AT THE POINT
Location: This confluence point is located on the floodplain of the Barcoo River 15km east of its junction with the Alice River. The closest settlement is Barcaldine which is about 58km to the north east and Blackall is 66km to the south east. The point lies within Barcaldine Regional Council local government area. The point is on private land and the closest approach to the point was 4km because the property owner was not contactable.
The Landscape: The area is generally flat with an elevation of around 230m ASL. Soils are reddish brown clays derived from the underlying sandstone of the Winton Formation that dates from the Albian period (around 100 million years). Vegetation around the site is improved pasture with some pulled Brigalow scrub. Land use around the site is cattle grazing.
Native animals seen include emus, bustards and macropods.
Point information and photos: John and Mary Nowill in August 2011 with additional information from Ken Granger.
WITHIN THE DEGREE
The Country: The country is generally flat to gently undulating with elevations ranging from 300m ASL in the west to around 200m on the western boundaries. The area is drained by the Barcoo River and its tributaries which flow to Cooper Creek and the Lake Eyre Basin. Most of the watercourses in the square have areas of Lignum wetland along their drainage lines. The underlying geology is largely Albian age (100 million years) sandstone of the Winton and Mackunda Formations. The drainage lines are alluvium of Quaternary age (less than 6 million years).
Vegetation across the square is predominantly pasture with areas of Brigalow and mulga scrub. The drainage lines have River Red Gums and Coolibah trees as well as Lignum sedges. Cattle grazing is the dominant land use.
The Climate: The area is classified as having a subtropical climate with a dry winter. The Bureau of Meteorology climate station at the Barcaldine Post Office provides representative statistics. The variability of the rainfall and temperatures may be seen in the table.
Barcaldine Post Office (036007) 1886-2011 (elevation 267 m ASL)
The highest temperature ever recorded in Barcaldine was 45.1oC in November 2006 while the lowest temperature was -1.6oC in June 1976 and July 1974. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 1333.6mm was recorded in 2010 and the lowest total of 146.0mm in 1946.
Extremes of Nature: The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows 9 active or former cyclones have tracked within 200 km of the confluence point since 1906. Of these, one passed within 50 km of the point: TC David in January 1976. All of these storms brought heavy rain falls that produced flooding in both local and regional catchments.
Cyclone tracks within 200 km of point 1906 to 2006 (Bureau of Meteorology web site)
Extreme heat is also potential danger. Records show that Windorah experiences 88 days annually with temperatures over 35°C, although only 9 of these days typically reach 40°C or warmer. 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 area receives between 20 and 25 thunder days on average each year. The more severe thunderstorms can produce destructive winds, intense rainfall that may cause localised flash flooding, and lightning strikes may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel for it to spread.
Floods in the Barcoo River system have a long history and can extend across several kilometres closing road and isolating properties for several weeks.
Drought and heatwave remain the most frequent and severe natural hazards. Barcaldine averages 86 days a year (49 years of records) with temperatures of 35oC or more and 9 days a year with temperatures of 40oC or greater. Heatwaves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined.
The National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia contains no event epicentres within the degree square.
The Indigenous Story: The land within the square is roughly divided between the traditional land of the Iningai people in the north and the Kuungkari people in the south. Little is known of their history other than the fact that their numbers declined rapidly following the spread of European grazing enterprises into the area.
European Exploration and Settlement: The first Europeans to pass along the Barcoo were part of the expedition led by Thomas Mitchell in 1845-6. His deputy on that expedition, Edmund Kennedy returned to the area in 1847 and again in 1847. Their reports of the extensive black soil grasslands led to a rapid influx of sheep graziers. Ludwig Leichhardt probably passed through the area on his last (and fatal) expedition in 1848-9. Other explorers including A.C. Gregory who mounted expeditions to find Leichhardt had also passed through the Blackall area by 1858.
Among the first European settlers was Donald Cameron who overlanded sheep from NSW to the Alice River in 1863. He called his run Barcaldine Downs after his family home of Barcaldine Castle in Scotland. The township of Barcaldine was established in 1886 as construction of the railway line from Rockhampton reached Lagoon Creek. The discovery of artesian water in the same year provided a guaranteed water supply and the town survived the extension of the rail further to the west. Blackall, in the south-eastern corner of the square was surveyed in 1868 and named for Sir Samuel Blackall, Queensland’s second governor.
