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Batchelor, NT

Main access point for the beautiful and popular Litchfield National Park

Batchelor is a relatively prosperous town. It survives on the Bachelor Institute, an Aboriginal training college, and its position as the entrance to Litchfield National Park, a major tourist attraction less than a hour south of Darwin. Historically Batchelor came to into existence with the discovery of uranium at Rum Jungle which drew miners to the town and saw the building of houses and facilities for 600 workers. Visitors to the area will spend most of their time in Litchfield National Park but it is also worthwhile investigating the interesting history of Batchelor's role as a major airforce base during World War II and its importance as a uranium mine during the early years of the Cold War.

Location

Batchelor is located 98 km south of Darwin via the Stuart Highway.

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Origin of Name

Batchelor was named after Egerton Lee Batchelor (1865-1912) who was the first minister in charge of the administration of the Northern Territory after it was handed to the Commonwealth by South Australia in 1911. The town was named shortly after Batchelor died in 1912.

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Things to See and Do

Rum Jungle
Located 11 km to the north-west of Batchelor is Rum Jungle. No one is sure exactly how it got its name with at least three versions, all hilarious, claiming to be the truth and all involving the excessive consumption of rum. There is a story that the area got its name because some bullock teamsters, whilst transporting rum to the miners at Pine Creek, got bogged and proceeded to drink 80 gallons of the stuff. In Far-North Memories the writer, Jessie Litchfield, argues that it was named "because a party of government officials once went there on important departmental business. They were lost among their empty bottles, and a relief party was sent out to show the way to go home". The Northern Territory Historical Society claims that the local hotel keeper once ran out of all liquor apart from rum and everyone in the town was forced to drink the stuff. Each story offers its own plausible explanation.

The settlement at Rum Jungle sprang up in 1872 when the Overland Telegraph construction party found gold at Yam Creek. The miners arrived in the district by walking down the road beside the telegraph poles. In 1874 a Mr Lithgow built The Rum Jungle Hotel out of rough timber and sheets of stringy bark. The completion of the railway from Darwin to Pine Creek led to the demise of the hotel which was closed in 1889. Rum Jungle is a direct result of the discovery of uranium in 1948, during the height of the Cold War when atomic bombs were everyone's worst nightmare. By 1952 the Commonwealth Government, with assistance from various private companies, created the mine. It was closed in 1971 after producing 3,530 tonnes of uranium oxide and 20,000 tonnes of copper concentrate. It has long been considered one of the most dangerous radioactive areas in Australia. Not surprisingly, Rum Jungle Mine is not open to visitors. For more information check out http://www.nt.gov.au/d/rumjungle.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Litchfield Park
The most important attraction in the area is the remarkable Litchfield National Park, an area of 143 sq km which was proclaimed as a National Park in 1986. Today more than 250,000 people each year make the journey to the Park where they inspect the sandstone pillars of the Lost City; explore the monsoon rainforest; swim in the spring-fed streams; admire the waterfalls; picnic beside the sublime swimming hole at Wangi Falls; and inspect the unusual magnetic termite mounds which point north-south to minimise heat retention.

The park was the home of the Wagait people for tens of thousands of years. In 1864 an expedition led by the Government Resident, Boyle Travers Finniss, passed through the area. A member of that expedition was Frederick Henry Litchfield after whom the park is named. After decades of tin and copper mining, and a short period when it was used as pastoral land, the area was officially proclaimed a park in 1986. In the winter months (May to September) it is an accessible and popular day trip destination from Darwin. During "The Wet" (October to April) it is commonly closed with swimming areas becoming unsafe; gravel roads becoming impassible; and the Finniss and Reynolds Rivers prone to flooding.

The main attractions:
Swimming: there are many pleasant swimming spots in the park. The most popular include Wangi Falls, Florence Falls, Tjaynera Falls and Buley Rockhole. Visitors should not swim in the Finniss or Reynolds Rivers as they are inhabited by Saltwater Crocodiles who are not averse to a little human flesh.

(1) Florence Falls are a spectacular double waterfall tumbling into a swimming hole. An easy grade walking track with wheelchair access leads from the main car park to a lookout with panoramic views of the creek and the pool below. A steep track and staircase (160 steps) leads down to the pool at the base of the falls.

(2) Buley Rockhole is a series of waterfalls and rock holes suitable for swimming. There is also a walk to the Tabletop Range Escarpment and Florence Falls which is 3 km one way (90 minutes).

(3) Tjaynera Falls are located in an open valley which is covered with paperbarks. The Falls can be reached by walking along a 1.7 km trail. The plunge pool is rarely crowded. Open May to November (4WD access only).

