AT THE POINT
Location: This confluence point is located in the Coral Sea 32.4 km north east of Townsville. The point has not been visited.
The Landscape: The waters of the Coral Sea.
Point information and photos: Google Earth image
WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE
Magnetic Island (Townsville City Council photo)
The coastline of Bowling Green and Cleveland Bays are characterised by wide tidal mud flats, mangrove-lined estuaries and low-lying coastal plains with beach swales. Elevations are typically less than 10 m ASL. The geology is marine and estuarine sediments of Quaternary age (less than 1.6 million years). The swales have a vegetation of Beach Sheoak (Casuarina equisetifolia) and Cottonwood (Hybiscus tiliaceus) while the dunes have grasses, sedges and vines such as the Goats-foot Morning Glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Behind the frontal dunes there are areas of wetland such as in the Townsville Common. This area supports a vegetation of tall cane grass, water plants, Pandanus and Melaleuca. These wetlands support a rich bird life including the Black-necked Stork (Jabiru), spoonbills, egrets and herons.
The flood plain of the Ross River and other coastal streams including the Bohle River and Black River are low-lying with elevations of less than 50 m ASL. The geology of this area is riverine alluvium of Quaternary age. Much of this landscape feature and the drainage channels have been greatly modified by urban development. The Ross River is dammed to form Lake Ross and there are three older weirs downstream of the dam.
The hill country is predominantly formed of granite. The tallest mountain is Mt Elliot which has a summit elevation of 1235 m ASL. Other peaks include Saddle Mountain (882 m), the South Pinnacle of the Paluma Range (729 m ASL), Mt Cataract (721 m ASL), Mt Cleveland (558 m ASL), Mt Stuart (533 m ASL) and Castle Hill (286 m ASL). All are rugged and steep-sided with extensive areas of exposed granite, granite tors and boulder fields. There are two distinct forms of granite. The Late Carboniferous age (325 to 298 million years) rocks of the Paluma Range and Mt Cleveland and the Early Permian age (298 to 270 million years) rocks of Mt Elliot, Mt Stuart and Castle Hill. There are also areas of intruded volcanic rhyolite of Early Permian age in areas including Mt Louisa and parts of Mt Stuart. The main vegetation on the hills is an open and low eucalypt woodland with an understory of course grasses.
Climate: The climate of the area is classified as subtropical with a distinctly dry winter. The local topography produces a 'rain shadow' which gives the area a much lower rainfall than areas immediately to the north and south. The Bureau of Meteorology climate station at the Townsville Airport provides representative statistics.
Townsville Airport (032040) 1940 to 2009 (elevation 4 m ASL)
The highest temperature ever recorded at the Townsville Airport was 44.3°C in January 1994 while the lowest temperature was 1.1°C in August 1941. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2399.8 mm was recorded in 2000 and the lowest total of 464.2 mm in 1969.
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 63 cyclones tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Fifteen of those cyclones passed within 50 km of the confluence point during that period including: an unnamed cyclone in February 1934, an unnamed cyclone in April 1940, an unnamed cyclone in March 1944, an unnamed cyclone in February 1954, TC Agnes in March 1956, an unnamed cyclone in February 1959, TC Gertie in February 1971, TC Althea in December 1971, TC Una in December 1973, TC Keith in January 1977, TC Kerry in February 1979, TC Charlie in March 1988, TC Joy in December 1990, TC Justin in march 1997, TC Tessi in April 2000.
Cyclone tracks that passed within 200 km of the confluence point 1906-2006 (BoM web site)
Several cyclones had a serious impact on the area before 1906-7. One in March 1867 virtually destroyed the fledgling settlement before it had a chance to get established. Almost every building was blown down. Three years later, in February 1870, a cyclone hit Townsville lasting 10 hours. The steamer Black Prince and schooner Wonder were wrecked. Nearly every house was damaged and several were completely unroofed. Large trees were torn up by the roots and streams were flooded.
In January 1896 TC Sigma passed just to the northeast of Townsville with a pressure of 991 hPa recorded at Townsville. Ships were wrecked in the harbour; fences were laid flat; and verandas stripped off houses. Large trees were brought down. Falls of 510 mm of rain produced severe flooding. Flash floods and storm tide flooded lower parts of Townsville with over 1.8 m of water. Seventeen people were drowned and one sailor killed.
