Last week I hitched a lift with the local state MP on a charter plane up to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was up there to check out a couple of schools in Normanton and farewell a ship in Karumba exporting live cattle to Malaysia. Not having been that far north in the Gulf, I eagerly took up the offer.
We took off from Mount Isa heading north past Glencore’s massive George Fisher zinc mine about 20km out of town.
The familiar rolling hills of the Selwyn Ranges seem to go on forever.
The next notable landmark from the air is Lake Julius dam. The dam wall is located just below the junction of the Leichhardt River and Paroo Creek 70km north-east of Mount Isa.
This mine to the north of Julius Dam is Mount Margaret copper mine which closed in 2014.
The further north we got, the flatter the landscape became. This is Gulf cattle country, home to vast stations the size of European countries populated with many thousand cattle, but just a handful of people.
As we descend into Normanton, the windy path of the Norman River comes clearly into view. Rising near Croydon it meanders north-west past Normanton to empty into the Gulf at Karumba.
The township of Normanton has a population of around 1500 people, with well over a third Indigenous.
The colourful Purple Pub is one of Normanton’s three watering holes.
But Normanton’s most popular tourist attraction is probably Krys the Crocodile. The life-sized status is named for Polish immigration Krystina Pawlowski. In July 1957, Krys killed Australia’s biggest known crocodile with a single shot on the banks of the Norman River near Normanton. The saltwater crocodile was enormous, measuring 8.63m, over twice as big as the one that normally ply the waters around these parts.
After admiring Krys’s girth (the croc I mean, not the human), it was back on the plane for the short hop to Karumba, 70km away. The tidal salt flats seem to stretch on forever.
The Port of Karumba comes into view near the mouth of the Norman River, with the cattle boat visible in the photo. The large white building is the port facility for MMG’s Century Mine, which closed down last year. Its closure brought an end to dredging which threatened to end the viability of the port. After much prompting (including by my newspaper), the state government has taken up dredging and port traffic is flowing again.
Karumba is divided into two halfs. As well as the Port, there is Karumba Point on the mouth of the river with more of a residential and tourist focus.
This is the only place on the entire Savannah Way drive from Cairns to Darwin that is right on the Gulf. The view from the Kuramba Point Tavern is well worth the drive alone. There was time for one quick beer before we set off on the hour long flight back to Mount Isa.