The Humpty Doo Rice trail driver’s guide takes you some 70 kilometres from Darwin’s port to the Adelaide River coastal plain and internationally renowned Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. It allows you to see key locations of the historic Humpty Doo Rice Project and consider its vision and rationale.
Most locations display a GPS coordinate link that can be displayed in navigation and map applications on most smart phones with GPS turned on.
On your journey along the trail you will find signage that links to the text of the audio drivers’ guide. Please be respectful of locations noted as private property and view these areas externally.
While most remnants of the Humpty Doo Rice Project of 1954-64 are outside Darwin city, the project made use of the Port of Darwin and the suburb of Nightcliff.
The Port of Darwin can be seen from the viewing platform on the Esplanade beside Government House or, better, from the adjacent aerial walkway providing access to the harbour waterfront. The port was used to import machinery and export rice. Rice and other bulk and bagged products were loaded onto ships at Fort Hill wharf. The port today is vastly different to its appearance in the 1950-60 era. Then, the Fort Hill jetty was of short length and close to land. Its larger replacement is now regularly used by cruise liners and to export cattle. The Stokes Hill jetty is now a popular tourist precinct that includes restaurants and cafes
Opposite the public swimming pool on Casuarina Drive, Nightcliff, was where Territory Rice Limited’s manager, John Beams, lived in a modest elevated house, now a block of units. Of interest, even though American TV star and Territory Rice Director, Art Linkletter, didn’t own property in Darwin, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC shows a painting by Joseph E Joakum entitled “Art Linkletter’s Ranch in Darwin”.
In June 1960, negotiations for four Australians, trading as Rice Development Pty Ltd, to take control of the rice project took place at the Seabreeze Hotel, on Casuarina Drive near the Nightcliff jetty. Nightcliff was devastated by Cyclone Tracey at Christmas 1974 and both the manager’s house and hotel were destroyed. Houses have replaced the hotel.
At the entrance to 30 De Caen Close, just off the Arnhem Highway, Virginia, there is a large blue painted water pump that was purchased overseas for the rice project, apparently by Art Linkletter, but forfeited as Territory Rice could not afford the customs duty. SG Kennon & Co. supplied equipment to and provided contract work for Territory Rice, including the installation of the main water pump and sluice gate on the Adelaide River. Stan Kennon, the founder of SG Kennon, had been involved in equipment salvage after World War II. He acquired the pump when it became available at auction. The pump now features at the entrance of its current owner, H2O Pty Ltd.
At Coolalinga on the Stuart Highway, 28 km from Darwin, remnants of the rice mill remain on private land. This can be viewed from the service road to the shops on the northern side of the highway. Originally part of the Number 10 Allied Works Corps maintenance complex in World War II, the higher building was transformed into a ‘state of the art’ rice mill in 1957. It operated until 1966. Two curved roof “Quan Sing” buildings and concrete pads were used to dry the milled rice. Only one remains. Rice was exported through both the Port of Darwin and from the main pump station site on the Adelaide Rive, on private land now owned by Humpty Doo Barramundi.
Rice farmer Bob Parker cleared vegetation with a bulldozer to form a 30-kilometre dirt track from what is now the Berno Brothers brickworks on the Stuart Highway to the Territory Rice Limited village on Humpty Doo station and on to the Adelaide River. It was known as the Humpty Doo Road and provided access to the rice project from Darwin. Construction of the Arnhem Highway, a major upgrade of the Humpty Doo Road, began in 1966-67 to provide access to a small iron ore mine at Mount Bundey, east of the Adelaide River. The highway was extended in the early 1970s to support mineral exploration around Jabiru, in what later became Kakadu National Park.
6 km along the Arnhem Highway on the right is the Humpty Doo Hotel that was built in 1972. Before this, the name Humpty Doo referred to the location of Humpty Doo Station. Humpty Doo is an Anglicised version of the indigenous name of the Station area. The district now named Humpty Doo is a thriving rural residential and horticultural area.
20km along the Arnhem Highway on the right is the entrance to Humpty Doo Station. The rice project was situated on Humpty Doo and Koolpinyah Station land, then both owned by the Herbert brothers, Evan and Oscar, who were sons of Charles Herbert, a former Administrator of the Northern Territory. Both stations were given Anglicised versions of the names Aboriginal people used for the areas. Humpty Doo Station is now owned by the Kenyon family, some of the area’s Aboriginal Traditional Owners. It is home base of Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours, owned by Graham and Lynette Kenyon’s family. Territory Rice Limited’s 1954 rice growing trials were located east of the Humpty Doo Station homestead and south-east of the TRL village, that was located on what is now Thomsen Road.
