Australian Aborigines have occupied parts of the Northern Territory for around 60,000 years, although the central regions were not inhabited until about 24,000 years ago. The first significant contact with outsiders occurred in the 17th century when Macassan traders from early-day Sulawesi in Indonesia came to the Top End to collect trepang (sea cucumber).
While the process of white settlement in the Northern Territory was slower than elsewhere in Australia, it had an equally troubled and violent effect. By the early 20th century, most Aboriginal people were confined to government reserves or Christian missions.
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In the early 1870s, during digging to establish the Overland Telegraph (from Adelaide to Darwin), gold was discovered. Though the gold finds were relatively insignificant, the searches for it unearthed a wealth of natural resources that would lead to mining becoming a major economic presence in the Northern Territory.
Today, Aboriginal people own about half of the land in the Northern Territory, including Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks, which are leased back to the federal government for exploration and mining.