15°S 145°E Jack River – Queensland by Degrees
Location: This confluence point is just inside the eastern border of Lakefield National Park in very rugged country. The photos are taken at the closest point that the team was able reach on foot - 10.8 km east of the actual point. The point falls within Cook Shire and the nearest town is Hope Vale 35 km to the south-south east and Cooktown almost 60 km to the south-east. It is within the catchment of the Jack River.
The Landscape: The landscape at the point is, by map interpretation, very steep and rugged and at an elevation of around 350 m ASL. It is in sandstone country of Middle Jurassic age (184 to 159 million years). The vegetation is probably very similar to that at the closest point reached - a mid-height eucalypt forest with Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta), Bloodwoods (including Corymbia intermedia), Moreton Bay Ash (C. tessellaris) and Ironbarks (probably E. crebra). Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys) is also common. A shrub layer of saplings and ground cover of grasses is also evident. The point is conserved within the Lakefield National Park.
Point information and photos: Bruce Urquhart, Kev Teys, John and Mary Nowill, 2008.
WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE
The Country: The country within the degree square can be divided into four broad landscape types; the off-shore islands; the coastal plains with their swamps, dunes and estuaries; the coastal ranges; and the floodplains of the westward-flowing rivers.
Two significant islands lie between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef. Howick Island and several smaller islands lie at the northern edge of the square. They are low lying islands mostly mud and mangroves, though the eastern end of Howick Island is underlain with granite of Early Permian age (298 to 270 million years). Granite of Late Permian age (270 to 251 million years) makes up most of Lizard Island. Lizard Island is a continental island about 32 km north-east of Cape Flattery. The island is very steep with a maximum elevation of 359 m ASL, less than 1 km from the coast. There are numerous other islands and rocks scattered across the waters inside the Great Barrier Reef.
The coastal plains are generally low lying with swampy estuaries including large areas of mangrove-covered mud flats in the estuaries of the Howick River, Dead Dog Creek, the coastline west of Lookout Point and the Endeavour River. The area around Cape Flattery is dominated by long parallel sand ridges and dunes of white silica sand with intervening areas of swamp. These areas are composed predominantly of sands and muds of Quaternary age (less than 1 million years). The remainder of the coastline generally rises steeply from the coast to elevations in excess of 100 m ASL. Cape Flattery, a sandstone formation of Middle Jurassic age (184 to 159 million years), for example reaches a peak of 274 m ASL only 725 m from the water and Mt Cook (on the southern edge of Cooktown) reaches 437 m ASL about 1 km from the coast. Mt Cook is composed of granite of Late Permian age (270 to 251 million years).
The rugged coastal mountain ranges that extend from Cooktown to Cape Melville are mostly composed of sandstone of Middle Jurassic age (184 to 159 million years) and older mudstone of Devonian age (410 to 354 million years). They have elevations generally above 300 m ASL with the greatest elevation being 619 m ASL in the Altanmoui Range in the Cape Melville National Park. Several spectacular sandstone escarpments are found in that range as well as in Starcke National Park and the Battle Camp Range. Several streams coming off these mountains have waterfalls and deep gorges.
A few areas of intruded granite are also found. Mt Cook, for example is of Late Permian age (270 to 251 million years) while the granite of the mysterious Black Mountain just to the west of Cooktown is an outlier of the same formation. The Black Mountain granite has weathered in an unusual way with fractures in the rock being subject to chemical weathering to clay which in turn has been washed away by rain leaving a massive pile of bounders. The black colour of the mountain is caused by lichen and other small plants - the granite itself is a light grey.
The floodplains of the rivers that flow to the Gulf of Carpentaria, including the Laura, Normanby and Jack Rivers, are broad, flat and contain numerous wetlands, lagoons and seasonal swamps. Elevations are generally less than 100 m ASL. They are composed of alluvium of Quaternary age.
Vegetation across the area varies from mangrove forests along the coast and estuaries; low heath and bare patches of silica sand in areas near Cape Flattery; eucalypt woodland and forest on the mountains; vine forests with Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunnimhamii) emergents in the Altanmoui Range; rainforest patches in sheltered gullies in the mountains; low open woodland and grasslands across the floodplains. Amongst the endemic plant species are the Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia bifurcate), a species that achieved some notoriety in the 1990s because of poachers illegally collecting seeds from within Starcke National Park.
Fauna include endemic species such as Godman's Rock Wallaby and several lizards and frogs. Bird life is prolific and includes Beach Stone-curlew along the shoreline, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and Brolga on the floodplains and Blue-winged Kookaburra in the woodlands.
Land use across the area is either cattle grazing or conservation in national parks.
The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as tropical savannah with a very dry winter. The climate statistics for Cooktown are representative.
Cooktown Mission Strip (site 031017) 1942-2008 (elevation 14 m ASL)
The highest temperature ever recorded in Cooktown was 41.5°C in November 1992 while the lowest temperature was 7.3°C in June 1943. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2560.9 mm was recorded in 2006 and the lowest total of 732.5 mm in 2002.
In the interior rainfalls are lower (Fairview Outstation averages 999.9 mm) and on the higher country facing the coast rainfall is likely to be higher.
Extremes of Nature: The area is subject to cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 63 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 were: unnamed cyclone in January 1907; unnamed cyclone in March 1939; unnamed cyclone in January 1940; unnamed cyclone in January 1949; unnamed cyclone in January 1950; unnamed cyclone in February 1957; TC Madge in March 1973; TC Peter in December 1978; TC Greta in March 1979; TC Freda in February/March 1981; and TC Dominic of April 1982. The unnamed cyclone of 10 February 1949 did extensive structural damage in Cooktown with winds in excess of 80 knots.
