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Barrow Creek, NT

One pub settlement made infamous by the Peter Falconio murder.

For most of its history Barrow Creek has been an isolated and tiny outpost on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs. Then, on 14 July 2001, it became a vital part of one of the Australian outback's most horrific and mystifying crimes. On the night of 14 July, Bradley John Murdoch stopped a VW Kombi van driven by English traveller, Peter Falconio, and persuaded Falconio to leave the vehicle, shot him, tied up Falconio's girlfriend Joanne Lees who, miraculously, managed to escape, hide in the scrub along the highway, and was eventually picked up by a truck driver who took her 13 km south to the Barrow Creek pub where the police were alerted. Stop, have a drink at the pub (a true outback experience), and think of the bones of Peter Falconio now lying somewhere in the vastness of the Australian outback. If you want to be terrified, watch Wolf Creek - obviously inspired by the crime.

Location

Barrow Creek is a tiny settlement on the Stuart Highway 1211 km south of Darwin and 286 km north of Alice Springs.

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Origin of Name

Barrow Creek was named after the John Henry Barrow who, at the time, was a member of the South Australian parliament. He had migrated to South Australia in 1853.

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Things to See and Do

The Pub
One of the enduring joys of travelling the Stuart Highway is the remarkable outback pubs which line the route. The pub (now a kind of combined roadhouse, pub and caravan park) was built in 1926 by Joe Kilgarriff. Step inside and you can still see, amidst the memorabilia, the original bar and the tin ceiling. The beer is still stored in the original underground cellar. In recent times demountable accommodation and a caravan park have been added. At any given time the publican and his staff represent the totality of the Barrow Creek population. It can rise to 11 or 12 and drop back to 4.

The Graves
In 1874, after the Overland Telegraph was being officially opened and when a local police station had been established at Barrow Creek, the local Kaytetye Aborigines attacked the small community and two men, John Franks and James L Stapleton, were killed. No one is certain what prompted the attack (possibly the issue of treatment of women or of water supply) but the graves of Franks and Stapleton remain at Barrow Creek. They are marked by a stone wall around the headstones.

On a lighter note there is another grave - that of the 'Mayor of Barrow Creek' a man named Tom Roberts who arrived at Barrow Creek in 1952 (he was working for the Postmaster General's Department) and stayed until 1986 when he went to live in Charters Towers. He always said he wanted to be buried in Barrow Creek so when he died on 8 February 1988 his ashes were returned, a stone was removed from the Telegraph Station, and he was placed next to Franks and Stapleton on the north side of the Station.

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History

Barrow Creek is the land of the Kaytetye Aborigines who have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years.

* In 1860, on his way across the continent, John McDouall Stuart passed by Barrow Creek on 13 July 1860 and named the creek after John Henry Barrow, a preacher, journalist and politician who had arrived in South Australia in 1853. It has been claimed that Stuart was an irregular attendant at Barrow's church but more significantly at the time of the naming of the creek, Barrow was a South Australian parliamentarian.

* The European settlement of Barrow Creek occurred in 1872 with the arrival of the Overland Telegraph. The stone Telegraph Station, complete with tuck pointing on the walls, was built that year. It suggests permanence. Today it can be inspected. The keys are held at the pub.

* On 27 February 1874 the local Aborigines attacked the Telegraph Station and Stapleton and Franks (one was the stationmaster and the other was the linesman) were killed. When the station had been built it was assumed that if an attack occurred it would come from the west. In reality the Kaytetye Aborigines attacked from the hills at the east and neither Stapleton nor Franks could get to the main courtyard. As a result of the killings major reprisals occurred and it is estimated that some 50 or 60 Aborigines (they almost certainly had nothing to do with the attack) were killed at Skull Creek. This is known as the Skull Creek massacre.

* So unreliable was the water supply at Barrow Creek that some 20 years after the Telegraph Station was built there was talk of moving it 40 km north towards the Taylor Creek where there was more reliable ground water.

* Joe Kilgarriff built the Barrow Creek pub in 1926.

