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Timber Creek, NT

Roadhouse evolving into a town on the main road from Katherine to the Kimberley.

Timber Creek, a major stopping point roughly halfway between Katherine to Kununurra on the Victoria Highway, is a town in transition. It currently has a population of less than 300 which makes it more than just a roadhouse but hardly a major service centre. The increasing traffic during the winter months means that it has attracted enthusiastic anglers eager to get onto the Victoria River and catch the precious barramundi. For non-anglers its interest lies in the western section of the Judbarra/Gregory National Park which is accessible by 4WD and offers opportunities to explore gorges and rugged outback country far removed from the crowds who cling to Highway 1.

Location

Located on the Victoria Highway 286 km south-west of Katherine and 228 km east of Kununurra, Timber Creek is 601 km south of Darwin.

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Origin of Name

The explorer Augustus Charles Gregory, who reached the area in 1855, named the site Timber Creek because it was here that his boat was wrecked and it was here that he cut some timber (melaleuca) to repair the hole in the vessel.

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Things to See and Do

Timber Creek Police Station Museum
The Timber Creek Police Station was built in 1908. It is a typical example of Northern Territory public architecture of the time with covered verandas to keep it cool in summer. Located to the west of the town (it is signposted from the Victoria Highway) it is now owned by the National Trust and operates as a museum recording the history of the local area.

Bronco Panel Sculpture
This unusual "tribute to the past" is a replica of a bronco panel and "is a tribute to the skills of those men and women who worked in our pastoral industries in earlier times, and a reminder of the technology they developed for their work. The sign explains how "Stations were often huge and only ran a few cattle per square mile in their early stages of development. It was uneconomical to fence such large areas, so fences were rare, except perhaps for a horse paddock near the homestead and a bullock paddock. It was uneconomical to build conventional yards at every cattle handling point. Instead, teams of stockmen range the station working for mustering camps where they stayed for a few days or a few weeks. They mustered cattle into a mob, then handled them out in the open. Bullocks were drafted off the mob so they could be delivered to drovers who took them to market or to be fattened interstate. Stockmen 'bronco branded' the calves. They roped them, pulled them to a tree (using a bronco horse or mule) then branded, earmarked, castrated and on some properties they dehorned them. Later it became common to build bronco panels inside inexpensive, wire bronco yards. During branding calves were dragged up and roped to a bronco panel where the necessary treatment was carried out ... since the 1960s bronco yards and panels have been gradually replaced by portable steel yards, helicopter mustering and road trains."

Timber Creek Heritage Trail
There is a 3.5 km return (about a 2 hr leisurely walk) Heritage Trail which runs from the Roadhouse to the Timber Creek Police Station. Developed by Parks & Wildlife in conjunction with the Community Government Council, it has signage along the way which tells the story of Timber Creek. It includes the Museum, some local graves, a bird hide beside Timber Creek and traverses the area between the highway and the creek. There are seats and benches. The views from the trail are particularly impressive in the early morning and late afternoon.

Timber Creek Lookout
There is a lookout on the escarpment above the town (the turnoff lies to the west of the roadhouse) which offers a fine view over the Victoria River and the surrounding countryside. There is an Anzac Memorial to the people who kept guard of the Australian Coastline during World War II and the First Nation trackers who helped them survive.

The Nackaroos
There are a number of plaques near the Lookout which explain the unusual history of the Nackaroos, a group specifically established to protect the northern coastline during World War II. The first bronze plaque explains: "The North Australian Observation Unit, affectionately known as the 'Nackaroos', was established by anthropologist Major W.E.H. Stanner on 11 May 1942.
"Major Stanner came up with the concept of a group of 'bush commandos' to watch over Northern Australia following the Japanese bombing of the Top End and the North West.
"NAOU set up headquarters at Katherine. Companies were based on the Gregory, Roper and Ord Rivers. Their task was to patrol the northern coastal areas (usually on horseback) looking for signs of enemy activity, to man fixed coastwatch stations and to run a signals network for Northern Australia.
"At its peak the Unit consisted of 550 men and employed 59 Aboriginal people."
The other brass plaques include one on "The Eyes and Ears of the North", a description of the "Sheer Hell" that was the north in the wet, the patrols and the importance of the local Aborigines, and the eventual "Disbandment" with the final sentences noting "Take a moment to imagine yourself living off the land while patrolling this lonely outpost, waiting for the enemy, and knowing that you are expendable. Technology has updated the mobility of today's modern soldier but the harshness of the terrain and climate still remain to test their resilience." The unit was eventually disbanded in March, 1945.

Fishing for Barramundi at Timber Creek
It is widely recognised that the local rivers offer some of the best barramundi fishing in the Northern Territory. The popular starting point is Big Horse Creek where there is a good ramp.

