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Normanton, QLD

Unique port and outback town on the Norman River

Normanton is a genuinely delightful town with an excess of old world charm. 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. Today it is primarily driven by tourism with the Purple Pub, the Albion Hotel, and a number of interesting historic buildings making it a convenient stopover for bus tours heading for Karumba and backpackers and grey nomads making their way around Australia.

Location

Normanton is located 2086 km north west of Brisbane via Longreach. It is 679 km west of Cairns and 849 km west of Townsville.

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Origin of Name

William Landsborough, one of the many explorers who went looking for Burke and Wills, discovered and named the Norman River after the W. H. Norman, captain of the Victoria which was searching the coastline for Burke and Wills.

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Things to See and Do

Normanton Town Walk Historical Guide
There is a useful Normanton Town Walk brochure (available at the Visitor Information Centre) which lists a total of 30 places of historic interest around town. Each location has a sign outside with information. The most interesting and important places (the numbers relate to the brochure) are:

1. Carpentaria Shire Council Buildings
The plaque outside the unusual shire council building explains: "The Carpentaria Divisional Board was constituted on the 11 January 1883. The board's premises were completed in 1890. Locally made bricks were used in the construction of this building. The cost of the building was £1000 and was built by Andrew Murphie. Although built in the style of older hotels, this building has been a pub. In 1930 the Carpentaria Divisional Board became known as Carpentaria Shire Council."

2. The Big Crocodile - Krys - The Savannah King
There are plenty of "Big Crocodile" statues in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, but the one at Normanton has a unique difference: it is a model of the largest crocodile ever shot. A woman named Krystyna Pawlowski shot the 8.63 metre (that's 28 feet 4 inches) animal and ended up in the Guinness Book of Records. The crocodile was shot on the MacArthur Bank, Norman River, downstream from Normanton in July, 1957. The woman who shot it was a professional crocodile hunter. Located near the corner of Landsborough and Haig Streets, the sculpture was built by Dudley Townsen and Associates in Townsville and transported to Normanton by truck. It was unveiled in 1996 in the presence of Krystyna Pawlowski and her husband Ron. Gasp at the size! The sculpture is exactly the same size as the Krys - The Savannah King.

4. Burns Philp Building
Located on the corner of Landsborough and Caroline Streets, the former Burns Philp Building is a large, warehouse-style building which was built in 1884. The Queensland Heritage Register notes that it: "is important as the oldest surviving store of the company which dominated shipping and mercantile trading in Australia and the South Pacific from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Its construction and success in generating a greater income for Burns Philp than the larger centre of Townsville in the mid-1880s, is indicative of Normanton's regional importance as the major port in the Gulf at that time, servicing the mining and grazing industries ... This building was left untouched by a major rebuilding exercise undertaken by Burns Philp at all of its Australian mainland stores between 1890 and 1910, and therefore it operated continuously as a general mercantile store and agency office for more than 120 years." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602781.

9. Albion Hotel
The 'Albion Hotel' is a popular local hotel which was built in Croydon in the late 1800s and transferred to Normanton in the early years of the twentieth century. It is where Captain Percy Tresize (famous for his stories of Aboriginal dreamtime and the discovery of many Aboriginal art works) drew a series of humorous paintings on the old bar top. They were processed as tiles and are currently on the wall above the front door. The note below the tiles records "The sketches shown here were installed on the bar top, 1959-1960. Each of the 14 sketches depicts a character or characters in a situation that has been immortalised in the style of the bush."

12. The Purple Pub
Officially known as the National Hotel, and a typical country pub, the one claim to fame (which shows you don't need much to make you famous) is that in the past a publican painted it purple. Now the  'Purple Pub', as it is known, attracts tourists simply because it is purple and stands out in the town's main street. It is one of the most photographed buildings in the town.

14. Bank of New South Wales
The Bank of New South Wales (now the Westpac) is a listed National Trust Building. It is an unusual building which looks more like a house than a bank. Designed by Richard Gailey in 1896 it is an extraordinarily beautiful timber building with cross bracing on the veranda and a fashionable exposed frame. The Queensland Heritage Register records that it is "significant as a rare example of a large timber bank building, with early scales and safes, surviving in Queensland." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600394.

