17°S 144°E Blackdown – Queensland by Degrees

The Point:

17°S 144°E confluence, Google Earth.

Looking north

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west

 

Location: This confluence point is on Blackdown Station 2.8 km north of the Blackdown road about 9 km from the station homestead. The point was reached by road then the final 2.8 km on foot. The point was accurately located using GPS. The site is within the Tablelands Regional Council area and the nearest settlement is Chillagoe, about 57 km to the south-east.

The Landscape: The point is on moderately undulating to flat land at an elevation of 206 m ASL. The soil is a grey sandy loam derived from the underlying clayey quartz sandstone of Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous age (176 to 100 million years). The site falls within the catchment of the Walsh River, a tributary of the Mitchell River which flows to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Vegetation at the point is a grassy mid-height woodland with Darwin Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) and Cabbage Gum (Corymbia confertiflora) being dominant. Bunch Speargrass (Heteropogan contortus) provides the main ground cover. Fauna observed locally included beef cattle, feral pigs, Northern Nailtail Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos.

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

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: Across the degree square the topography ranges from flat or gently undulating outwash plains and alluvial fans to deeply embedded streams and dissected sandstone to areas of karst limestone and areas of ancient lava flows. The geology of the square is relatively simple in the west and north with sandstones, mudstones and similar material of Early Cretaceous age (less than 120 million years) or younger. In the south and east, however, the geology is far more complex with the oldest formations being gneiss and other metamorphic rocks of Palaeoproterozoic age (2500 to 1600 million years) and intrusions of Mesopreterozoic age (1600 to 1000 million years) granite are found flanking the Tate River. Sandstones and mudstones of Silurian age (444 to 416 million years); greywacke of Devonian age (416 to 359 million years); and granites and volcanic flows of Carboniferous age (359 to 299 million years) are also significant.

The highest country is to the north of Walsh River on the eastern edge of the square with elevations of up to 600 m ASL. This rugged country is composed of volcanic rocks of Early Permian age (299 to 271 million years). The drainage in this area is dictated by the complex folding and faulting of the volcanic material. The lowest elevations in the square are around 50 m ASL in the north-west along the Walsh River.

Rugged volcanics with complex drainage north of the Walsh River (Google Earth)

Country along the Walsh River (J&M Nowill 2008)

Walsh River (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Amongst the more striking terrain is the karst limestone found between Mungana and Chillagoe (just outside the square to the east). These formations contain numerous caves and form part of the Chillagoe Mungana Caves National Park. These formations are of Early Devonian age (416 to398 million years) and represent an ancient coral reef system.

Karst limestone near Mungana (J&M Nowill, 2008)

Squatter Pigeon near the Walsh River (J&M Nowill)

Vegetation across the square is mostly a mid-height open grassy woodland dominated by eucalypts such as the Darwin Stringybark, similar to that found at the confluence point. To the south-east in the areas, especially in areas of karst, this tends to give way to a savannah in which the deciduous Broad Leaved Bottletree (Brachychiton australis) and Kurrajong (Brachychiton chillagoensis) are features in the landscape.

Fauna in the square is similar to that observed at the point including beef cattle, feral pigs and wallabies. Birds across the area include Squatter Pigeons, various parrots and raptors including Wedge-tailed Eagles and Black Kites. The dominant land use is cattle grazing.

Climate: The climate of the square is classified as being tropical savannah with a winter drought. The nearest climate station for which records are included on the Bureau of Meteorology web site that is representative of the area is Mt Surprise which is located about 125 km to the south.

Mount Surprise Township (030036) 1873 to 2009 (elevation 462 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

33.1

32.3

31.7

30.7

28.5

26.6

26.5

28.5

31.2

34.2

35.1

34.7

31.1

Mean min
(ºC)

20.9

20.9

19.4

16.7

13.4

10.5

9.6

10.6

13.9

17.2

19.7

20.6

16.1

Mean rain
(mm)

210.3

205.5

111.8

28.5

14.5

14.3

7.5

4.7

5.1

18.1

53.2

115.2

795.5

The highest temperature ever recorded in Mt Surprise was 42.2°C in November 1965 while the lowest temperature was -2.5°C in June 1963. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 1792.7 was recorded in 1974 and the lowest total of 242.0 mm in 1902.