21km along the Arnhem Highway on the right is an electrical sub-station that was used to distribute electricity generated in Darwin to TRL’s water pumps, village and government research centres. In 1966 the government installed a new 2kV electricity feeder line to upgrade supply to the Humpty Doo rice project area and Stan Kennon’s pink granite quarry, farther along the Highway at Mount Bundey. The substation has been upgraded and remains in use.
25km along the Arnhem Highway, on the left at the corner of Anzac Parade, Territory Rice intended to build a substantial airfield to replace the small Kemp airstrip it had built 8 kilometres along Anzac Parade. The land is now the Humpty Doo radio transmitting station of the Department of Defence, established after Cyclone Tracey destroyed much of the Royal Australian Navy’s transmitting station at Shoal Bay near Darwin.
Anzac Parade, so named because construction commenced on Anzac Day,
25 April, 1956, was built by the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) Arthur Harrison. It extended approximately 15 km from the Territory Rice village, south of the Arnhem Highway, to a pumping station on the Adelaide River. Bob Parker cleared the bush for the road construction, as he did for building the Humpty Doo Road that later became the Arnhem Highway.
After the commercial rice project ended, the Thomsen family acquired the Territory Rice Village land at the southern end of Anzac Parade, south of the Arnhem Highway. Following realignment, that section of Anzac Parade was named Thomsen Road. It is a private road. For the duration of the rice project, with the exception of access tracks and roads, the land along Anzac Parade was forested bushland. There are two Government research farms along the road, private sector farms growing crocodiles, turf and vegetables, ending with the Humpty Doo Barramundi fish farm and the jumping crocodile cruise of Adelaide River Cruises.
Opposite the Department of Defence Humpty Doo Radio Transmitting Station is the Northern Territory Government Beatrice Hill Farm for cattle and buffalo research. Centre Road, the entrance to Beatrice Hill Farm, ran through to the Centre of the Rice Project. It was originally named Hill Road as it provided access to Beatrice Hill where the government conducted rice growing trials and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) established its operations base. A bridge along Centre Road is grandly named Olympic Bridge.
The Northern Territory Government Coastal Plains Research Farm is on the left, past the radio base. It is a horticultural and forestry research centre that has been studying horticulture crops including vegetables, mangos, bananas citrus and their diseases, African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) and other potentially viable tree species.
4 kilometres along Anzac Parade on the right is an unsealed road leading to Harrison Dam and the coastal plains where Territory Rice Limited had its main rice fields.
Harrison Dam, built in 1958, was named after Squadron Leader Arthur Harrison. With just a small catchment, the dam was to be filled with water pumped from the Adelaide River. Due to pumping problems the dam contributed little to irrigation of the rice. Climb to the top of the wall to see the dam and TRL’s main rice fields on the flood plain. Remnants of two pumping stations remain on the floodplain, but usually are out of sight. Although a popular location for bird watchers, at Harrison Dam Conservation Reserve the hunting of magpie geese and ducks is authorised, usually from September to January each year.
The remains of a bin used to hold freshly harvested rice for transfer to the Coolalinga mill can be seen on the right, at the entrance of the Conservation Reserve.
On the left, 6km along Anzac Parade from the Arnhem Highway, is the village, built in 1959, allowing the CSIRO to move its operations base from Beatrice Hill. CSIRO researched rice varieties, pest management, soil and hydrology, continuing until 1973. Later named Middle Point, the village originally had 12 houses plus single accommodation. Transportable buildings were added later. Many of the houses, the transportables and a community social club building have been removed.
The University of Sydney commenced long term longitudinal studies of the area in 1985. Its Tropical Ecology Unit, now a part of Macquarie University, occupies the village and continues this research. When pest cane toads (Bufo marinus) arrived in the area in 1985, the Unit studied the impact of toads on the environment, ways to minimize the impact and is seeking weaknesses in their physiology for potential control.
Outside the village a Friends of Fogg Dam signboard provides information on Fogg Dam, its wildlife, the rice project, indigenous and current land use in the area.
