuitable, seek refuge in a public shelter.

Rent and cost of living

How much is rent in Darwin?

According to Domain’s April 2018 quarterly report, the median weekly asking rent for a house in Darwin is $530, while the median weekly asking rent for a unit is $410. Seem high? That’s because it is: Darwin’s median rent is higher than in Melbourne and just less than in Sydney and Canberra.

There are various reasons for this: a shortage of older properties (very little survived Cyclone Tracy in 1974); an influx of workers tied to the mining boom, which drove up demand in Darwin (with prices only starting to flatten out now); the fact that long-term tenants in Darwin must compete for rental properties with a significant population of transient workers; and the limited options available to people who work in Darwin. While graduates employed in the Sydney CBD can choose to commute from, say, Wollongong to save on rent, those employed in Darwin must live in Darwin too.

Whether or not rent in Darwin will come down is a controversial and inconclusive subject. If you are moving to Darwin to work, you would do well to investigate the Northern Territory’s affordable rentals scheme, which provides subsidized accommodation to employees in key service industries such as transport and logistics, health and emergency services, and education.  

Key resources

How much will I spend on everyday purchases in Darwin?

The latest edition of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Household Expenditure Report (published September 2017) concluded that Darwin is the most expensive city in Australia when it comes to goods and services. The report found that Darwinites spend an average of $1700 per week on common expenditures such as rent, fuel, power, groceries, health and education.  According to the price aggregation website Numbeo, one litre of milk in Darwin is about $1.60; monthly utilities costs (excluding internet) are $304.66; a movie ticket is $21; one kilogram of tomatoes is $5.40; and a meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant is $72.00.

Darwin Convention Centre at Wharf Precinct

Where in Darwin should I live?

Real talk: your options in Darwin, the nation’s smallest capital city, are not going to be particularly extensive. Darwin is divided into four wards: Chan Ward, Lyons Ward, Richardson Ward, and Waters Ward.

Chan Ward contains various suburbs north of Darwin, including Rapid Creek, home of Darwin’s oldest (and largest market); Coconut Grove, named for the clusters of coconuts on its coastal fringe; and Nightcliff, one of Darwin’s most popular suburbs, and the site of a long, coastal cycling and jogging path.  

Lyons Ward is the largest of Darwin’s wards and home to the Darwin CBD itself. As a result, it also contains many of Darwin’s most notable public spaces, such as its Parliament, Government House, the Northern Territory Supreme Court, Bicentennial Park and the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. Other significant suburbs in Lyons Ward include Parap, well-known for its multiculturalism and famous markets; Larrakeyah, a densely populated residential suburb; and Bayview, one of Darwin’s most expensive suburbs.

Richardson Ward contains additional suburbs north of the Darwin CBD, including Casuarina, home to Darwin’s largest shopping centre; Brinkin, which is where you’ll find the Casuarina campus of Charles Darwin University; and Tiwi, which contains Darwin’s only public-only hospital.

Karama Ward is the smallest of the wards and contains suburbs such as Berrimah, an industrial area that also boasts a jail (neat!); Malak, a residential suburb with various parks and community facilities; and Karama, which contains a shopping plaza.

If you move to Darwin, you may find yourself working in one of its two satellite cities: Palmerston, which is the second largest city in the Northern Territory, about 15 minutes drive away from the Darwin CBD; or Litchfield; which is primarily a rural-residential area.  

Tips for choosing a place to live

The question of where you should live in a new city (or the one you already call home) is not a trivial one: in fact, copious amounts of research has shown that where you live can have marked impact on measures of satisfaction, well-being, and mental health. The effects are seen when one switches cities or suburbs, and can even reflect how close one lives to a main road or busy intersection.

As a result, experts advise people to consider their options carefully before relocating. To give yourself the best chance of being satisfied with your address, you should choose a suburb where your income is at least as high as the median income; minimise the length of your commute; aim, if appropriate, to put off moving again for as long as possible; consider how a new address will impact the accessibility of parks, gardens and other restorative natural environments; and, whenever possible, choose locations where you will be able to embed yourself more easily in a social network (for example, by living close to other young professionals), supportive communities, and people with similar interests or cultural concerns.

