13°S 143°E Lockhart River – Queensland by Degrees

13°S 143°E Lockhart River – Queensland by Degrees


Degree confluence 13°S 143°E (Google Earth)

Looking north

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Looking west

Location: This confluence point is located in the Sir William Thompson Range, 950 m west of the Portland Roads Road. It was accessed by road then on foot and was located accurately by GPS. The nearest settlement is Lockhart River, about 44 km in a direct line to the north east. The point falls within the Lockhart River Shire.

The Landscape: The site is on an outwash area from the low hills of the Sir William Thompson Range at an elevation of 147 m ASL. The site drains to the Wenlock River and the Gulf of Carpentaria. It has a gravelly grey soil derived from the underlying alluvium of Quaternary age (less than 2 million years). Vegetation is a low open savannah of eucalypts and casuarinas. Northern Forest Grass Trees (Xanthorrhea johnsonii) are widespread in the area. There is a sparse groundcover of grasses and sedges. Melaleuca tea-trees were evident in drainage lines near the point. Fauna noted around the point included brumbies, feral pigs, macropods (most common being Northern Nailtail Wallaby and Agile Wallaby). Termite mounds are also common.

Point information and photos: John and Mary Nowill, 2008.


The Country: The topography of this degree square is divided between the series of parallel ranges close to the east coast that reach elevations of 665 m ASL on Mt Carter and 543 m ASL on Mt Tozer. The ranges are very rugged, with many deep gorges and waterfalls. They back a rather narrow coastal plain that is broken in places by the estuaries of east-flowing rivers including the Lockhart and Pascoe. To the west of the ranges the country is undulating to flat, and ranges in elevation from less than 50 m in the west to about 150 m ASL in the east. All of the drainage in this area flows to the Gulf of Carpentaria and includes the Wenlock and Archer River systems.

The ranges have a very complex geology and contain some of the oldest rocks in Queensland. These include slate of Mesoproterozoic age (1600 to 1000 million years) in the Blue Mountains between the Archer River and Geikie Creek, and the schists of Neoproterozoic age (1000 to 545 million years) that include Mt Carter and the Iron Range. The ranges to the east of the Lockhart River are of intruded granite of Silurian age (434 to 410 million years); while Mt Tozer is a classic example of the volcanic rocks of Late Carboniferous (325 to 298 million years).

The lowlands to the west are made up of mudstone of Cretaceous age (141 to 65 million years) while the coastal plain and the major drainage basins are of Quaternary age (less than 2 million years) alluvium. White quartz sands form Chili Beach derived from the coarse granite of the coastal range.

Mt Tozer (John & Mary Nowill, 2008)

Pascoe River cut through layers of sandstone (J & M Nowill, 2008)

Vegetation across the square is also varied. It ranges from the low open savannah country to the west, to the most extensive areas of lowland rainforest in Australia within the Iron Range National Park. The Iron Range rainforest contains over a thousand identified plant species ranging from tall canopy trees such as Milky Pine (Alstonia scholaris) to epiphytes including the Queensland floral emblem the Cooktown Orchid (Denrobium bigibum). This habitat is home to at least two hundred species of butterfly, and at least two hundred bird species including the Southern Cassowary, Eclectus Parrot, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Red-bellied Pitta, and Magnificent Riflebird - all of which are more likely to be found in Papua New Guinea than in Australia.

About 200 different types of plants grow in the heathlands at Iron Range. Some of the plants are very unusual and have a distinctive form, which makes them easy to identify. One of the most unusual is the low-lying Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes mirabilis) found in the wetter areas around Tozer's Gap.

The most obvious heathland plants are Sheoaks (Allocasuarina littoralis), Grevilleas such as the orange flowered Fern-leaved Grevillea (Grevillea pteridifolia), and the purple-pink flowering shrub Jacksonia thesioides. Growing close to the ground are orchids and other plants, the most common being a sedge (Schoenus sparteus).

Coconut palms fringe the foreshore at Chili Beach. They are relatively recent intruders in this landscape, and possibly resulted from the increased European activity in the area and the corresponding halt in fire management by the traditional owners. The coastal plants along the foreshore include the Beach Almond (Terminalia catappa) and Beach Callophyllum (Calophyllum inophyllum). In the estuaries of the major rivers there are stands of mangrove forest.

