12°S 143°E Shelburne Bay – Queensland by Degrees

12°S 143°E Shelburne Bay – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

Degree Confluence 12°S 143°E (Google Earth Image)

Looking north

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west

Location: This confluence point is located on the abandoned Shelburne Station on the eastern side of Cape York. The actual site lies within an area of sand dunes and swamp swales and an approach to within 12.1 km only was possible. That was achieved by driving 17 km from the Telegraph Road along a disused station track to the abandoned Shelburne homestead then 13.8 km by quad bike. The site lies within Cook Shire; Bramwell Junction is the nearest settlement.

The Landscape: The locality is of Quaternary (less than 2 million years) origin and is aeolian sands. The soils are a grey sandy loam with white silica sand patches on the ridges. The area reached is a seasonally swampy heath with low closed Melaleuca-dominated forest on the ridges. Cabbage Tree Palms (Livistona muelleri) and Swamp Mahogany (Lophostemon sauveolons) were also noted on the ridges. The area has been mined for silica sand in the past and those activities have modified the terrain. The area is drained by Harmer Creek and the MacMillian River which flow to Shelburne Bay. Feral pigs were the only fauna noted in the area.

Crossing Harmer Ck (John & Mary Nowill, 08)

Harmer Creek near point (John & Mary Nowill, 08)

The satellite image provided on Google Earth shows the actual confluence point located on a low forested sand ridge close to several small permanent waterholes.

 

Point information and photos: Tony Hillier, Kev Teys, Bruce Urquhart, Dale Farnell and John and Mary Nowill, 2008.

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The area within the degree square ranges from the low coastal dune fields of the Shelburne Bay area to the rugged sandstone escarpments found in the Great Dividing Range in the southern portion. Elevations range from sea level to in excess of 400 m ASL in the Baldy Hills (including Kennedy Hill at 437 m ASL) in the south-east corner. Much of the area, however, has elevations of less than 150 m.

The oldest geology in the area is the Cape Grenville volcanics and the intruded granites of the Baldy Hills area, both of which are of Carboniferous age (around 325 million years). The spine of Cape York (the Great Dividing Range) is composed mainly of sandstone of Early Cretaceous (or younger) age (141 to 98 million years). The coastal area is made up of Quaternary age (less than 2 million years) alluvium of various origins.

 

Most of the vegetation on the Great Dividing Range is medium height eucalypt-dominated woodland with an understory of grasses. Darwin Woollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata), Silver Leaved Ironbark (E. sieberi) and Bloodwoods (E. dichromophloia) are the main types of tree. At ground level the vegetation varies considerably from season to season with tall grasses such as Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Spear Grass (Heteropogon contortus) at their densest at the end of the wet season, but almost bare of grass in the dry especially after burning.

Closer to the coast, and in the vicinity of Captain Billy Landing there are patches of monsoon forest. These forests have a very mixed species composition with canopy trees including Melaleuca, Swamp Mahogany, palms and various Pandanus species. This type is a seasonally deciduous forest that is also home to a wide range of epiphytes such as the Bottlebrush Orchid (Cepobacalum smillieae).

Monsoon Forest near Capt Billy Landing (KG 08)

Bottlebrush orchid near Capt Billy Landing (KG 08)

The heathland that extends in a band from the Great Divide to the Shelburne Bay hinterland is made up of a very dense coverage of low shrubs with Grevillias, Casuarinas and low Melaleucas dominating. This type is very difficult to penetrate because of its density.

Fauna in the area is dominated by the prolific bird life. Some bird species have been identified at Moreton telegraph Station including the iconic Palm Cockatoo and the elusive Magnificent Rifle Bird. Agile Wallabies and Antilopine Wallaroos are commonly seen and both estuarine and fresh water crocodiles are present in the rivers.