Of course, moving house brings with it a large number of practical considerations, many of which will be unique to you and your interests. The following questions are intended to provide some clarity as you research your options and navigate the inevitable compromises of rental life:

  1. Where is the suburb?
  2. How valuable to you are space and privacy?
  3. Do you prefer city, suburban, or rural environments?
  4. Do you own a car? If not, is there reliable public transport (or safe cycleways)?
  5. How will your choice of suburb affect commuting times?
  6. Is it important for you to live near good restaurants? Fresh food markets? Beaches?
  7. What’s your budget?
  8. Where do you work?
  9. How long do you plan to live in your next house?
  10. Do you need access to a big outdoor area (or a yard)?
  11. Do you enjoy solitude or would you prefer to be nearer to the nightlife?
  12. Is it important for you to live somewhere with a strong sense of local community?
  13. Would you like to live close to a shopping centre? A local library? A swimming pool? A train station?
  14. Have you considered how you might build (or maintain) social connections when you move? Will the suburb you choose affect this?
  15. Can you learn more about the suburb to determine whether or not you’d be a good cultural fit for the area?
  16. What’s the local arts and culture scene like? Is this very important to you?
  17. Are there any local parks, reserves, or other open spaces?
  18. What’s the local crime rate like?
  19. Will you have adequate broadband and mobile coverage?
  20. How does your suburb compare to other suburbs? (NB: This can be one of the hardest questions to answer when you’re new to an area. If possible, it’s always best to ask a trusted local for their opinion.)

How do I find flats, apartments, or a room in a sharehouse? What about flatmates?

There are a variety of tools that you can use to look for accommodation and flatmates in Brisbane, some of which are free with basic features (like Gumtree) and others of which charge a fee. Some of the more popular options include:

If you’re on Facebook, it can also be helpful to check whether or not there are any groups for individuals looking to rent or share in different regions of Brisbane.

The job market for graduates in Darwin

In October 2017, the job listing aggregator Adzuna noted that times were tough for job-seeking graduates in some of Australia’s capital cities. For example, in Western Australia, graduates outnumbered graduate roles by 44 to one; in South Australia, 46 graduates jockeyed for each role; in New South Wales, 20. But there’s some good news! Things are different in the Top End, where there are six graduates for each graduate job and an unemployment rate below the national average. This makes Darwin (home to two-thirds of the jobs in the Northern Territory) the best place in the country for graduates to find a job.

Darwin’s largest industries are construction, mining, public administration and safety, healthcare, and education. With a major army base (Robertson Barracks) in Litchfield, Darwin also provides significant employment to members of the armed forces. Over the past decade, Darwin has attracted investment from technological firms, which see it as a potential hub for startups and other business that may benefit from Darwin’s proximity to Asia. This has resulted in the development of the Darwin Innovation Hub (with support from the NT Government) and Rust 490 (a startup incubator).

The Northern Territory Government maintains a list of jobs that are hard to fill in Darwin and the rest of the state. These jobs are in high demand and critical to the local economy: if you’re planning a move to Darwin, it should be very encouraging to find your target job on the list.

When it comes to graduates specifically, the outlook is increasingly positive across the nation, with ‘71.8% of bachelor degree graduates finding full-time employment after graduating in 2017, up from the recent low of 68.1% in 2014’. The most recent Graduate Outcomes Survey (published by the Social Research Centre) confirms that, in 2017, ‘71.8 percent of undergraduates were in full-time employment four months after completing their degree’.

Key resource: use the Northern Territory Government’s website The Territory to learn more about finding employment in the Top End. Use its employee portal to learn more about your rights and responsibilities as a worker, and what you can expect in terms of pay, working conditions, and more.

What do graduates in Darwin earn?

Darwin offers professional graduates competitive salaries that are typically highest in the mining, construction, and health industries.

The following average salaries are taken from the 2018 Hays Salary Guide, which itself draws on a survey of 3,000 businesses in Australia and New Zealand that together employ some 2.3 million people. We’ve included a representative sample of salaries for popular graduate occupations: if yours isn’t listed, consult the GradAustralia website for more information. Note that the average salaries below exclude superannuation.

Salaries in Darwin

Lifestyle in Darwin

Shopping

Darwin is home to the biggest shopping mall in the Northern Territory: Casuarina Square. There you’ll find around 165 retailers, covering everything from fresh bread to school shoes, as well as Coles, K-Mart, Big W, and Woolworths. Other stores can be found at ‘the Mall’, a pedestrian strip on Smith Street that also features restaurants, buskers, and cultural events. In truth, shopping in Darwin isn’t quite the same as shopping in other capital cities. You won’t find Louis Vuitton or Burberry outlets, or even department stores like Myer or David Jones. So, if luxury retailers are something you can’t live without, you may need to adapt or embrace online shopping.

The good news is that Darwin excels at a different type of shopping experience: when it comes to markets, no other capital city can compete with Darwin. The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are the biggest markets in the Northern Territory and open every Thursday and Sunday from May to October. The traffic can be terrible, but the food stalls are worth it, offering everything from Malaysian cuisine and chocolate-filled churros to local craft and produce. For locally grown fruit and vegetables (especially Asian herbs), the Rapid Creek Sunday Market (held every weekend year-round) is unmissable. Other markets to visit include the Nightcliff Markets, the Parap Markets, and the Palmerston Markets.