On the western slopes the main vegetation is the low open savannah found at the confluence point. On the better soils, however, the woodland vegetation is taller and the Grass Trees tend to be replaced by Cycads. This is particularly evident in the north-west of the square on Batavia Downs where Bloodwood and Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) woodlands are taller and denser. Ground cover is typically grasses such as Spear Grass, the density of which depends on how recently the area has been subject to fire. Cycads, such as the bright green Cycas yorkiana stand out in the landscape after fire as they put out fresh fronds as do the larger Cycas xipholepis with its large pendulous fruit.

Cycas yorkiana after fire (KG, 2008)

Cycas xipholepis on Batavia Downs (KG, 2008)

Along the rivers riparian forests of eucalypts and paperbarks (such as Melaleuca argentea) are common.

Chili Beach vegetation (John & Mary Nowill, 2008)

Archer River vegetation (KG, 2008)

Many species of birds live in the savannah and riparian areas - the Sacred Kingfisher and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo may be seen in the vine thickets and riverine forests. The Palm Cockatoo, a significant totem animal for many local Aboriginal people, may be seen along watercourses, perched high in the canopy. The Australian Bustard, also known as the plains turkey, may be seen searching for food in the cool of the late afternoon. The permanent lagoons, swamps, waterholes and rivers provide refuge and food for many species of waterbirds including Pelicans, Pacific Black Ducks, Radjah Shelducks and Jabirus, Many species of fish, including the popular barramundi, as well as turtles, crocodiles and frogs also inhabit the waterholes and rivers.

The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as tropical savannah. It has a markedly dry winter. The climate station at Lockhart River provides representative statistics.

Lockhart River Airport (site 028008) 1958-2008 (elevation 19 m ASL)















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The highest temperature ever recorded in Lockhart River was 40.2°C in November 1990 while the lowest temperature was3.3°C in July 1965. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 3298.5 mm was recorded in 1960 and the lowest total of 1136.5 mm in 1961.

Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 48 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Of these, seven tracked within 50 km of the point. They included: an unnamed cyclone in February 1911; TC Faith in April 1972; TC Greta in January 1979; TC Rosa in March 1979; TC Mark in January 1992; TC Ingrid in March 2005; TC Monica in April 2006.

Cyclone tracks within 200 km of point 1906 to 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)

Archer River Roadhouse flood marks (Ken Granger, 2008

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 records of both the Wenlock and Archer Rivers are most impressive. The flood of record at the Archer River Roadhouse was produced by TC Nina in December 1992. This cyclone passed to the south of the area. TC Monica in 2006 also produced severe flooding and isolated the area for several months.

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 is one earthquake epicentre within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. It was a ML 3.5 quake on 30 January 1998 with the epicentre about 35 km south-east of the confluence point. No damage was reported from this earthquake.

The Indigenous Story: The degree square contains the traditional lands of several Aboriginal groups. Around the Iron Range was Kuuku-ya'u country; to their south around Cape Direction was Uutaalanganu country; inland along the Wenlock River was Yinwum country; and along the Archer River was Kaantju country.

The coastal people of eastern Cape York were some of the first people to join the labour market through beche-de-mer and pearling industries that started in the 1870s. In 1908 an Aboriginal Reserve was proclaimed at Lloyd Bay and placed under the control of the Anglican Church in 1924.

The fear of an imminent Japanese invasion during WW II and the development of the Iron Range area as a major forward air base forced the mission to be disbanded; the residents were instructed to live in bush camps and were supplied with intermittent rations. By 1944 most of the mission inhabitants had returned to the mission but a flu epidemic was responsible for the deaths of about one third of their number. In 1953 construction of a new village consisting of 65 houses commenced.

In 1969 a new mission was completed at Iron Range. On 29 October 1987 land in the Lockhart River region was assigned to the Lockhart River Council, under the Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT). The Lockhart River DOGIT, with the exception of the town area which remains under Lockhart River Council control, was transferred to the traditional owners in September 2001 under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991.

European Exploration and Settlement: The first known Europeans to sight the area were with Cook on HMS Endeavour in 1770. They did not make a landing. The first mariner to make a landing was Bligh and the men in their seven metre-long launch. They made their first landfall following the mutiny on HMS Bounty in 1789 at Restoration Island, off Cape Weymouth, where they replenished their water and food supplies.

The first Europeans on the land were members of Edmund Kennedy's 1848 ill-fated Cape York expedition. He left a party of eight men near the Pascoe River, but starvation and illness claimed all but two of those men. In late 1864 - early 1865, the Jardine brothers drove cattle through the area, on their way to Somerset near the tip of Cape York.