A Brief History of the Victoria River
The first European to sight the Victoria River was Captain Wickham, the captain of the Beagle who sailed up the river in 1839. His second-in-command, Stokes, wrote "This is indeed a noble river! ... and worthy of being honoured with the name of her most gracious majesty the Queen."
In 1855 the explorer Sir Augustus Charles Gregory sailed from Moreton Bay in Queensland to explore the estuary of Victoria River. With a crew of eighteen and a number of scientists and an artist, Gregory sailed up the river and then explored Sturt's Creek for 500 km before it disappeared into the desert. Gregory's schooner, the Tom Tough, was wrecked at the site of Timber Creek. The site of Gregory's camp, known as Gregory's Tree Reserve, can still be found to the west of the town.
A sign in Timber Creek explains the history and importance of the Victoria River: "The Victoria River is the largest waterway in the Northern Territory, arising south of Wave Hill in the desert and flowing 800 km to the Timor Sea. Timber Creek flows into the Victoria River 3 km from the township. The Victoria River and its tributaries are popular with anglers, some travelling long distances for some of the best fishing opportunities. The most sought after species, the Barramundi is a prized catch, along with Jewfish and Threadfin Salmon.
"Entry to the river is gained at Big Horse Creek Campground 11 km west of Timber Creek where there is a boat ramp and safety information for the area. Strong tides prevail.
"The recent vibrant history of the region is closely connected to the Victoria River, which was used as a passage for transport vessels. Supplies arriving at Timber Creek were then transferred onto donkey teams and distributed to distant properties. There is still no access via public roads to downstream reaches of the river."

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Other Attractions in the Area

Judbarra/Gregory National Park
The Judbarra/Gregory National Park is broken into two sections - the eastern section and the western section. The smaller eastern area is around the Victoria River Roadhouse and a larger western area extends southward from Timber Creek to Depot Creek and Gibbie Creek. In total the park covers an area of 13,000 square kilometres (3,212,370 acres) which moves from tropical-monsoonal vegetation near the coast to semi-arid as it reaches south into the Tanami and Great Sandy Desert. The entire area is dramatically beautiful. The river has cut its way through the ranges and produced amphitheatres with rugged cliffs and escarpments which tumble down to the valleys. There are a number of places along the highway where the visitor can stop and take short walks into the Gregory National Park. Check http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/10550/Gregory20FS201120.pdf for a useful map and descriptions of the Limestone Ridge Loop Walk and the historic Bullita Homestead.

Gregory's Tree
Located 9 km west of Big Horse Creek campground, and 3 km off the Victoria Highway on a dirt road, is Gregory's Tree, an ancient boab tree. It is a sacred site for the local Jaminjung, Ngaliwurru, Ngarinyman and Wurlayi First Nation people and also the place where Thomas Baines, the artist on Augustus Charles Gregory's North Australia expedition, marked the arrival and departure of the expedition. The expedition camped on the banks of the Victoria River on 2 July, 1855 and the expedition's botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller, named the boab tree after Gregory, Adansonia gregorii. There is an informative sign near the tree. The walk from the car park is 500 metres return. It is easy and there is wheelchair access. The baobad tree with the date "July 2nd 1856" clearly carved in it can be accessed from a track which runs from the cairn on the Victoria Highway to the tree which is located at the riverside. The inscription on the cairn reads: "Gregory's Tree. Sailing from Moreton Bay the North Australian expedition landed at the Victoria River and proceeded upstream establishing their main base camp near here in October 1855. Over a period of eight months Augustus Charles Gregory with various numbers of the expedition explored large areas of the Victoria River catchment and penetrated nearly 500 km south along Sturt Creek to the edge of the Great Sandy Desert."

Big Horse Creek
This campground, 10 km west of Timber Creek, is recognised as one of the most popular places for anglers looking to catch a few barramundi. It is worth noting that the fish have to be 55 cm long and there is a daily bag limit of five.

The 4WD Only Area
Sadly some of the best areas in the park south of Timber Creek are only accessible by 4WD on the Bullita Stock Route, the Tuwakam Track, the Humbert Track, the Wickham Track, the Broadarrow Track and the Gibbie Track. Along these tracks are a number of particularly attractive gorges including the Jasper Gorge on the Buchanan Highway and the Limestone Gorge which is off the Bullita Stock Route. This is semi-arid country where expertise and a sense of safety are essential.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Timber Creek was inhabited by members of the Ngaliwurra and Nangali Aboriginal language groups. They were in the area for at least 40,000 years before the arrival of Europeans.

* The first European to sight the Victoria River was Captain Wickham, the captain of the Beagle who sailed up the river in 1839.

