17°S 141°E Van Diemen Inlet – Queensland by Degrees

The Point:

17°S 141°E confluence, Google Earth.

Looking north

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west


Location: This confluence point is located on Delta Downs Station close to Van Diemen Inlet, on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was reached by road from the Delta Downs homestead (33.9 km) then cross country to within 800 m of the point then on foot to the exact point. GPS gave the accurate location. The point falls within Carpentaria Shire. Karumba which is 54 km to the south-south-west is the closest settlement.

The Landscape: The point is located on the marine mud of Quaternary age (less than 2.6 million years) that forms the delta of the numerous streams that drain this section of the western side of Cape York. They include the Gilbert River, Smithburne River, Fitzmaurice Creek and Brannigan Creek. Elevation at the point is 7 m ASL.

The ground at the point is bare of vegetation though patches of succulents such as samphire (Halosarcia spp.) and pig weed (Portulaca spp.) provide a patchy ground cover in the immediate area. There are mangroves (Rhizophora spp) along the tidal channels within 50 m of the point and eucalypt scrub with a dense tangle of rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) on the sand swales immediately to the east.

Fauna noted in the area included feral pigs, beef cattle and macropods.



GPS at the point (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Samphire at point (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Pig weed at point (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Mangrove near point (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Rubber vine near point (J&M Nowill, 2008)

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


The Country: The coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the square is mostly wide sand and silt beaches backed by low frontal dunes. The dunes carry a strand vegetation of Beach Sheoaks (Casuarina equisetifolia). The estuaries of the many creeks that flow to the Gulf carry dense stands of mangroves.

Gulf beach near Karumba (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Gulf beach near Van Diemen Inlet (J&M Nowill, 2008)

The hinterland is low lying with elevations of less than 50 m ASL. It is composed predominantly of Quaternary age mud and delta deposits interspersed by low swales of sand. The vegetation described at the point is typical of that on the mud flats. The vegetation on the swales is typically a low eucalypt scrub with the occasional stand of Kennedy Palm (Corypha utan).



Kennedy Palms near Van Diemen Inlet (J&M Nowill, 2008

In the country between the Gilbert River and Walker Creek the sand plain terrain is dotted with numerous water holes, lagoons and drainage channels, most of which dry in the winter. Vegetation across the area is mostly grassland with riparian forests along the drainage lines. The succession of vegetation types from the coast to the sand plains is quite complex.

The waterholes support a significant fauna of Agile Wallabies (the most common macropod) and larger birds such as Brolga and support large herds of beef cattle. Water birds such as Burdekin (or Radjah) Shelduck and raptors such as Black Kite are also plentiful. The waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and the many estuaries are home to numerous estuarine crocodiles. Fresh water crocodiles also inhabit the streams in the square. On the land, reptiles present including Gould's Goanna, Eastern Brown Snake, King Brown Snake and various pythons.

Wallabies at a dry waterhole (J&M Nowill 2008)

Brolgas on the sand plain (J&M Nowill 2008)

Burdekin Shelducks at a lagoon (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Feral bull in mangroves (J&M Nowill 2008)

Black Kite (J&M Nowill 2008)


Climate: The climate of the area is classified as being tropical savannah with a winter drought The closest weather station to the confluence is at the Karumba Airport, which is 56 km to the south-south-west of the degree confluence, and has an elevation of 2 m.















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The highest temperature recorded was 41.3°C in December 1943, and the lowest was 5.3°C in August 1939. The greatest rainfall recorded in a year was 1 378.4 mm in 2000, and the least was 475.5 mm in 1943.

These and other climate statistics for Karumba can be found at: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_029028_All.shtml.

Extremes of Nature: The area is very much subject to the impact of cyclones. The database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows 58 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 March 1911; an unnamed cyclone in February 1925; an unnamed cyclone in February 1949; an unnamed cyclone in January 1951; an unnamed cyclone in January 1952; an unnamed cyclone in December 1956; TC Audrey in January 1964; TC Yvonne in February 1974; TC Vernon in January 1986; and TC Barry in January 1996. Most of these storms originated in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They each produced destructive winds, heavy rain, storm tide and high seas. TC Barry in 1996 made landfall between the mouths of the Gilbert and Staaten Rivers on the northern edge of the square. As it approached the coast emergency managers were preparing to evacuate Karumba but it veered off to the north before that became necessary. It passed directly over the camp of a group of professional fishermen which was wrecked by wind and storm tide - the camp was said to be 4 m above sea level. Wind pushed their Landcruiser backwards up a sand dune for many metres. A survey by air after the event showed that the storm tide penetrated up to 7 km inland. Given the enclosed and shallow nature of the Gulf of Carpentaria, even distant storms can have an impact along the coast in this square. In December 1976, for example, TC Ted which passed close to Mornington Island, 180 km to the west, produced tides at Karumba that were 2 m above normal which did much damage to the wharf and prawn processing facilities.