The first European settlement in the area was by James Burne who took up Batavia Downs in 1882. An official Government survey of runs established in the Cape area was conducted by J.T. Embley in 1885-86. In 1892 gold was discovered on the upper Wenlock River by William Baird and the 'Batavia Gold Field' produced the first rush on the Peninsula. Baird was speared by Aborigines in the area in 1896 and his grave remains at Bairdsville, a ghost town near where the Portlands Roads Road now crosses the Wenlock River. Gold was also discovered at Hayes Creek in 1903, Plutoville in 1911 and Iron Range in 1934. All were relatively small and short lived fields.

The Plutoville field is interesting in that it was found by an Aboriginal by the name of Pluto who was working around the Mien Telegraph Station. Pluto and a mate were said to have won 213 ounces of nuggets from the find. Pluto's wife Kitty found the Lower Camp field, 5 km to the north-east of Plutoville in 1915. This proved to be the richest find on the Wenlock field. It is said to be the only gold field in Queensland to have been found by a woman.

Tin was also found along Tin Creek, a tributary of the Archer River in 1889 and a large field was active until the 1920s. The miners supplemented their incomes by harvesting the sandalwood that grew in the area.

The opening up of the Iron Range field in the 1930s saw the need for a port and a jetty was constructed at Portland Roads to facilitate the unloading of equipment. At the outbreak of the Pacific War this jetty greatly facilitated the landing of heavy equipment needed for the construction of the forward defence airfield at Iron Range in June 1942. Two airfields were built with the first becoming operational for US bombers by September 1942. The Iron Range area attracted further controversial attention many years after the war when it was revealed that in 1962 a request from the US Government was made to allow the area to be used for testing chemical weapons including nerve gas. The Australian Government rejected the request.


The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 511. The decline in population over the past decade may be associated with the decline in the pastoral industry and the completion of several construction projects in the area.






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The majority of the population live in the Lockhart River community which had a population of 541 in 2006 but fell to 464 in 2011.


Unloading cargo for Lockhart River in Lloyd Bay (Ken Granger, 2008)

Lockhart River remains a very isolated community, especially during the wet season. It relies heavily on deliveries of essentials such as fuel and food by ship from Cairns. All cargo must be transferred off shore in Lloyd Bay into landing barges because there are no port facilities available in the area since the demolition of the Portland Roads Jetty in the 1960s. During the dry season, however, road transport is available.

Land use remains dominated by cattle grazing. Tourism, especially eco-tourism to the Iron Range National Park is becoming a significant economic activity. The Archer River Roadhouse provides accommodation, fuel and basic stores for travellers along the Telegraph Road and the Peninsula Development Road to Weipa. One of the pioneers of road transport on the Cape is commemorated by a monument outside the Archer River Roadhouse. Thora Daphne 'Toots' Holzheimer was said to have been the first in after the wet season and the last one out at the end of the dry - one of the 'characters' of this remote area.

The plaque on the memorial has the following epitaph:

We have a legend here on the Cape,

We relied on her to bring our freight.

When the rain started to ease,

The dust must fly,

And Toots was always the first

To give it a try.

Over the hills and gullies,

Her truck started to move,

With the heat and the flies,

She always came through.

She's left us now,

But her legend lives on.

So chin up there mate,

And keep moving on.

Archer River Roadhouse (KG, 2008)

'Toots' Holzheimer memorial (KG, 2008)

Apart from the main Telegraph and Peninsula Developmental Roads and the many unsealed minor roads serving cattle stations and mining ventures, the only infrastructure in the area are the unsealed airstrips serving Lockhart River, cattle stations and mining areas.

The area is divided between the administrations of Lockhart River Shire, Napranum Shire (in the north-west corner) and Cook Shire. There are two national parks in the area, Iron Range National Park and Mungkan Kandju National Park.

Site Summary:


950 m west of the Portland Roads Road


By road along Portland Roads Road then on foot

Nearest town

Lockhart River


Flat to low undulating


Wenlock River

Geology & soils

Gravelly grey soils on Quaternary alluvium


Low open eucalypt savannah with grass trees

Land use

None observed


Tropical savannah with a dry winter

Population in degree square

677 at the 2006 census


Main and minor roads, Lockhart River airstrip and several minor airstrips

National Parks

Iron Range NP and Mungkan Kadju NP

Compilers: Ken Granger, 2009

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

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

EPA, 2001: Heritage trails of the tropical north, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane.

Colin Hooper, 2006: Angor to Zillmanton - stories of North Queensland's deserted towns, Bolton Print, Townsville.