18°S 144°E Cabana – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

point

map

 18°S 144°E confluence, Google Earth

north east
 Looking North Looking East
south west
 Looking South Looking West

Location: This confluence point is located on the private property of Cabana Station about 450 m east of Black Spring Creek and 175 m north-east of the track from Mount Surprise to Bulleringa. The photos were taken about 2 km south-east of the actual point, about 600 m west of the boundary of Cabana and the O'Briens Creek Gemfield, but are representative of the landscape at the point. Both the point and the photo location are at an elevation of around 350 m ASL.

The nearest settlement is Mount Surprise, 36 km to the south-east and the point lies within Etheridge Shire.

 

The Landscape: The landscape around the point is undulating granite country of Late Carboniferous age (325 to 318 million years). This granite country represents the northern end of the Newcastle Range. The area is drained by Black Spring Creek, a tributary of the Einasleigh River which flows to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The vegetation around the point is a mid-height open grassy woodland dominated by eucalypts such as the Silver-leaved Ironbark (Eucalyptus melanophloia). Other larger trees include the Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys) and the occasional Kapok (Cochlospermum spp.).

Fauna noted in the area included beef cattle, wallabies and flying fox.

Point information and photos: Ken Granger, 2008

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The landscape in the degree square ranges from wide floodplain country in the west of the square formed by the Lynd, Einasleigh and Etheridge Rivers with elevations of around 200 m ASL, to the granite hills of the Newcastle Range with elevations up to 750 m ASL.

SQUARE

Much of the square is made up of intruded granites, gneiss or basalts that range in age from Palaeoproterozoic age (2500 to 1600 million years) gneiss found in the Newcastle Range and the feature Mt Surprise; Silurian age (444 to 416 million years) granodiorite in the higher parts of the Newcastle Range; to the Quaternary age (less than 2.6 million years) basalt flows from the Undara volcanoes that lie to the east of this square. Perhaps the most common landscape is the rounded granite and granodiorite hills of the Newcastle Range and the areas that dominate the north-east sections of the square. These hilly areas frequently have large granite outcrops scattered across their slopes.

countrynewcastle
Granite on Cabana Station (KG, 2008)Newcastle Range granodiorite (KG, 2008)

The basalt flows vary in age from the Pleistocene (2.6 to 1 million years) to Holocene (less than 1 million years) and generally produce a wide and relatively flat topography such as that around Mt Surprise. Older structures tend to stand out from the basalt flows Granite Hill and Mt Surprise near the township of Mt Surprise.

map

Ancient hills stand out from the basalt plain near Mt Surprise (Google Earth)

The most striking basalt flow feature in the square is that known as The Wall, a narrow flow of Undara basalt that runs a total length of 35 km is accessible to the north-west of Mount Surprise between Junction Creek and Black Spring Creek.

the wall

The Wall basalt flow running between Black Spring Creek and Junction Creek (Google Earth)

In other areas more recent granite intrusions have pushed up through the more ancient material. For example, Mt Adler is a Late Silurian age (423 to 416 million years) intrusion of granite that has pushed up through the surrounding Palaeoproterozoic age (2500 to 1600 million years) gneiss between Einasleigh and Mt Surprise.

Thermal activity is still evident in the area. The Tallaroo Hot Springs (north of the Gulf Developmental Road about mid-way between Georgetown and Mt Surprise) is said to be the hottest and the only terraced hot springs in Australia.

moutain

Mt Adler stands out above the surrounding plain (KG, 2008)

The square is drained by several rivers that flow to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Einasleigh River and its tributary the Etheridge River join the Gilbert River, while the Lynd River joins the Mitchell River near its mouth. Most of these streams are perennial, flowing only during the wet season, though along their length there are many deeper waterholes that are usually permanent. On the floodplain of some rivers there are billabongs, such as Jardine's Waterhole, off the Einasleigh River that are also permanent sources of water.

 junction georgetown
 Junction Creek waterhole (KG, 2008) Etheridge River at Georgetown (KG, 2008)
lagoon  
Jardine's Lagoon (KG, 2008) Einasleigh River waterholes (KG, 2008)

Vegetation across the square ranges from grassland and pasture to open grassy woodland to riparian woodland of Melaleucas, Coolibah (E. coolabah) and River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis) along the drainage lines. One unusual vegetation type is found in a small area of cracking black clay north of The Wall. This soil becomes a quagmire when wet and cracked when dry and eucalypts and other species are unable to grow there. Only the Gutta-percha tree (Excoecaria parvifolia) can grow in such soils. An interesting endemic species found only in the Newcastle Range and the O'Briens Creek Gemfield area is the cycad Cycas cairnsiana. This cycad has distinctive blue-grey foliage.

cycas  cycas
 Typical grassland on Tallaroo Sation (KG, 2008) Gutta-percha trees on black clay (KG, 2008)
cycas  cycas
Cycas cairnsiana grove (KG, 2008) Cycas cairnsiana (KG, 2008)

The degree square is divided between the Etheridge Shire in the south and the Tablelands Regional Council areas and the north. The Bulleringa National Park is also largely contained within the square.

Climate: The climate of the square is classified as being tropical savannah with a winter drought. The closest weather station to the confluence is at Mt Surprise, which is approximately 35 km to the south-east of the degree confluence, and has an elevation of 462 m.

 

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

115.3

795.5

The highest temperature recorded was 42.2°C in November 1965, and the lowest was -2.5°C in June 1963. The greatest rainfall recorded in a year was 1 792.7 mm in 1974, and the least was 242.0 mm in 1902.

