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Carpentaria - Normanton trail

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The Gulf of Carpentaria was the destination for the ill-fated 1860-61 exploratory journey of Burke and Wills and their companions King and Gray. Their northernmost camp, 33km south-west of Normanton, was reached in February 1861. Thick mangroves prevented Burke and Wills reaching the gulf and the four men returned south. John King survived and the others perished. A number of search parties were sent to find them.

The search for Burke and Wills had an unexpected consequence. Grazing lands known as the ‘Plains of Promise’, identified by John Lort Stokes during the 1841 voyage of the ‘Beagle’, were revisited by the search parties. (The ‘Beagle’ is better known as the ship that carried geologist Charles Darwin to South America, New Zealand and Sydney between 1831 and 1836. His observations formed the nucleus of his theory of evolution.)

When Queensland was proclaimed in 1859, its western border was along the 141st meridian. Surveyor General, A C Gregory advocated and achieved a boundary amendment in 1862 to the 138th meridian, which included the ‘Plains of Promise’ and a number of known safe anchorages in the gulf. Burketown was briefly the main port, but an outbreak of typhus in 1866 led to its abandonment. A new port was chosen on the Norman River.

Normanton was declared a port of entry in 1868. It served the copper mines at Cloncurry, discovered in 1867, and a railway to Cloncurry was planned. The discovery of gold at Croydon, 145km east of Normanton in 1885, led to a prioritisation of rail-funding to this location. Completed in 1891, the project included an impressive rail station at Normanton. Today, the ‘Gulflander’ tourist train operates weekly trips between Normanton and Croydon.

Normanton continued to serve the grazing industry. The first courthouse and native police barracks were built here in 1873. A customs house was built on the riverbank in 1883. Merchants such as Burns Philp established businesses in 1879 to serve both graziers and miners. A Bank of New South Wales was built in 1886. The Carpentaria Divisional Board offices were built in 1891 as was a new brick gaol. On the outskirts of town lies the cemetery, which has graves dating to the early 1870s. Burns Philp built a new building in 1884 that now houses the tourism office. The town has a range of accommodation including three country pubs, motels and caravan parks. A forty-five minute drive through the Mutton Hole Wetlands Conservation Park, will take you to the fishing town of Karumba at the mouth of the Norman River.


Listing 7 places within this trail.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
28 February 2023