Barcaldine and Blackall became centres of the Great Shearer’s Strike of 1891 and the formation of the Australian Labor Party with the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, a Ghost Gum outside the Barcaldine Railway Station, being the meeting place for striking shearers. The Salvation Army also met and played hymns under the tree in Barcaldine’s early days - with many referring to the tree as the ‘Halleluiah Tree’. This great heritage icon was poisoned by herbicide in 2006 but the poisoner has yet to be identified.
Blackall also has an important place in the heritage of the sheep and wool industry because it was on Alice Downs Station near the town on 10 October 1892 that legendary shearer Jacky Howe shore 321 sheep in a 7 hour 40 minute day with hand shears - a record that has never been beaten. A few days earlier he had set another record on Barcaldine Downs shearing 237 sheep with machine shears - the only shearer to have held both machine and hand shearing records at the same time. Jacky settled in Blackall.
Blackall also had one of the larger wood scours built in the State. It was built in 1908 to clean fleeces of dirt and lanolin before shipping, thus reducing the volume and weight of the clip considerably. It continued in operation for 70 years.
Surveyors operating through the area in the 1880s established a bench mark on a tree stump at Blackall. This stump became known as the ‘Black Stump’, the land beyond which was traditionally deemed to be remote. The site of the Black Stump is now a tourist site.
The Black Stump Blackall (KG, 2005)
The total population of the degree square at the 2011 national Census was 3220, of which 1313 were living in Barcaldine and 1222 in Blackall. The steady decline in population between 2001 and 2006 may have been linked to the impact on the cattle and sheep industries of prolonged drought.
Sheep grazing has declined since the 1960s and has been largely replaced by cattle grazing. Tourism is a major economic activity, especially with ‘grey nomads’ passing through the area on their way to northern areas such as Darwin and beyond. Much of the tourist interest is in the heritage of the area including sites such as the Blackall wool scour and ‘Black Stump’; the Barcaldine heritage Centre and the new ‘Tree of Knowledge’ monument.
Both Barcaldine and Blackall have a basic range of services including stores, accommodation and fuel. Medical services are provided at the Barcaldine Hospital which has emergency medicine and general medical services. The Blackall Hospital is served by RFDS clinics and visiting specialists and it has a 24-hour emergency medical service.
There are 2230km of public roads in the square including lengths of the Landsborough Highway that links the two towns with Longreach to the west and Charleville to the south. There are, in addition, many kilometres of station tracks. Railway lines pass through both Barcaldine and Blackall though both now carry little if any traffic. Both towns have sealed airstrips and several of the stations within the square have their own airstrips.
There are no national parks within the square. The square is divided almost equally between three local government areas: Barcaldine Region in the north east; Blackall Tambo Region in the south-east; and Longreach region in the west.
Blackall (Google Earth image 2007)
The Twelve Mile Hotel
(as seen on the board below)
In the days before motor transport, this was an important stopping place for all travellers using the road from Ilfracombe to Isisford. Ilfracombe came into existence from 1890 when the railway from Rockhampton approached. Settlers in the new town immediately pressed for the development of roads to link the town with surrounding districts. In particular, they wanted a road that would bring into Ilfracombe the Isisford trade that had previously gone to the more distant rail-head at Barcaldine.
In that era, making roads meant creating artificial water along road route and perhaps contracting stone pitched crossings over some major creeks. Artificial water was essential - otherwise there would be no safe water supply for people or animals for perilously long distances. Without artificial water supplies, roads could not be used for most of the year.
In 1892 the Aramac Divisional Board selected this place as a site for an earth tank dam. It was a well-chosen site, on a good creek catchment and about 20 km's from water at Ilfracombe. This was the distance thought to be a suitable interval for roadside water supplies - two days travel for drovers, a day's travel for teamsters and a few hours for coaches, buggies and riders. The dam, located about about 200 m to the south of this spot, was constructed later in 1892. Known as "the Twelve Mile dam", it has served travellers and travelling stock ever since. It was also a spot much favoured by Ilfracombe townspeople for picnics and swimming outings.
Cobb & Co, began running mail service and passengers coaches from Ilfracombe to Isisford in 1892. Modest hotels were frequently developed along coach routes. They were operated by people whose job it was to have fresh horses harnessed ready for the coaches, in return for the rights to conduct the hotel. The hotel here, known as The Royal Mail Hotel or simply the Twelve Mile, was typical. It was trading by early 1893.
Barcaldine (Google Earth image 2006)
Blackall (Google Earth image 2007)
Compilers: Ken Granger 2011
Sources: various web sites including EPA, local governments, tourist industry and Bureau of Meteorology.
Queensland Museum, 2003: Discovery guide to outback Queensland, Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
Edited by: Hayley Freemantle