These and other climate statistics for Mt Surprise can be found at: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_030036.shtml.

Extremes of Nature: Given the confluence's tropical location, it has been subject to numerous cyclones since the Bureau of Meteorology began recording in 1906. Five tropical cyclones have passed within 50 km of the degree confluence during this time (three unnamed in 1911, 1945, 1959, and Yvonne in 1974, and Larry in 2006), and a further 35 have passed within 200 km. Any cyclone that comes within several hundred kilometres can produce destructive winds, heavy rain and flash flooding. On the steeper country the intense rainfall can also trigger landslides and debris flows, especially in creeks in the granite and basalt country. 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

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

The area experiences between 30 and 40 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 18 earthquake epicentres within the degree square. The strongest event was a ML 4.9 quake on 15 January 1964 with an epicentre close to the Einasleigh River 34 km west of Mt Surprise. A smaller ML 4.2 event was recorded at the same location on 19 November 1967. On 6 August 1991 a ML 4.8 quake was registered on the Etheridge River about 10 km downstream from Georgetown. Of the remaining events, ten had magnitudes of between ML 3 and 4 and four were between ML 2 and 3. No damage was reported from any of these earthquakes, though the stronger events would certainly have been felt by people in the area.

The Indigenous Story: Most of the land within the degree square is the traditional country of the Agwamin people.

MORE INFORMATION NEEDED

European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to park through the area were probably part of Ludwig Leichardt's expedition from the Darling Downs to Port Essington in 1844-5. Next was probably William Landsborough in 1861 during his search for the missing Burke and Wills party. The Jardine brothers, Frank and Alexander, drove their mob of cattle through the area on their epic drive from Bowen to the top of Cape York in 1864-5. One of their camps was at the waterhole now known as Jardine's Lagoon on the Einasleigh River floodplain. Overlanders, such as Donald Etheridge in 1864, drove their cattle through the area.

The first European settler was Ezra Firth who took up Mount Surprise as a sheep station in 1861. Firth converted to cattle in 1874.

Gold was discovered in the Etheridge River near present-day Georgetown by Richard Daintree in 1866, however it was not until 1870 that reef gold at Georgetown (then called Etheridge) was discovered. Gold was also discovered at several other locations within the square and short-lived settlements sprang up to service them until the gold was mined out.

The development of infrastructure such as telegraph lines and the railway also were important in opening up the area. The telegraph stations at Georgetown and Mt Surprise were opened in the early 1870s and the rail link from Chillagoe to Forsayth (south of the square) was opened in 1910. The railway line was reconditioned in 1951 and is has been used by the Savannahlander tourist railmotor since the 1960s.

Today

The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 243. All of the census population were located in Georgetown. Mt Surprise probably had fewer than 50 people.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

847

1018

572

243

Total males

496

570

314

127

Total females

351

448

258

116

Under 5 years

43

53

28

22

65 years and over

100

133

63

36

Indigenous

25

13

9

10

The decline in population over the past decade is probably the result of a downturn in the cattle industry as the result of prolonged drought.

Georgetown is the largest settlement in the square. It has a hospital and limited commercial businesses. Its recently opened Terrestrial Centre houses the Ted Elliott mineral collection, possibly the best such collection in Australia. The town is served by an all weather airstrip and has good access via the sealed Gulf Developmental Road.

hospital  house
 Georgetown Hospital (KG, 2008) Typical Georgetown house (KG, 2008)
georgetown  georgetown
Etheridge River bridge, Georgetown (KG, 2008) Terrestrial Centre Georgetown (KG, 2008)

 

georgetown

Georgetown (Google Earth Image)

Mt Surprise is a much smaller centre and has limited facilities. It has become a tourist stop along the Savannah Way and on the Savannahlander tourist railway. An all weather airstrip is located a few kilometres north-west of the town and provides access for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The sealed Gulf Development Road provides good access to the town.

raill  
Mt Surprise railway station (KG, 2008) Mt Surprise main street (KG, 2008)

railway

Mt Surprise (Google Earth Image)

The Savannahlander tourist train operates during the winter tourist season and carries passengers from Cairns to Forsayth - a four-day adventure for train buffs and others interested in seeing the savannah lands in an unique way.

creek  junction
Savannahlander train (KG, 2008)  Crossing one of the old bridges (KG, 2008)

The O'Briens Creek Gemfield has been established in the area east of Cabana Station in this granite country. Topaz is the main gem sought after, with citrine, smoky quartz, aquamarine and beryl also found. The area is open for recreational fossicking and for professional mining.

 creekcreek
O'Briens Creek commercial lease spoil (KG) O'Briens Creek recreational fossicking (KG, 2008)

Site Summary:

Location

On Cabana Station not far from Elizabeth Creek

Access

By road to the boundary of O'Briens Creek gemfield then on
foot to within 2 km

Nearest town

Mt Surprise 38 km to the south-east

Terrain

Low undulating country within boulder granite country

Catchment

Einasleigh River and Gulf of Carpentaria

Geology & soils

Late Carboniferous age granites and sandy soils

Vegetation

Mid-height grassy woodland of eucalypts, Cooktown Ironwood
and Kapok

Land use

Cattle grazing

Climate

Tropical savannah with a winter drought

Population in degree square

572 at the 2006 national census

Infrastructure

Extensive road network including the Gulf Developmental Road;
Savannahlander tourist railway; all weather airfields at Georgetown
and Mt Surprise; hospital at Georgetown

National Parks

Bulleringa 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.