Location: This confluence point is situated approximately half way between Cloncurry and McKinlay, only seven kilometres from the Landsborough Highway in the McKinlay Shire. Cloncurry and McKinlay are the two main population centres in the degree square, with Cloncurry at the extreme northwest and McKinlay at the extreme southeast. A short drive of only 70 km from Cloncurry, I was able to drive almost to the exact point. Alas, 21oN 141oE was just out of reach, 100 m away, on Elrose Station on the other side of a rather well put together dog-proof fence. The station homestead was visible, just a kilometre down the track to the east. The Fullarton River, whilst not visible, was only a kilometre or so away. A copper mining lease is held by Barminco Investment on part of the station. I verified my location using a hand held GPS navigation system.
The Landscape: In the immediate vicinity of the point, the terrain was fairly flat, with only a few small washouts. The soil is the usual heavily mineralized, fine particle type that is endemic to the entire area. It is fine enough to be picked up by the wind when dry, but turns into thick clay with a minimum of water. Distributed through it are small broken pieces of quartz and small pieces of stone with a gneissic texture. Evidently this layer of soil is described by geologists as a duricrust that was laid down in the Cainozoic age (less than 68 million years). Termite mounds varying between 10 cm and 60 cm in height dot the landscape. Scattered about the area are pieces of old rusty pipe, 44 gallon drum bungs and old balls from a ball mill used for crushing ore.
Elrose Station homestead (Andrew Parker, 2009) Balls from an old ball mill (Andrew Parker, 2009)
The vegetation in the immediate area is quite sparse with the most common tree being the Gidgee (Acacia cambagei). There are also examples of North West Ghost Gum (Corymbia bella) and Prickly Acacia (Acacia nilotica). The Prickly Acacia was introduced in the 1890's from the Middle East. It is a declared plant and a weed of national significance. This species was originally intended for fodder and shade; however its prodigious rate of proliferation impacts severely on the native pastures. The Prickly Acacia grows to about 10 metres and has a yellow flower.
Prickly Acacia bush and thorns (Andrew Parker, 2009)
Point information and photos: Andrew Parker, 2009
The Country: The country within the degree square ranges in elevation from around 500 m ASL in the Selwyn Range to around 100 m along the northern border. The Selwyn Range is composed of some of the most ancient rocks in Queensland - metasediments such as schist and limestone of Statherian age (1800 to 1600 million years) and granite of Calymmian age (1600 to 1400 million years). The majority of the square, however, is made up of sand plains and riverine sediments of Quaternary age (less than 1.6 million years). The topography of the Selwyn Range is broken and rugged in great contrast to the largely flat landscape of the flood plains.
The braided streams of the Williams, Fullarton and McKinlay Rivers and their tributaries flow to the Cloncurry River which is part of the Flinders River catchment. This catchment drains into the Gulf of Carpentaria.
IN THE DEGREE SQUARE
On the plains the vegetation is similar to that at the confluence point. Gidgee grows to about 10 metres and is plentiful across the area. The timber is a good durable hard wood which was used as fence posts and building material by the early settlers of the area. It was also used by early miners as shoring in underground workings. The North West Ghost Gum grows to about 12 metres and prefers sandy red soils near creek beds or water holes. It has a whitish flower.
These species are part of the low-medium woodlands endemic to the entire region. For the most part these woodlands are under storied by grasses and small shrubs although the areas beneath stands of Gidgee seem to remain bare. Vegetation increases in density along areas around water courses subject to inundation where strands of riparian forest of River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and Coolibah (E. coolabah) are dominant. The predominant grass appears to be spinifex; however a scattering of Mitchell grass is in evidence.
North-west Ghost Gum (Andrew Parker, 2009) Gidgee (Andrew Parker, 2009)
The rare Cloncurry Ringneck Parrot and Kalkadoon Grasswren are found in the Selwyn Ranges.
Land use across the square is dominated by cattle grazing though mining operations are also significant in the Selwyn Range and elsewhere in the square.