Mindil Beach, Darwin

Eating

Darwin is more multicultural than Australia as a whole, with 30 percent of its population born overseas. So it’s no surprise to learn that its food scene easily makes up for what it lacks in size with impressive culinary diversity. Its downtown dining hub is located on Mitchell and Knuckey Streets, and offers a range of restaurants, bars, and cafes. Notable restaurants are also found at Cullen Bay, Fannie Bay, Parap, and Stokes Hill Wharf.

Locals agree that, if you’re going to to try one thing in Darwin, it should be laksa from one of the markets (preferably Parap). However, given that you’re planning to live in Darwin, you’ll have the time to try other things as well. So make sure to check out Hanuman (Indian cuisine), Manoli’s Greek Taverna, Giussepe’s (Italian cuisine), and Tim’s Surf and Turf (a seafood and steak restaurant that, in perhaps the most Australian twist imaginable, has its own pet saltwater crocodile).

Entertainment, arts, and culture

Darwin’s entertainment scene is organised around Mitchell Street, which is home to the Darwin Entertainment Centre. There, you’ll be able to catch a play, enjoy stand-up comedy, watch ballet, attend talks and debates, and participate in a wide range of other cultural events. The other main entertainment hub is the Darwin Convention Centre, which has a similar variety of entertainment options, hosts various conferences, and serves as the home of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.

The Top End capital is also home to festivals throughout the year, including the Darwin Festival (an 18-day-long festival and the city’s central cultural event), the Darwin Cup Festival (a horse-racing event), the Arafura Games (a biennial sporting event), BASSINTHEGRASS (a music festival that attracts local and international talents), and the Darwin Beer Can Regatta (which is difficult to explain but basically involves people racing, and sometimes sinking, in boats they’ve made out of beer cans). 

Weekend trips in the Northern Territory

Looking to get out of Darwin and see what else the Northern Territory has to offer? Start with these:

  • Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest national park. It contains waterfalls, wetlands, hikesbirdwatching opportunities, about 10,000 crocodiles, and a huge number of aboriginal rock art sites. A one hour and forty minute drive from Darwin, Kakadu is the perfect destination for a day trip or, if you’re keen to explore, a weekend away.
  • Katherine is 300km south of Darwin (a short flight or a three-and-a-half hour drive). Known as ‘the place where the outback meets the tropics’, Katherine attracts visitors with its gorges, hikes, thermal springs, caves, and a degree of natural beauty that will leave you speechless.
  • The Tiwi Islands are a 20-minute flight from Darwin and compromise a small archipelago, 90% of the inhabitants of which are Indigenous Australians. The best way to visit is to book a guided tour and experience life in a modern Aboriginal community with a thriving art scene and a strong love of football.

Getting around Darwin

Darwin is small enough that (in good weather) you can usually get where you need to go by walking or riding a bike. Indeed, it offers a convenient network of cycling paths and walkways. A caveat though: given Darwin’s sometimes extreme weather, it’s advisable that you avoid long rides during the hottest part of the day, travel with spares (i.e. tubes or puncture repair kits), and account for the possibility of sudden shifts in the weather.

If you’re driving, you’ll find that Darwin offers affordable and easy-to-find parking (parking is free across all of Darwin on the weekend!). Finally, if you rely on public transport, it’s best to familiarise yourself with Darwin’s network of public buses. Note that Darwin does not have a rail system: its single train station is used by The Ghan, an overland train that carries passengers to Alice Springs and Adelaide.

Don’t forget!

We’ve covered the big things that you’ll want to know before moving to Darwin, but it’s important to remember the little things too. Here’s a quick list of resources that will help you make sure that you’ve covered everything.

Legal resources

After moving to Darwin, you’ll need to change your enrolment address and also, if necessary, update your driver’s license. If you require legal advice, you can access free support through the NT Legal Aid Commission. There are various places in the Northern Territory where alcohol is completely banned: learn more about dry areas here.

Health resources

Moving cities can be hard—you’ll have to adapt to a new job, new accommodation, and a new environment, all while building a social network far from the one you left behind. If you require support through the transition, or as a result of other life events, don’t hesitate to avail yourself of free (or affordable) resources dedicated to mental health. These include Lifelineheadspace, and various local organisations. For other health services, including a directory of hospitals and clinics, visit the NT Government Health page.

Financial resources

Need help opening a new bank account? Managing your superannuation? Making a budget? Check out this list of free financial literacy courses, access free advice via the national debt helpline, or use the ASIC Money Smart tool to find a trusted financial counsellor in your area.

If you’re still deciding which part of our great country you’d love to live in, have a browse of our graduate jobs and get ready to start the next chapter of your career!