Mandalay Luxury Stay is located in an important historic context along The Esplanade, between Knuckey and Peel Streets.
Originally known as Lot 654, it was the site of a large bungalow style residence which was occupied in the 1930s and then again after the war by Supreme Court Justice Wells. Whilst not definite, it seems that the house was built at about the time Wells arrived in the Territory in 1933.
Wells was a notable and controversial figure in the Territory's legal history. He made a number of erratic decisions in the 1930s and he seems to have rejoiced in being able to find against the government in substantial cases, especially those involving his local adversary, the Administrator Aubrey Abbott. He heard a number of very controversial cases involving Aborigines, including the Nemarluk case. During the war, Wells remained in the Territory and did useful judicial and other work. This was his finest hour.
Wells retired in 1952 and died in 1954. Later, the house was taken over and occupied by the Health branch of the NT Administration. Later still, it was the site of part of the government hostel development until the 1980s.
Then the site was redeveloped in 1988 into the present stone cottages by Lord Alastair McAlpine. He will most notably be remembered for his love of fine Australian art and constructing quality developments such as Perth's first luxury hotel, the Parmelia and Broome's famous Cable Beach Club.
On adjoining lot 655 (which makes up part of the full complex of 80 The Esplanade) A Sidney Williams hut was also built by the Navy, for storage purposes. The hut was located against the common boundary with Lot 654. Post-war, the hut was part of a complex of government offices located in several Sidney Williams huts which had been built during the war, between The Esplanade and Mitchell Street. The complex included the Legislative Council/Supreme Court buildings; the Customs Office and the Magistrates Court.
On 16 February 1948 the Northern Territory Legislative Council had its first meeting in one of those Sidney Williams huts (see photo).The Council was the constitutional forerunner of the president fully elected Legislative Assembly for the self-governing Northern Territory. The creation of the Council was a major milestone in the Territory's constitutional evolution.
An interesting vignette of the Sidney Williams hut era for the Legislative Council is that a waterbag was hung outside the hut so that legislators could have a drink of cool water - there was no other refreshment.
The Northern Territory Supreme Court moved into the Sidney Williams hut which had been used by the Council, sometime after February 1948. It seems that for a time it shared the building with the Legislative Council (which met for only a few days in each year). The Supreme Court used the building until 1965, where it moved to a new building next to the present Parliament House site.
The Darwin Oval
It is worth noting that the area across The Esplanade from Mandalay, now part of Bicentennial Park, was the site of a cricket ground from the early 1870s. Later, the area became known as the Darwin Oval or Town Oval. It was Darwin's primary recreational facility until the 1960s.
From 1940 an anti-aircraft battery was based at The Oval. Encampments for the battery spread toward The Esplanade, in front of Lot 654.
Lameroo baths were located on the harbour foreshore, almost directly in front of the Mandalay. The baths were created on that site in about 1915 and were a most important and appreciated Darwin recreational facility until after Parap pool opened in the 1950s.
Stone Buildings in Darwin's history
Most of Darwins early substantial buildings were built of porcellanite stone which is abundantly available around Darwin. It underlies the entire town area at shallow depths. It is exposed in the cliff faces around the harbour. It is a good building material, attractive and easily worked. However, it is permeable and 'rising damp' and other moisture can cause serious decay.
The pioneer white settlers of Darwin were from South Australia and they brought with them the strong South Australian tradition of building in stone. They used porcellanite to create most of the more important government buildings, and some private buildings, in the early years of the town, especially during the gold-rush induced boom years of the 1880s.
Stone buildings of this period include the Post Office and Cable buildings; Government House; the government offices at corner Mitchell Street and The Esplanade; the old Courthouse and Police Station; Fannie Bay gaol; the old Town Hall; Brown's Mart; the 'stone bank' (corner Bennett and Smith Streets); the Victoria Hotel; the 'stone houses' or Sue Wah Chin building in Cavenagh Street; Christ Church (1902) and finally Lyons Cottage (1925).
Peter & Sheila Forrest
18 March 2007