18°S 140°E Leichardt River – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

 

Surrounding the degree confluence 18°S 140°E (Google Earth image)

map

 

n

Looking north

e

Looking east

s

Looking south

w

Looking west

 

Location: This confluence point is on the property called Wernadinga. Getting to the site was along station tracks to 1.8 km from the point them the rest on foot. The point is 14.2 km from the Homestead. The nearest populated place is Burketown in the Carpentaria Shire.

This confluence point is located in the Gulf Country, 31 km inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria in far north-west Queensland.  The closest settlement is Burketown, approximately 56 km to the north-west.  The point is within Carpentaria Shire and was accessed by 4x4 tracks off Burketown Normanton Road.

gps

GPS of point

 

The Landscape: Leichhardt River is the main drainage catchment and the landscape is a grassy plain with gentle undulation. The elevation at the point is 27m ASL. The soil is a reddish stony clay soil with ironstone gravel mixed in. The vegetation of the point is grassland with scattered prickly Acacias. Fauna in the form of feral pigs, Western Red Kangaroos and beef cattle is occasional.

All watercourses in the area drain into the Gulf of Carpentaria via the Leichhardt River (after which the degree square is named). The underlying geology at the confluence is sedimentary rocks of the Normanton Formation including sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and limestone of Albian age (100 million years).

Point information and photos: P Feeney, B Urquhart, N 'O Connor, T Hillier, G Keates and J & M Nowill 8/6/2010

IN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: - The landscape across the square is low-lying with elevations ranging from sea level to around 50 m ASL. The coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria is lined with mangroves and backed by an extensive mud flat. The main drainage features is the Leichardt River and its tributaries such as Woodbine Creek. The Albert River in the west of the square has a wide estuary that extends inland to Burketown. The underlying geology is the same sandstone complex that is found at the confluence point. The remainder of the area is composed of alluvial sediments of origins ranging from Cainozoic (less than 65 million years) to Quaternary (less than 1.6 million years).

Vegetation across the square is predominantly grassland with mangroves fringing the coastline and the lower estuary of the Leichardt and Albert Rivers. Along the major drainage channels low trees such as River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Coolibah (E. coolabah), Casuarina and Acacia are dominant. The principal land use is cattle grazing.

falls

Leichardt River Falls (Mary Nowill 2010)

rive1

Albert River (Mary Nowill 2010)

spoon

Royal Spoonbills at bore drain (Mary Nowill 2010)

acaia

 

Acacia flowers (Mary Nowill 2010)

 

A wide range of birds is resident in the area and their numbers are boosted each spring by migratory birds flying in from the north. The greatest concentrations of birds are around the water holes and streams where various waders such as the Royal Spoonbill can gather in large numbers. The area also has a rich reptile fauna including Estuarine Crocodiles. Mammals include a small number of macropod species.

 

 

The Climate: -The closest representative weather station to the confluence is at the Burketown Post Office, which is 56 km north-west of the confluence, and has an elevation of 6 m. The station has been collecting data since 1886.

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

34.2

33.6

33.5

33.1

30.5

28.0

27.7

29.4

31.9

34.2

35.4

35.4

32.2

Mean min
(ºC)

25.0

24.6

23.5

20.7

17.0

14.3

13.1

14.5

17.7

21.1

23.6

24.8

20.0

Mean rain
(mm)

221.4

192.8

151.7

23.3

6.1

6.3

2.4

0.8

1.9

12.6

38.8

115.8

785.6

 

The highest temperature recorded at Burketown was 46.0°C in January 1973, while the lowest temperature was 3.3°C in July 1941. The greatest rainfall recorded in a year was 2 026.6 mm in 1998 and the least was 187.6 mm in 1902. These and other climate statistics for Burketown can be found at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology web site (www.bom.gov.au)

Extremes of Nature: Given the area's tropical location, it is very much subject to the impact of tropical cyclones. The database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 42 cyclones have passed within 200 km of the confluence since 1906, nine of which passed within 50 km  - unnamed cyclone in March 1939; an unnamed cyclone in March 1952; an unnamed cyclone in January 1956, TC Bertha in January 1959, TC Dora in January - February 1964; TC Alan in January-February 1976; TC Ted in December 1976; TC Greta in January 1979; and TC Jason in February 1987). These cyclones bring with them potentially destructive winds, storm tides and intense rainfall which produce extensive flooding.

cyclone

 

Cyclone tracks within 200 km of the confluence, 1906 to 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)

There have been several severe cyclone impacts on the area. For example the storm tide produced by the disastrous March 1887 cyclone, flooded almost all of Burketown. Only the highest part of town, near where the Council Office is currently located, escaped the waters from the Gulf of Carpentaria. A copy of a 1918 report to the Queensland Parliament from the Department of Harbours and Rivers Engineers refers to the sea rising to 5.5 metres above the highest spring tide level at the Albert River Heads. This level is about 8 metres above AHD. Seven people out of a population of 138 died in the cyclone including the wife and children of the police sergeant.

