The area’s traditional owners, the Jingili people, believe the Dreaming tracks of the Emu and the Sun travelled through here on their way to the southern parts of the Northern Territory.
The name Daly Waters was given to a series of natural springs by John McDouall Stuart during his third attempt to cross Australia from south to north, in 1861-2. Stuart named the springs after the new Governor of South Australia, Sir Dominick Daly.
Stuart’s first attempt, in 1860, had reached Tennant Creek. The second, in early 1861, pushed further north but again Stuart turned back. The third journey left Adelaide in October 1861 and reached Daly Waters on 28 May. The party had been pushing through difficult lancewood scrub and harsh terrain at a little over a kilometre a day. This journey was successful, reaching the north coast near modern Darwin on 24 July, 1862. Stuart’s Tree has an ‘S’ carved into it by Stuart during his journey.
The town airfield was a centre for the London to Sydney air race of 1926, a refuelling stop for early Qantas flights to Singapore, a World War II Airforce base and more recently an operational base for joint military manoeuvres. Although the aerodrome was closed to commercial traffic in 1965 the original Qantas hangar still stands, housing exhibits of photographs and equipment from the area’s aviation past.