Extremes of Nature: The area is very much subject to the impact of tropical cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 52 cyclones tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Four cyclones passed within 50 km of the confluence point during that period: an unnamed cyclone in February 1927, TC Gertie in February 1970; TC Gwen in February 1978, and TC Vernon in January 1986. Each event brought destructive winds, heavy rainfall and flooding. In steeper areas landslides are also likely to occur in episodes of intense rainfall.

 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 area experiences between 20 and 30 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 Mt Surprise show that on average (over 21 years of records) the area experiences 59 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.

The National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia contains five earthquake epicentres within the degree square. The largest of these was a ML 3.7 event on 27 February 1961 located about 55 km due north of the confluence point. The other four events had magnitudes around ML2.5 the nearest to the point being one on 22 August 1930 about 17 km south-east of the point. The most recent was on 18 January 2007 and was located 30 km north-west of the point. No damage was reported from any of these events.

The Indigenous Story: The land in the square falls mostly within the traditional country of the Agwamin people.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOME

European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to pass through the square were with Ludwig Leichardt on his epic journey from the Darling Downs to Port Essington in June 1845. His route followed along the southern side of the Lynd River in the south-west corner of the square. William Hann crossed the area in 1872 in his gold exploration survey that led to the finding of the Palmer River goldfield.

Mineral explorers opened up the area with the discovery of silver and lead at Red Cap and Mungana in 1888 and copper at Arbouin in 1897 (about 29 km west of Mungana) by men working for John Moffat. Transport was a major problem for the development of these fields and it was not until 1901 that a rail line was opened from Mungana to Chillagoe and then to Mareeba. A blast furnace smelter was built at Mungana (or Girofla as it was originally called) in 1896. The smelter at Chillagoe, just to the east of the square, was opened in 1903 to service the various fields in the region. A smelter was also established at Cardross, adjacent to the Arbouin field in 1913 and operated until 1916. The OK copper field, about 55 km north-north-west of Mungana, was discovered in 1901 and a smelter was established there in 1905. Coke for the smelter was carted 75 km by road from the railhead at Mungana, initially by camel train and from 1907 by traction engine, the remains of one is still located at the old OK site.

Mungana developed as the longest operating mine town in the square, though it passed through several periods of boom and bust. In its early days it had a reputation as a very rough town. One episode recounted by Colin Hooper illustrates the times:

One man assaulted a hotel domestic who later died. The policeman made it known that he would have to apprehend the fellow and take him to Irvinebank over the range for trial and it would save everyone a lot of trouble if whoever first saw the man shot him where they found him. This was duely done and the offender occupies one of three graves which exist at the end of the main street.

The Mungana mine was also a central feature in the scandal that ruined the political careers of Queensland Premiers E.G. ('Red Ted') Theodore and William McCormack in 1926.

Today: The total population of the degree square at the 20011 national Census was 331, most associated with the cattle industry or the Mungana mine site. The census collection area that is centred on this square extends well into the neighbouring square 17-143 (Strathmore) which recorded a zero population, so the actual population is almost certainly split fairly evenly between the two squares. 

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

50

45

56

331

Total males

46

35

31

194

Total females

4

10

25

137

Under 5 years

0

3

4

13

65 years and over

0

3

4

53

Indigenous

0

6

4

28


Open cut mine and processing areas at Mungana (Google Earth)

 

Cattle grazing and mining remain the most important activities in the area. Extensive mineral exploration continues in several of the historic mining areas including the Mungana, Red Dome and Arbouin fields and the published results seem promising for gold and copper mining.

Site Summary:

Location

On Blackdown Station 2.8 km north
of the Blackdown Road

Access

By road then on foot to point which was accurately
located using GPS

Terrain

Flat to gently undulating outwash country

Catchment

Walsh River to Mitchell River to Gulf of Carpentaria

Geology & soils

Grey sandy loam derived from Middle Jurassic
to Early Cretaceous sandstone

Vegetation

Open mid-height grassy woodland of eucalypts

Land use

Cattle grazing

Climate

Tropical savannah with a winter drought

Population in degree square

56 at the 2006 national census

Infrastructure

Extensive road network including the Burke Development Road
and station roads; mine infrastructure at Mungana

National Parks

Small sections of the Chillagoe Mungana Caves NP

Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

References: various web sites including EPA, local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.

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.