Heath near Heathlands Ranger Station (KG, 2008)

Lowland heath (John & Mary Nowill, 2008)

7 m tall termite mound (Ken Granger, 2008)

Termite mounds near Bramwell (Ken Granger, 2008)

A significant feature in the woodland landscape are the massive termite mounds, some as tall as 7 m. The termites that build these mounds consume only grass - great competition for the cattle grazing industry. The land use of the area is mostly cattle grazing.

The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as tropical savannah. It has a markedly dry winter. The closest climate station with representative statistics is Moreton Telegraph Station.

Moreton Telegraph Station (site 027015) 1887-2008 (elevation 40 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

32.5

31.8

31.8

31.5

30.8

30.0

29.6

30.8

32.4

34.3

35.1

34.3

32.1

Mean min
(ºC)

22.8

22.9

22.7

21.3

19.4

17.6

16.6

16.6

17.9

19.6

21.3

22.5

20.1

Mean rain
(mm)

333.0

332.6

290.3

112.2

22.2

10.1

7.6

3.8

4.3

16.9

64.9

196.0

1409.0

The highest temperature ever recorded at Moreton Telegraph Station was 40.0°C in October 1987 while the lowest temperature was 4.5°C in July 1984. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2223.7 mm was recorded in 1973 and the lowest total of 721.6 mm in 1902.

Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 47 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Of these, 11 tracked within 50 km of the point. They included: an unnamed cyclone in March 1923; TC Dawn in February 1970; TC Bronwyn in January 1972; TC Stan in April 1979; TC Kathy in March 1984; TC Jim in March 1984; TC Jason in February 1987; TC Meena in May 1989; TC Kelvin in March 1991; TC Dennis in February 1996; and TC Ethel in March 1996. TC Monica also passed close to the point in April 2006.These storms bring potentially destructive winds, intense rainfall and high seas. Some have caused inundation and erosion to the low-lying coastal areas. Flooding in all streams is a certainty. The flood record at Moreton Telegraph Station on the Wenlock River is most impressive.

A marker was placed 14.6 m up a gum tree on the banks of the Wenlock River near Moreton Telegraph Station by people in a boat in March 2003. This flood was caused by the rains from TC Craig that formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria several hundred kilometres away. The floods produced by TC Monica in April 2006 were almost as high. The manager of the Moreton Telegraph Station said that they had been able to touch the sign from a boat in that flood. The flood of record at Moreton was in 1907. That flood was a good metre higher than the 2003 flood!

Cyclone tracks within 200 km of the point between 1906 and 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)

These storms bring potentially destructive winds, intense rainfall and high seas. Some have caused inundation and erosion to the low-lying coastal areas. Flooding in all streams is a certainty. The flood record at Moreton Telegraph Station on the Wenlock River is most impressive.

A marker was placed 14.6 m up a gum tree on the banks of the Wenlock River near Moreton Telegraph Station by people in a boat in March 2003. This flood was caused by the rains from TC Craig that formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria several hundred kilometres away. The floods produced by TC Monica in April 2006 were almost as high. The manager of the Moreton Telegraph Station said that they had been able to touch the sign from a boat in that flood. The flood of record at Moreton was in 1907. That flood was a good metre higher than the 2003 flood!

Flood Marker at the Wenlock River Bridge at Moreton Telegraph Station ( Ken Granger, 2008)

The area averages around 60 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 are two earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. They were a ML 3.5 quake on Christmas Eve 1912 with the epicentre in the north-west corner of the degree square, 77 km from the confluence point, and a ML 4.5. event just offshore and about 54 km north of the confluence point on 9 June 1990. A second offshore event occurred on 19 November 2007 with a magnitude of ML 4.8. It was located about 87 km south-east of the confluence point near the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. No damage was recorded from any of these earthquakes.

The Indigenous Story: This area is the traditional land of the Wuthathi and Kuuku-ya'u peoples.

The Wuthathi people were seafarers, who spent their lives in and out of outrigger canoes. They gathered food and other resources from the seas and the 'sand beach country'. The Wuthathi people have fought many campaigns to protect their traditional lands from threats and to regain control over their country, including:

  • the 1990 proposal to build an international space base at Temple Bay near Lockhart River;

  • plans to mine the 99% pure white silica sands of the Shelburne Bay dune fields which would have devastated the natural, cultural and aesthetic values of the area.

