Barrow Creek, Northern Territory

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Barrow Creek
Northern Territory
Barrow Creek hut.jpg
Hut at Barrow Creek
Barrow Creek is located in Northern Territory
Barrow Creek
Barrow Creek
Coordinates 21°31′55″S 133°53′20″E / 21.53194°S 133.88889°E / -21.53194; 133.88889Coordinates: 21°31′55″S 133°53′20″E / 21.53194°S 133.88889°E / -21.53194; 133.88889
Population 4 (2016)[1]

Barrow Creek is a very small town, current population of 11, in the southern Northern Territory of Australia. It is located on the Stuart Highway, about 280 km north of Alice Springs, about half way from there to Tennant Creek. The main feature of the town is the roadhouse/hotel. A number of mining companies are currently exploring in the area, although none of the current residents are involved in the mining industry.


Indigenous people[edit]

The Barrow Creek area is the traditional home of the Kaytetye Aboriginal people. Humans have lived in Australia, and perhaps this area, for at least 40,000 years.

European settlement[edit]

With the arrival of Europeans in the latter part of the 19th century, settlers competed with the Kaytetye for land and resources. Cultural misunderstandings on land and property rights resulted in mutual killings.[2]

John McDouall Stuart passed through the area in 1860. He named a creek near the current town after John Henry Barrow, a preacher, journalist and politician who was born in England in 1817 and migrated to South Australia in 1853. At the time of first European habitation of the site, he was Treasurer of South Australia.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Repeater Station[edit]

Barrow Creek was chosen as a site for an Overland Telegraph morse repeater station by John Ross in September 1871. The station was officially opened on 16 August 1872 by Charles Todd. It was one of 15 such repeater stations on a network traversing Australia and linking to Europe, providing essential communication services. The Telegraph Station has been preserved and is now a monument to the troubles which beset the early days of the Territory.

Arrival of graziers in the area[edit]

In 1873, 5,000 sheep were overlanded from Adelaide by Alfred Giles for distribution to Telegraph Stations along the line. During 1877 and 1878 Alfred Giles and Arthur Giles overlanded stock for W. J. Browne to the Katherine River. On the 1878 journey Frank Withall, a young Englishman, was included on the suggestion of Browne to gather some colonial experience. Alfred Giles later started Springvale, Delamere and the Newcastle Waters runs.

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War Barrow Creek was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies, which was known as No. 5 Australian Personnel Staging Camp. It was the first overnight stop on the northern trip from Alice Springs to Birdum.

Water limits Barrow Creek population[edit]

Barrow Creek has always had a problem with both quantity and quality of groundwater supplies. This problem was already recognized in the 1870s, and only 20 years after the Telegraph Station was built there is evidence of plans to shift it about 40 kilometres further north to the crossing at Taylor Creek because of better groundwater supplies. There is still a bore at that locality called New Barrow Bore. Today, the only good water at Barrow Creek is rainwater and that is limited due to the arid climate.

Panorama from the Barrow Creek Road House


1870 killing[edit]

During 1870 some 3,000 sheep from the Lake Hope area in South Australia were overlanded to the Northern Territory, for the men working on the line at Roper River, by Ralph and John Milner. Near Wauchope Creek 900 sheep died after eating poisonous herbs. John Milner was killed by the Aborigines and Ralph arrived at the Roper River with only 1,000 sheep.

1874 Skull Creek massacre[edit]

In February 1874 Mounted Constable Samuel Gason arrived at Barrow Creek and opened a police station. Eight days later a group of Kaytetye men attacked the station resulting in the death of two white men, Stapleton and Frank, and the wounding of Ernest Flint.

Some believe the attack was retaliation for the white men's treatment of Kaytetye women. Others say it occurred because the white men had fenced off a major waterhole and refused the Kaytetye access to water and rations during a time of drought. It is probable that both these issues were grievances for the Kaytetye.

On 22 February Gason cabled to Adelaide:

This Station has been attacked by natives at 8. Stapleton has been mortally wounded, one of the men, named John Franks, just died from wounds. Civilised Native Boy has had three spear wounds. Mr Flint, assistant operator one spear wound in leg, not serious. Full particulars in morning.

