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Aputula (Finke)
Northern Territory
Aputula (Finke) is located in Northern Territory
Aputula (Finke)
Aputula (Finke)
Location in Northern Territory
Coordinates25°34′52″S 134°34′40″E / 25.58111°S 134.57778°E / -25.58111; 134.57778Coordinates: 25°34′52″S 134°34′40″E / 25.58111°S 134.57778°E / -25.58111; 134.57778
Population192[1] (2016)[citation needed]
Location159 km (99 mi) east of Stuart Highway
LGA(s)Central Land Council
Territory electorate(s)Namatjira
Federal Division(s)Lingiari
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
37.5 °C
100 °F
5.6 °C
42 °F
188.8 mm
7.4 in

Aputula (formerly Finke until the 1980s) is a remote Indigenous Australian community in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is 317 km (197 mi) south of Alice Springs and 159 km (99 mi) east of Kulgera roadhouse on the Stuart Highway, near the border with South Australia.[2] The Finke River (named after German prospector William Finke), which is dry for most of the year except during occasional floods and is part of the Lake Eyre basin, passes within a few kilometres of the community.

Location and geography[edit]

Aputula is the farthest populated place from the sea in Australia, and therefore the nearest settlement to the geographical centre of the continent.[3]


A railway siding called Finke Siding was created on the Central Australia Railway around 1925. It began as a small working men’s camp, where the fettlers (railway workers) lived in concrete buildings without family. The nearest police and postal services were at Charlotte Waters and the district’s cattle yards and railway station were at Rumbalara. Car travellers were rare. Aboriginal people started visiting the siding as soon as it was built. Lower Southern Arrernte and Luritja people established a camp in the sandhills nearby, trading dingo scalps, wild flowers, artefacts and other items for water and food.[4]

A police station was built in the late 1930s, after the Charlotte Waters one closed down and the policemen, trackers, their families and some "aged and infirm" Aboriginal people moved to Finke. Residents petitioned for a postal service in 1938. Aboriginal visitors increased as people from Ernabella came to pick up supplies from the train. During the war years, the Central Australian Railway was the main transport route for thousands of soldiers from the southern states going to war in the Pacific, and the siding got its first repeater station operator as well as its first privately-owned business.[4]

After World War II, local pastoralists convinced the government to move its cattle yards from Rumbalara to Finke because the water quality at Finke was much better, and the population was thus boosted.[citation needed] In 1947, the first pub, Finke Hotel, owned by Ted Colson (who had been the first European person to cross the Simpson Desert), was opened. An air strip, which gave access to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and race track were built by the Aboriginal residents. In 1949 the government started subsidising the town's water supply, but the 1950s saw a water crisis.[4] In 1953, the school was opened, and Town of Finke formally proclaimed on 18 August 1955, with town lands made available by auction in October.[4]

In the 1960s, the Aboriginal population of Finke rose as drought and government patrols moved nomads off traditional hunting grounds, and there less work on cattle stations owing to changes in the industry. The people lived in wurlies, hunted rabbits and sold artefacts to increasing numbers of train tourists.[4]

Most of the Europeans left Finke when the railway line was shifted westwards in the late 1970s, following the huge track-damaging floods of 1973 and 1974. The Indigenous population did not move. Instead, with the help of Margaret Bain, a Uniting Church missionary from Ernabella, they moved off the sand dunes into houses they built themselves. It was during this time that the town came to be known as Aputula, and transitioned from a European township to an Aboriginal community.[4] The name comes from a place called 'Putula' (an Arrernte word) near the community, which used to be the site of a water soakage, where Arrernte people used to get their water, before the white people and the railway line came to the area.[2] It also became a "dry town", after the council bought the pub and Johnny Briscoe, the town’s first Aboriginal Health Worker, became the publican and ran it dry before giving away its liquor licence.[4]

The Aputula Housing Company, founded in the 1970s, has played an important part in the economy, and was run by local people as well as a group of Torres Strait Islanders who moved inland after the war.[4]

Several of the old buildings in Aputula, including the old police station, school and railway buildings have been nominated for heritage listing by the NT Heritage Council.[5]

Camel police[edit]

Finke used to have a police force mounted on camels, possibly "the largest police patrol in the world", and the last police station in the NT to use camels. Aboriginal trackers were an essential part of the patrols, which were often responsible for finding people lost in the bush. The last camel patrol left Finke in 1953. Trackers were also invaluable in solving crimes such as the Sundown murders in 1957. Finke police were also responsible for inspecting stock, registration of births, marriages and deaths, looking after mines, protecting birds and collecting taxes. The policeman’s wives ran the post office, and also distributed rations while their husbands were away on patrol and nursed sick people (there were no nurses or doctors in Finke).[4]

