Normanton has about the widest streets you are ever likely to see. A few pubs and most of the essential shops (although small in size) make up the town. There is a fair bit to see however. In the main street is a life size replica of “Krys” a 8.6 metre (28’4”) crocodile shot in the Norman River in 1957 by professional crocodile shooter (Mrs) Krys Pawloski. His estimated weight was 2 tonne. When you compare the 3 to 4 metre tinnies that most people fish in you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near him. Whilst most of the really big male crocs were shot before the closure of professional shooting some very big crocs are once again being reported. The Normanton Visitor Information Centre is located in what was the Burns Philp building. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the south pacific will recognise the name Burns Philp. They had trading stores, plantations and shipping right throughout the south pacific. The purple pub is another interesting building, completely inundated, like the rest of the town, in the 1974 flood the owner, according to local legend, rang up his supplier and ordered the cheapest paint his supplier could send. When the paint turned up it was purple as his supplier hadn’t been able to sell it to anyone else. Anyway that’s the story.
80 kilometres further on is Karumba. This town boasts that it is the only town in the gulf with a beach that can be reached with a sealed road. This may be so but what is the use of a beach if you cannot swim! This town started life as a base for the Empire flying boats on their route to the UK. Of course Karumba is known as being the home of the gulf prawning industry. This is now only partly true as prawns are no longer processed ashore, they are completely processed onboard the trawlers right up to being boxed for market. During the prawn season the trawlers are serviced by large mother ships that provide bunkers, water and supply and receive the prawns so the trawlers no longer regularly come into Karumba. In fact all the processing sheds were washed away in the 1974 flood. Karumba does export Zinc concentrate. Mined near Lawn Hill National Park it is piped as a slurry 300 kilometres to Karumba, processed and dried then loaded onto a specially designed 5,000 tonne ship for transport 45 kilometres out into the gulf to be reloaded onto overseas ships. The gulf is too shallow to let the big bulk carriers come in any closer. They also export live cattle from the port.
But it is the tourists that now keep Karumba alive. They come in their droves. Three caravan parks and a paddock used as an overflow area, all jammed in like sardines. The boat ramp near the parks had over a hundred cars and trailers. It was good to see but we had no wish to stay. The road between Normanton and Karumba had numerous waterholes alongside it and at these we saw lots of brolgas, sometimes twenty or thirty to a waterhole. We had never seen so many anywhere else.
Monday we decided to try our hand at catching a barramundi. Near our camp was a weir on the Norman River and we had seen several campers return with barramundi. So with two fellow campers we set off to try our luck. Barramundi have a minimum size of 600mm and a maximum of 1200mm so the fish has to be pretty big to keep it. This weir was also the known haunt of saltwater crocs so care was needed. Anyway we didn’t catch any, the couple we went with caught two undersize fish which we put back. One was close to half a metre but that is still not legal. Whilst helping to release this fish one of the treble hooks went into my finger, with the fish thrashing around on the other end this was a bit painful until I managed to cut the hook. I then had to push the hook the rest of the way through to get it out. The joys of fishing and still no fish.
Tuesday we broke camp making for Burketown. First we had to go into Normanton to top up fuel, water and supplies. Out of three service stations only one had supplies of diesel so we had to queue to get fuel. We always try to carry enough fuel to get us to the second town that is supposed to have fuel just in case the first has run out, or the manager has left town with the keys to the pump in his pocket or some such other thing, as has happened in the past. Anyway it took us a good two hours to get everything done and head out of Normanton.
Just south of Normanton we turned onto a dirt road that would take us to Burketown. Immediately we left behind the almost constant stream of caravans and campers. It was great to be back on “a road less travelled”.
30 kilometres south west of Normanton we visited the site of Burke and Wills camp 119. In February 1861 this was the last camp they made before reaching the gulf. Because it was the wet season they never actually saw the gulf. There are no mountains or hills on these plains to provide a vantage point.
Just after camp 119 we crossed the Bynoe River and noticed some fish alongside the crossing. Vicki got the rod out and landed two big catfish. We didn’t keep them but later learnt they are good eating if skinned. Oh well you live and learn.
The dirt road was pretty good with only some small patches of corrugations. About 150 kilometres further on we arrived at the Leichardt River. This is a huge river with a crossing about half a kilometre wide.
On the north side of the river is a short sandy track that takes you to a rocky plateau looking onto the river crossing and the Leichardt Falls.
As it was about 15:30 and starting to rain we decided to make camp here. It was also getting cold.
Wednesday morning the rain had stopped but it was cold, only 10C when we got up but it did get up to around 25C during the day.
We decided to spend the day here as it is such a beautiful place with only a couple of other campers. No facilities as it is not an official camp site and not listed in the Camps5 book so you need to be entirely self sufficient. It is hard to imagine what this would be like in the wet, the rocky shelf we are camped on would be completely under water!
This camp would have to rate as one, if not the best, camp site this trip. The scenery is spectacular. There is even a small crocodile sunning itself on the sand. From our camp we can see the river crossing and there appears to be only about one car an hour using this road. As usual when near water there are Whistling Kites circling the waterway.
Thursday morning we broke camp making for Burketown.