  • removing grazing and occupation leases granted to non-Indigenous people that restricted use and access rights of Wuthathi people, preventing the exercise of traditional culture and conservation management.

The shooting of four Aborigines in the vicinity of the Moreton Telegraph Station in 1902 by a contingent of Native Mounted Police from Coen led to the first formal investigation into an indigenous death on Cape York.

MORE INFORMATION NEEDED

European Exploration and Settlement: It was not until 1770 that the British first ventured into the area. Cook made a transit of the inner passage of the Great Barrier Reef after effecting repairs to Endeavour in the Endeavour River during June. Cook named Cape Grenville. In 1789 Bligh and the other castaways from the Bounty mutiny passed along the coast in two whaleboats on their way to Batavia.

The first European to pass through the area on land was Edmund Kennedy in 1848. Running low on supplies and horses, and being harassed by hostile Aboriginals, Kennedy left three of his men (William Costigan, James Luff and Dennis Dunn) at Camp 84 on the Richardson Range, on 24 November 1848 before his fateful dash for Somerset. No trace was ever found of the three men. A monument now marks the site of Camp 84.

Building of the telegraph line from Cooktown to Thursday Island in the 1880s saw the construction of several electric telegraph relay stations. Moreton was one of those being built in 1887. The station was constructed like a miniature fortress with walls of heavy galvanised iron, turrets at opposite corners and windows with shutters and gun ports. These defences were a response to the threat of attack by 'wild natives'. Within a decade the station had become a focus for local agriculture, mission activity and Government administration. The station was closed in 1987 when modern technology made it redundant. The climate station at Moreton continues operation.

Cattle grazing was the next European activity in the area followed by sand mining. Mining of the Shelburne Bay silica sands became a very controversial issue in the 1990s and eventually the grazing lease and mining leases over Shelbourne Bay that had been granted were cancelled. The Nixon family, that had run Shelburne Station for many years, were forced to leave. Their homestead and some equipment remain abandoned on the site.

Climate station at Moreton Telegraph Station (Ken Granger, 08)


Abandoned homestead and equipment on Shelburne Station (John and Mary Nowill)

The development of the bauxite deposits around Weipa on the western side of the Cape brought with it a demand for beef. Comalco was granted a lease over the Heathlands area where they developed a cattle station. That venture proved unsuccessful, largely because of the distance from Weipa and the high cost of transport. The area was taken over by the Parks and Wildlife Service in 1986 and Comalco moved their cattle grazing venture to Sudley Station closer to Weipa.

Today:

The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 47. The fluctuation in population numbers may have been influenced by the re-drawing of census boundaries though a decline in the rural industries will undoubtedly have had some impact.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

0

158

61

47

Total males

0

96

36

25

Total females

0

62

25

22

Under 5 years

0

3

4

3

65 years and over

0

18

5

13

Indigenous

0

0

6

3

Tourism during the winter dry season has become a major industry, though cattle grazing remains the dominant land use.

 Site Summary:

Location

The point is about 7.5 km south of the waters of Shelburne Bay

 

Access

By road from Telegraph Road to old Shelburne homestead then
14 km by quad bike to closest possible point

 

Nearest town

Bramwell Junction

 

Terrain

Flat seasonal wetland and sand ridge country

 

Catchment

Harmer Creek and MacMillian River

 

Geology & soils

Aeolian Quaternary silica sands and grey sandy loams

 

Vegetation

Heath of Melaleuca and other tea tree-types

 

Land use

Nil - former sand mining area

 

Climate

Tropical savannah with a very dry winter

 

Population in degree square

61 at the 2006 census

 

Infrastructure

A few dirt roads

 

National Parks

Heathlands Resources Reserve

 

Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

Sources: various web sites including EPA, tourist operators, local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.