In March 1903 TC Leonta recurved over Townsville with the barometer down to 965 hPa. Hurricane force winds caused much severe damage with flying roofing iron, buildings blown over and verandas wrenched away. The Townsville hospital with 36 cm thick walls was wrecked by the wind and the brick Grammar School was destroyed. Eight people were killed in the hospital and another two people died elsewhere.
Since 1906-7 the more notable cyclones include the March 1911 storm that caused the loss of the SS Yongala in Bowling Green Bay with the loss of over 100 lives. The most destructive recent cyclone was undoubtedly TC Althea. On 24 December 1971 Category 3 TC Althea, crossed the coast at Townsville, with a 106 knot gust recorded at the Townsville Meteorological Office. There were three deaths in Townsville and damage costs in the region reached $50 million (1971 dollars). Many houses were damaged or destroyed by wind, including 200 Housing Commission houses. On Magnetic Island 90% of the houses were damaged or destroyed. A 2.9 m storm surge was recorded at Townsville Harbour and 3.66 m at Toolakea (to the north-west). Fortunately the storm surge reached the coast at low tide. Even so, the storm tide and waves caused extensive damage along the Strand and at Pallarenda. Had the storm surge crossed the coast at high tide six hours later considerable destruction and loss of life would have been likely.
In April 2000 Category 2 TC Tessi produced significant wind damage to the north of Townsville. Tessi was responsible for setting new weather records for April at the Townsville Meteorological Office; highest wind gust (70 knots), highest daily rainfall (271.6mm) and the highest monthly rainfall (539mm to 27 April 2000). However official daily rainfall is measured up to 9am and 423.4 mm was measured in the 24 hours up to 1 am on 4 April 2000. The cyclone caused widespread wind damage in Townsville mainly to trees and power lines. Most structural damage was due to falling trees though there were isolated reports of roof damage attributed to the wind itself. Widespread flooding occurred with the associated downpour, which also led to a severe landslide in one of the more affluent residential areas of Townsville on Castle Hill. There was also wave damage along the Strand at Townsville with several boats destroyed.
Even ex-tropical cyclones can produce extensive damage. Ex-TC Sid in January 1998, for example, produced a rainfall of 549 mm in a 24 hour period which led to severe flash flooding and landslides in Townsville and on Magnetic Island. One debris flow on Magnetic Island wrecked a car and damaged a resort and left massive granite boulders perched dangerously above houses and roads.
Landslides are also a concern, especially on the steeper slopes of Castle Hill and Mt Stuart. In some areas engineered stop walls and mesh netting have been installed to reduce the risk to property. Roads are especially vulnerable to closure from batter failures, rock falls and debris flows of boulders down the creek lines.
Castle Hill landslide stop wall (KG, 2008)
Prior to the damming of the Ross River, main stream flooding was a major problem for Townsville. Since completion of the dam, however, that hazard has been greatly reduced. This reduction may, in part, be explained by the decline in the number of cyclones and tropical storms crossing the Ross River catchment. The completion of a major upgrade of the Ross River dam in 2008, which included the installation of flood gates, has also reduced the risk of that dam failing under severe flood conditions with disastrous consequences on the urban area downstream.
The intense rainfall that accompanies tropical cyclones can also cause flash floods in minor creeks and the storm water systems in the urban areas. In the more susceptible areas warning systems have been installed.
The area averages around 20 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can bring destructive winds and intense rainfall. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread. Today bushfires are often started deliberately by arsonists - be they bored children or criminals. Within the degree square bushfires are not likely to be very severe given that most of the fuel is grass.
Extreme heat is also a serious issue in the square. The climate records for Townsville show that on average (over 69 years of records) the area experiences 3.5 days a year with temperatures over 35°C though temperatures over 40°C are uncommon. 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. In January 1994 four elderly people in Townsville died from heat stroke during a four-day heatwave. Heat waves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined.