These storms bring potentially destructive winds, intense rainfall and high seas. Flooding in all steams is a certainty and inundation of low-lying coastal areas from storm tide is also likely.
The area averages between 25 and 35 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can also bring destructive winds, intense rainfall and rough seas. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread.
Landslides may be experienced on steeper slopes, especially along roads where the natural slopes have been made steeper by road works.
Extreme heat is also a serious issue. The climate records for Cooktown show an average of 11 days a year with temperatures of 35°C or more, however, Musgrave, in the interior, has an average of 71 days a year. 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 no earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The closest epicentres were about 95 km south-south-west of the confluence point. The two events at the same point were a ML 4.1 on 19 August 1961 and the other a ML 3.9 on 9 February 1967. No damage was reported from either of these earthquakes.
The Indigenous Story: The area within the degree square is the traditional lands of four Aboriginal groups. The northern area is Mutumui country the southern coastal area, including Hope Vale is Guugu-Yimidhir country; the interior along the Normanby and Jack Rivers is Kokowarra country; and the area around Cooktown (and further south) is Kuku-yalangi country.
The first contacts with Europeans were the Guugu-Yimidhir encounters with Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander from HMS Endeavour in June and July 1770. Banks recorded some 50 Guugu-Yimidhir words including 'gangaruu' ('kangaroo') - their name for a local species of macropod.
The penetration of their land by miners heading for the Palmer River gold fields from 1873 onwards was violently opposed by the Aboriginals and many one-sided battles ensued. Many Aboriginals were killed in skirmishes with miners and other settlers as well as the result of campaigns of dispersal mounted by the native Mounted Police. This conflict led to the establishing of the Elim Beach Mission, near Cape Bedford, by the Lutheran Church in 1886.
This mission operated until the outbreak of WW II when the German missionaries were interned as enemy aliens and the population of the mission was evacuated to southern communities such as Woorabinda. In the ensuing eight years more than 25% of the population evacuated from the Elim Beach Mission died of disease. In September 1949 Hope Vale was re-established as a Lutheran Mission and the first families returned in 1950. Due to a lack of water at the Elim Beach site the community was moved to its current site 18 km inland on the Right Branch of the Endeavour River.
Hope Vale was granted a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) in 1986 and the Hope Vale Council was established.
MORE INFORMATION WELCOME
European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to visit the area were with James Cook on HMS Endeavour in 1770. Cook's ship had been holed by hitting a reef just to the south-east of present-day Cooktown on 11 June and was beached in the Endeavour River for seven weeks so that repairs could be carried out. On sighting the entrance to what became known as the Endeavour River, Cook recorded in his journal:
it was happy for us that a place of refuge was at hand; for we soon found that the ship would not work, and it is remarkable that in the whole course of our voyage we had seen no place that our present circumstances could have afforded us the same relief.
Cook climbed Grassy Hill, a prominent feature on the southern entrance to the Endeavour River, to plot the reefs that he would have to navigate through once his ship was repaired.
During their stay, his naturalists, Banks and Solander, undertook the most comprehensive natural history collection of the entire east coast of Australia. It was also here that the expedition artist Sydney Parkinson made the first known European landscape drawing of Australia, a view of Mt Cook. On leaving what he named Charco Harbour (his interpretation of the local Aboriginal name for the area)and sailing north Cook sent parties ashore at Lookout Point and Lizard Island.
The next coastal surveys were carried out by Charles Jeffreys in HMS Kangaroo in 1815, followed by Philip Parker King in HMS Mermaid in 1819. King was accompanied by botanist Allan Cunningham who made extensive collections from the area for the British Museum.
In 1873 Cooktown was established as the port for the Palmer River goldfield to the south-west of the port. This important field had been discovered the year before by William Hann. At least 50,000 miners flowed through the port and trekked overland to the diggings. By 1880 Cooktown had a population of around 7000. There were 35 licensed hotels within the town boundaries and probably as many illegal grog shops and several brothels. There were bakeries, a brewery and a soft drinks factory, dressmakers and milliners, brickworks, a cabinetmaker, and two newspapers. A lighthouse was established on Grassy Hill in 1885 to improve navigation into the port.
Transport was an ongoing problem for the new settlers. Getting supplies and people to the goldfields often took three weeks. After every wet season the tracks and bridges had to be remade. A railway line from Cooktown to Maytown, the centre of the Palmer field, was planned, but it took five years just to get the 108 km to Laura, and that is where it stopped. By that time the gold was petering out, so the Queensland Government refused further funding for the venture.
In spite of this, the train proved to be a lifeline for the Peninsula people connecting the hinterland to Cooktown, from where one could catch a boat to Cairns and other southern ports. The line was eventually closed in 1961 after the Peninsula Development Road was built connecting Cooktown and other Peninsula communities with Cairns and the Atherton Tableland to the south.
Cooktown played a significant role in the defence of Australia during WW II. Some 20,000 American and Australian troops were stationed in and around the area. The Cooktown airstrip also played a significant role in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 3205.
Of the total population in 2011, 1758 were living in Cooktown and 973 in Hope Vale. The remaining 528 were spread across the area, but mostly in the Endeavour River valley.
Cooktown is the headquarters of Cook Shire which covers the whole area with the exception of Hope Vale Shire which covers the DOGIT area. There are 11 national parks within the area: Lakefield, Cape Melville, Starcke, Mount Webb, Endeavour River, Mount Cook, Melsonby (Gaarraay), all on the mainland; and Lizard Island, Howick Group, Turtle Group and Three Islands Group off-shore.
Cooktown has a wide range of services such as schools, hospital and court, as well as key infrastructure including an all-weather airstrip, radio station wharves and marina. It is now a significant tourist destination, especially since the Peninsula Developmental Road to Cooktown was sealed.
MORE INFORMATION WELCOME
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.