A small primary school at the end of the village is used by children from the local area and from the Corroboree and Marrakai areas, 40 km to the east.
On the left, past the school, Harrison Road, so named by Territory Rice after Squadron Leader Harrison, leads into Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. Fogg Dam is the most visible remaining feature of the rice project. It provides an outstanding wetland for birdwatching, biologists and photographers. It’s a shallow 120 hectare dam of 3,400 megalitres capacity, built in 1956 to provide water to the seedling rice crops. However, the floodplain was so wet the main channel to the rice fields, opposite the first platform on the wall, could not be built until 1962. Fogg Dam was named after Mr James D Fogg, Managing Director of TRL’s engineering design contractor, Utah Australia. TRL workers would water ski on the dam’s open water – something not possible now with more than 10 crocodile inhabitants. Originally the dam had spillways at both ends of the wall. In most years, the eastern end spillway was breached to prevent overflowing water damaging the wall.
In 1959 Fogg Dam was made a Bird Protection District and a Conservation Reserve in 1982. It is the most significant Top End wetland accessible throughout the year from Darwin. With a variety of habitats in a small area, Fogg Dam has become known internationally amongst birdwatchers and biologists.
Early in the 1990s, two islands were created in the dam, three lookouts were built beside the dam and two walking tracks through bush vegetation constructed. The dam wall was modified, making a wet season water spillway halfway along its length. This attracts water birds
In 2009 Fogg Dam was made a Heritage site, recognising its significance to Northern Territory history through the Humpty Doo Rice Project.
The main car park is located at the entrance to the Woodlands to Waterlilies walk. Other vehicle parking is provided adjacent to the dam wall spillway and at Pandanus Knoll.
The main water channel from the dam to the rice fields was built across the floodplain in 1962. This replaced a temporary channel alongside bush on the western side of the dam, built when the dam was constructed in 1956.
Today the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is jointly managed by the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission. As part of the Adelaide River floodplain it has Australian “Key Biodiversity Area” status and has numerous species of flora and fauna among its diverse habitats. Regarded as one of Australia’s top birdwatching locations, Fogg Dam’s floodplain is reputed to hold the world’s greatest known predator-prey biomass concentration: water pythons – the rainbow serpent of Aboriginal mythology – which feed almost exclusively on the native dusky rat. Yet nearby, to the west of the Pandanus Knoll lookout, the predator-prey biomass is poor. A truly unique situation.
Kemp airstrip on the left of Anzac Parade, opposite No 830, is now on private property. It had many uses including aerial surveys and crop management. The American Humpty Doo Rice Project investors often flew to Kemp from Darwin rather than using the rough dirt roads of the 1950s. A bore beside the airstrip could provide over four million litres of water a day to the Rice Project. A small pond beside the bore was used as a swimming hole by CSIRO/Middle Point village residents until the mid-1990s. About 1990, a light aircraft of Arnhem Air Charter clipped the power line on Anzac Parade and crashed. No-one was seriously injured. The airstrip was relocated onto the Coastal Plains Research Farm.
Continuing east past Thomsen Road, take the turnoff on the left to Wetland View Top Centre at Beatrice Hill and Spectacular Crocodile Cruise.
In 1956 the government’s CSIRO established an agricultural research station at Beatrice Hill to assist the rice project. Experimental rice plantings commenced in 1957. In 1959 the CSIRO relocated to Anzac Parade and the research emphasis at the Beatrice Hill farm switched to livestock and tropical pasture under the control of the Agriculture department.
The car park is where the CSIRO had accommodation and laboratories for Rice Project research until 1959. In the late 1980s the buildings were used by prisoners working on the eradication of the thorny weed Mimosa pigra from the Adelaide River flood plain. The buildings were demolished when the visitor centre was built.
The NT Government visitor centre “Window on the Wetlands” on Beatrice Hill was built in the early 1990s and closed in 2021.
The centre re-opened early in 2022 under Traditional Ownership with the name: Wetlands Top View Centre. The centre gives expansive views over the Adelaide River floodplain and provides a range of information on the wetlands and Traditional Owner significance. It’s a moderate walk from the car park to the Centre. Disabled parking is provided at the Centre entrance.
A pump was installed at the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise site on the Adelaide River to provide river water to irrigate the Government’s rice fields.
The pump and pipeline have been removed.