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Burketown, QLD

Quiet outback town known as The Barramundi Capital of Australia.

Burketown proudly announces to the world that it is 'The Barramundi Capital of Australia'. This small town on the flat plains of the Gulf near the Albert River is really nothing more than a school, a pub, a couple of service stations, a council office, and some general stores. The primary appeal of the town is its access to excellent barramundi fishing locations and the opportunity to visit the remarkable Boodjamulla National Park.


Burketown is located 2153 km north-west of Brisbane and 425 km north of Mount Isa. It is 15 metres above sea-level and approximately 25 km from the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.


Origin of Name

Burketown is named after Robert O'Hara Burke who, along with a party of explorers including William John Wills, crossed the Australian continent and reached a point near Normanton in 1861.


Things to See and Do

Morning Glory Cloud Formation
On many days during the months of September and October, the phenomenon known as the Morning Glory Cloud, can be observed above Burketown. The local Gangalidda Aboriginal people believe the morning glory was created by Walalu, the Rainbow Serpent. It is of great cultural significance. At its most spectacular the cloud bank can be up to 1,000 km long, 1000-2000 metres wide and can travel at speeds of up to 60 km/hour. Burketown is unique in the regularity of the cloud which can often appear on a morning after a day when a sea breeze has blown off the Gulf of Carpentaria. There is more detail at http://www.burketown.com.au/discover/nature-and-attractions/morning-glory-clouds and information about the local Savannah Aviation which offers charter flights to view the unusual phenomenon. It is also possible for hang gliders and gliders to ride the thermals created by the cloud.

Post and Telegraph Office
Located at 87 Musgrave Street, the old post and telegraph office, one of Burketown's first buildings, was constructed in 1887 and retains many of its original features. It is typical of the post and telegraph offices which were built in Queensland in the late nineteenth century. Relocated in 1988 it originally stood on Gregory Street. An earlier post office had operated in the town in 1866. It was closed in 1871 and reopened in 1883 with the postmaster filling the role of police magistrate, customs officer and weather forecaster. The post office ceased in 1988. Today it is the town's Visitor Information Centre. The war memorial stands out the front. For more information check out the Queensland Heritage Register at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/explorer/detail/?id=600373.

The Old Boiling Down Works
Travel north through the town and head along Truganini Road, the Burketown Boiling Down Works are now nothing more than ruins and rusting old boilers but they hide a fascinating history. In 1866 a boiling works was set up on the banks of the Albert River by Morehead and Young. Boilers, vats, cauldrons and equipment were shipped up from Sydney and beef from the area was successfully salted and smoked for export. This occurred between 1867 and 1870. Later, in the early 1890s, the Carpentaria Meat Export Company leased 22 acres and established the Boiling Down Works. The Queensand Heritage Register records: "The CMEC engaged ironmongers Burns and Twigg to design and supply equipment for their new Burketown boiling down works ...  In February 1892 Burns and Twigg shipped 25 tons of machinery to Burketown, comprising ‘a pair of thirty-horse power Cornish boilers’. While installation work was undertaken, Queensland Governor Sir Henry Wylie Norman was shown over the site in April 1892, a highlight of his northern Queensland tour. With the boilers in place by May 1892, the Burketown boiling down works received 40 bullocks for its inaugural process. The stock reportedly came from Lawn Hill, a station run by former Burketown boiling down works manager ER Edkins. For a very detailed description of the site, check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600375.

Landsborough Tree
William Landsborough was sent by the Queensland Government to search for the explorers Burke and Wills. It is an irony of the Burke and Wills story that it was explorers like Landsborough, who went looking for the duo, who really opened up the Gulf area - Burke and Wills made no contribution to the discovery of the area in their own right. Landsborough was impressed with the land between the Albert and Nicholson Rivers and named it the 'Plains of Plenty' which was enough to cause a minor flurry of interest. Nat Buchanan was among the pastoralists who raced to take up holdings on the Gulf. He managed to secure land between the two rivers. It was claimed at the time that an area of 25 sq. miles was worth £1000. This was partly related to the belief that cattle raised on the Gulf could be cured and sold to the lucrative Dutch East Indies market.
The tree, which is located on the floodplain approximately 1.5 km east of Burketown via Truganini Road, has a sad history. By 1900 it had become a tourist attraction. In 1926 it as gazetted as part of the Burke Shire Council pound. It was placed on the National Trust Register of Significant Trees in 1984 but then, in 2002, it was vandalised. The tree was chopped down and the trunk was set on fire. Remnants of the tree were carved into two gavels for the Burke Shire Council and in 2009 a new tree was planted on the site of the original tree. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600374#.

