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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.

Batchelor Heritage Walk
There are twenty signs around town which explain the history of the area and alert the visitor to some of the town's historic buildings. There is a useful single sheet with a map and a short history of the town. It identifies where each of the signs is located.
1. Batchelor Township
2. Rum Jungle - how it began
3. Bicentennial Park - 3.5 ha park established in 1988.
4. Former Batchelor Primary School
5. Former Health Clinic
6. St Barbara's Catholic Church
7. Batchelor Demonstration Farm - located 2 km east on Batchelor Road
8. Batchelor in World War II
9. The Batchelor Airstrip
10. Batchelor Railway Station
11. Bernie Havlik Avenue of Trees
12. Single Men's Quarters
13. Sidney Williams Hut
The sign tells a fascinating story: "Sidney Williams was an English steel worker immigrant who set up a steel manufacturing business, originally in Rockhampton, in 1879. Sidney designed several types of buildings using small angle steel, and was recognised for his architectural ability. Many of his buildings were for various pastoral uses in Queensland and the Northern Territory. He also designed the Comet Windmill. However his name lives on because of the 4000 huts manufactured in Sydney for wartime use in the Territory. Many of those huts formed the early buildings for all manner of purposes in towns throughout the NT and can still be seen in many guises. The huts came in 10 feet sections and were bolted onto larger angle iron sections secured into the ground. They featured push out windows and doors at either end, which provided good cross ventilation. There were cross braces for added strength, and the sides and high gable roof were clad in corrugated iron."
14. Naranga Street
15. The Cas'tle - also known as Karlstein Castle. The sign explains: "Located in the heart of the town, the mini-replica of Karlstein Castle was created between 1974 and 1978 by Bernard Havlik, a Czechoslovakian former mineworker, upon his retirement from the Rum Jungle Uranium Mine. Legend has it that he was so homesick for his beloved home country that he decided to create this delightful replica of the original 14th Century castle situated near Prague in the Czech Republic.
16. Virgins' Villas / The Nunnery
17. Seventh Day Adventist Church
18. St Francis Anglican Church
The sign outside explains: "This is a World War II Sidney Williams hut which had formed part of the number three hostel between Smith and Cavenagh Streets in Darwin. It was purchased in February 1957 for £150. After being transported to Batchelor, volunteer labour set it up in the standard representation of those huts utilised for so many purposes around the time. It was lined with masonite and the external resheeting done in fibro. A coloured concrete floor was poured inside, and louvres installed to replace the standard hinged openings. The sandstone font was commissioned by Ken Levy, and was built by the tradesmen who build the Catholic Cathedral in Darwin."
19. Jack White Park
20. Mine Manager's House
Located on Pinaroo Crescent, and built in 1953-1954, The Mine Manager's House is part of the historic walk around the town and has a detailed sign outside the house which explains: "This house was clearly the manager's house in that it is the largest of the original houses, with five bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, plus a live-in maid quarters downstairs. Also the position commands a view over the parkland, and all sporting areas. The construction type and various features illustrate the care given to cater for the tropical conditions. It is sited for best use of prevailing winds, with many louvred windows, large overhanging vented eaves and gable air vents. Built in 1953-1954 it was occupied by the most senior mine staff until 1971."

Batchelor Museum
Located on the corner of Tarkarri Road and Kirra Crescent, the Batchelor  Museum "explores the significant indigenous, farming, mining and World War II history of the area. It is located in the old single women's quarters from the Rum Jungle days in the town and was acquired by the museum in 2010. Check out https://batchelormuseum.org.au/ for more details. Tel: (08) 8976 7006.

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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).

Nina's Ark Wildlife Sanctuary
Located at 980 Litchfield Park Road, Nina's Ark Wildlife Sanctuary is a refuge for orphaned and injured native animals. It is on the boundary of the Litchfield National Park. The aim is to rehabilitate the animals and release them back into the wild. Animals include four types of kangaroos, blackfooted tree rats (an endangered species), possums, sugar gliders and other native animals. Check out https://ninasarksanctuary.com/bookings-and-tours for tour information or tel 0447 000 326.

Batchelor Butterfly Farm
Located at 8 Meneling Road and now known as the Batchelor Butterfly Farm & Pet Garden, the farm is open from 7.30 am - 8.30 pm daily and there are tours from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm. For more information check out http://www.butterflyfarm.net.au or tel: (08) 8976 0110.

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History

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

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

* The farm area was selected in 1911.

* 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 by the Department of Interior.

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

* In 1941 the Batchelor airport officially became an RAAF base. That year the Commonwealth resumed the whole of the farm.

* 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 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 cattle, buffalo and camel meat.

* Today the town's survives largely on tourism to Litchfield Park.

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Visitor Information

For Litchfield Park check out the Parks & Wildlife Office in Batchelor, tel: (08) 8976 0282. There is a Visitor Centre in Batchelor at Tarkarri Street, tel: (08) 8976 0444.

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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?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 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
  • I have noticed no acknowledgements at both Litchfield Park or around Batchelor for Kungarakan or Warrai First Nation peoples. Perhaps it would be appropriate to put something up so that tourists know whose land they are visiting. I personally feel insulted as a traditional owner from Kungarakan clan that all my ancestors are being forgotten but not the miners who ruined our country and the white settlers. Not fair and very rude. just saying!

    Joaninha Hoffmann