12°S 142°E Port Musgrave – Queensland by Degrees

12°S 142°E Port Musgrave – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

 

Degree Confluence 12°S 142°E (Google Earth Image)

Looking north

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west

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.

The Landscape: The site is located on low-lying country around 5 m ASL and close to the coast. The soils are deeply cracking grey clays derived from Quaternary (less than 1.8 million years) coastal and estuarine sediments. The vegetation is predominantly coarse marine grassland with scattered mangroves in the drainage channels.

In the location of the point several feral pigs, horses and cattle were noted. The area also has abundant bird life with Brolgas very prominent. Crocodiles inhabit the estuaries near the point.

Feral Pigs near point (John and Mary Nowill, 2008)

Soil at point (John and Mary Nowill, 2008)

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.

Kaolin stockpile Skardon River

Skardon River processing plant

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.

Dulhunty River

Cockatoo Creek

The coastline within the degree square is almost entirely composed of wide sandy beaches backed by low dunes and swampy swales.

Gulf Beach near Port Musgrave

Gulf Beach Near Port Musgrave

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)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

32.7

33.0

33.0

32.8

31.4

30.4

30.3

30.6

32.4

34.0

35.0

34.7

32.5

Mean min
(ºC)

22.5

22.5

22.2

21.9

20.58

18.8

18.1

18.1

19.2

20.7

21.7

22.5

20.7

Mean rain
(mm)

421.1

411.2

308.4

93.0

16.6

4.2

2.7

1.1

4.0

11.1

63.8

222.0

1629.5

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.

European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to visit the western shores of Cape York were with the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in the Duyfken (Little Dove). They made landfall at Duyfken Point just to the south of this degree square. In 1802 Matthew Flinders in the Investigator charted the whole of the west coast of the Cape.

Pastoral settlement along the Batavia River (later renamed the Wenlock River) began in 1882. In the 1870's and 1880's conflicts occurred between the local Aboriginal people and outsiders involved in pearling and trepang fishing. The Government Resident at Thursday Island encouraged the Presbyterian Church to establish the Batavia River Mission (later renamed Mapoon) in 1891 to improve the protection of the Aboriginals. The Mapoon mission became one of the early places to which mixed race children were removed from their families to be raised by the missionaries. The mission was abandoned in 1954.

In the 1961 the State Government started to remove the people from the Mapoon settlement to make way for the developing bauxite exploration and mining activity. They were relocated to a location near Bamaga that became known as New Mapoon. Some of the houses in the Mapoon settlement were burnt to the ground to prevent people from returning. In 1974, however, several families did return and eventually the 'old' Mapoon settlement (known to them as Marpuna) was re-established.

Today:

The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 263, all of whom are located within Mapoon. Changes in the census boundaries over the past four censuses do not permit a direct comparison of population structure.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

142

218

240

263

Total males

80

118

129

133

Total females

62

100

111

130

Under 5 years

3

30

30

19

65 years and over

39

16

18

20

Indigenous

3

192

220

233

MORE MATERIAL WELCOME

Site summary:

Location

Less than 1 km north of Port Musgrave in the Skardon River mining area

Nearest town

Mapoon on opposite side of Port Musgrave

Access

By road to within 6.4 km at Skardon River mine then by quad bike

Terrain

Flat estuarine area

Catchment

Ducie River and Port Musgrave

Geology & soils

Grey cracking Quaternary silts and clays

Vegetation

Course marine grassland

Land use

Mining for kaolin to the north

Climate

Tropical maritime with a dry winter

Population in degree square

240 at the 2006 census

Infrastructure

Few roads and small airstrips. Small port facilities for kaolin export

National Parks

Small section of Jardine River NP in north-east corner

Compilers: Tony Hillier's group with additional material by Ken Granger, 2008-9

Edited by:  Hayley Freemantle

References: various web sites including EPA, Torres Strait Regional Authority, local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.