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Burketown is an isolated town and locality in the far north-western Shire of Burke, Queensland, Australia.[3][4] It is located 898km west of Cairns on the Albert River and Savannah Way in the area known as the Gulf Savannah.[5] The town is the administrative centre of the vast Burke Shire Council. In the 2011 census, Burketown had a population of 201 people.[1]

Burketown pub (since destroyed)
Burketown is located in Queensland
Coordinates 17°44′25″S 139°32′50″E / 17.74028°S 139.54722°E / -17.74028; 139.54722Coordinates: 17°44′25″S 139°32′50″E / 17.74028°S 139.54722°E / -17.74028; 139.54722
Population 201 (2011 census)[1]
Established 1865
Postcode(s) 4830
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)[2]
LGA(s) Shire of Burke
State electorate(s) Traeger
Federal Division(s) Kennedy
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
32.2 °C
90 °F
20.0 °C
68 °F
788.0 mm
31 in
Localities around Burketown:
Nicholson Gulf of Carpentaria Gulf of Carpentaria
Nicholson Burketown Carpentaria
Gregory Gregory Carpentaria



Burketown is located 2,115 kilometres (1,314 mi) to the north west of the state capital, Brisbane, with the nearest larger town being Normanton, 227 kilometres (141 mi) to the east, and the nearest city being Mount Isa, 425 kilometres (264 mi) to the south. The town is roughly 30 kilometres (19 mi) inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria.



On 2 August 1841, Captain J. Lort Stokes discovered the mouth of a river he named the "Albert" after Prince Albert, the Queens consort. Stokes' party ascended the river for a distance of 50 river miles in a long boat in a search for fresh water. Having followed a bumper wet season Stokes was greeted by endless grassy plains, which he named "The Plains of Promise" after a day of exploration.[6] The area was originally named for the 'Plains of Promise' or 'Province of Albert' after Prince Albert, the Queen's Consort in 1841.[7]

Town establishmentEdit

Burketown was named in honour of explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who died shortly after making the first recorded successful south-north crossing of the continent in 1860-1.[3][4] The first European settlers arrived in the local region not long after Burke and partner William John Wills' expedition. By the mid-1860s, several cattle stations - including Gregory Downs, Floraville, and Donors Hill - had been founded inland from the present site of Burketown. Burketown was formally established in 1865 by Robert Towns, chiefly to serve as a port and supply centre for his extensive properties in the Gulf country. Towns chartered a small vessel the Jacmel Packet and on 12 June 1865 it arrived off the mouth of the Albert River. The goods were eventually landed on the present site of Burketown.[8] Towns, a prominent Sydney pastoralist and financier, also established Townsville in the same year.

By September 1865 the population was about 40 and by October a store and a hotel were under construction, the balance of buildings were humpies. Rations and grog were plentiful but already one evil was noted: prices for goods were so high that some intended settlers could not stay. The town grew; however currency, both notes and coins, were so short in early Burketown that the business people issued their own currency, dubbed "shinplaster" or "calabashers". These were in the form of IOU's hand printed on tissue paper so that they had as short a life as possible. In February 1866 Lieutenant Wentworth D'Arcy UHR with 8 troopers and accompanied by William Landsborough, the first Police Magistrate, rode into Burketown where everyone carried a pistol and where a successful shop keeper could ride well, shoot well and be an able pugilist. The pioneer spirit was indomitable and the first official race meeting was held 25 July 1866 with prize money at $200 (sic). In October 1868 Towns and Co traded wool, tallow, hides and skins between Sweers Island and Batavia.[9]

Burketown Post Office opened on 1 July 1866, closed in 1871 and reopened in 1883.[10]

In the same year, settlement of the region was assisted by the arrival of the Native Police. Massacres of local Aboriginal people soon followed. As the Burketown correspondent of the Port Dennison Times reported on 4 June 1868, "everybody in the district is delighted with the wholesale slaughter dealt out by the native police". The newspaper paid "thanks" to those involved in "ridding the district of fifty-nine (59) myalls" or local Aboriginal people.[11]


At first, hopes the town would develop into a major settlement in north-western Queensland were high. At the first land sale on 14 August 1867, 75 allotments were sold. Unfortunately, from 1866 tropical diseases ravaged the population. The vessel "Margaret and Mary" from Sydney came into port rife with "The Fever" (never properly identified, thought to be Typhoid). Between 25 and 50 people died - the majority of the crew and passengers - including the Captain's wife. Landsborough evacuated many survivors to Sweers Island for a period of 18 months, where a further two died and were buried on the Island.[9]

The town was devastated by a tropical cyclone on 5 March 1887 which flooded almost all of Burketown. Only the highest part of town, near where the Council Office is currently located, escaped the waters from the Gulf of Carpentaria. A copy of a 1918 report to the Queensland Parliament from the Department of Harbours and Rivers Engineers refers to the sea rising to 5.5 metres above the highest spring tide level at the Albert River Heads. This level is about 8 metres above Australian Height Datum. 7 people out of a population of 138 died in the cyclone.[12] Burketown's population peaked at 265 in 1911.[9][13]


