20°S 148°E Bowen – Queensland by Degrees

Confluence point location (Google Earth image)

Location: This confluence point is located on Salisbury Plains, 1700 m south of the Bruce Highway close to its crossing of Splitters Creek and 900 m east of Splitters Creek. Guthalungra 18 km to the west is the closest settlement; Bowen is 24 km to the east. The point is within the Whitsunday Regional Council area. It has not yet been visited on the ground.

The Landscape: The point is at an elevation of less than 50 m ASL on the edge of the floodplain of Split Creek. The geology is sand plain of Cainozoic age (less than 65 million years) probably formed from the alluvial fan at the foot of Mt Roundback, the 725 m ASL summit of which is only 4.5 km to the east. Slitters Creek drains to Abbot Bay.

The vegetation around the point appears to be grassland or pasture. Land use is cattle grazing.

Point information and photos: Ken Granger and Google Earth, 2009

WITHIN THE DEGREE SQUARE

The Country: The degree square contains several distinct forms of landscape. They include the delta of the Burdekin River and the shared delta of Euri Creek and the Don River; the coastal plain; the floodplains of the Don and Bogie Rivers; the hills of the Clarke Range; and the numerous free-standing granite hills such as Mt Abbot, Mt Roundback and Station Hill (Cape Upstart).

The river deltas are marked by numerous mangrove-lined distributaries and mud islands. The remnants of earlier deltas are also evident along the coastline with areas of mangrove and sand bars such as at the western foot of Cape Upstart and at the head of the Port of Bowen. These areas are composed of estuarine mud of Quaternary age (less than 1.6 million years) and are still actively growing.

Paterson Creek in the Burdekin River delta (KG, 2008)

The coastal plain varies in width from around 8 km to 20 km and is generally flat, with elevations of less than 50 m ASL. It is dissected by numerous creeks and rivers. The coastline itself consists of numerous beaches with course sand, separated by rocky headlands of granite, much of it of Permian age (298 to 251 million years). Much of the native vegetation has been removed to make way for agriculture including cattle grazing, orcharding and field crops.

Horseshoe Bay at Bowen (KG, 2008)

Port of Bowen with Stone Island (KG, 2008)

The key drainage across the degree square includes the Don River and the numerous creeks that flow directly to the coast and the Bogie River that flows west to the Burdekin River. The Proserpine River, which flows to the east, has been dammed to form Lake Proserpine. Their flood plains are generally narrow and entrenched until they reach the coastal plain.

The hills of the Clarke Range are composed of granite, rhyolite, diorite and other igneous rocks ranging in origin from Carboniferous to Early Permian age (354 to 270 million years). The foothills of the range are generally low undulations but rising to very rugged and broken country on the tops of the range. Elevations range from around 100 m to over 600 m ASL. Vegetation is mostly low and open eucalypt woodland with tussock grasses as the ground cover.

Perhaps the most striking landscape element is the free-standing granite hills that dot the coastline and the interior. Of these, Mt Abbot is the highest with an elevation of 1056 m ASL, followed by Mt Aberdeen at 910 m ASL. Gloucester Island and Cape Upstart are also part of this landscape type. The oldest rocks in these hills are of Permian age (298 to 251 million years) with the youngest being of Cretaceous age (141 to 65 million years). Each of these hills is steep sided and dotted with numerous large granite tors. They carry a vegetation of mid-height eucalypt forest together with vine thickets and rainforest in their sheltered gullies. There are also mossy cloud forests and forests of Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) on Mt Aberdeen and nearby Highlanders Bonnet - the most southerly extent of the wet tropics rainforests.

The Climate: The climate of the area is classified as being tropical savannah. The Bureau of meteorology's climate station at Bowen Post Office provides representative statistics.