* In 1855 the explorer Sir Augustus Charles Gregory sailed from Moreton Bay in Queensland to explore the estuary of Victoria River. With a crew of eighteen and a number of scientists and an artist, Gregory sailed up the Victoria River and then explored Sturt's Creek for 500 km before it disappeared into the desert. Gregory's schooner, the Tom Tough, was wrecked at the site of Timber Creek. The site of Gregory's camp, known as Gregory's Tree Reserve, can still be found to the west of the town.

* In 1879 the explorer Alexander Forrest crossed the Victoria River on his journey from the Western Australian coast to the Overland Telegraph Line.

* By 1883 sparse European settlement began with the establishment of the huge cattle stations at Victoria Downs and Wave Hill. The stations, both of which lie hundreds of kilometres to the south, have important places in Territory history. Victoria Downs, once Australia's largest pastoral property and the largest cattle station in the world, was once owned by Sidney Kidman, known as the Cattle King. The settlement of the area resulted in Timber Creek becoming an important port, particularly for Victoria River Downs Station. Remnants of the Victoria River Depot including the landing, stores and some graves can still be seen on the banks of the river a few kilometres to the west of the town near the Timber Creek Aerodrome.

* Wave Hill Station was established by Nat Buchanan in 1883.

* The river was used for transportation from 1884 (when the first Victoria Downs Homestead was built and when Wave Hill station was first settled) until the 1930s when road transport made it redundant.

* In the 1920s, after a malaria epidemic, Reverend John Flynn built a hospital on Victoria Downs Station which was operated by the Australian Inland Mission until it closed in 1942.

* In March, 1942 the Nackaroos, known as Curtin's Cowboys, were created to protect northern Australia from Japanese invasion. They were disbanded in 1945.

* In 1966 the Gurindji Aborigines walked off Wave Hill station protesting about the working conditions.

* in 1975 Gough Whitlam's Labor government handed over 3200 sq. km of land which had been taken back from Wave Hill Station. It was the first official recognition of the land rights claims of the Aborigines.

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Visitor Information

The hotel and caravan park will help with information about Timber Creek. If you are planning to explore the Judbarra/Gregory National Park contact National Parks & Wildlife at Timber Creek, tel: (08) 8975 0888. The nearest official visitor centre is the Katherine Visitor Information Centre, Stuart Highway, tel: (08) 8972 2650.

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Accommodation

Circle F Caravan Park and Motel, Victoria Highway, Timber Creek, tel: (08) 8975 0722

Wirib Store and Tourism Park - an Aboriginal owned business (the only one in town) and we encourage tourists to come and stay on Dingo Dreaming land in our caravan park. Check out http://www.wirib.com.au.

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Eating

Timber Creek Hotel, Victoria Highway, Timber Creek, tel: (08) 8975 0722

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Useful Websites

The Timber Creek Hotel has a useful history of the township which can be accessed at http://www.timbercreekhotel.com.au/about_timber_creek.html. There is also an excellent downloadable map and fact sheet for Judbarra/Gregory National Park which is part of the page.

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Got something to add?

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

6 suggestions
  • Why is there no information about the NACKEROOS stationed in the area during the second world war? Take the cemetery road turn off to the very informative memorial to these brave young men and their horses and the native people who helped them survive?

    I will get onto it, Karen. Thanks for reminding me.

    Karen Houston
  • I was up there in the late sixties and stayed on a property called Bradshaws. What happened to this station. There used to be a lot of local art about the district on this property including a boab tree with a carving of a sailing ship that could have been the vessel Charles Darwin was on.

    Don Cameron
  • Hello! I love your website and I love the concept behind the site. We are the Wirib Store and Tourism Park in Timber Creek, NT and would love to be added to your site please.

    We are an Aboriginal owned business (the only one in town) and we encourage tourists to come and stay on Dingo Dreaming land in our caravan park.

    Our new website has an interesting ‘experiences’ page and we’ll be adding sections about fishing tips, bushwalking tips, birdwatching tips and Dingo Dreaming stories over the coming months.

    Our site is http://www.wirib.com.au and we offer powered and unpowered camping sites and cabin accommodation with pool and laundry. We have yummy take away food until 5.00 pm from our store. The store has its own bakery and is well stocked with everything a traveller could possibly need.

    Anna
  • There is another Indigenous owned & operated business in Timber Creek . The. Bradshaw & Timber Creek Contracting & Resource Co. Pty Ltd has been operational for 12 years. It employed up to 14 locals. It is a civil contracting co

    Greg
  • Travelled this route 1979 when a new road was under construction,and Ashton Mining were drilling along both sides of the highway for Argyle diamonds. Wondering if anyone has Photos of the rigs in action, Email Tom @tompetchsteelreoreo@gmail.com. Many thanks.

    Tom PETCHELL