At the 2006 census, Burketown had a population of 173.[14]

Heritage listingsEdit

Burketown has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:


Burketown has a school (Prep to Year 6), police station, post office, council office, service station, small general stores/ take-away shops, bakery and butcher caravan park, outpost hospital and a hotel. It is serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor Service from Mount Isa Base. The Burke Shire Council operate the Burketown Airport which has a regular passenger service from Skytrans Airlines and is also the primary base of Savannah Aviation, which provides aircraft charter services throughout the Gulf, far north/western Queensland and the Northern Territory.[19] On 22 March 2012 the 92-year-old pub was destroyed in an early morning fire. The pub was subsequently rebuilt.[20] The Burke Shire Council operates a public library at Lot 65, Musgrave Street.[21]


Burketown State School caters for students from Prep to Year 6 and it is located on Beames Street, Burketown. [22]The school opened on 26 November 1888. [23]


Burketown is known as the Barramundi capital of Australia[24] and holds an annual Barramundi Fishing Competition during Easter[25] each year.


Burketown has a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSh), though closely bordering on a tropical savanna climate, characterised by hot, humid and wet summers and warm, extremely dry winters. December is the hottest month, with average maximum temperatures rising to 35.4 °C (95.7 °F). Rainfall is minimal from April to November, but from December to March monthly rainfalls of over 500 millimetres (20 in) and daily falls over 250 millimetres (10 in) are not rare.[26] Flooding, often associated with the passage of a tropical cyclone, often isolates the community for months, whilst failure of the summer rains can be extreme - for instance in the 1901/1902 wet season no more than 170 millimetres (7 in) fell[27] and the drought caused the death of millions of cattle.

Climate data for Burketown, Queensland
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 46.0
Average high °C (°F) 34.2
Average low °C (°F) 25.0
Record low °C (°F) 17.2
Average rainfall mm (inches) 224.9
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 11.6 11.6 7.9 2.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.3 1.3 3.6 7.0 47.3
Average relative humidity (%) 71 74 67 52 47 46 44 41 42 47 52 61 53.7
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[26]

Morning glory cloudEdit

A Morning Glory cloud near Burketown.

From the months of August to November, a rare meteorological phenomenon known as "Morning Glory" - long, tubular clouds, some up to 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in length - is often observed in the skies above Burketown.[28] The Morning Glory has become something of a "mecca" for soaring pilots who surf the giant atmospheric wave in their gliders. Gliding flights of over 500 kilometres (310 mi) have become common.

In cultureEdit

Burketown is believed to be the basis of 'Willstown' (note the name of Burke's partner, above), a very amenity-challenged town fictionally developed into a successful and growing community to become A Town Like Alice by Jean Paget, a character created by Nevil Shute in his bestselling novel of that name.


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Burketown (SSC)". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 11 July 2016.   
  2. ^ "BURKETOWN POST OFFICE". Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Burketown (town) (entry 5355)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Burketown (locality) (entry 42539)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Gulf Savannah Development 2007, Gulf Savannah Development Accessed 31 December 2007.
  6. ^ Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health: Burketown
  7. ^ Burketown State School Centenary 1888 - 1988. ISBN 0-7242-2923-X Accessed 30 December 2007.
  8. ^ Burke Shire Council website: The Gulf of Carpentaria: Discovery and Exploration
  9. ^ a b c The Gulf of Carpentaria: Discovery and Exploration Accessed 3 October 2006.
  10. ^ Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Premier Postal Auctions. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  11. ^ see Henry Reynolds, "Dispossession: Black Australians and White Invaders", Allen & Unwin (1989), p. 52.
  12. ^ Bureau of Meteorology: Tropical Cyclones in Queensland - Historical Impacts in the Gulf of Carpentaria
  13. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 2004, Burketown Accessed 3 October 2006.
  14. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Burketown (L) (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  15. ^ "Landsborough Tree (entry 600374)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Burketown Tourist Information Centre (entry 600373)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "Boiling Down Works (entry 600375)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  18. ^ "Old Westmoreland Homestead (entry 602339)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  19. ^ "Gulf of Carpentaria Air Charter Service Provider". Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  20. ^ "1 year on from iconic Burketown pub fire". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 March 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  21. ^ "Burketown Library". Public Libraries Connect. 14 July 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2017. 
  22. ^ "Burketown State School". Retrieved 2 February 2018. 
  23. ^ "Queensland schools opening dates". Retrieved 2 February 2018. 
  24. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 2004, Burketown Accessed 31 December 2007.
  25. ^ Burke Shire Council 2007, The Morning Glory Shire Accessed 31 December 2007.
  26. ^ a b Bureau of Meteorology, Climate Averages: Burketown Post Office Accessed 3 October 2006.
  27. ^ Monthly rainfall for 029004 Burketown Post Office
  28. ^ ABC Australia, August 2003, Soaring the Glory Accessed 3 October 2006.

External linksEdit