Climate and demographics[edit]

Aputula holds the record of having the two hottest days ever recorded in the Northern Territory—48.3 °C (118.9 °F) on 1 and 2 January 1960.[6]

The population of the town in 2016 was 192 people.[1] They are Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Luritja, and Lower Southern Arrernte people. Most of the current inhabitants of Finke are migrants from the Western desert, who acknowledge that they are living on Southern Arrernte soil. The site has never been used an Aboriginal camping place, even in pre-European times, because of the lack of water.[4]

Notable inhabitants[edit]

Ted Colson (1881–1950), pioneer and pastoralist, is known for being the first European person to cross the Simpson Desert.

Brownie Doolan[edit]

Brownie Doolan Perrurle (1918–2011) was an Aboriginal tracker who was known for being the last person to speak the Lower Arrernte language, the language becoming extinct when he died in 2011. Gavan Breen, an Australian linguist, was able to compile a dictionary of Lower Arrernte comprising about a thousand words by recording talks he had with Doolan.[7]

Doolan's mother Fanny, father Paddy[8] and grandmother, who lived south of Aputula, spoke the language.[7] Doolan was uncertain of his date of birth, but a later search of the old native affairs branch records showed that he was born in 1918.[9]

Doolan was a stockman on the Andado Station in 1945-6 (age shown as 23–25), with wife Edie[10] and two children.[8] He later became a police tracker for both Finke and Kulgera police. Doolan and his wife Biddy are recorded in 1960s censuses of Finke, with Brownie recorded as a tracker, of the Purula group of Arrernte/Aranda people, born at New Crown station (not far south-west of Finke[11]). Both sets of parents were deceased by this time. In 1963, young children Peter and Margaret were at home, with Sambo, Michael and Stanley apparently adults and elsewhere; Daisy the child of Biddy and a deceased father. (However in 1965 Daisy is shown as daughter of Brownie.) Biddy is shown as of the Pananka group of Aranda people in 1965 and 1968, but Loritja in 1963 and 1966. Her birthplace was Hermannsburg (which is Western Arrernte country), and her occupation is shown as school cleaner in 1963.[12] Brownie and Mick (Brownie's son Michael?) Doolan, referred to as the two longest-serving trackers, were also famous for the dogs that they owned.[4]

Doolan retired in about 1981.[13] He later did contract work on the Central Australian Railway that used to pass through Finke.[7] He was regarded as an icon in the town, much loved and respected by many, and the subject of an obituary in the NT Police News journal after his death in 2011.[9]


  1. ^ a b "2016 Census QuickStats: Finke". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Aputula Community Finke History". Waltja. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  3. ^ Kearney, Simon (20 September 2007). "Another language faces sunset in dead centre". The Australian. Archived from the original on 14 October 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kelham, Megg (November 2010). "A Museum in Finke: An Aputula Heritage Project" (PDF). See Territory Stories for details of document: 1–97. Retrieved 11 May 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Heritage Advisory Council Twentieth Annual Report 2010/11 on line at "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Rainfall and Temperature Records: National" (PDF). Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Kearney, Simon (20 September 2007). "Another language faces sunset in dead centre". The Australian. Archived from the original on 14 October 2011.NOTE: Incorrect reporting of years of occupation (1925 and 1940).
  8. ^ a b Mackett, Paul (2009). "Andado Station 1943 – 1969". From:National Archives of Australia, Darwin Office Series NTAC1976/5, Item 1963/465: Andado Station. Retrieved 14 June 2019. (Names of parents and brother Warry shown here.)
  9. ^ a b Parnell, Sean (March 2011). "Brownie Doolan – the end of an era" (PDF). Northern Territory Police News. Boo Design, for NT Police Assocn: 13. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 June 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  10. ^ It's possible that this is the same woman later called Biddy?
  11. ^ "Crown Station". Bonzle. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  12. ^ Mackett, Paul (2003). "Finke 1963–1968". From:National Archives of Australia, Darwin Office CRS E944/0, Finke Township CA 7112 ATSIC NT State Office Aboriginal Population Records Census Results for Finke for: 22. 8.1963; 20. 3.1965; 14.10.1965; 6. 6.1966 and 23. 7.1968. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  13. ^ Age then estimated at 55, when birth year was thought to be 1926.

Further reading[edit]