18. Normanton Railway Station
The Normanton Railway Station was built in 1889 and is located in Matilda Street. The Queensland Heritage Register notes: "The Normanton railway station is a well executed and interesting example of late nineteenth century railway architecture in Queensland. In a flat and open landscape, the scale, form and skilful use of vernacular materials make the terminus a striking and important component of the townscape of Normanton ... and The railway itself, with its use of low level submersible track and Phillips patented steel sleepers, was an important technical innovation which has proved remarkably durable. The terminus buildings designed by Phillips also show an imaginative and practical use of materials in this difficult location. Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600395 for greater detail.

28. Normanton Gaol
Located at 27 Haigh Street, the Normanton Gaol was designed by William Taylor Jack, the Foreman of Works, and built by the Department of Works between 1892-1899. The Queensland Heritage Register notes: "It is a rare and intact example of a nineteenth century gaol used to service a remote regional area, once part of a broader network of prisons throughout Queensland administered under the Prisons Act 1890. As such it demonstrates the range of penal institutions developed within the network that included small cell blocks through to large complexes." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601501.

Normanton to Croydon Railway Line
The Queensland Heritage Register points out that "The country was flat but difficult for conventional railway tracks due to flooding, lack of suitable timber for sleepers and termite attack. In 1884 George Phillips patented a system for taking railways across such country which utilised special U-section steel sleepers laid directly on the ground. During floods the line could be submerged without washing out the ballast and embankments normally used, so that it could quickly be put back into service when the waters subsided. The steel sleepers were also impervious to termite attack, and although initially more expensive than timber sleepers, were cheaper to lay and maintain. The bridges along the line were also designed to be submersible. This system was particularly suited to the Gulf country and was specified for the Normanton to Croydon line with Phillips engaged to supervise the construction."

The Big Barramundi
In 1995, Billy Miller, a local barramundi angler who also owned the local motel and caravan park, came up with the idea of constructing a Big Barramundi to promote his accommodation. With a friend, Ron Sturmfels, he froze a real barramundi and modelled a huge barramundi which was subsequently built out of fibreglass over a steel and wire mesh frame. It was constructed in Ron's back shed.