Artesian Bore
Located south of the town on the Normanton Road is a 100-year-old artesian bore. It was completed in December, 1897 and was drilled to 702 metres. It produced a flow of 155,560 gallons a day. It has been running for over a century and the minerals in the water have built up so that now it looks more like a piece of modern sculpture than a tap to an underground supply of hot water. The pond which has formed around the bore has also been coloured by the minerals and, because the water cools, it is an attraction for the local birdlife including jabirus, brolgas, sea eagles and kites. The water is not suitable for human consumption.  For more information check out http://www.burke.qld.gov.au/the-burketown-bore.

Yagurli Tours
The local Gangalidda and Garawa Aboriginal people offer four tours around Burketown. For details check out http://www.burketown.com.au/tours:
* Stargazing - "Your guide will share Dreamtime stories of the Gandalidda People and their time-honoured interpretation of the universe during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover the true brilliance of our solar system, shining from total darkness in skies free from light pollution."
* Sunset River Cruise - "Experience the magic of an outback sunset, glowing vivid shades of crimson as you cruise the calm waters of Albert River observing the unique wildlife of Gulf Country by dusk. Toast the spectacular view with sparkling wine and antipasto, while your guide shares the Dreamtime stories of the Gangalidda People, and their insights into the river system and its seasons."
* Tag Along 4WD - "a unique opportunity to discover the historical and natural wonders of Gulf Country as you traverse Australia’s largest area of salt pans, following the lead of your knowledgeable guide to sites once surveyed by explorers such as Wills, Landsborough, Walker and Stokes. Marvel at the site of Burketown’s original industry, sample bush tucker, and be absorbed by Dreamtime stories of the Gangalidda People." 
* Fishing Charters - "Discover historical and culturally significant sites along the way to the mouth of the iconic Albert river, while developing appreciation for traditional fishing practices and the deep culture associated with the rivers, passed down through many generations by the traditional owners of the land."


Other Attractions in the Area

Frederick Walker's Grave
The grave of pioneer explorer Frederick Walker is located 71 km south of the township on Floraville Station. Head south off the Burketown-Normanton road at the sign which says 'Floraville Station' and then travel towards the station buildings. Before reaching the station turn left and the grave is located on the far side of a dry creekbed.
The inscription on Walker's Grave reads:
'On August 17 1848 Frederick Walker, aged 28, was appointed to the position of Commandant of the Corps of Native Police having emigrated from Australia from England. The Corps commenced with fourteen troopers recruited from four different New South Wales tribes. In 1850 Walker had three units and two lieutenants in the corps and by 1852 he increased the Corps with 48 additional Aboriginal troopers who were drilled and trained in the use of carbines, swords, saddles and bridles. The Native Mounted Police Corps were responsible for maintaining law and order beyond the settled districts. On 12 October 1854 Walker was dismissed from the service for impropriety of conduct due to his heavy drinking. After his dismissal he continued to live on the frontier and briefly formed an illegal force of ten ex-troopers from the Native Police Corps to protect settlers in the Upper Dawson region. In August of 1861 fears had grown for the safety of the Burke and Wills expedition and Walker was sent at the insistence of the Royal Society of Victoria to search for the ill-fated expedition.
Frederick Walker was in many ways a remarkable man. His exploration of the Gulf assisted in opening up the region and his maps were considered accurate. Walker did not find Burke and Wills but he did find Camp 119, the last Burke and Wills camp before they turned south on their return journey. After lengthy explorations of the Gulf region Walker was then employed by the Superintendant of Electric Telegraph to survey a 500 mile route from Bowen to Burketown in a bid to compete against South Australia to have Burketown the end of the Trans-Oceanic link from Europe. Although Frederick Walker lost the race and Darwin became the terminus. He did survey the line. He arrived in Burketown with his party of four Europeans and four Aboriginal assistants at the height of the Gulf Fever - a typhoid which affected the Gulf after the arrival in Burketown of a vessel on which all the crew except the Captain died. Walker commenced his return journey but at Floraville he became ill and after several days he also died of the Gulf Fever on 19 September 1866. The entry in the expedition's logbook recorded the passing of a pioneer of the gulf: 'as soon as the horses were brought up and a couple saddled Perrier and Ewan were starting for the doctor of the Leichhardt search expedition which was camped about six miles off. But he (Walker) died before they mounted. He died at noon and was buried on the evening of the same day. So ended the life of a remarkable Australian.' Frederick Walker's grave became a mystery as to its location for many years until discovered by Mr. Walter Camp of Floraville Station after many years of searching.

