‘The living personification of Darwin’: Funeral for Ernie Chin honours iconic developer

Hundreds of people gathered at a church in Darwin's CBD on Thursday for the funeral of prominent Northern Territory developer and businessman Ernie Chin.

Key points:Darwin development pioneer Ernie Chin has been farewelled after his death from cancer last monthHe was responsible for a number of major developments in the Top End including Cullen Bay Marina, Mandorah and MarrakaiHe was also a member of one of Darwin's oldest Chinese families and helped refugee families resettle in the city

Mr Chin died on October 22 at the age of 78, after a year-long battle with cancer.

He was the driving force behind key Top End developments including at Cullen Bay, Mandorah, Marrakai and Batchelor.

"He [Mr Chin] developed a lot of the Territory as we know it," Mr Chin's son Seth Chin said.

Speaking at the funeral, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner praised Mr Chin for his significant contributions to the Territory and described him as the "the living personification of Darwin".

"You cannot step foot anywhere in this town without encountering something of his legacy," Mr Gunner said.

"Whether looking at the remnants of old Chinatown on Cavenagh Street, standing on the reclaimed land of Cullen Bay or looking across the harbour to Wagait Beach, Ernie Chin had a part to play in all of it."

An aerial view of Darwin Habour and the Cullen Bay Marina.
Darwin's Cullen Bay Marina was just one of the major developments spearheaded by Mr Chin.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

Humble beginnings

Mr Chin was a member of one of Darwin's oldest Chinese families. 

He was born in Sydney's Inner West on August 17, 1943, after his family was evacuated from the NT during World War II.

They returned to Darwin five years later, where they ran a milk bar and general store in the CBD.

Shortly after his father's death, Mr Chin and his brothers took over the store's operations.

"[The store] still stands today on Cavenagh Street next to Carpenteria house, having survived the bombing of World War II and the destructive winds of Cyclone Tracy," his nephew Daryl Chin said at the funeral.

Two men doing survey work in a desert environment.
Mr Chin worked as a surveyor before turning to property development.

After school, Mr Chin took up a job as a surveyor with the NT Survey Department for several years, where he spent months living in remote communities.

Seth Chin said it was during this time that his father forged close friendships with local Aboriginal families, especially from the Tiwi Islands.

"[Ernie] would go out bush for six weeks at a time with men like Cyril Rioli, Urban Costa, Jack Long, Kimmie Hill, Jock Mclennan … all of whom were to become some of Ernie's best friends," he said.

Mr Chin left his job as a surveyor to pursue his interest in property development.

"He went on to develop over 1,000 lots of land around the Darwin region," Seth Chin said.

"He was a visionary who saw beauty and potential where others did not."

Four men carrying a rack of dead fish
Mr Chin loved spending time out bush and had many friends.(Supplied)

Connection to community

In his eulogy, Mr Gunner noted that Mr Chin had dealt with racism while growing up in Darwin.

"It must be remembered that when Ernie was growing up in Darwin, the White Australia policy was still very real," Mr Gunner said.

"Chinese families copped it hard."

It was those experiences that spurred Mr Chin to work helping to resettle refugee families from East Timor, Cambodia and Vietnam in Darwin.

Family friend Pamela Jape said Mr Chin had played a key role in resettling her grandparents in Darwin after they were forced to flee East Timor in the 1970s.

"He would gracefully volunteer his time to help them [refugees] settle into their new environment," Ms Jape said at the funeral.

"While Ernie is no longer with us, his legacy lives on, and the impact that he had on the Timorese community and our family is enormous."

The memorial display at the funeral of well-known Darwin resident Ernie Chin, including a large photo of him and flowers.
Hundreds of people turned out to honour Mr Chin’s life and legacy at Thursday’s service.(ABC News: Housnia Shams)

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