The tiny town of Burketown in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria certainly punches above its population weight when it comes to grey nomad appeal … and it doesn’t take long to work out why.
At first glance, the settlement which is located about 400 kilometres north of Mount Isa and is home to some 200 people, may not appear to be have much more than a pub, a couple of service stations and a few general stores.
However, it is the dry season climate, the fishing, the warm welcome, and the rich history that makes this one of the more memorable Big Lap locations.
Famed as ‘The Barramundi Capital of Australia’, Burketown was named in honour of explorer, Robert O’Hara Burke … but it was actually Frederick Walker who really opened up the area as he went looking for Burke and Wills. Walker’s grave can be found about 70 kilometres south of town on Floraville Station.
A trip to the Old Boiling Down Works offers another fascinating insight into Burketown’s past. The boiling works were set up in the mid 1860s on the banks of the Albert River as local beef was treated for export in the huge boilers and vats. Burketown looked set for a bright future until a sickness known as ‘Gulf Fever’ devastated the population.
Today, only piles of rusting machinery remain sitting sadly beside a dry river bed.
Elsewhere, the old post office built in 1887 retains many of its original features, and the century-old artesian bore to the south of town is notable for its age and the massive mineral build-up.
There are several major events held here, including the Gulf Country Frontier Days Festival which offers a range of musical and cultural entertainment, as well as a rodeo. The World Barra Fishing Comp held every Easter draws many outdoors-loving nomads to Burketown, and so too does the truly remarkable meteorological phenomenon known as Morning Glory.
From August to November long, tubular clouds – some to 1,000 kilometres long – are commonly seen in the skies above. It’s quite a sight!
The local Gangalidda and Garawa Aboriginal people offer several tours around Burketown including one focussed on stargazing, a sunset river cruise and a tag along 4WD trip which crosses Australia’s largest area of salt pans.
There is a caravan park here, and grey nomads wishing to camp or access private property that is managed by Gangalidda Garawa traditional owners will need a permit.
There are four areas designated for camping around Burketown: Meatworks, Wharf, Bridge to Bottleheap, and Dean’s Creek. Cost is $35 per vehicle for one night; $25 per night/vehicle for two nights; $20 per night/vehicle for 3-6 nights and $15 /night/vehicle for seven nights or more. A fair bit further afield, the Burke Shire Council also operates a free, low-impact camping area in the township of Gregory Downs.