Climate: The climate of the area is classified as a hot grassland with a winter drought.The closest weather station to the confluence is at the Cloncurry Airport, which is 60 km to the north-west of the degree confluence, and has an elevation of 186 m.
The highest temperature ever recorded at Cloncurry Airport was 46.9oC in December 2006 while the lowest temperature was 1.8oC in July 1979. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 996.8 mm was recorded in 1999 and the lowest total of 117.4 mm in 2008.
Extremes of Nature: The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology contains the tracks of 14 cyclones that have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point in the 101 years between 1906 and 2007. Of these only three passed within 50 km of the point.
They were: TC Bronwyn in January 1972; TC Ted in December 1976 and TC Winifred in February 1986. Most cyclones that impact on the area have degraded to tropical lows, however, they all bring torrential rain that produces extensive flooding over a wide area that can last several weeks.
Cyclone tracks within 200 km of point 1906 to 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)
The area experiences on average between 40 and 50 thunder days a year. The more severe thunderstorms can produce intense rainfall and localised flash flooding, destructive winds (including tornadoes) and lightning strikes that can spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to sustain spread.
Flooding in the Cloncurry River system is common during each active cyclone season. Perhaps the worst flood at Cloncurry was in 1911. The worst recent flood was in January 1991 when the Cloncurry gauge recorded a height of 7.8 m and water entered houses. Roads were closed for several weeks and outlying properties isolated. Some re-supply of isolated stations by helicopter was required. The greatest economic loss was from stock losses and the destruction of fencing.
Extreme heat is also a serious issue. The climate records for Cloncurry show that on average (over 15 years of records) the area experiences 153 days a year with temperatures over 35oC and 36 days a year with temperatures over 40oC. 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.
Drought is probably the most destructive of all hazards. This area has suffered severe drought on many occasions, the most notable being the ‘Federation Drought' between 1900 and 1905, 1925, the mid-1960s and again in the early 2000s. During drought periods blowing sand can reduce visibility significantly.
The National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia contains no earthquake epicentres within the degree square.
The Indigenous Story: Much of the square falls within the traditional country of the Wunumara people with the Mayi-Thakurti in the north-west and the Kalkadoon in the south-west. Aboriginal people have lived in this area for at least 20,000 years. They were nomadic hunter gatherers, in the past they moved with the seasons and food. The language is Mayi-Thakurti from the Mayi group of languages from the south of the gulf country.
When the country was settled by Europeans, the Aborigines were displaced by the usual methods of violence and persecution. The graziers realized how valuable as stockmen the indigenous people were, due to their ease at adapting to working on horseback and skill at mustering stock from places the white ringers could not get to. They were not paid much, if at all; cheap to feed as they supplemented the rations they received, yet again, if any, by living off the land.
European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to pass through the area were the members of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in 1861. Burke named the Cloncurry River after his cousin, Lady Elizabeth Cloncurry of County Galway, Ireland. Expeditions to find the missing Burke and Wills party also passed through the area in 1862. They included parties led by John McKinlay, William Landsborough and Frederick Walker. While these search parties failed to find Burke and Wills they did discover and report on their finds of extensive grazing land. McKinley became a staging point for the Cobb and Co coach service and a gathering point for district properties. The Federal Hotel, later renamed the Walkabout Creek Hotel (as featured in the movie Crocodile Dundee) was established in 1900.
Pastoralist and prospector Ernest Henry, in company with Roger Sheaffe, discovered copper near Cloncurry in 1867. The Great Australia Mine was worked until 1879. Gold was also found in the Selwyn range in 1869 reinforcing a mineral boom in what was then largely unknown territory. The isolation of the area and transport difficulties as well as fluctuating world prices for copper were great constraints on the growth of the area until the railway reached the area in 1907. The boom in copper prices during WW I saw Cloncurry boom - in 1916 Cloncurry had the highest copper production in the British Commonwealth. By 1920 the boom had faded and the area reverted to cattle and sheep grazing as the economic mainstay.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries Afghan traders, using camels, provided a much needed ‘travelling salesman' service to the isolated properties across the square. At the height of the Cloncurry copper boom a mosque was established.
