Burketown is a unique town and an authentic Australian outback experience. It is a place of strong stories and links to explorers (Burke and Wills expedition) and development (Hells Gate), and the resistance of the Gangalidda and Garawa people.
At one stage Burketown promised to surpass Darwin as the north's leading port. At the time of the 1860s gold fever had struck with the development of the goldfields to the east in Etheridge Shire, and Burketown offered Chinese immigrants the fast route to this area. Thousands came to try their luck. So many in fact that the Queensland Government based over 2000km away became concerned they were losing control over this remote outback settlement. A land tax of over £280 was introduced merely for the privilege of step off the boat in Burketown. Immigrants still eager to find their fortunes in the gold fields to the east of Burketown now diverted to making landfall at Darwin Port to make their way overland.
Drilled in 1897 to a depth of 723m, the artesian bore still issues boiling water and has created a billabong effect where birdlife gathers. Over the years, minerals have built up around the bore, colouring the surrounding earth. In approximately the 1940’s operating into the 1960’s – a Public Bath House was built utilising the water flow. Now it is the perfect place to spot wildlife,especially birds. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon. The water runs at approximately 68degres so if you are a keen photographer you can get some great misty morning shots in the cooler months.
Burketown Post Office
By 1866, Burketown was considered to be a place of significant development and the Burketown Post Office was established. Unfortunately, that was also the year of the outbreak of “Gulf Fever” – possibly yellow fever or typhoid. Survivors were evacuated to Sweers Island, leaving a dwindling population.
After several changes of ownership, the Post Office was closed in 1871 and did not re-open until 1883. In 1887 the Post Office became combined with the Telegraph and a new building constructed especially to house the burgeonning enterprise. The Post Office has gone through a variety of management and operations over the years. Now this building is established as the Visitor Centre for Burketown!
A noteworthy story from the 1860’s, relating to the Firefly vessel and ultimately the Landsborough tree. The vessel was dispatched with supplies and crew in the search for Burke and Wills. The Firefly was a 250-ton brig and was the first ship to enter the Albert River and took three weeks to manoeuvre the vessel up the river. After a disagreement between Captain Norman and Landsborough, as to the directions for the search, the Firefly was left to rot and a tank of supplies from the vessel was left buried near a tree on which the word “DIG” was inscribed.
The tree was a coolabah tree, the highest and the most significant tree found on Colonial Flat, all others being either mangrove or gutterpercha. Unfortunately the tree was destroyed by fire in December 2002, though a replacement has been planted to commemorate the significance of the site. Pieces salvaged from the original Landsborough Tree were fashioned into a gavel and sounding block for use at Burke Shire Council meetings by a local woodcraftsman who also turned many smaller pieces into pens for souvenir sales.
Woods Lake – Traditional name: Jilgura
Woods Lake, named in 1861 by William Landsborough, was initially used as a water supply for the establishment of the market gardens worked by the Chinese. Up until 1963, water was
pumped from this lake as a domestic water source for the town. Monsoonal rains between January to March, and the run off from storms in the later part of the year, ensure the long lagoon remains well filled.
Boiling Down Work
The Meatworks were established in Burketown in 1863 by the Edkin Brothers who traded brine-cured meat directly with Batavia. In 1866 the brothers attempted to expand the business into the full-blown Boiling Down Works with the purchase of a steam plant that was operational in 1867. The new plant boiled the meat down for tinning, hides were pressed and bailed and hooves boiled down to tallow.
Unfortunately the venture did not survive beyond 1870 due to high freight costs and poor sales returns. The remains of much of the machinery can be found a short distance from the Landsborough Tree on Colonial Flat. Machinery taken from the site also surrounds the Burketown Visitor Centre (crn Musgrave and Burke Streets).