Samuel Gason was instructed to mount a police hunt for the killers resulting in several engagements in which up to ninety men, women and children died [3] fifty miles south of where the white men had been killed. No prisoners were taken. The area where they were slaughtered was later called Skull Creek for the number of bleaching native skulls left there. According to Alex Ross, who had been a member of Ernest Giles 1875–76 expedition in Central Australia, as interviewed by the anthropologist Ted Strehlow in 1932:

As for Skull Crk.,-well of course nobody ever knew if any one who was shot there had ever had any hand in the attack on BC. They were just blacks sitting in their camp, and the party was looking around for blacks to shoot. Quite possibly some guilty ones were among them.[4]

1928 Coniston Massacre[edit]

Main article: Coniston massacre

Barrow Creek was central to the last major Aboriginal massacre in the Northern Territory. In the 1920s Mounted Constable William George Murray was in charge of the local police station and also the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the area. When an old dingo trapper, Fred Brooks, was killed by Aborigines on Coniston Station, Murray led a posse which killed an estimated 70 Aborigines in a series of bloody reprisals. When Murray was called to Darwin to explain his actions he was greeted as a conquering hero. When asked why he had taken no prisoners he expressed the racist attitudes which prevailed in the territory at the time by telling the Darwin court "What use is a wounded black feller a hundred miles from civilisation?" He was exonerated of all charges.

2001 Peter Falconio disappearance[edit]

Barrow Creek has recently become famous for being the closest town to the location of where Peter Falconio was murdered by Bradley John Murdoch, and Joanne Lees was abducted. The scene of the crime was 13 kilometres to the north of Barrow Creek.

Tourist spots[edit]

The graves[edit]

The graves are marked by a wall around the graves and headstones. They are well looked after. In a small graveyard at the front are remains of two telegraph station workers killed in a surprise attack by Aboriginals in 1874.

The pub[edit]

The old pub was built in 1926 by Joe Kilgariff, uncle of Northern Territorian senator Bernie Kilgariff, and it still has the original old bar, underground cellar and tin ceilings. There is accommodation outside and rooms inside and a caravan park. On the wall in the kitchen of the building is a cartoon of two Australian comic icons, Bluey and Curley, drawn by the artist John Gurney[5] when he passed through during the Second World War. The hotel is a popular stop for travellers along the highway and contains a tremendous collection of memorabilia and items of interest which have been gathered over the years. The current publican of 25 years, Lesley Pilton, initiated what he terms the "Barrow Creek Bank" - travellers post on the wall a signed banknote of their native country, "to be used in a later journey in case they need a beer".[citation needed]

Telegraph Station[edit]

For many years the Telegraph Station was the home of a linesman from Charters Towers who lived in the building and repaired breakdowns of the line. Now deceased, a corner of the hotel is devoted to his memory.


Climate data for Barrow Creek
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 44.5
Average high °C (°F) 37.0
Average low °C (°F) 24.1
Record low °C (°F) 13.2
Average rainfall mm (inches) 60.4
Average rainy days 5.0 5.2 3.1 1.5 1.6 1.5 1.2 0.9 1.2 3.0 4.1 5.0 33.3
Source: [6]



The population of Barrow Creek at the moment is 4 people who work at the roadhouse and nearby Aboriginal camp caretaker yard. There are two Aboriginal communities - the Tara community which is 12 km northeast and Pmatajunata at Stirling Station which is about 35 km from Barrow Creek. There are about 120 people there and 80 people at Tara.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ CAMPBELL SIMPSON (16 September 2016). "Telstra Delivered An iPhone 7 To A Pub In The Middle Of Nowhere". Gizmodo. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-08-24. Retrieved 2006-07-08. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Barry Hill, Broken Song, Knopf Book 2002 p.155.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Barrow Creek". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-01-11. Retrieved 2005-11-19. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-11-10. Retrieved 2005-11-19. 
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-01-05. Retrieved 2005-11-19. 

External links[edit]