There are four earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded since 1900 in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. They range from a small ML 1.4 event in the under Halifax Bay about 49 km west-south-west of the confluence point to a ML3.0 event on 5 May 1972 with an epicentre under Halifax bay west of the point. A small ML 2.2 event directly under the built up area of Townsville on 9 May 1900 may have been felt by residents but it did no reported damage. The more significant ML 5.7 'Ravenswood' event of 18 December 1913 located outside the square at 80 km south of Townsville rattled doors and windows in the city but did no damage.
The Indigenous Story: The Townsville area has been occupied by Aboriginal people for approximately 40,000 years. At least five tribal or linguistic groups are said to have either occupied or regularly moved through the area. They included the Bindal, Nyawaygi and Gugu-Badhun.
Their patterns of occupation and use were complex, but the evidence suggests that the area around the Ross River flood plain may not have supported a permanent tribe or language group because of its geography, being a low lying area with river tributaries. Rather it was a place through which Aboriginal tribes moved.
Palm Island is now one of the larger Aboriginal communities in Far North Queensland. It was established after the destruction of the Hull River settlement in the Mission Beach area in 1918. The Palm Island settlement has had a traumatic history including the forced relocation of Aboriginal and Islander 'troublemakers' from other areas, administrative neglect, maladministration and dysfunction.
Demonstrations over wage issues in 1957 and again in 1974 and riots following an Aboriginal death in custody in 2005 have portrayed Palm Island as a place of great disadvantage and turmoil.
Formal state control over the island was relinquished in 1985 when title was passed to the community council in the form of a DOGIT (Deed of Grant in Trust). While the DOGIT reforms gave residents on all state reserves a greater say in their administration, on Palm Island the changes led to the removal of much of the government infrastructure. Houses, shops, a timber mill, a dock and farming equipment were disassembled and shipped to the mainland.
Townsville has a large population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to sight the area were with Cook on HMS Endeavour in 1770. Cook charted the coastline and named Magnetic(al) Island, Cleveland Bay and Cape Cleveland, but they did not make a landing. Allan Cunningham, botanist with Philip Parker King's 1819 survey, was probably the first European to land on the shores of Cleveland Bay. The first European 'resident' of the area was James Morrill, a shipwrecked sailor who lived and travelled with the local Bindal tribe from 1846 to 1863.
The first European occupation of the area was at Woodstock on the headwaters of the Ross River. This pastoral property was owned by Sydney entrepreneur Robert Towns and was settled overland from the Burdekin. Woodstock manager, John Melton Black, sent a party to search for a possible port site and in April 1864 that party camped at the mouth of Ross Creek. They reported it to be a suitable site for a port and settlement. By 1865 Cleveland Bay had been declared a Port of Entry and in the following year the settlement was named Townsville in honour of its patron Robert Towns.
The fledgling settlement was almost wiped out by a cyclone in 1867. However, the discovery of gold in the hinterland at Cape River that year, and subsequently at Charters Towers in 1871 ensured the future of the town and its port. Townsville was proclaimed a city in 1902.
In 1875 Magnetic Island was declared as a quarantine station, however the station buildings were badly damaged in TC Sigma and finished off by TC Leonta. The quarantine station was transferred to Pallarenda Point where it operated until 1973. Several of the station buildings have been preserved as the National Parks HQ.
Development of the large deposits of copper, lead and zinc at Mt Isa in the late 1920s further reinforced the importance of Townsville as a port to service the pastoral and mining industries, whilst its strategic importance became clear with its development as a major forward base during WW II and again in the 1960s during 'confrontation' with Indonesia. The Garbutt airfield was expanded and paved and became a major base for heavy bombers. Radar and coastal defence artillery sites were established on Magnetic Island and on the mainland. Townsville was bombed by the Japanese three times in July 1942. Little damage was done.
WW II Cape Pallarenda defences (KG, 2008)
The University College of Townsville was opened in 1961 and in 1970 legislation was passed to proclaim it as James Cook University (JCU). The university became the nucleus of an expanding scientific research community based on Townsville including the CSIRO Davies Laboratories, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 170,204, making it fourth most populous degree square in Queensland – even with its small land area.
At the 2011 census the population of Magnetic Island was 2202 and that of Palm Island was 2336. The great majority of the population live within the Greater Townsville urban area.
