13°S 142°E Romilly – Queensland by Degrees
AT THE POINT
Location: This confluence point is 4.1 km north of the Aurukun Road and was reached on foot from the road. The point was accurately located by GPS. The site is within Aurukun Shire and the nearest settlements are Weipa (42 km in a direct line to the north-west) and Aurukun (49 km in a direct line to the south-west).
The Landscape: The point is located on a wide plain at an elevation of 26 m ASL. The geology of the plain is mudstone of Early Cretaceous age (146 to 100 million years). The soil is a grey clay loam and evidence of bauxite and ironstone was seen in the area. The site drains to the Hey River and Albatross Bay. Vegetation at the site is a mid-height eucalypt dominated savannah, with Variable-barked Bloodwoods (Eucalyptus dichromophloia), Narrow-leaved Ironbark (E.crebra) and Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys) as the most common trees. Also evident are Grevilleas such as Silver Oak (Grevillia parallela) and Bushman's Pegs (G. glauca); Hakea persiehana; various Wattles; and in the more poorly drained areas Paperbark Ti-tree (Melaleuca dealbata) can dominate. Ground cover is course grasses such as Spear Grass (Heteropogon contortus) and Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra).
Fauna seen in the area included brumbies, feral pigs and macropods (mainly Northern Nailtail Wallaby and Agile Wallaby). There are numerous termite mounds in the area.
There was no apparent land use in the vicinity of the point.
Point information and photos: Tony Hillier, Kev Teys, Bruce Urquhart, Dale Farnell and John and Mary Nowill, 2008.
WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE
The Country: Much of the area within the degree square is generally flat and low-lying. Average elevation is around 50 m ASL with the highest country along the northern edge of the Mungkan Kandju National Park where the maximum elevation is 163 m ASL. In coastal areas and around the estuaries of the major rivers there are extensive swamps. The core of the area covering much of the country to the east of the confluence point is composed of mudstone of Early Cretaceous age (146 to 100 million years). These are the oldest rocks in the square. The north and south edges of the area and the entire west coast are composed of sandstone and lateritic duricrust of Cainozoic age (less than 65 million years). This is the geology from which bauxite is mined. The remainder of the area, mainly along the drainage channels, is composed of sediments and alluvium of Quaternary age (less than 2 million years).
The vegetation across the area is very similar to that at the confluence point, with slightly denser woodland along the western half, grading to more open savannah to the east. Mangrove forests are found around most of the estuaries.
Fauna throughout the area is similar to that identified at the confluence point. The bird life is a notable feature with more than 100 species recorded. They include the Palm Cockatoo and various other parrots, Blue Wing Kookaburra, honeyeaters and finches. Estuarine crocodiles are evident in most estuaries and dugong are present in the waters of the Gulf.
The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as tropical savannah. It has a markedly dry winter. The climate station at Weipa provides representative statistics.
Weipa Aero (site 027045) 1972-2008 (elevation 18 m ASL).
The highest temperature ever recorded in Weipa was 39.2°C in November 2004 while the lowest temperature was 10.2°C in June 2007. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2719.4 mm was recorded in 1996 and the lowest total of 1359.0 mm in 1993.
Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 52 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Of these, nine tracked within 50 km of the point. They included: an unnamed cyclone in January 1952; an unnamed cyclone in January 1954; an unnamed cyclone in March 1961; TC Faith in April 1972; TC Otto in March 1977; TC Greta in January 1979; TC Rebecca in February 1985; TC Mark in January 1992; and TC Ingrid in March 2005.
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 area averages between 50 and 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 no earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The closest epicentre recorded is about 130 km to the east-south-east, a ML 3.5 event on 30 January 1980. No damage was reported from this earthquake.
The Indigenous Story: The area includes the traditional lands of several Aboriginal groups. In the north is Anguthimiri land; around Weipa is Awngthim country; along the coast is Winda Winda country; and inland is Mbeiwum country.
One of the more notable features of the Weipa area are the mounds of cockle shells which are located adjacent to the Pine, Mission, Hey and Embley Rivers. Archaeological research indicates that these shell mounds are amongst the largest in the world and were formed between 2,000 and 4000 years ago by successive generations of Aborigines.
The Aboriginal people resisted European intrusions onto their land from the very first contact with Dutch navigators in 1606. One of Willem Janszoon's crew members from the Duyfken was killed in a clash in the Albatross Bay area. In the 1870s and 1880s the development of the beche-de-mer, pearling and pastoral industries greatly increased contact between Weipa Aborigines and Europeans. The fishing industries actively recruited Aboriginal labour, with little government supervision. Aborigines were sometimes kidnapped, often misunderstood the nature of their future employment and were unable to communicate effectively with either their English speaking employers or government officials. Friction and violence arose on the fishing vessels due to callous treatment by European and 'Malay' fishermen.
Eventually, after deaths on both sides, officials such as the Honourable John Douglas, Thursday Island Government Resident (1885-1904), endeavoured to protect the Western Peninsular Aborigines by encouraging the Presbyterian Church to establish a chain of mission stations. The first of these was opened by Moravian missionaries Reverend J.N. Hey (pronounced 'Hi') and Reverend J.G. Ward at Mapoon (immediately north of this degree square) in 1891, to be followed by Weipa and Aurukun.