* In 1928 Barrow Creek was the scene of the last major massacre of Aborigines in Australia when Fred Brooks, an old dingo trapper, was killed on Coniston Station. The local Mounted Constable William George Murray, who was operating out of Ti Tree, formed a 'posse' and killed an estimated 70 Aborigines. Murray appeared in court in Darwin but was exonerated of any crime. A detailed account of the events is in my book Blood on the Wattle.

* Today there are two Aboriginal communities in the area - Tara is 12 km northeast and home to about 80 people and Pmatajunata on Stirling Station is a settlement of around 120 residents.

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Visitor Information

Barrow Creek Hotel, Stuart Highway, Barrow Creek, tel: (08) 8956 9753

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Accommodation

Barrow Creek Hotel, Stuart Highway, Barrow Creek, tel: (08) 8956 9753

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Eating

Barrow Creek Hotel, Stuart Highway, Barrow Creek, tel: (08) 8956 9753

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Useful Websites

There is no specific website for Barrow Creek.

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Got something to add?

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9 suggestions
  • I just would like to add the following: don’t stay in Barrow Creek unless you’re willing to wind down your level of comfort … The hotel is run down, the toilets and showers are really dirty and there is no caravan park to speak of. We camped there a night and the only good thing about the place was that they let us stay for free though the manager wanted to change his mind the following morning. They had started to build a new motel there in 2001 which is today infinished and in very poor condition. Trash is spread all over the place. We halted at every single roadhouse along the way and Barrow Creek was the worse one. We kept asking ourselves what had happened there until we found out later on by asking the other roadhouses of the murder that had happened nearby. People laughibly told us we should be proud we survived the nigh at Barrow Creek. http://www.ukfu.eu

    Jeremy Boissel
  • I stayed there and as far as those yuppie clowns that knock the place are concerned: Get a life! The people who run the place couldn’t have been more helpful. I will stay there again. This may be on my next trip north. I love the place!

    gun 5 may 2015 3.40
    • I stayed there recently and also loved the place, great atmosphere. Kate and Rusty doing a great job and are fantastic company and very helpful. Will be back one day.

      tonny absen
  • Stopped for diesel, 3 staff were all great & had typical dry wit. The character of this store/pub equals Daly Waters pub….worthwhile stopping & having a look. Frank Besanko. Essendon..June 2016.

    Frank Besanko
  • There was an Army Transit Camp built at Barrow Creeks in 1942 to accommodate (overnight) military personnel transiting from the railhead at Alice Springs to Darwin.
    It’s only points well-known to the troops were the heat, intense fly activity and the small staff at the camp who ran a gambling set-up with two-up, roulette wheel and card games at night under large billiard table lamps powered by camp’s 25Kva power plant.

    Ken Telfer
  • I’d have a question. About 35-40 yrs ago I read a book about a pilot whose plane crashed in the desert north of Alice. He discovered gold nuggets near the plane wreck and covered some with his clothes before he died, securing some wealth for his family and discovering a gold field for others. As far as I remember all this happened near Barrow Creek. Still I cannot remember the author & title of that book. Could somebody help me with them? Many thanks in advance for any email feedbacks.
    Best regards, Kalman

    Kakman Balla
  • Stayed ar Barrow Creek for 4 days and loved the place and the people. Since I was there the bbq area and bathroom facilities I believe have been upgraded. We only paid $7 a night for everythng including the use of the washing machine. Great bonfire area at night for everyone to gather around for drinkies. Anyone who is not happy with that deal is a very negative person. There is lots of space for powered sites and camping. Don’t go past this great place.

    Anne Flink
  • I was reading your piece regarding Barrow Creek and would like to bring to your attention the part regarding Mr Falconio.
    This gentleman has a family who were devastated by the circumstances of his disappearance.
    The article is flippant and does not show any empathy or compassion to him or his family.
    I would like you to now think it was your family member, a son who was taken and never found, and to be written about as bones.
    I actually cried when I read this article, I’m sure you could find a more suitable collection of words which would show his family you have more respect for their loss.

    Robyn