The Gulflander
The Gulflander is an historic rail link between Normanton and Croydon. The website (http://www.gulflander.com.au) explains: "From wetlands and grasslands to arid Savannah territory, the Gulflander travels through countryside that most people will never see. This nostalgic rail journey is the perfect way to discover an area steeped in pioneering history and heritage. Normanton was the port for the Croydon Gold Rush and is a terminus of the Normanton Railway Station which features preserved Victorian architecture. The railway line is a true rarity. As the Queensland Heritage Register explains: "The country was flat but difficult for conventional railway tracks due to flooding, lack of suitable timber for sleepers and termite attack. In 1884 George Phillips patented a system for taking railways across such country which utilised special U-section steel sleepers laid directly on the ground. During floods the line could be submerged without washing out the ballast and embankments normally used, so that it could quickly be put back into service when the waters subsided. The steel sleepers were also impervious to termite attack, and although initially more expensive than timber sleepers, were cheaper to lay and maintain. The bridges along the line were also designed to be submersible. This system was particularly suited to the Gulf country and was specified for the Normanton to Croydon line with Phillips engaged to supervise the construction."
The railway line was originally planned to service the beef industry running from Cloncurry to Normanton. The discovery of gold at Croydon redirected it. 
The Normanton railway station is listed by the National Trust. It is an unusual building which has distinctive decorative patterns on the cross-braces which hold up the corrugated-iron roof. It has become one of Normanton's most distinctive landmarks.
The railway line was only a brief success. When it opened it was planned that it would become a major line and that Normanton would grow to become a major port. In its first year of operation there were 55 railway employees and the train was carrying 10,000 passengers each year. As a result of the Croydon goldfield's demise in 1906 the Gulflander has not made a profit since 1907. 
The train leaves Normanton on Wednesday at 8.30 am and arrives in Croydon at 1.30 pm. It then returns leaving Croydon at 8.30 am arriving at Normanton at 1.30 pm. It is possible to complete the entire journey in a day with a coach returning to Normanton. It is equally possible to share the journey by one person taking the train to Blackbull Siding (it arrives at 11.15 am from Normanton) and the other person driving. They swap places for the remainder of the journey. For more information tel: (07) 4745 1391 or download the brochure http://www.gulflander.com.au/Documents/Gulflander%20Brochure_DL_final_0315_LR.pdf.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Burke & Wills Last Camp
The location of Burke and Wills last northern camp is sign posted 36 km to the south west of Normanton on the main Normanton-Burketown road. It is a 1.5-km drive into the bush to the spot which is marked by plaques which read: "This monument marks the site of Camp No: 119 of the 1860-61 Burke and Wills expedition occupied on Saturday 9 February 1861 by Robert O'Hara Burke, William John Wills, John King and Charlie Gray. On Sunday 10 February Burke and Wills left on the attempted journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria returning on Tuesday 12 February. All four abandoned the camp the next day for the return journey to Coopers Creek, Depot No: 75, and home to Melbourne. During the return journey all died with the exception of King who survived with the assistance of a friendly Aboriginal tribe. This monument was provided through, and with thanks, to the generous donation of Mr. Douglas Jolly of Brisbane and the historical advice of the State Library of Victoria and was erected in 1978 by the Normanton Lions Club." For more detailed information check out the Queensland Heritage Register at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602156. Part of the interest in the site is that Frederick Walker, who was one of the people who went looking for Burke and Wills, marked a tree in the area on 12 January, 1862.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Kurtijar Aboriginal people.

* Abel Tasman passed along the coast and passed the mouth of the Norman River in 1644.

* In 1802 Matthew Flinders passed the mouth of the Norman River as he circumnavigated Australia.

* The area was first explored by Ludwig Leichhardt on his journey from the Darling Downs to Port Essington in 1844. 

* In 1861 Burke and Wills, trying to cross the continent from south to north, passed only 26 km west of the town.

* The location of Burke and Wills last northern camp is signposted on the main Normanton-Burketown road. This monument marks the site of Camp No: 119 of the 1860-61 Burke and Wills expedition occupied on Saturday 9 February 1861 by Robert O'Hara Burke, William John Wills, John King and Charlie Gray. 

* It was William Landsborough, one of the many explorers who went looking for Burke and Wills, who discovered and named the Norman River in 1861.

* In 1867 William Landsborough sailed up the Norman river and chose the site for the settlement of Normanton. It was a port and in that year copper from Cloncurry was shipped out. 

* The town of Normanton was proclaimed in 1868. The post office was opened that year.

* A school was opened in 1872.

* The Carpentaria Divisional Board was constituted in 1883.

* In 1884 Burns Philp opened an office in the town.

* The Carpentaria Divisional Board's premises were completed in 1890. It cost £1000.

* The railway line from Croydon reached the town in 1891. By 1891 the population had reached 1251.

* In 1888 the bar at the mouth of the Norman River was dredged.

* In 1892 a boiling-down works was established on the river and shortly afterwards a meatworks was opened.

* The town experienced a major boom with the discovery of gold at Croydon. By 1893 it was known as the Capital of Carpentaria 

* By 1927 there was a regular connecting flight between Normanton and Cloncurry.

* By 1947 the population had dropped to 234. 

* The town was connected to mains electricity in 1955.

* In 1957 an 8.64 metre long crocodile, named Krys, was shot at Normanton.

* In 1966 a bridge was built across the Norman River.

* In 1974 the town was very severely flooded.

* In 1995 the town acquired the Big Barramundi.

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Visitor Information

Normanton Visitors Information Centre, cnr Landsborough and Caroline Street, tel: (07) 4747 8444.

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Useful Websites

There is no dedicated Normanton website.

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