12°S 142°E Port Musgrave – Queensland by Degrees
AT THE POINT
Location: This confluence point is located on Skardon River mining area within Cook Shire, less than a kilometre from the shores of Port Musgrave. The point was located exactly by GPS after cross country travel using quad bikes to cover the last 6.3 km from the Skardon River Kaolin Mine. The nearest settlement is the Aboriginal community of Mapoon on the other side of Port Musgrave.
Point information and photos: Tony Hillier, Kev Teys, Bruce Urquhart, Dale Farnell and John and Mary Nowill, 2008.
WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE
The Country: Most of the country in the degree square lies below 50 m ASL. The highest country is in the north-east corner of the square where elevations of up to 180 m ASL are found. This higher country is made of sandstone and conglomerates of Jurassic-Cretaceous age (205 to 65 million years). Much of the country along the eastern side of the square is Cretaceous age (141 to 65 million years) siltstone and mudstone with elevations up to around 80 m ASL. Across the coastal plain the geology is largely composed of sedimentary rocks of Tertiary age (65 to 1.8 million years) and generally less than 50 m ASL in elevation. Along the coast itself and into the estuaries of the various watercourses are Quaternary age (less than 1.8 million years) sands and silts.
There are extensive deposits of bauxite in the area; those to the south are being exploited and shipped through Weipa. A kaolin deposit is also being mined at Skardon River to the north of the confluence point.
The whole area drains to the Gulf of Carpentaria, with the coastline marked by numerous river estuaries of which Port Musgrave is the largest. The main watercourses are the Ducie and Wenlock Rivers, both of which have their estuaries in Port Musgrave. Other significant streams in the square include the Dulhunty River, which joins the Ducie River near its mouth and the Jackson River which flows to the coast north of the Skardon River estuary.
The coastline within the degree square is almost entirely composed of wide sandy beaches backed by low dunes and swampy swales.
The dominant vegetation form within about 35 km of the coast is a eucalypt-dominated medium height forest with an understory of low trees. Further inland the forest canopy becomes more open and the understory changes to tussocky grasses. A small area of very dense heath-land of low trees and a dense shrub layer is found in the north-east corner. All of the estuaries carry dense stands of mangrove species, while the coastal dunes have a strand forest of Casuarinas.
The area has a magnificent range of fauna. According to the Wilderness Society, the Wenlock River in the area has 45 species of freshwater fish, the largest number in Australia. There is also a prolific bird life including numerous species of migratory birds that use the area's wetlands during the northern winter. Of the macropods, the Agile Wallaby and Antilopine Wallaroo are the most common. Possums in the area include the Ringtail, Brushtail and Sugar Glider. Reptiles include the very dangerous Taipan, King Brown and Eastern Brown Snakes as well as a range of non-venomous snakes such as the diamond python and the common tree snake and numerous species of monitors and skinks. Estuarine and freshwater crocodiles are both common.
In the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria are dugong and turtles. The beaches along the Gulf are nesting sites for five marine turtle species - Green, Olive, Ridley, Hawksbill and Flat Back. A turtle rescue and research program operated by Cape York Turtle Rescue is based in a camp at Flinders Beach near Mapoon (www.capeyorkturtlerescue.com). It works in association with Mapoon Aboriginal rangers to rescue turtles that have become entangled in ghost nets used by Gulf fisheries and to protect nesting sites from feral pigs.
Most of the area falls within Cook Shire, however, the Mapoon and Napranum Shires intrude into the south-west and south of the area respectively.
Cattle grazing and mining are the two major land uses in the square. A small section of Jardine River National Park cuts across the north-east corner of the square.
There is very little infrastructure developed in the square other than natural surface roads serving the various stations and mines. A kaolin loading facility is located in the estuary of the Skardon River and natural surface airstrips provide access by light aircraft to both Mapoon and the Skardon River mine.
The Climate: The climate of the area is tropical maritime with a markedly dry winter. The nearest climate station with good records is Old Mapoon, 10.5 km west of the confluence point.
Old Mapoon (site 027012) 1893 - 2000 (elevation 6 m ASL)
The climate summary for Old Mapoon does not contain data on extremes of temperature, however the Weipa East Avenue station (site 027042) 68 km to the south registered a highest temperature ever of 39.1°C in October 1980 and a lowest ever temperature of 9.6°C in August 1990. Similar extremes are very likely to have been experienced at Old Mapoon. The climate summary for Old Mapoon does show extremes of rainfall. The highest total of 2565.0 mm was recorded in 1910 and the lowest total of 852.8 mm in 1902. Similar extremes of rainfall have been recorded at the Weipa site.
Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 27 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Amongst these storms were: an unnamed storm in March 1923, TC Audrey in January 1964, an unnamed storm in January 1965, TC Dawn in February 1970, TC Bronwyn in January 1972, TC Pierre in February 1985, TC Kelvin in February 1991, TC Ingrid in March 2005 and TC Monica in April 2006.
Cyclone track within 200 km of the confluence point (Bureau of Meteorology web site)
These storms bring potentially destructive winds and high seas. Some have caused inundation and erosion to the low-lying coastal areas.
The area averages between 30 and 40 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can also bring destructive winds and produce high seas. They can come up very quickly posing a serious threat to people travelling through the area in small boats. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread.
There is only one earthquake epicentre within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. That event was a ML 3.5 quake on Christmas Eve 1912 with the epicentre in the north-east corner of the degree square, 77 km from the confluence point. No damage was recorded from this earthquake.
The Indigenous Story: The area is the traditional home of several Aboriginal groups. In the north are the Anggamundi; on the Mapoon peninsula are the Tjungundji; to their south are the Yupungahthi; and to their west are the Teppathiggi and Mpalitjanh. The relatively large number of distinct groups is indicative of the area's rich sources of food from fishing, hunting and gathering. Large middens of cockle shells in the area attest to length of time over which Aboriginal people have occupied the area.