The Embley River Mission station operated by the Presbyterian Church was established in 1898 located to the east of present-day Weipa. Aboriginal workers from the Mapoon mission assisted in establishing the Embley River Mission. In July 1904, 6500 square kilometres was gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve under the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1887. The site of the mission was moved closer to the coast in 1932 because of 'exhaustion of the soil' and the difficulties in navigating along the narrow and winding creek to the mission. To make way for the development of the Weipa port and township following the start of bauxite mining the mission was moved to a location adjacent to the new township. On 1 February 1966 control of the mission was transferred from the Presbyterian Church to the Queensland Government. At this time Comalco made numerous attempts to relocate the whole community of Napranum ('meeting place' in the local language) elsewhere, but then opted to build a new town on Leithen Point at the mouth of the Embley River south of Weipa. With the passage of the Community Services (Aborigines) Act in 1984 the Napranum Reserve was created as a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT). On 1 October 1989 local government responsibility was given to the Napranum Council.
The Aurukun community has a similar history. In 1904 the Presbyterian Church extended its operations by establishing a mission on the site of present-day Aurukun on the northern shore of Archer Bay. The Aurukun Reserve was also managed under the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1887 and Aboriginals from surrounding areas were relocated to the Reserve - many against their will. In 1978, the Queensland Government decided to take control of the Aurukun Reserve, a move resisted by the local people who appealed to the Commonwealth Government. After lengthy negotiations, legislation for self-management of the Reserve was introduced into Federal Parliament and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-Management) Act was passed in 1978. The Queensland Government revoked the Reserves which meant that neither the Queensland Act nor the new Commonwealth legislation applied to the area. Eventually State and Federal Ministers agreed that local authorities would be created for the former reserves and the land leased to the newly created councils for 50 years. On 22 May 1978, under the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act, the Aurukun Shire Council was established and granted Aboriginal Land Lease No.1.
In 1947 further research into the mineral potential of the area was carried out but the samples were poor and generated little interest. It wasn't until 1955, when geologist Harry Evans was shown the area by local Aboriginals and he realised that Matthew Flinders 'reddish cliffs' were, in fact, virtually pure bauxite. In 1956 Enterprise Exploration and the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation (Comalco) established their first camp at what is now Napranum. The following year Comalco was granted a mining lease from the Queensland Government with the issue of a Special Bauxite Mining Lease and the first bauxite was shipped from the new port facilities in 1963.
The township of Weipa was developed by Comalco as a totally planned community. Weipa Town was established under its own legislation separate from the Local Government Act.
The strategic importance of the north as recognised anew in the 1950s and plans for a RAAF base to be established on Cape York were drawn up. RAAF Scherger, just to the east of Weipa was opened in 1994 as a 'bare base' i.e. a fully equipped but unmanned base that is able to be activated and become operational for deployed aircraft at short notice.
The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 5940. This had remained relatively stable up until the period since 2006. The most significant demographic change has been the gradual increase in the female proportion of the population as Weipa takes on a more ‘family-based’ community structure and less of the ‘frontier mining town’ with a significant majority of males.
Under 5 years
65 years and over
At the 2011 census Weipa had a population of 3338; Aurukun had a population of 1288 and Napranum a population of 851. The Weipa population may include some detained asylum seekers that have been housed at the RAAF Scherger base and the people that staff that centre.
Mining of bauxite remains the major activity in the area. The area has the largest known bauxite reserves in the world, said to have a life of 250 years at the present day levels of exploitation. Much of the bauxite is shipped to Gladstone on the east coast of Queensland (see site 24°S 151°E), though an increasing proportion is now being shipped to China.
Bauxite is mined by a shallow strip mining process, loaded to large haulpak vehicles and/or rail cars and carted to stockpiles and the processing plant before it is loaded onto bulk carrier vessels at the Weipa wharf.
Weipa bauxite processing plant (J & M Nowill, 2008)
Bauxite haulpak (John & Mary Nowill, 2008)
Bauxite mining (John & Mary Nowill, 2008)
Bulk carrier loading bauxite (Ken Granger, 2008)
Weipa is a modern town with modern facilities, schools, hospital and community services. Tourism is also becoming an important industry during the winter.
A major expansion of bauxite mining with Rio Tinto mining activity and the proposed Aluminium Corporation of China (Chinalco) bauxite mine is in the area. It is anticipated that the Chinalco mine will have a construction workforce of 700 people and an operational workforce of 100. It was originally proposed that the Chinalco mine would establish a new port and township at Aurukun. However, by mid 2008, the decision had been taken to utilise the existing port and township facilities at Weipa.
Weipa CBD (Ken Granger, 2008)
Weipa sunset (Ken Granger, 2008)
Administration of the area is divided between the Weipa Town Council, Aurukun Shire Council, Napranum Shire Council and Cook Shire Council.
4.1 km north of the Aurukun Road
By road then on foot
Weipa, Napranum and Aurukun
Flat plain at around 20 m ASL
Hey River and Gulf of Carpentaria
Geology & soils
Grey clay loam over Cretaceous mudstone
Open eucalypt savannah
None noted - Aboriginal land
Tropical savannah with a winter drought
Population in degree square
4738 at the 2006 census
Major road, rail and port facilities support the mining industry;
Mungkan Kandju National Park
Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009
Sources: various web sites including EPA, tourist operators, local governments, mining industry and Bureau of Meteorology.
John Beasley, 2006: Plants of tropical north Queensland - the compact guide, Footloose Publications.