15°S 144°E Lakefield – Queensland by Degrees

15°S 144°E Lakefield – Queensland by Degrees


Degree confluence 15°S 144°E (Google Earth)

Looking north

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west



Location: This confluence point is within Lakefield National Park in the catchment of the North Kennedy River. It is 23 km from the Lakefield Ranger Station and was reached by quad bike cross-country. It was located accurately by GPS. The nearest town is Laura, 78 km (direct line) to the south-east.

The Landscape: The site is on the floodplains of the Hann and North Kennedy Rivers at an elevation of 50 m ASL. The soil is a reddish grey sandy loam derived from the underlying sand material of Cainozoic age (less than 65 million years). Vegetation around the point is a mid-height dry sclerophyll woodland of Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta), Bloodwoods (including Corymbia intermedia), Moreton Bay Ash (C. tessellaris), Ironbarks (probably E. crebra) and Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys). Ground cover is course grasses such as Speargrass (Heteropogon contortus). Fauna in the area included cattle, feral pigs and macropods (Northern Nailtail Wallaby and Agile Wallaby being the main types).

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


The Country: The country within the degree square is occupied mostly by the Laura Basin, a geological depression which drains northwards into Princess Charlotte Bay. There are numerous large rivers and lagoon systems as well as low undulating plains in the hinterland. The steepest terrain is in the very north-east corner where the hills of Bathurst Range rise to around 400 m ASL and in the south-west (maximum elevation around 300 m ASL). For the most part, however, the Laura Basin has an elevation of between 50 and 100 m ASL.

The underlying geology is predominantly alluvium of Quaternary age (less than 2 million years). The only areas of older rock are the sandstone of Middle Jurassic age (184 to 158 million years) in the Bathurst Range and the granite of Late Silurian age (425 to 410 million years) in the Great Dividing Range in the south-west of the square.

The river system of the Laura Basin is made up of three major rivers - the North Kennedy, Normanby and Morehead rivers. During the peak of the summer wet season heavy rains cause the many rivers to flood. Water rises above the river banks and spills out onto the floodplains, creating an extensive wetland system of billabongs, lagoons, swamps and lakes. For the rest of the year the floodplains and wetlands dry out and the country towards the coast is dry and brown.

  Hann River crossing - note the broad flood-out area devoid of vegetation (KG, 2008)

  Saltwater Creek and surrounding scrub (KG, 2008)


  Normanby River at Kalpowar Crossing (KG, 2008)

Vegetation across the area ranges from samphire on the saline flats just inland of Princess Charlotte Bay, through seasonal grasslands across the coastal plains such as the Marina and Nifold Plains, to Stringybark woodland on the dryer country, to riparian forests along the rivers. On the coastal plains patches of the unique Kennedy Palms (Corypha elata) stand out in the landscape. In the riparian forests species such as the Leichardt Tree (Nauclea orientalis) is common. The numerous waterholes and billabongs are surrounded by stands of Melaleuca and are often covered by waterlilies.

  Nifold Plain (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Fauna across the area is prolific. Estuarine and fresh water crocodiles are common and occasionally require warning signs to be put out by Park Rangers or areas of the Lakefield National Park are occasionally closed because of 'rogue' crocodiles.

Crocodile warning at Kalpowar Crossing (KG, 2008)

Freshwater crocodile Kennedy River (KG, 2008)

Bird life is especially prolific. Water birds such as egrets, ducks, Black-necked Stork (Jabiru) and Pied Goose flock to the many waterholes and billabongs. Brolga, Sarus Crane, Bustards and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo are commonly seen across the open plains. Several very rare species such as the Golden-shouldered Parrot, which nests in termite mounds, and Star Finch in the grassland fringes are also found in this area.

Intermediate Egret at Kalpowar (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Magpie Geese at Lotus Waterhole (KG, 2008)

Brolgas on Nifold Plain (KG, 2008)

Black Cockatoos on Nifold Plain (KG, 2008)

Agile Wallaby at Kalpowar (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Termite mounds are a prominent feature in the grassland landscape. The 'magnetic' termite mounds of Amitermes laurensis are found in areas where the water table is high all year. Other species have large rounded mounds, while others have small pointed mounds.

'Magnetic' termite mound (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Fat termite mounds (KG, 2008)

The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as tropical savannah with a very dry winter. The climate statistics for Musgrave Roadhouse on the eastern edge of the square are representative.

Musgrave (site 028007) 1887-2008 (elevation 79 m ASL)















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Mean rain














The highest temperature ever recorded in Musgrave was 41.8°C in December 1992 while the lowest temperature was 2.4°C in July 1996. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2031.1 mm was recorded in 1913 and the lowest total of 400.5 mm in 1902.

Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 55 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Of these, six tracked within 50 km of the point. They included: unnamed cyclone of March 1955; TC Otto of March 1977; TC Hal of March 1978; TC Peter of December 1978; TC Freda in February/March 1981; and TC Dominic of April 1982.

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

These storms bring potentially destructive winds, and intense rainfall. Flooding in all steams is a certainty.

The area averages between 30 and 40 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can also bring destructive winds and intense rainfall. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread.

Extreme heat is also a serious issue. The climate records for Musgrave show that on average (over 15 recent years of records) the area experiences 71 days a year with temperatures over 35°C. Such extreme temperatures can cause heat stroke and death if appropriate measures are not taken such as avoiding strenuous physical effort, keeping as cool as possible and drinking lots of water. Heat waves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined.