Townsville (Google Earth image)
Townsville is frequently referred to as a garrison town, a reflection of the very large Defence Force presence at the Lavarack Barracks and at the Garbutt RAAF base. Mt Stuart is a major military training area with weapons training areas and field training areas. It is closed to the public.
Warning signs on the Mt Stuart range boundary (KG, 2008)
At the 2006 national census over 13% of the Townsville work force was employed in the 'public administration and public safety' industry classification compared to 6.7% for the State average. The other major employment categories for the city were health care (11.4%), retail (10.4%) construction (8.8%) and education and training (8.6%).
The town is a major transport hub which services a large economic catchment including the mining areas of Mt Isa and Charters Towers. The Townsville port facilities at the mouth of Ross Creek are the third largest in Queensland (after Brisbane and Gladstone) and the most important in north Queensland. Townsville is a major port for the import and export of bulk commodities such as petroleum products, nickel ore, copper and zinc concentrates and raw sugar. It is also the most important general cargo and container port in the north. Scheduled passenger and vehicle ferry services operate from the Ross Creek area of the port to Magnetic Island. The port also has a large yacht marina.
Garbutt is a military airfield which shares facilities with civil and general aviation services. It has a single sealed runway of approximately 2460 m and is capable of taking all regular civil and military aircraft operating in Australia. All three domestic carriers operate scheduled services to Townsville. Some 50 international carriers have rights to operate to Townsville but currently none are exercising those rights. The general aviation sector provides charter fixed wing and helicopter services throughout northern Queensland, including fly-in/fly-out services for the mining industry. A rescue helicopter service is operated by the Department of Emergency Services.
Defence Force units based at Garbutt (RAAF Townsville) include 35 Squadron and 38 Squadron Detachment B (RAAF) equipped with Caribou transport aircraft and the 5th Aviation Regiment (Army Aviation Corps) equipped with Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters. These units are supported by a range of administrative, logistic and maintenance elements. The RAAF operate a significant radar and communications facility at the airport. In earlier times Garbutt was base for maritime surveillance squadrons operating P2V7 Neptune aircraft, two of which are now on static display outside the base.
Road and rail services provide links to Brisbane in the south, Cairns in the north and Mt Isa and Charters Towers in the west. It is also a major telecommunications hub.
Townsville has a major regional hospital and is the head campus for James Cook University. There are numerous State and Private schools including several boarding schools that service the more remote rural areas and mining communities as far away as PNG and Solomon Islands. It also has the regional headquarters of most government services such as police, education, legal services and prisons.
The architectural style of housing in Townsville reflects the styles that were current at the time they were built. In earlier days the houses reflected the climate - elevated on stumps, timber or 'fibro' walls, small windows, wide eaves, verandas and high pitched metal roofs. Modern houses by contrast rely on air conditioning and are usually on a slab, with brick walls, small eaves and large windows.
There are several commercial centres in Townsville. The older CBD area is close to the port and has declined in significance over the years as larger suburban centres have grown. The CBD has a concentration of administrative services including Commonwealth, State and Local Government centres as well as commercial headquarters for several major companies. It also houses the regionally important Percy Tucker Gallery, the Museum of Tropical Queensland and the Aquarium as well as several hotels, the casino and many night clubs. Many of the older buildings have been recycled for modern use, sometimes with little sensitivity for heritage values.
The regional shopping malls and light industrial areas are located on the low-lying flood plain of the Ross River though they are above flood level. The area also has heavy industry including zinc and nickel refining and meat processing.
The Magnetic Island and mainland as far east as the Burdekin River are within the new Townsville City Council (amalgamation between the old Townsville City Council and Thuringowa City Council occurred in 2008). East of the Burdekin River the area is within Burdekin Shire. Palm Island Shire administers that island group. There are five national parks and conservation parks within the square. They are Bowling Green Bay National Park, Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park, Horseshoe Bay Lagoon Conservation Park, Magnetic Island National Park, Orpheus Island National Park and the Townsville Common Conservation Park. The reefs of the Great Barrier reef fall within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Compiler: Ken Granger, 2009
Edited by: Hayley Freemantle
References: various web sites including EPA, tourism, local government and Bureau of Meteorology.