|Elevation||6 m (20 ft)|
|LGA(s)||Burke Shire Council|
|State electorate(s)||Mount Isa|
Burketown is an isolated town located on the Gulf of Carpentaria in far north-western Queensland, Australia. It is located on the Albert River and Savannah Way in the area known as the Gulf Savannah. The town is the administrative centre of the vast Burke Shire Council. At the 2006 census, Burketown had a population of 173.
Burketown is located 2,115 kilometres (1,314 mi) to the north west of the state capital, Brisbane, with the nearest larger town being Cloncurry, 480 kilometres (300 mi) to the south. The town is roughly 30 kilometres (19 mi) inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria.
On 2 August 1841, Captain J. Lort Stokes discovered the mouth of a river he named the "Albert" after Prince Albert, the Queens consort. Stokes' party ascended the river for a distance of 50 river miles in a long boat in a search for fresh water. Having followed a bumper wet season Stokes was greeted by endless grassy plains, which he named "The Plains of Promise" after a day of exploration. The area was originally named for the 'Plains of Promise' or 'Province of Albert' after Prince Albert, the Queen's Consort in 1841.
Burketown was named in honour of explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who died shortly after making the first successful south-north crossing of the continent in 1860-1. The first European settlers arrived in the local region not long after Burke and partner William John Wills' expedition. By the mid-1860s, several cattle stations - including Gregory Downs, Floraville, and Donors Hill - had been founded inland from the present site of Burketown. Burketown was formally established in 1865 by Robert Towns, chiefly to serve as a port and supply centre for his extensive properties in the Gulf country. Towns chartered a small vessel the 'Jacmel Packet' and on 12 June 1865 it arrived off the mouth of the Albert River. The goods were eventually landed on the present site of Burketown. Towns, a prominent Sydney pastoralist and financier, also established Townsville in the same year.
By September 1865 the population was about 40 and by October a store and a hotel were under construction, the balance of buildings were humpies. Rations and grog were plentiful but already one evil was noted: prices for goods were so high that some intended settlers could not stay. The town grew; however currency, both notes and coins, were so short in early Burketown that the business people issued their own currency, dubbed "shinplaster" or "calabashers". These were in the form of IOU's hand printed on tissue paper so that they had as short a life as possible. In February 1866 Lieutenant Wentworth D'Arcy UHR with 8 troopers and accompanied by William Landsborough, the first Police Magistrate, rode into Burketown where everyone carried a pistol and where a successful shop keeper could ride well, shoot well and be an able pugilist. The pioneer spirit was indomitable and the first official race meeting was held 25 July 1866 with prize money at $200 (sic). In October 1868 Towns and Co traded wool, tallow, hides and skins between Sweers Island and Batavia.
In the same year, settlement of the region was assisted by the arrival of the Native Police. Massacres of local Aboriginal people soon followed. As the Burketown correspondent of the Port Dennison Times reported on 4 June 1868, "everybody in the district is delighted with the wholesale slaughter dealt out by the native police". The newspaper paid "thanks" to those involved in "ridding the district of fifty-nine (59) myalls" or local Aboriginal people.
At first, hopes the town would develop into a major settlement in north-western Queensland were high. At the first land sale on 14 August 1867, 75 allotments were sold. Unfortunately, from 1866 tropical diseases ravaged the population. The vessel "Margaret and Mary" from Sydney came into port rife with "The Fever" (never properly identified, thought to be Typhoid). Between 25 and 50 people died - the majority of the crew and passengers - including the Captain's wife. Landsborough evacuated many survivors to Sweers Island for a period of 18 months, where a further two died and were buried on the Island.
The town was devastated by a tropical cyclone on 5 March 1887 which flooded almost all of Burketown. Only the highest part of town, near where the Council Office is currently located, escaped the waters from the Gulf of Carpentaria. A copy of a 1918 report to the Queensland Parliament from the Department of Harbours and Rivers Engineers refers to the sea rising to 5.5 metres above the highest spring tide level at the Albert River Heads. This level is about 8 metres above Australian Height Datum. 7 people out of a population of 138 died in the cyclone. Burketown's population peaked at 265 in 1911.