Bowen Post office (033007) 1870 to 1987 (elevation 6 m ASL)

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Mean max
(ºC)

31.5

31.3

30.6

29.2

26.8

24.7

24.3

25.5

27.3

29.2

30.6

31.5

28.5

Mean min
(ºC)

24.0

23.7

22.9

20.9

17.9

15.4

14.2

15.1

17.3

20.2

22.3

23.5

19.8

Mean rain
(mm)

246.9

241.5

160.6

64.0

39.8

36.6

23.7

17.5

16.2

23.1

36.2

103.4

1009.6

The highest temperature ever recorded in Bowen was 39.7°C in January 1985 while the lowest temperature was 5.5°C in June 1976. Rainfalls also vary greatly. The highest total of 2015.1 mm was recorded in 1950 and the lowest total of 215.7 mm in 1915.

Extremes of Nature: The area is very much subject to the impact of tropical cyclones. The cyclone database maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 60 cyclones tracked within 200 km of the confluence point between 1906-7 and 2006-7. Eleven of those cyclones passed within 50 km of the confluence point during that period including: an unnamed cyclone in February 1942, an unnamed cyclone in March 1945, an unnamed cyclone in January 1956, TC Agnes in March 1956, an unnamed cyclone in March 1958, an unnamed cyclone in February 1959, TC Dawn in March 1976, TC Otto in March 1977, TC Kerry in February 1979, TC Charlie in February 1988, TC Ivor in March 1990.

Several severe cyclones have had a major impact on the country within the degree square. In February 1875, for example, the steamer Gothenburg was lost off Cape Upstart in a cyclone with the loss of 102 lives. In a cyclone in March 1867 a cyclone brought gales to Bowen and unroofed many buildings and destroying several boats. In January 1870 severe winds from a cyclone destroyed the Assembly Rooms and two houses, the old telegraph office was unroofed and one man was killed when the house he was sheltering in collapsed. Again in February 1876 strong winds brought destruction and loss of life. In that storm the hospital, the Council Chambers and the Lands Office was blown down or greatly damaged. A child was killed and many people were injured. It was reported that a horse was cut in half by a flying sheet of iron.

Perhaps the most destructive 19th century cyclone struck in January 1884. Many commercial and public buildings, including banks, schools and churches, were destroyed. Only three houses in the town were left standing and over 100 people were left destitute. A significant storm tide was experienced, with inundation up to the fence of the telegraph office. The steamer Fiado was swept ashore and beached at Poole Island Meatworks jetty where a storm tide of 3 m was reported. The Pilot Station was destroyed and many boats were wrecked or swept away. Many horses and cattle were killed by falling trees.

Cyclone tracks that passed within 200 km of the confluence point 1906-2006 (BoM web site)

In April 1958 a small but intense cyclone hit Bowen with gusts of 98 knots (182 km/h) were recorded until the anemometer was blown away. A total of 77 houses and various other buildings were destroyed and many others damaged. A storm tide of 2 m was recorded in Bowen.

In February 1959 TC Connie crossed the coast at Guthalungra. One man was killed when the shop in which he was sheltering collapsed on him. The anemometer in Bowen recorded wind gusts up to 100 knots (over a two hour period. Forty houses were totally destroyed, 190 were badly damaged and 300 were partly wrecked. The power station and salt works also suffered severe damage and again many boats were washed away.

In March 1988 TC Charlie crossed the coast just to the east of Ayr. At Ayr water two metres deep flooded many houses and four houses were partly unroofed. The sugar industry took the greatest losses with an estimated $15 million (1990 dollars) of sugar destroyed by flooding.

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNTS OF TROPICAL CYCLONE IMPACTS ON THE BOWEN AREA ARE WELCOME

The Don River is one of the most dangerous rivers in Queensland when it comes to floods because its short length and steep catchment allow warning times as short as three hours and at best nine hours before flood peaks are reached in Bowen. Since Bowen was settled in 1861 there have been major floods recorded in 1869, 1870, 1884, 1910, 1916, 1918, 1928, 1940, 1946 and 1955. More recently major flood levels have been reached in 1970, 1979, 1980, 1988, 1991 and 2008. The record flood was in 1946 with a flood level of 9.70 on the gauge at Warden Bend.