Before the development of Mt Isa Cloncurry was the main centre of the north-west and consequently features in several ‘firsts'. The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) began operations in Cloncurry in 1928 with Alfred Traeger establishing the first ‘pedal radio' base in 1929. The town was the end-point of the first QANTAS flight in 1922. The School of the Air was first established in Cloncurry in 1960, operating from the RFDS base. In 1964, however, both the School of the Air and the RFDS base were transferred to Mt Isa.
The area also received a boost in the 1950s with both high cattle prices and the discovery of uranium at Mary Kathleen to the north west of Cloncurry.
The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 2082, of which 1782 were living in Cloncurry.
Cloncurry remains a significant administrative and service centre even though it is dominated today by the much larger Mt Isa, 103 km to the west.
Cloncurry (Google Earth image)
Cloncurry is a major railway centre, with ore and fertilizer being the largest cargoes in tonnage. It is also home to the original QANTAS hangar, the Wagon Wheel Hotel (Queensland's oldest licensed premises), the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and the John Flynn Place Museum.
Central Hotel Cloncurry (Andrew Parker, 2009) Post Office Hotel Cloncurry (Andrew Parker, 2009)
McKinlay is a very small settlement of the Landsborough Highway between Cloncurry and Winton. It is home to the Walkabout Creek Hotel as made famous by the film ‘Crocodile Dundee' and Queensland's smallest library. It has a population of around 20 people. The village contains many heritage buildings such as the old police station (built in 1891), Granny Stubbing's Billiard Room, the Kathleen Mylne QCWA meeting room (established in 1888), and the telegraph and post office (built in 1884).
McKinlay (Google Earth image)
Gem fossicking and mining sites are scattered across the square. On Maronan Station, for example, is the Fullarton River Gem Site. A series of gneiss ridges occur on the northern side of the river. The stone has a high concentration of mica and rhodolite garnet. This area is quite accessible to conventional vehicles towing caravans in the dry season but only open to 4wd in the wet. There is an area on the western side of the ridges available for camping. Quite often one can see a small gathering of "Grey Nomads" there.
Fullerton River garnets (Andrew Parker, 2009)
The geology of this region is the subject of enormous interest to prospectors, mining conglomerates and investors due to the rich mineral deposits prevalent throughout the square. Economically viable deposits of copper, lead, zinc, magnesite, silver and gold are being explored and indeed mined intensively. This does not interfere with the local graziers as this industry does not rely on high density grazing. This is evidenced by the Eloise Copper Mine operating on Elrose Station. This deposit was discovered in 1986 by BHP Minerals, after electromagnetic anomalies were detected by aerial survey.
Station and mine signs at Elrose Station (Andrew Parker, 2009)
Copper, lead, zinc and to a lesser extent gold and silver are being mined on increasingly larger scales, whilst exploration continues apace. Both centres also benefit from rising beef prices although drought has been a major hurdle recently.
Tourism plays an important part of the economy of the area. In the cooler months, Grey Nomads appear from the frosty southern states to fossick in the local area, or to transit through to the Gulf of Carpentaria to defrost and do some quality fishing.
The key infrastructures in the area are the Flinders and Landsborough Highways and the rail line tha links Mt Isa to Townsville. The square is divided more-or-less evenly between Cloncurry Shire and McKinlay Shire. There are no national parks or conservation parks in the square.
Compilers: Andrew Parker with additional material by Ken Granger, 2009-08-10
Edited by: Hayley Freemantle
References: various web sites including local governments and Bureau of Meteorology.
Queensland Museum, 2003: Discovery guide to Outback Queensland, Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
EPA, 2002: Heritage trails of the Queensland outback, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane.