17°S 139°E Old Doomadgee – Queensland by Degrees

The Point

17°S 139°E Confluence, Google Earth

Looking North

Looking East

Looking South

Looking West

 

Location: This confluence point is just 7 km from the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and located on Doomadgee Aboriginal land close to tidal Cliffdale Creek. Access to the point involved a drive of 87 km north from Doomadgee, the closest town. From the end of the formed road it was a further 21 km by vehicle following an old fence line and along a track used by the Doomadgee people to access the Gulf waters for fishing. The final 9.42 km was covered by quad bike, not without the odd mishap. The point was accurately located by GPS.

Running repairs at Old Doomadgee

Return from the point with spare parts

The Landscape: The area is only 8 m ASL and flat. The area has a grey loam derived from Quaternary age (less than 2 million years) colluvium and other sediments. It is close to the estuarine sediments and coastal mud flats that form the coastline of the Gulf. Numerous tidal creeks drain the area to the Gulf. Numerous termite mounds dot the landscape.

Vegetation in the locality of the point is a low open savannah of eucalypts such as Woollybutt (E. miniata) and Corymbia setose and tea trees such as Melaleuca citrolens and M. nervosa and other shrubs. A few deciduous Cotton Trees (Cochlospermum gregorii) can be found. Ground cover is of course tussock grasses. Fauna noted in the area of the point included brumbies. There did not appear to be any stock to indicate a pastoral land use.

Cotton Tree near point

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

Approval to enter the Doomadgee Aboriginal land was granted by Doomadgee Shire Council members and guidance was provided by Doomadgee Aboriginal elders. RGSQ is most appreciative of this local support and assistance.

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The whole area covered by the degree square lies below 50 m ASL and is quite flat. It includes much of Mornington Island, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as islands of the Forsyth group, Denham Island and islands of the South Wellesley group including part of Bentinck Island.

The area is drained by numerous tidal creeks and much of the coastline is fringed with mangroves and mud banks. The coastline is backed by swales of low dunes and swamps between the swales. Wide areas of salt flats and samphire lie behind the coastal systems.

Vegetation across the square, both on the mainland and on the islands is predominantly a low open savannah dominated by eucalypts with tussock grasses as ground cover. Marine fauna includes estuarine crocodiles, dugong and turtles.

The Climate: The area has a climate that is classified as being tropical savannah. It has a pronounced dry winter. The climate station at Mornington provides representative statistics that can be applied across the area.

Mornington Island (site 029039) 1914-2008 (elevation 9 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

32.2

31.7

31.9

31.4

28.8

25.8

25.6

27.6

30.3

32.3

33.3

33.1

30.3

Mean min
(ºC)

25.5

25.5

24.6

23.2

20.2

17.2

16.1

17.2

20.5

23.6

25.7

26.2

22.1

Mean rain
(mm)

320.3

303.8

254.2

51.7

9.4

6.9

2.5

0.8

1.3

12.7

55.6

155.0

1182.5

The highest temperature ever recorded at Mornington Island was 39.6°C in December 2004 while the lowest temperature was 5.1°C in July 1974. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2171.4 mm was recorded in 2006 and the lowest total of 64.6 mm in 1997.

Extremes of Nature: The area is very much subject to the impact of cyclones. The database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows 61 cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point since 1906. Ten cyclones have tracked within 50 km of the confluence point. They included: an unnamed cyclone in January 1911; an unnamed cyclone of January 1950; an unnamed cyclone in January 1953; TC Audrey in January 1964; TC Ted in December 1976; TC Greta in January 1979; TC Greg in March 1990; TC Warren in March 1995; TC May in February 1998; and TC Fritz in February 2004. Most of these storms originated in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They each produced destructive winds, heavy rain and high seas.

In January 1948 an unnamed cyclone passed over Mornington Island and produced a storm tide that destroyed the water supply of the community on Bentinck Island.

Perhaps the most difficult issue with cyclones in this area is the generally short warning time available because they tend to form very close to the coast and islands.

Cyclone tracks within 200 km of the confluence point since 1906 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)

The area experiences between 50 and 60 thunder days per year. Severe thunderstorms can bring destructive winds, intense rainfall that can produce flash flooding and lightning. Storms in the dry winter period can spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread.

The National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia shows only one small earthquake in the degree square, a ML 2.2 event of 2 February 1938 located in the north-east of Mornington Island about 77 km north-east of the confluence point. No damage was reported from this event.

The Indigenous Story: The area is the traditional home of several Aboriginal groups. The area around the confluence point (i.e. Old Doomadgee) is Gananggalinda land; to its south is Ganggalida country; Mornington Island is Lardil land; and the South Wellesley Islands are Gayardilt land.

The Lardil people had little contact with the outside world before the early 1900's. Pre-contact the Lardil people lived in family groups of 15 to 20 people who owned a portion of the land and water. For social and ceremonial purposes, they were divided into the Windward (south & east) and Leeward (north and west) moieties.

What is now the township of Gununa began in 1914 when the Presbyterians sent missionaries and the Lardil and Yangkal peoples (a sub-group from the Forsyth Islands) were brought together at the mission. Following the establishment of a mission and during the 'protection era', some children from tribes on the mainland and other Gulf islands were removed from their homes and brought to Mornington. In 1948, after a storm tide devastated their water supply, the Gaiadilt people were also brought into the mission from Bentinck Island.

Since the early part of this century Mornington Island had been managed under the Queensland Aborigines Act by the Uniting Church. In 1978 the Queensland Government decided to take over control of the Island. The community protested the decision and sought Commonwealth Government support for its cause. Later that year agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the State for self-government via a local authority (Mornington Shire Council).

On the mainland, a mission was established at Old Doomadgee in 1931 but it was closed and transferred to present-day Doomadgee in 1936 because the original site was too remote and lacked a suitable water supply.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOME

European Exploration and Settlement: The first known European survey of the coastline of the area was that undertaken by Abel Tasman in 1644. It was Matthew Flinders in the Investigator in 1802, however, who made the first detailed survey. He named features including Mornington Island and Allen Island. The first Europeans to enter the area on land were with Ludwig Leichardt's 1844-5 expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington.

The main European impact in the area has been the establishment of missions on Mornington Island and the short-lived Old Doomadgee mission.

Today:

The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 1138, more than 95% of them living in Gununa, the main settlement on Mornington Island. The population has remained fairly stable over the past decade. The slight drop in the 2001 census may have reflected a period when some Aboriginal people moved away from Gununa back to their traditional lands. It would appear that many of then had returned to Gununa by 2006.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

1189

964

1062

1138

Total males

601

503

538

558

Total females

588

461

524

580

Under 5 years

126

124

151

134

65 years and over

33

38

54

58

Indigenous

936

831

954

1002

The area is administratively divided between three local governments: the islands come under Mornington Shire; the Old Doomadgee land is under Doomadgee Shire and the remainder of the mainland comes under Burke Shire.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOME

Site Summary:

Location

On Old Doomadgee land 7 km from the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria

Access

By road from Doomadgee with the final 9.4 km covered by quad bike.

Nearest town

Doomadgee 105 km south; Gununa (on Mornington Island) 42 km north-east

Terrain

Low (8 m ASL) flat coastal plain of the Gulf hinterland

Catchment

Numerous creeks draining to the Gulf

Geology & soils

Alluvium of Quaternary origin

Vegetation

Low open eucalypt savannah

Land use

None noted

Climate

Tropical savannah with a winter drought

Population in degree square

1062 in 2006, most living in Gununa on Mornington Island

Infrastructure

Very few dirt roads, town streets in Gununa, several small airstrips

National Parks

None in degree square.

Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009.

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

Sources: various web sites including local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.

Philip Moore, 2005: A guide to plants of inland Australia, New Holland, Sydney.