20°S 147°E Burdekin – Queensland by Degrees

AT THE POINT

Degree confluence 20°S 147°E, Google Earth

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n

Looking north

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Looking east

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Looking south

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Looking west

Location: This confluence point is located 200 m east of the Ayr - Ravenswood Road about 15 km north-east of Ravenswood which is the nearest settlement. The point was reached by road and on foot and was located to within 25 m by map reading and in-car GPS. The point lies within Burdekin Shire.

The Landscape: The area around the point is sloping to the east into Eight Mile Creek, a tributary of the Burdekin River. The soil at the point is a thin sandy red material derived from the underlying granodiorite of late Silurian age (425 to 410 million years). Elevation at the point was between 50 and 100 m ASL.

Vegetation around the point is an open mid-height eucalypt woodland with a ground cover of course grasses. Ironbarks and bloodwoods are the main eucalypts observed. Low shrubby wattles are located within 100 m of the point. No fauna was noted in the area and land use appears to be cattle grazing.

Point information and photos: Ken Granger, 2008

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The landscapes within the degree square are quite varied and range from the flood plains of the Burdekin and Haughton Rivers; the hills of the Paluma, Leichardt and Seventy Mile Ranges; and the block of Mt Elliot. Elevations range from close to sea level to around 1150 m ASL on the high points of Mt Elliot.

The flood plains of the two major rivers are wide and flat on the coastal plain. The Burdekin flood plain narrows to less than 6 km upstream of Dalbeg, more than 100 km from its mouth. The Haughton is a smaller river and its flood plain narrows to less than a kilometre within 40 km of its mouth. The geology of the flood plain is alluvium of Quaternary age (less than 1.6 million years). The native vegetation has largely been removed to make way for agriculture, especially irrigated cops of sugar cane, cotton and pasture. Elevation is generally less than 50 m ASL.

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Sugar cane on the Haughton flood plain (KG, 2008)

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Cotton on the Burdekin flood plain (KG, 2008)

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Upstream of Lake Dalrymple (formed by the Burdekin Falls Dam) in the western half of the square the Burdekin flows through hill country and is deeply entrenched in places. Elevation in this part of the catchment is around 200 m ASL. The vegetation in the upper catchment is mostly grassland or pasture for cattle grazing. Along the drainage lines riparian forest remains. Patches of low open eucalypt forest remain on some of the hills.

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Burdekin River upstream of Lake Dalrymple (Google Earth image)

The hills of the Leichardt Range are quite rugged, with folded and dissected granite and granodiorite. The main rocks range in age from Ordovician (490 to 434 million years) to Late Carboniferous (325 to 298 million years). There are also some areas of volcanic rhyolite of Cambrian age (545 to 490 million years) in the south of the Range. Vegetation on the Leichardt Range is similar to that at the confluence point.

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Leichardt Range country east of Ravenswood (KG, 2008)

The make-up of the Seventy Mile Range is far more complex with smaller areas of granite, granodiorite and basalt intermixed with areas of sandstone, siltstone and duricrust. The ages of these formations range from Cambrian (545 to 490 million years) to Carboniferous (354 to 298 million years). Vegetation on the range is mostly open and low eucalypt woodland with tussock grasses as the ground cover.

The highest country in the square is Mt Elliot. This is a steep-sided block of granite of Early Permian age (298 to 270 million years). The summit of Mt Elliot, which is just outside the square, has an elevation of 1234 m ASL but the ridges within the square have an elevation of around 1150 m ASL. The southern side of Mt Elliot is split into two ridges by Major Creek. Vegetation on the mountain is a mid-height eucalypt forest with some rainforest species in the more sheltered gullies.

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Mt Elliot from the south (KG, 2008)

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Burdekin valley Brahman bull (KG, 2008)

Intensive agriculture is the primary form of land use on the lower flood plains and cattle grazing dominates elsewhere.

The Climate: The climate across the square ranges from tropical savannah along the coast to hot grassland with a winter drought in the interior. The Bureau of Meteorology climate station at the Burdekin Shire Council in Ayr provides representative statistics for the coastal area.