Perhaps the most difficult issue with cyclones that form in the Gulf is the generally short warning time available because they tend to form very close to the coast. The area experiences between 40 and 50 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.

Extreme heat is also a serious issue. The climate records for Karumba show that on average (over 12 years of records) the area experiences 23 days a year with temperatures over 35°C and 1 day a year with temperatures over 40°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.

 Cyclone information for this area and all of Australia can be found at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website, http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/cyclones.cgi.

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

The National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia contains no earthquake epicentres within the degree square. The closest events had similar epicentres in the central Gulf of Carpentaria 154 km north-west of the point. The first was on 7 May 1924 and had a magnitude of ML 5.0; the second was on 4 May 1925 and had a magnitude of ML 5.5. There were no reports of damage from either event.

The Indigenous Story: Most of the land in the square is the traditional country of the Kurtjar people. The Kurtjar people acquired Delta Downs Station in 1982 and have built it into a very successful enterprise.


European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to navigate the waters of the south-east Gulf of Carpentaria were with Able Tasman in 1644. The first British navigator in the area was Matthew Flinders in HMS Investigator in 1802. The first explorer on land to pass through the area was Ludwig Leichardt in 1845 during his epic journey from the Darling Downs to Port Essington. Burke and Wills reached the Gulf just to the west of the Karumba on 11 February 1861.

Karumba was settled in 1867 when it was called Norman Mouth (being at the mouth of the Norman River). This name was changed to Kimberley in 1873 when the location became a lighterage port for shipping carrying supplies for the Croydon and Normanton gold fields. The locality was called Karumba by the local Kurtjar people and that name was eventually adopted in the 1880's.

With the decline in the Croydon and Cloncurry mines in the 1920s Karumba also declined. It enjoyed a brief revival in 1935 when the Shand meatworks was opened to supply the South Pacific trade, however, it closed after only two killing seasons. Andersons bought the Shand installation in 1939 and used it for canning and frozen meat production but it too closed in 1942.

In the late 1930's Karumba became a refuelling and maintenance stop for flying boats operated by QANTAS Empire Airways between Sydney and Britain. Their facilities were taken over by the RAAF during WW II as a base for Catalina operations.

Following the War Karumba declined back to a quiet fishing port until the prawn industry became established in the early 1960s. Considerable support infrastructure to support that industry was developed on shore including refrigerated storage sheds, slipways and engineering facilities.

Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 844. Virtually all of the population lives within Karumba.






Total population





Total males





Total females





Under 5 years





65 years and over










The peak population in 1996 is likely to have been associated with the peak construction phase of the processing and export facilities associated with the Century Mine project. The population also fluctuates on a seasonal basis with the winter tourist season being the peak. The 2006 and 2011 censuses were held in September at the end of that season so the enumerated population probably reflects the core resident population.

The prawn and barramundi fishing industries remain a significant seasonal part of the Karumba economy with over $130 million of exports each year. Since December 1999 the processing and export of zinc concentrate through the port has added to the economy. The zinc is mined at the Century Mine near the Boodjamulu (Lawn Hill) National Park and transported as a slurry to Karumba by a 340 km-long underground pipeline. There it is dried and loaded on a special 5000 tonne ship for transport to a designated loading area 45 km off-shore in the Gulf of Carpentaria. On average one shipment of 10,000 tonnes of concentrate leaves the Gulf each week. Karumba is served by a dirt airstrip that does not have an all weather capability. Access by road is by sealed road from Normanton.

Karumba is a popular destination for 'grey nomad' tourists who fill the local caravan park for most of the winter. Fishing and crabbing is the main interest of these visitors, many of whom book the same van site every year.

Beyond the facilities of Karumba, much of the in the degree square is occupied by the 394,024 ha of Delta Downs Station, a cattle station run by the Morr Morr Pastoral Company, an Aboriginal-owned enterprise. Delta Downs runs some 35,000 head of cattle bred mostly for live export.


Karumba (Google Earth image)

Delta Downs sign (J&M Nowill 2008)


Site Summary:


Close to the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria
on Delta Downs Station.


By Delta Downs road to within 800m, then by
foot to exact point

Nearest town

Dry mud flats


Dry mud flats 7m ASL


Gulf of Carpentaria

Geology & soils

Quaternary Delta deposits


Samphire and Pig weed

Land use

Cattle Grazing


Tropical savannah with a winter drough

Population in degree square

519 at the 2006 national census


Port facility, airstrip, health services and power supply
at Karumba; road network and station tracks

National Parks

None in the square

Compilers: Ken Granger 2009

Edited by:  Hayley Freemantle

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

EPA, 2001: Heritage trails of the tropical north, Queensland Environment Protection Agency

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