Burketown has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:
- Burketown: Landsborough Tree
- Musgrave Street: Burketown Tourist Information Centre
- Truganinni Road: Boiling Down Works
- 150 km West-Northwest of Burketown: Old Westmoreland Homestead
Burketown has a school (Prep to Year 7), police station, public library, post office, council office, service station, small general stores/ take aways, caravan park, outpost hospital and a hotel. It is serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor Service from Mount Isa Base. The Burke Shire Council operate the Burketown Airport which has a regular passenger service from Skytrans Airlines and is also the primary base of Savannah Aviation, which provides aircraft charter services throughout the Gulf, far north/western Queensland and the Northern Territory. On 22 March 2012 the 92 year old pub was destroyed in an early morning fire.
Burketown has a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSh), though closely bordering on a tropical savanna climate, characterised by hot, humid and wet summers and warm, extremely dry winters. December is the hottest month, with average maximum temperatures rising to 35.4 °C (95.7 °F). Rainfall is minimal from April to November, but from December to March monthly rainfalls of over 500 millimetres (20 in) and daily falls over 250 millimetres (10 in) are not rare. Flooding, often associated with the passage of a tropical cyclone, often isolates the community for months, whilst failure of the summer rains can be extreme - for instance in the 1901/1902 wet season no more than 170 millimetres (7 in) fell and the drought caused the death of millions of cattle.
|Climate data for Burketown, Queensland|
|Record high °C (°F)||46.0
|Average high °C (°F)||34.2
|Average low °C (°F)||25.0
|Record low °C (°F)||17.2
|Rainfall mm (inches)||224.9
|Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm)||11.6||11.6||7.9||2.0||0.8||0.6||0.4||0.2||0.3||1.3||3.6||7.0||47.3|
|Source: Bureau of Meteorology|
Morning glory cloud
From the months of August to November, a rare meteorological phenomenon known as "Morning Glory" - long, tubular clouds, some up to 1000 km in length - is often observed in the skies above Burketown. The Morning Glory has become something of a "mecca" for soaring pilots who surf the giant atmospheric wave in their gliders. Gliding flights of over 500 kilometers have become common.
Burketown is believed to be the basis of 'Willstown' (note the name of Burke's partner, above), a very amenity-challenged town fictionally developed into a successful and growing community to become A Town Like Alice by Jean Paget, a character created by Nevil Shute in his bestselling novel of that name.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Burketown (L) (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
- "BURKETOWN POST OFFICE". Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
- Gulf Savannah Development 2007, Gulf Savannah Development Accessed 31 December 2007.
- Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health: Burketown
- Burketown State School Centenary 1888 - 1988. ISBN 0-7242-2923-X Accessed 30 December 2007.
- Place Names of Queensland: Burketown Accessed 3 October 2006.
- Burke Shire Council website: The Gulf of Carpentaria: Discovery and Exploration
- The Gulf of Carpentaria: Discovery and Exploration Accessed 3 October 2006.
- see Henry Reynolds, "Dispossession: Black Australians and White Invaders", Allen & Unwin (1989), p. 52.
- Bureau of Meteorology: Tropical Cyclones in Queensland - Historical Impacts in the Gulf of Carpentaria
- Sydney Morning Herald 2004, Burketown Accessed 3 October 2006.
- "Landsborough Tree (entry 15149)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
- "Burketown Tourist Information Centre (entry 15148)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
- "Boiling Down Works (entry 15150)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
- "Old Westmoreland Homestead (entry 17155)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
- Sydney Morning Herald 2004, Burketown Accessed 31 December 2007.
- Burke Shire Council 2007, The Morning Glory Shire Accessed 31 December 2007.
- Bureau of Meteorology, Climate Averages: Burketown Post Office Accessed 3 October 2006.
- Monthly rainfall for 029004 Burketown Post Office
- ABC Australia, August 2003, Soaring the Glory Accessed 3 October 2006.