Burdekin Shire Council (033001) 1886 - 2009 (elevation 12 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

32.2

31.6

31.1

29.9

27.9

25.7

25.2

26.5

28.3

29.3

31.0

32.4

29.4

Mean min
(ºC)

22.4

22.2

21.1

18.8

15.6

13.0

11.6

12.8

15.3

18.2

20.4

21.8

17.8

Mean rain
(mm)

257.8

265.6

175.4

60.3

36.2

30.0

18.3

14.5

19.4

22.6

42.5

116.5

1045.9

The highest temperature ever recorded in Ayr was 42.9°C in February 1935 while the lowest temperature was -0.6°C in June 1893. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2431.7 mm was recorded in 1947 and the lowest total of 261.1 mm in 1915.

The Bureau's web site also contains rainfall data for Ravenswood but no temperature data. The following table shows the mean monthly rainfalls - they show a significantly lower rainfall than experienced on the coast.

Ravenswood Post Office (033062) 1871 - 2009 (elevation 247 m ASL)

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean rain
(mm)

149.2

151.6

98.5

37.8

24.4

27.4

15.3

13.6

12.0

21.5

44.4

82.3

678.5

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 50 cyclones tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Five of those cyclones passed within 50 km of the confluence point during that period including: an unnamed cyclone of February 1929; an unnamed cyclone in February 1954; an unnamed cyclone of March 1955; TC Una in December 1973 and TC Joy in December 1990.

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Cyclone tracks that passed within 200 km of the confluence point 1906-2006 (BoM web site)

Several severe cyclones have had a major impact on the country within the degree square. In February 1875, for example, the steamer Gothenburg was lost off Cape Upstart near Ayr in a cyclone with the loss of 102 lives. In a cyclone in March 1890 extensive flooding occurred in the Burdekin after a fall of 431 mm in 24 hours at Ravenswood. Several people were drowned and houses in the lower Burdekin were swept away. TC Leonta in March 1903 practically demolished Ayr and Brandon. A cyclone in April 1940 again caused severe flooding in the Burdekin with loss of life and widespread damage. The losses in the Ayr district alone were tallied at $1 million in 1940 dollars.

In February 1959 TC Connie crossed the coast near Ayr. One man was killed when the shop in which he was sheltering collapsed on him. In Ayr 33% of houses were severely damaged and many public and commercial buildings destroyed or badly damaged. In Home Hill over 100 people were made homeless as every house in the town suffered damage. At least 700 windmills were destroyed in the Ayr - Home Hill area.

In March 1988 TC Charlie crossed the coast just to the east of Ayr. At Ayr water two metres deep flooded many houses and four houses were partly unroofed. The sugar industry took the greatest losses with an estimated $15 million (1990 dollars) of sugar destroyed by flooding.

In April 1989 TC Aivu, one of the strongest cyclones to have crossed the Queensland coast, hit the Ayr - Home Hill area. Just before landfall the eye of the cyclone was only 22 km and a central pressure of 959 hPa was recorded in the eye some 20 km inland. A recent review of the data from TC Aivu by Bureau of Meteorologist cyclone expert Jeff Callaghan a few years ago indicated that at one stage out at sea this cyclone reached a high Category 5 level with a central pressure of 880 hPa - close to the theoretical minimum pressure for the Coral Sea area. The insurance payout for damage to buildings, cars, boats and so on was $26 million. Agricultural losses were in the order of $40 million and infrastructure losses were put at $10 million. Most of the building damage was loss of roofing and awnings caused by the very strong winds.

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNTS OF TC AIVU ARE WELCOME

There have been 10 major floods in the Burdekin River at the Inkerman Bridge that links Ayr and Home Hill since 1911. The flood of record was in April 1958 when a gauge height of 12.62 m was recorded at the Inkerman Bridge - at 12.0 m on the gauge water will begin to enter houses in Ayr and Home Hill.

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.