It is also prone to change its course as happened in January 1980 with the rains from TC Paul. Several houses were washed away and much damage was done to the market gardening industry. Loss of life is not uncommon, especially where people attempt to cross flooded roads. One person was drowned at Bowen in flood waters from TC Joy December 1990 for example.

The area averages around 20 thunder days each year. Severe thunderstorms can bring destructive winds and intense rainfall. During the winter dry season thunder storms may spark bushfires if there is sufficient fuel to promote spread. Today bushfires are often started deliberately by arsonists - be they bored children or criminals. Within the degree square bushfires are not likely to be very severe given that most of the fuel is grass.

Bushfires can be a significant problem in the Clarke Range at the end of the winter where grass and eucalypt forests are at their driest. Fortunately, apart from stock and fencing there is little property in that area.

Extreme heat is also a serious issue in the square. The climate records for Ayr, just to the west of the square, show that on average (over 90 years of records) the area experiences 11 days a year with temperatures over 35°C though temperatures over 40°C are uncommon. Such extreme temperatures can cause heat stroke and death if appropriate measures are not taken such as avoiding strenuous physical effort, keeping as cool as possible and drinking lots of water. In January 1994 four elderly people in Townsville, in the adjoining square, died from heat stroke during a four-day heatwave. Heat waves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined.

There are four earthquake epicentres within the degree square recorded since 1900 in the National Earthquake Database maintained by Geoscience Australia. The only event of significance was the ML 3.3 quake on 25 November 1959 located in Upstart Bay. The most significant event in the region was the ML 5.7 'Ravenswood' event of 18 December 1913 18 km north-east of Ravenswood. This event was felt over a wide area and in Bowen doors and windows were rattled but no damage was reported.

 
The Indigenous Story: The land within the degree square is the traditional country of three Aboriginal
groups. Along the coast to the west of Bowen is Yuru country; to the east of Bowen is Giya country; and inland is Biri country.

MORE INFORMATION WELCOMED

European Exploration and Settlement: The first European navigator along this section of the coast was James Cook in HMS Endeavour in 1770. He charted and named Cape Gloucester (Gloucester Island), Edgecumbe Bay (Port of Bowen) and Cape Upstart. The mouth of the Burdekin River was discovered by Captain Wickham in HMS Beagle in 1839 and was first named after him. It was later renamed by Ludwig Leichhardt as the Burdekin.

The first European to live in the area was James Morrill who survived a shipwreck in the area in 1846 and lived with the local Aborigines until 1863. He eventually made his home in Bowen and is buried in the town's cemetery. Local legend has it that when he emerged from the bush with the Aborigines in 1863 he announced 'Don't shoot mates, I'm a British object'

In 1859 Captain Henry Sinclair of the Santa Barbara visited Edgecumbe Bay (that he named Port Denison) and the lower Burdekin and two years later Sinclair led the sea party while George Elphinstone Dalrymple led the land party that met at Port Denison to found the town they named Bowen. Within a year there were 20 cattle stations in the area, and hotels, stores and public instrumentalities had been established in the infant settlement.

In 1862 the North Australia Hotel obtained its liquor license. It now has the longest continuous liquor license in North Queensland. However it is only the license which is old. In 1865 the town's jetty was built. It still stands, although it has undoubtedly been repaired many times. Many of the public buildings erected in the 19th century remain as reminders of the town's heritage.

Old Police Station Bowen 1894 (KG, 2008)

Old Lands office Bowen c1880 (KG, 2008)

Grandview Hotel Bowen 1863 (KG, 2008)

Bowen Court House 1881 (KG, 2008)

Bowen's art deco Post Office 1936 (KG, 2008)

 In the latter half of the 19th century Bowen was the centre of a thriving horse trading business between North Queensland and India. The crews of the ships coming in from India bought many items back with them, including mangoes. The Bowen Harbour Master and Customs Officer at the time, Mr G.E. Sandrock, collected a quantity of mango seeds from the sailors and planted them on his property "Woodlands" just outside Bowen. As this initial stock came into fruit, seeds from the better quality and better producing trees were separately collected and Mr Sandrock gave these to a friend of his, Mr McDonald, who planted them on his property at Adelaide Point near Bowen.

