The Road Ahead : December January 2009
travel & leisure Normanton a town like… STORY & PHOTOS CATHY FINCH C radled in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria, 680 km west of Cairns, Normanton came to life along the banks of the Norman River as a small port servicing the Gulf’s cattle industry in the 1800s. The discovery of gold in nearby Croydon turned the sleepy settlement into a ‘boom town’. But by 1947, the town was in decline and the population dropped to 234. Thankfully today we can still enjoy the legacy of the charming buildings and colourful stories left behind. The historic Burns Philp building, a general merchandise store that traded from 1893, today houses the visitor information centre and library. History breathes all around you here. Pick up a Heritage Walk brochure to guide you to many more of the town’s historic places of interest, including the Westpac Bank, a National Trust building built in 1886 which features beautiful timber and cast iron lace verandahs. In boom times there were seven hotels in town. Today, just three remain. The Albion and the Central are two original, classic, lowset pubs of timber and galvanised iron, but the third is much harder to miss. The Purple Pub (it is painted bright purple) is a two-storey building, part of which was an older hotel removed from Croydon. One of the most distinctive landmarks however, is the Victorian architecture of the town’s railway station. Inside, a museum features historic photographs and a mix of railway tools and equipment. When we visited, the famous Gulflander train was resting peacefully beside the platform. There are no goods to transport to and from the goldfi elds these days but the 140 km trek between Normanton and Croydon still runs once a week. Leaving Normanton at 8.30am every Wednesday and carrying enthusiastic tourists, mail and freight to properties along the way, the Gulflander comes home again the next morning, leaving Croydon at 8.30am every Thursday. Train buffs consider the Gulflander trip to be one of Australia’s great railway journeys, being one of only two heritage-listed trains in the country and running continuously since 1888 on the original tracks and sleepers. I am more of a bird buff myself and I spent a lot of time sitting just outside of town where coastal saltpans, mangrove-fringed river systems and the Mutton Hole wetlands sprawl beneath wide skies. The grassland swamps of the Gulf plains are one the most important areas in the world for brolgas and sarus cranes and the region supports more than half of Queensland’s migratory shorebirds. As wet season fl ooding subsides, the area abounds with birdlife. Pools of waterlilies form a fragrant carpet of purple, green and white, where jabirus extend their slender legs in search of food. Countless smaller birds fl it among the lily pads. It is a place of natural beauty. Fishermen tell me true beauty is found beneath the surface of the water. Barramundi are here in abundance. Lines dangle everywhere from bridges and river banks and apparently your chances of bagging a big one are pretty good. Things up here tend to be big, if the statue of Krys in the main street is anything to go by. Krys is a ‘life-size’ model of an 8.6 m crocodile shot by Krys Pawlowski in the Norman River in 1958. Plan your visit Plan your driving holiday online with the RACQ trip planner, at racq.com. The site lists accommodation, things to see and do and tourist drives in the area. Book your accommodation online or by calling RACQ on 1800 629 501. BELOW, FROM LEFT: Jabiru. Gulflander. Life size model of the crocodile, Krys. Joh Bentvelzen, track maintenance supervisor, Normanton Station.
October November 2008
February March 2009