Bushfires can be a significant problem in the Leichardt Range at the end of the winter where grass and eucalypt forests are at their driest. Fortunately, apart from stock and fencing there is little property in that area.

Extreme heat is also a serious issue in the square. The climate records for Ayr show that on average (over 90 years of records) the area experiences 11 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, in the adjoining square, died from heat stroke during a four-day heatwave. Heat waves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined.

There are nine earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded since 1900 in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The most significant was the ML 5.7 'Ravenswood' event of 18 December 1913 located virtually at the confluence point 18 km north east of Ravenswood. This event was felt over a wide area and in Townsville doors and windows were rattled but no damage was reported. All other events had magnitudes of ML3.7 or less. Most were in the southern half of the square.

The Indigenous Story: The land within the degree square is the traditional country of three major Aboriginal groups. On the coast north of the Burdekin is the traditional country of the Bindal people and south of the Burdekin is the traditional country of the Yuru people. The inland areas including the upper Burdekin is the traditional country of the Gugu-Badhun people.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOME

European Exploration and Settlement: The mouth of the Burdekin was discovered by Captain Wickham in HMS Beagle in 1839 and was first named after him. It was later renamed by Ludwig Leichhardt as the Burdekin. In 1859 the lower Burdekin was visited by Captain Sinclair and James Gordon from Bowen.

The first European occupation of the area was at Woodstock on divide between the Ross River and the Haughton River. John Melton Black's men who founded Woodstock Station arrived in north Queensland in 1862. John Melton Black settled first at Fanning River before sending his men to found Woodstock. Robert Towns took over Black's extensive properties. This pastoral property was owned by the Sydney entrepreneur Robert Towns and was settled overland from the Burdekin. A.C MacMillan took up country on the Burdekin in 1877 to raise cattle and in the following year the Burdekin Delta Sugar Co. was formed by R.W. Graham and MacMillan. By 1880 the sugar industry was expanding rapidly and the township of Ayr was gazetted in 1882. The township of Clare further up the Burdekin was also named in 1882. The Airdmillan Sugar Mill commenced operation with the first crush on sugar in 1883 and the irrigation of sugar was started in 1885 by George Drysdale. By 1901 the district had a population of 1500 and the town of Ayr had a population of 338.

Both alluvial and reef gold was discovered at Ravenswood in 1868 and the centre rapidly became the largest inland town in Queensland. By late 1871 the easily won gold had been exhausted and deeper mining was needed. Unfortunately the deeper ores were found in to be rich in sulphides which made extraction of the gold very difficult. This mundic ore turned many miners away and when gold was discovered at Charters Towers in 1872 a great exodus began. Only a few miners remained at Ravenswood while Charters Towers boomed to be Queensland's second city. A method of extracting the gold was discovered in 1897 and this led to another boom that lasted until 1903. By 1906 production began to fall and by 1912 there was a general strike in the town as the radicalism of Charters Towers took hold in the town.

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Ravenswood battery (KG, 2008)

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Ravenswood smelter chimney (KG, 2008)

Growth across the area was boosted by improvements in transport infrastructure. The earliest tracks crossed the Burdekin at Clare, originally known as Burdekin Crossing of Hamilton Crossing. In 1899 the Ayr Tramway Joint Board was set up with Townsville, Thuringowa and Ayr councils working together. Two years later Ayr was linked to Townsville by rail. The first rail bridge over the Burdekin, known as the Inkerman Bridge after the original name for Home Hill, was opened in 1913 and the link to Bowen also completed. The Ayr power station was opened in 1915 and Ayr became one of the first towns in Australia to be lit by electricity. The current Burdekin Bridge was eventually opened in 1957 after 10 years of construction.

MORE INFORMATIONWELCOME

Today: 

The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 16,852. This population has been in slow decline over the past 15 years, probably due to downturns in the sugar and cattle industries due to drought.