In December 1976 TC Ted crossed the coast near Mornington Island and passed directly over Burketown where a central pressure of 950 hPa was recorded. In Burketown 95% of its buildings were damaged and the large storm tide that accompanied the cyclone extended 20 km inland near Burketown. Logs were piled 2 to 3 m high and a small wharf was destroyed.

The area experiences between 40 and 50 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can bring intense rainfall that can produce flash floods, destructive winds and lightning strikes that can spark bushfires. Fires lit for land management purposes may also get out of control and threaten station buildings and infrastructure.

Like most places in the Australian tropics, extreme heat is also a danger. Records show that the Georgetown Station experiences 86 days annually with temperatures 35°C or warmer, although very few of these reach 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 nor records of earthquake epicentres within the degree square since 1900.

The Indigenous Story: Much of the land within the square is the traditional country of the Kukatj people. The area around Burketown is the traditional country of the Mingin people.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOME

European Exploration and Settlement: The first European to journey into the area was probably Capt. John Stokes on HMS Beagle July 1841. He took a small party in the ship's boat to explore the Albert River which he named in honour of Queen Victoria's consort. They journeyed upstream beyond where Burketown now stands until the water became fresh and the country opened up into ‘the plains of promise' of the Gulf savannah.

On land, the first explorers through the square were those of Leichardt's 1844-5 expedition from the Darling Downs to Port Essington. They were followed by Augustus Gregory in 1855-6. Burke and Wills passed to the east of the square on their ill-fated expedition in February 1861. Several parties searching for the lost explorers, including those lead by William Landsborough and by Frederick Walker, crossed the area. Both search parties used the hulk of the brig Firefly, which had been abandoned near the head of navigation on the Albert River, as a depot. Pastoralists such as the Edkins followed and by 1865 a store and hotel had been established. The first of several boiling down works was established by the Edkins brothers in 1866 on behalf of the Scotish - Australia Investment Company.

An outbreak of ‘Gulf Fever' (probably typhoid) decimated the population of Burketown (the Albert River Settlement) with most of the survivors moving to Sweers Island. Only five European residents remained in the township by 1870 when a major flood inundated the area.

In 1875 pastoral interests led by Hann, Edkins and Shadforth returned to the area and Burketown was revived as a port and service centre. Sheep grazing was first attempted by sheep proved to be unsuitable for the wet conditions of the Gulf. The town gained strategic importance with the extension of the telegraph line from Normanton in 1886 but the town was virtually wiped out by a cyclone in 1887. The meatworks became the mainstay of the economy and the population of the town virtually trebled during the killing season. A bore was sunk in 1897 to supply the town and the meatworks. This bore remained in service well into the 20th century and was used in a public bath house for about 20 years from about 1940. Construction of the railway from Townsville to Mt Isa in 1929 greatly reduced the importance of Burketown as a port.

boiling

Remains of a boiling down works (M Nowill, 2010)

bore

Burketown bore head (Mary Nowill, 2010)

Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 202, all of whom (according to the census) lived in Burketown. The continuing decline in the population is probably a reflection of the decline in the cattle industry.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

268

321

295

202

Total males

150

194

165

105

Total females

118

127

130

97

Under 5 years

32

25

17

16

65 years and over

16

31

20

18

Indigenous

82

80

66

83

home

Wernadinga homestead (Mary Nowill,2010) 

plane

Wernadinga station aircraft (Mary Nowill, 2010)

 

 

pub

Burketown hotel (Mary Nowill, 2010)

road

Road construction crew road train (Mary Nowill, 2010)

 

Burketown (Google Earth image)

 

Burketown continues as a service centre for the remote Gulf cattle stations and as a way stop for travellers during the winter dry season. Limited commercial and public services are available.

There are 530 km of public roads within the square - most of it natural surface and subject to closure when wet. The Burketown Normanton and Nardoo Burketown Roads are sealed. There is also an extensive network of private tracks on the various pastoral properties. Burketown has an all weather airstrip.

The Finucane Island National Park (7610 ha) is the only national Park in the square. It covers an island that separates the mouths of the Albert and Leichardt Rivers. The square is divided between the Carpentaria Shire (east of the Leichardt River) and Burke Shire (to the west).

 

Site Summary:

Location

In the Gulf of Carpentaria hinterland east of the Leichardt River

Access

Point has yet to be visited

Nearest settlement

Burketown is 56 km to the north-west

Terrain

Flat floodplain

Catchment

Leichardt River

Geology & soils

Sandstone of Albian age

Vegetation

Open grassland

Land use

Cattle grazing

Climate

Hot grassland with a winter drought

Population in degree square

295 at the 2006 census

Infrastructure

530 km of public roads, airstrip at Burketown

National Parks

Finucane Island NP

 

Compiler: Ken Granger, 2010

Edited by: Hayley Freemantle

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

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

Geoscience Australia, NATMAP Raster

Geoscience Australia, Scanned 250 K Geology Maps

Google Earth