(4) Tolmer Falls cascade over two high escarpments into a deep plunge pool. The caves at the base of the Falls are home to several colonies of rare Ghost Bats and Orange Horseshoe Bats. There is an excellent 400 m walking track which heads out to viewing platforms with views across to the falls and the sandstone gorge.

(5) Wangi Falls are Litchfield's most popular attraction. The Falls are beautiful; flow all the time; and tumble into a large swimming hole which is usually warm and pleasant. There is a 3.2 km (round trip) walking trail through rainforest to the top of the falls. There is a large picnic area and kiosk where the ambience is that of a tropical paradise. The vegetation around the falls is thick and luxuriant and the water is beautifully clear.

Magnetic Termite Mounds
Located off Wangi Road are thousands of unusual, grey and narrow, termite mounds which are typically up to two metres high. The mounds' thin edges point north-south while their wide sections face east-west. It is believed that they form in this way as a kind of built-in temperature control mechanism. By being narrow and facing north-south they allow only the smallest possible area to be exposed to the sun. Check out http://www.litchfieldnationalpark.com/Magnetic_Termite_Mounds_Litchfield_National_Park.htm for greater detail.

The Lost City
Restricted to 4WD only (the track is rough and good clearance is needed) these sandstone block and pillar formations can easily be imagined as the ruins of a lost city.  They are only accessible in the winter months (May to October).

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by Warrai and Kungarakany Aboriginal people.

* In 1872 gold was discovered at Yam Creek and a settlement was created at Rum Jungle.

* The town was named in 1912 after the South Australian Labour politician Egerton Lee Batchelor (1865-1911) who became Minister for the Northern Territory in 1911.

* A farm and railway siding were established in 1912. The farm was moderately successful with Chinese market gardeners producing cabbages, melons and pumpkins.

* The farm closed in 1919. At this time it was converted to a cattle station.

* In 1933 an aerodrome was built near the town.

* The town was small and unimportant until it became a large Allied air force base during World War II. It was home to US Army Air Forces, the RAAF and the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force.

* In 1941 the Batchelor airport officially became an RAAF base.

* In 1948 a mining prospector named Jack White discovered uranium at Rum Jungle. He was eventually paid £25,000 for the discovery.

* Mining in the area began in 1952 when Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd began mining the uranium.

* The town grew rapidly during the early 1950s with the Commonwealth Government building houses and amenities for the mine workers. Essentially Batchelor was created as a mining town.

* The town's Catholic Church was built in 1954.

* The last uranium ore was extracted in 1963.

* The uranium mine and treatment plant closed down in 1971.

* In 1974 Kormilda College, an Aboriginal Teacher Education Centre, was established in the town.

* In 1979 the Northern Territory government sold off many of the government-built houses in the town.

* By 1982 the town was home to the Batchelor Institute, a TAFE college primarily for indigenous students.

* In 1987 the local TAFE started operating an indigenous radio station, 97.3FM

* In 2011 the local abattoir was reopened. It specialises in beef cattle, buffalo and camel meat.

* Today the town survives largely on tourism to Litchfield Park and employment at the Batchelor Institute.

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Visitor Information

For Litchfield Park check out the Parks & Wildlife Office in Batchelor, tel: (08) 8976 0282.

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Useful Websites

The Parks and Wildlife Commission NT have a useful site relating to Litchfield National Park - see http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/litchfield#.VUWaga2qpBc. And there is a useful commercial site with lots of information about tours and accommodation. Check out http://www.litchfieldnationalpark.com.

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Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • “Seeking information of the early 1960’s “Can you advise the location in this area where the RAAF worked a quarry for rock to extend the RAAF base runway in Darwin and other projects. Members of the RAAF 5ACS (including me) were rotated from the RAAF base in Darwin to the quarry to carry out the wagon drill operations, blasting the quarry face then putting the big rocks through the crusher plant. The material was transported to Darwin by transport drivers from 5ACS. Any information you can help me with would be much appreciated. I have just visited the area and could not find any information related this RAAF establishment.

    W Herbison
    • Patrick Salter, ex N.T. Police:- stationed Darwin General Duties 1955 – 1957, O.I.C Batchelor District 1958 -60, Traffic Darwin 1960 – 63 General Duties Darwin 1963 -1966 Forensic Science Section 1966 to 1976. Knew many of the 5ACS mob and associated with Sqd/ Ld Naish Hogan, and Sqd/Ld Gordon Worrall. Had many visits to Darwin River Quarry in the old days but not stopped or paused there since 1960. The site is un-recognizable but is on the left side of the road to Manton Dam, just short of where the old railway bridge (once) crossed the roadway, not far from the actual Darwin River Dam perimeter gates. Makes a great drive from Darwin but take along an esky. Good Luck… Patrick Salter

      Patrick Salter