A local farmer, Mr Harry Lott, selected a good stringless type of fruit from McDonald's harvests and used the seeds to start a small orchard on his property, "Kensington", in the late 1880's. Mr Lott found that his mango variety sold well at the local markets due its smooth stringless flesh, and attempted to monopolise the variety. Other local growers unfortunately got hold of seeds by fair and foul means, and within a few years this style of mango was widely distributed through the Bowen and Burdekin regions.

The salt works at Bowen were established in 1925. This covers 154 ha of evaporation ponds and can produce more than 15,000 tonnes of salt annually.

Bowen became a forward base for air operations during WW II. Squadrons of RAAF Catalina aircraft were based here from 1942 until the end of the war and took part in battles including the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The history of the town is commemorated by several murals on buildings in the CBD.

Bowen band mural (KG, 2008)

Catalina mural (KG, 2008)

Today: The total population of the degree square at the 2006 national Census was 11,017.

Measure

1996

2001

2006

Total Population

13,053

12,321

11,017

Total Males

6758

6445

5834

Total Females

6295

5876

5183

Under 5

849

698

611

65 Years and over

1841

2034

1602

Indigenous

432

694

749

Of the total population Bowen accounted for 7604; and Merinda, just to the west of Bowen had a population of 230. The rest of the population is spread across the square on rural properties and in small villages suc as Guthalungra.

Bowen is the main service centre for the area that includes the rich agricultural area and the coal mining centres such as Collinsville to the south and the Abbot Point coal loading facility to the west. The Bowen jetty is the base for tugs that support the coal ships at Abbot Point.

The town supports several light industries including the salt works and the coke plant that produces some 45,000 tonnes of coke for the lead smelter at Mt Isa. The town also supports a coral trout fishery and prawn aquaculture industry. In 2007 the town was used as the set for the major film Australia in which many of the heritage buildings featured as buildings in Darwin in the late 1930s.

Bowen (Google Earth image)

Bowen harbour and marina (KG, 2008)

Tugs based at Bowen jetty (KG, 2008)

 

Bowen jetty (KG, 2008)

Abbot Point to the west of Bowen is a large coal loading facility to export coal from the Collinsville, Sonoma and Newlands mines. The facility consists of a single rail line, stockpile area and a 2.75 km-long jetty serving a single ship loader. There are plans to greatly expand the Abbot Point facility to serve the expanding coal export market.

The Bowen area is Queensland's largest tomato and capsicum-growing area. Some mango production continues in the area, however the Burdekin irrigation area has now become the major mango production area in the State. There are plans to extend the Burdekin irrigation system to the Bowen coastal plain and develop an expanded sugar area. Cattle grazing is also a major industry within the square.

Most of the square lies within the Whitsunday Regional Council area. Only the delta of the Burdekin River falls within Burdekin Shire. There are four national parks within the square: Cape Upstart National Park, Gloucester Island National Park, Holbourne Island National Park and Mt Aberdeen National Park.

Site Summary:

Location

On private land 1700 m south of the Bruce Highway west of Bowen

Access

Point has yet to be visited

Nearest town

Guthalungra 18 km west and Bowen 24 km east

Terrain

Low undulating slopes near Splitters Creek

Catchment

Splitters Creek

Geology & soils

Sand plain of Cainozoic age

Vegetation

Pasture

Land use

Cattle grazing

Climate

Tropical savannah with a winter drought

Population in degree square

11,017 at the 2006 national census

Infrastructure

Major highway and rail links to Townsville and Brisbane as well
as Collinsville mining area; Abbot Point coal loading facility; Bowen
airport and port facilities

National Parks

Cape Upstart NP, Gloucester Island NP, Holbourne Island NP and
Mt Aberdeen NP

Compilers: Ken Granger, 2009

References: various web sites including EPA, tourism, local government and Bureau of Meteorology

Last updated 11 September 2009. Web page done by Hayley Freemantle. 
For more information email projectofficer@rgsq.org.au
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