There are three earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The earliest and largest was a ML 5.7 on 14 May 1928. The coordinates given place it at the confluence point, however the accuracy of seismic network at that time was not good. The size of this earthquake is significant and was potentially damaging (the very destructive and fatal Newcastle earthquake of 1989 was the same magnitude). Another earthquake is also located at the confluence point. This was a ML 4.0 event on 17 September 1971. The third event was a ML 4.4 earthquake on 7 July 1958 located 45 km south of the confluence point. Again the location is not necessarily accurate to within a few minutes of latitude and longitude. No damage was reported from any of these earthquakes.

The Indigenous Story: The area covered by the degree square is the traditional lands of several Aboriginal groups. The Lamalama people occupied much of the river basin; the Mutumui people occupied the area to the east of the Normanby River and the Kokowarra people occupied the land to the south.

Lakefield National Park was gazetted as a national park in 1978 and is the second largest in Queensland (after the Simpson Desert National Park). It was claimed by the Lamalama people under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and was leased back to the Government. The local Aboriginal people play a significant role in the management of the park.


European Exploration and Settlement: Early explorers, geologists and surveyors, including Kennedy, Hann, Mulligan, Logan Jack, Bradford and Embley, passed through the area in the mid to late 1800s. Hann Crossing is named after the explorer William Hann, who led an expedition into the Cape York Peninsula and discovered the Palmer River Goldfield. In September 1872, William Hann crossed the North Kennedy River at the site now known as Hann Crossing.

I came to a bar of sandstone grit stretching right across the river ... here I crossed. The paths radiated in all directions, showing this to be a crossing place for the natives. I also saw a corroboree ground here, which is no doubt, a meeting place on great occasions. Close to our camp were clumps of fan palms of immense beauty ... signs of alligators during the night from which it would appear they are here in great numbers. (William Hann, diary record - quoted in EPA's Lakefield NP brochure).

During the gold rush of 1873, access routes to the Palmer River Goldfield passed through the area later occupied by Laura Station. In 1879 a lease was granted for Laura Station. Other pastoral holdings, such as Lakefield and Breeza, were granted in 1881 taking advantage of the extensive grasslands of the floodplains. Aboriginal people contributed significantly to the early success of the cattle industry.

In 1879 Fergus O'Beirne selected Laura Station as a lease which was recorded with the Crown Lands Office on 14 October 1879, at a cost of eight pounds fifteen shillings for an area of 50 square miles (12,800ha). This area was increased and by 1894, the property was carrying 8000 head of cattle. After Fergus O'Beirne's death in 1896, the lease was transferred to O'Beirne and Company; his descendants remained with the company until 1925.

Old Laura homestead (KG, 2008)

Old Laura meat house (KG, 2008)

The oldest part of the existing group of buildings dates from 1892. Around 1908, the homestead was a timber-framed structure on high stumps with a corrugated iron roof. The ground floor was made of ox blood clay from termite mounds. The upstairs bedrooms were surrounded by a split bark awning. Detached from the residence and built of timber slabs, the kitchen also had a dirt floor made from termite mounds.

The surveying and construction of the Cooktown to Thursday Island telegraph line also had a significant impact through this area. John Bradford started the survey in 1883 and in 1885 tenders were called for the first stage of construction. Two telegraph offices were established in the square, the first at Fairview to the west of Old Laura homestead, and the second at Musgrave. Musgrave was completed in 1886 and was built to be easily defended against attacks from Aborigines. It was built of heavy galvanised iron and had two protruding gunports to give an all-round field of fire. The station was never threatened, however a Native Mounted Police camp was located nearby in the 1890s. The Musgrave telegraph office was blown down in TC Mahina in 1899 but was rebuilt. It is the only original telegraph station building that remains on the Cape.

Musgrave telegraph station is now a roadhouse (KG, 2008)


The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 184, a significant decline over the past decade.






Total population





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Under 5 years





65 years and over










The area lies entirely within Cook Shire. There are sections of two national parks in the square, Lakefield and Cape Melville.

The infrastructure in the area includes the Peninsula Development Road, several roads providing access to the national parks and a number of station roads and tracks. There are several dirt airstrips servicing cattle stations and Lakefield National Park.

The principal land uses in the area are cattle grazing and conservation. Tourism is a major activity during the winter months with bird watching and fishing major attractions. Locations such as Lotusbird Lodge just to the west of the Lakefield boundary bring bird watchers from all around the world, while fishing safaris in the rivers, especially for barramundi, are also popular.

Safari bus crossing Normanby River (KG, 2008)

Safari breakfast at Kalpowar Crossing (KG, 2008)

The grim side of the bush (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Not all roads are easily travelled (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Site Summary:


In Lakefield National Park in the North Kennedy River catchment


By quad bike cross country 23 km from national park ranger station


Flat flood plain


North Kennedy River, Princess Charlotte Bay

Geology & soils

Sandy loam derived from sand of Cainozoic age


Mid height eucalypt woodland with grass ground cover

Land use

National park


Tropical savannah with very dry winter

Population in degree square

161 at 2006 census


Unsealed roads and airstrips

National Parks

Lakefield NP and Cape Melville NP

Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

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

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