MEASURE

1996

2001

2006

2011

Total population

20,966

19,524

18,000

16,852

Total males

10,958

10,089

9096

8478

Total females

10,008

9435

8904

8374

Under 5 years

1501

1407

1238

1064

65 years and over

2578

2611

2863

2977

Indigenous

467

813

889

906

Many of the people live in the urban centres of Ayr (8392 people in 2011) and Home Hill (2798 people). Smaller centres such as Giru and Ravenswood also contribute to the urban population with perhaps 25% of the population spread across the rural area.

Ayr is the main service centre for the lower Burdekin area. It has a good range of commercial and public services. It has several schools, banks, tourist accommodation, sporting facilities, a community theatre and several parks.

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Ayr memorial clock tower (KG, 2008)

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Ayr main street and sculpture garden (KG, 2008)

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Ayr Rainbow Serpent monument (KG, 2008)

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 Burdekin Theatre in Ayr (KG, 2008)

Home Hill was established some years after Ayr and sits on the southern side of the Buredkin. It was originally known as Inkerman, named for the Inkerman Downs cattle station on which it was established. It is largely a sugar service town with the Inkerman Mill being one of the largest employers. The town sits at the eastern end of the strategic Burdekin Bridge.

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Home Hill is surrounded by sugar crops (Google Earth image)

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Inkerman Mill (KG, 2008)

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Burdekin Bridge near Home Hill (KG, 2008)

Ravenswood has been undergoing something of a revival in recent years as the Sarsfield open cut gold mine has been undergoing a revival. Most of the workers fly-in/fly-out or operate from Townsville so the residential population is still quite small. It has become a popular tourist destination with some of the most attractive old buildings, such as the Imperial and Railway Hotels, still in service.

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Ravenswood and the Sarsfield mine (Google Earth image)

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Imperial Hotel Ravenswood (KG, 2008)

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 Railway Hotel Ravenswood (KG, 2008)

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Imperial Hotel bar Ravenswood (KG, 2008)

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 Imperial Hotel dining room Ravenswood (KG, 2008)

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Ravenswood post office (KG, 2008)

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Ravenswood shops (KG, 2008)

The Burdekin agricultural area is the largest single sugar growing area in Australia and produces 1.25 million tonnes of raw sugar annually. The area also produces one third of Australia's mango crop. Other crops include cotton, melons and other fruits and vegetables. The area is irrigated from aquifers in the Burdekin flood plain and water from the Burdekin Falls Dam (in the next square to the south). Cattle grazing and tourism are also important industries.

The land within the square is divided between four local government areas: Townsville City, Burdekin Shire, Charters Towers regional and Whitsunday Regional. There is one national park (Bowling Green Bay) and two conservation parks (Horseshoe Lagoon and White Blow) within the square. A small section of the High Range Military Training Area is also found in the north-west corner of the square.

The area contains significant transport infrastructure including the Bruce and Flinders Highways and an extensive network of public roads. The main north-south railway and the Townsville to Mt Isa railway lines also pass through the square.

This point was also part of the Icon Trek of 2009. (Below)

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Site Summary:

Location

200 m east of the Ayr-Ravenswood Road

Access

By main road then on foot

Nearest town

Ravenswood

Terrain

Undulating foothills of the Leichhardt Range

Catchment

Burdekin River

Geology & soils

Red sandy soil on granodiorite of Silurian age

Vegetation

Open mid height eucalypt forest with course tussock grass

Land use

Cattle grazing

Climate

Hot grassland with a winter drought

Population in degree square

18,000 at the 2006 census

Infrastructure

Extensive road network including Bruce and Flinders Highways;
main line railways; sugar mills and associated tramways

National Parks

Bowling Green Bay NP and two conservation parkes

Compilers: Ken Granger, 2009

Edited by:  Hayley Freemantle

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

Colin Hooper, 2006: Angor to Zillmanton: stories of North Queensland's deserted towns, Bolton Print.

Information (some) about Woodstock supplied by Dorothy Gibson-Wilde from the book, 'Gateway to a Golden Land - Townsville to 1884' and from her own lecture given as one of Sir Robert Philp series, which was published on the Townsville City libraries web site.