Lawn Hill National Park now Boodjamulla National Park
Lawn Hill Gorge is located 242 km south west of Burketown, 315 km north of Mount Isa and 2,128 km north west of Brisbane via Longreach. There is a true outback magic about Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Here, hundreds of kilometres from any towns, is a place of beauty and peacefulness that is overpowering. To canoe up the Lawn Hill gorge, which is edged by cabbage palms, pandanus, eucalypts and water lilies, and then to dive into the clear waters at Indarri Falls, is a reminder of the pristine perfection of this seldom-visited wonderland.
The highlight of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is the outstanding, 60 metre high Lawn Hill Gorge which has been occupied by Aborigines for at least 30,000 years. Erosion, caused by a subterranean creek, has created a beautiful oasis of clear, fresh water, red rocks and verdant vegetation. Canoes are available for hire and there are some beautiful swimming spots along the river. 
Situated within the remote north-west highlands of Queensland, the park includes the gorge, sandstone ranges and World Heritage fossils.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park lies on ancient sandstone of the Constance Range, between the Barkly Tablelands to the south-west and the black soils of the Gulf Savannah Plains to the east. Lawn Hill Creek and the Gregory and O'Shanassy rivers flow all year round, providing a stark contrast to the dry, parched landscape during the dry season.
The Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park in north western Queensland covers an area of 282,000 ha which includes the sublime Lawn Hill Gorge, significant fossil fields particularly at Riversleigh, and extensive areas of dry savannah grasslands. The highlight of the park is the 60 metre high Lawn Hill Gorge which has been occupied by Aborigines for over 30,000 years. It is an oasis of clear water, red rocks and verdant vegetation. There waters are inhabited by freshwater crocodiles (which are not known to attack people), the area is rich in birdlife and wildlife, and there is a memorial to a police sergeant who was shot and killed while pursuing bushranger Joe Flick in 1889. The flora around the gorge includes pandanus, cluster figs, Leichhardt trees, ghost gums, cabbage palms and large paperbarks. 
There are a number of excellent walking tracks in the park. There is a downloadable map at http://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/boodjamulla-lawn-hill/pdf/lawn-hill-tracks-map.pdf. The walks include:
* Island Stack, 4km return, difficult (steep ascent and descent) which offers impressive panoramic views of the surrounding area.
* Cascades, 2 km return, (easy) - an easy walk to the Cascades. Distance: 2 km return
* Wild Dog Dreaming, 4.5 km (easy) - a walking track to an important cultural place with ancient rock art and stone engravings. 
* Duwadarri lookout, 600 m (moderate) - a short, strenuous walk up the steep ridge to a lookout with views over the gorge. You can continue onto Indarri Falls.
* Constance Range, 4 km, (moderate) - walk onto the Constance Range for panoramic views.
* Indarri Falls, 3.8 km, (moderate)- a loop walk to the falls and back via the hill tops and gorge rim.
* Upper Gorge, 7 km, (difficult) - a loop walk including spectacular scenery of the upper gorge and a stroll back along the creek .

Riversleigh Fossil Fields
Riversleigh Fossil Fields (the D Site, as it is known) has been a World Heritage Site since 1994 but can be a disappointment to anyone other than a palaeontologist with a pick and shovel. If you go expecting to see impressive examples of 25 million year-old fossils of exotic fauna all you will inspect is a tiny remnant of the limb-bone of a freshwater croc, a small piece of a turtle shell and the drumstick of some ancient avian known by the less-than-scientific name of “Big Bird”. 
For example (see the fossil photo attached) the explanation is "This circular fossil is the cross section of a limb bone of a semi-terrestrial freshwater crocodile. These crocodiles lived and preyed along the rivers and lakes of ancient Riversleigh. They used their huge blade-like teeth to kill their prey." The famous Riversleigh fossils of giant pythons, carnivorous kangaroos and marsupial lions are nowhere to be seen. They have been moved to distant museums and the Riversleigh Fossil Centre in Mount Isa. Common sense says - make sure you visit the Fossil Centre in Mount Isa before or after going to Riversleigh.
There is an 800 m walk around the outcrop which offers opportunities to see the few fossils that are still left on the site. Check out https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/boodjamulla-riversleigh/about.html for details. It is worth noting, as National Parks point out, that "The World Heritage area was inscribed for its outstanding natural universal values. It is one of the most significant fossil deposits in the world and the richest known fossil mammal deposit in Australia. It has revealed records of Gondwanan life forms which existed prior to the break up of this ancient continent." It is located 55 km south-east of Adels Grove and the fossil fields are now incorporated into Lawn Hills National Park. 

