Dreamtime by Air 2005 – Part 9

(Click on photographs to see a larger version. Note: Some file sizes are quite large; not recommended for people using a dial-up connection.)

Previous installment is here.

A map of the trip is here.

Saturday 20 August 2005 – Roper Bar to Normanton

Roper Bar (S14 44.26 E136 10.30) -> Borroloola (S16 04.5 E136 18.1) -> overfly Kurumba -> Normanton (S17 41.1 E141 04.2)

Roper River tour boatAfter a 7AM breakfast we drove to where Glim had organised his boat, and took a fast but lengthy trip down the Roper River. We saw a few crocs. We visited the rock bar where Roper River is 100 metres wide, lined with paperbark trees.

We visited the Aboriginal community at Ngukurr (-14 44S 134 43E) and their Ngukurr art centre. Another collection of excellent art, including some huge paintings on canvas, which would look great if you had a really large room, preferably with tall ceilings.

Roper RiverThere are seven language groups represented in the Ngukurr community, and 21 clans. The community government council runs an area with about 1200 people, both here and in the region. There are a large number of outstations, the largest at Urapunga and Hodgson Downs. From the mix of language groups arose the language now known as Kriol. Kriol is a recognized Aboriginal language, which includes variations on many English words, and is spoken by up to 20,000 speakers across Northern Australia.

Coast of Gulf of CarpentariaLunch at Roper Bar, luckily a little lighter than dinner. Then off on a long afternoon’s flight to Normanton (Queensland) in the eastern Gulf, with a stop to refuel at Borroloola (Northern Territory). There the passengers walked to the pub for a very quick drink.

On our return to the plane, we discovered that pilot Tim had located the grass sprinkler control, and gave the stragglers a little surprise as they tried to open the airstrip gate.

Karumba Point, with Karumba in backgroundAfter a scenic flight across the Gulf of Carpentaria, we circled Karumba and Karumba Point before following the Norman River inland to Normanton.

Overnight at Purple Pub, Normanton (07) 4745 1324. The pub has a pleasant set of basic motel units out the back, and serves very good pub food in its open-air bistro area. We had previously been under the impression that the pub was not a good place to stay (too rowdy), but either we had been misinformed or its fortunes have changed, because we found it good enough to go back to again on our next trip up that way.

Sunday 21 August 2005 – Normanton and Karumba

Normanton (S17 41.1 E141 04.2), Karumba (S17 29S 140 50E)

Purple Pub, NormantonPurple Pub, bistro areaVehicle tour of Normanton, population 500, established 1868 during a gold rush. Located 712 km west of Cairns and 681 km northwest of Townsville, it started life as a port for the Gulf of Carpentaria’s cattle industry and grew in importance with the discovery of gold at Croydon in 1885.

Our driver was John, the local Church of Christ pastor moonlighting as a bus driver to raise funds. John took us around the town, showing us the area where aboriginals had been grouped in the past when they were not allowed into the town. John was very sympathetic to their plight, and past injustices. We also viewed such sights as the old gaol and Krys the croc, a replica of the largest crocodile (28 feet) ever taken in the area, killed by Krys Pawlowski, a female photographer and crocodile shooter.

Jean with Kris the crocBrolgaThen we went across the ancient seabed to Karumba, viewing brolgas on the way, clustered at the only remaining waterholes (it had been a dry year).

Karumba is situated on the mouth of the Norman River 70 kilometres from Normanton and is the centre of the Gulf’s prawning industry. The surrounding area is flat wetlands which extend inland for approximately 30 kilometres. The wetlands are a series of meandering saltwater tidal estuaries, habitat for saltwater crocodiles and a vast array of bird species, such as pelicans, cyrus cranes, brolgas and black swans.

Karumba is a fishing town. It is nothing more than a port, a few shops, a pub, a lot of inexpensive accommodation for fishermen and a river front which abounds with wharves, refrigerated storage areas, slipways and engineering services.

Karumba, QueenslandNormanton, QueenslandIn the 1870s a telegraph station was built on the site of the present town. Karumba first came to importance in the 1930s when it became a stopover point for flying boats on the run from London to Australia. By the 1950s it had become a popular spot for people eager to go fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The town went through something of a boom period in the 1960s and 1970s when it became the centre for the Gulf fishing industry. Today the prawn fishing industry and the barramundi industry earn over $130 million each year.

Even though Karumba is roughly as far from the equator as Derby, the tide in Karumba is back to the average height of a few metres or so, but that there is only one high tide and one low tide each day. What’s going on? The mouth of the Gulf of Carpenteria is much bigger than a bath tub, but acts the same. It takes 12 hours for a wave to slosh across from east to west (and vice versa), the same as the time between two high tides (or two low tides).

Gulflander trainTracks for Gulflander trainAs the twice-a-day tide comes across the top of Australia from the Indian Ocean into the Gulf of Carpentaria, it has to pass through the mouth of the Gulf. The twice-a-day tide heading into the Gulf gets trapped by this potential 12-hour-wave that exists across the mouth of the Gulf. Very little twice-a-day energy is left over to go into the Gulf. Now the next most energetic tide is the once-a-day tide. This tide gets through because its timing is different. And that’s why you have only one tide a day at Karumba. (The other tides get through as well, but you don’t notice them because they are so small.)

Our group lunched at Ashs in Karumba Point (where we often ate on our previous trips) on barra, king salmon and gulf prawns. Then we were driven back to Normanton, by then running fairly late, and took a trip on the Gulflander vintage train, which we had ridden several years earlier.

Bats roosting in treeTermite moundsThe track runs from Normanton to Croydon, about 150 kilometres. It was completed in the late 1800s. The line has an interesting construction feature: hollow steel sleepers packed with mud. This avoided the need for ballast on the track. Most of the sleepers are still in place. The line was designed to cope with floods during the wet season; floodwater and debris flow over it, leaving the track intact after the floods subside.

Overnight again at Purple Pub, Normanton.

Continued in part 10…

Page last updated 28 May 2006