Adels Grove
Located just off the main Lawn Hill Road, Adels Grove is 10 km from Lawn Hill Gorge and 50 km from the Riversleigh Fossil fields. It covers an area of 30 ha and was established by French botanist Albert de Lestang in 1920 as an experiment in the growing of tropical fruits and trees. de Lestang achieved remarkable things - there are still 536 samples of his seeds at the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane and he supplied gardens around the world. Sadly in the 1950s a fire destroyed his records and much of his work and de Lestang retreated to Charters Towers where he died in 1959.
Today Adels Grove is the hub of activity associated with Lawn Hill Gorge. It has an airstrip, a guide service, a shop and licensed restaurant, fuel, and a caravan and camping site. It organises tours of the area (http://adelsgrove.com.au/tours) which include "Sunset on Harry's Hill Tour", "Half Day Tour of Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla) National Park", Riversleigh (Miyumba) Half Day Fossil Field Tour" and "Cruise Lawn Hill Gorge". All tours run from 1 April to 1 October - check out http://adelsgrove.com.au or tel: (07) 4748 5502.

Leichhardt Falls
Located 77 km east of Burketown are the Leichhardt Falls which are a pleasant stopping point for people making the trip from Normanton. The falls are only 200 metres in a northerly direction from where the road crosses the Leichhardt River. There is a catch: they lie between the private property that is Armraynold and Floraville Downs Stations and there are estuarine crocodiles in the waters. It is essential that no one camps near the water’s edge and there can be no swimming ... unless you want to be eaten by a crocodile.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Mingginda Aboriginal people. Today the local native title is held by the Gangalidda Aboriginal people who are the successors to the Mingginda.

* In 1841 John Lort Stokes explored the coastline in the Beagle. Stokes described the area as 'the plains of promise'.

* The first Europeans into the area were Burke, who is the source of the town's name, and Wills. They reached the coast near Normanton in 1861.

* In 1861 Frederick Walker - one of the many explorers who came to the area looking for Burke and Wills - travelled through the area. 

* The pastoral district of Burke was opened for settlement in 1864.

* In 1865 the town site was established when William Landsborough arrived in the tiny settlement with a number of native police. He had recently been appointed police magistrate and commissioner of crown lands in Carpentaria.

* In 1866 Burketown was hit with Gulf Fever - a typhoid which affected the Gulf after the arrival of a vessel on which all the crew except the Captain died. Frederick Walker  died of the Gulf Fever on 19 September 1866. 

* A Boiling Down Works opened in 1866.

* By March 1867 the Edkin brothers were exporting cured beef and barrels of tallow to Batavia and Singapore and they were sending horns, hooves and hides to Brisbane and Sydney for secondary processing from their Boiling Works.

* The population was decimated in 1866 by Gulf Fever.

* In 1868 there was a population of 70. 

A devastating cyclone on 5 March 1887, destroyed much of the town including the post office. 

* The town's population dropped to 15 in 1871. That year saw the Post Office close.

* A devastating cyclone on 5 March 1887, destroyed much of the town. 

* By 1911 the town's population had risen to 265

* By 1947 there were only 59 in the town.

* The Post Office was relocated to its present site in 1988. It subsequently became the Visitor Information Centre.


Visitor Information

Burketown Visitor Centre, 87 Musgrave Street, tel: (07) 4745 5111. Open from April to October, Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a useful dedicated website. Check out http://www.burketown.com.au and a very detailed website with lots of information at http://www.burke.qld.gov.au.

Got something to add?

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4 suggestions
  • From John and Pam Howell Apollo Bay Victoria.
    (Letter in mail to Burketown Council Qld).
    Heard since letter written social media spreading to caravanners “DONT GO TO BURKETOWN.”
    Van Park full. Free camping banned around town. River fenced off. Permit to camp expensive – if you can get one and no facilities. Already experienced irate visitors driving off after arriving at wharf shown in camp books to find “No Camping” signs.
    Does Burketown really want tourism to help support this town.

    John and Pam Howell
    • Thanks was going but won’t go now we won’t spend money in any town that doesn’t allow a free camp. We have a huge rig with twin families together we don’t fit in parks. So we will change our route.
      Happy travels
      Goodbye burketown

      • Trae
        This is not true. We are here now. The van park has lovely staff who are more than welcoming even to us that aren’t staying there, (my washing machine has died so asked to use theirs). If the van park is full there’s heaps of camping on the river/creek, can book online or ring/go to the visitor information centre.

  • Do you have any information on Wood’s Lake, I an interested in a the Chinese market garden which were located there. Do you know if there are any Chinese graves located there?

    David Huggonson