11 July: Out on the Norman River

Author: Mr A

Location: Karumba

Karumba is really divided in two by the Norman River. There’s the commercial area in Karumba itself, comprising of the fishing fleet and port facilities, then where we are staying at Karumba Point, a long detour around the river’s flood plains, to a more tourist focused settlement with a few caravan parks, awesome sea food shops, and the Tavern.

As well as dividing the town though, the Norman River unites it by providing a year round source of economic wealth. The fishing fleets swap over from Barra to prawn and other harvests from the Gulf, during the various fishing seasons, and the zinc mining operation has its port of onward transportation here. After a 4 year hiatus, it has just restarted to the relief of the town, courtesy of a Chinese company (of course!). The gravity fed pipeline that transport the slurry stretches from the mine 302km to the south, right to the loading dock. Pretty neat and cheap way to transport it for 9 cents a ton!We managed to find a tour boat going out in the afternoon with two spaces (it’s busy season up here!) and headed out. The family running the trip gave us a good running commentary on the river and the town, of course starting as most trips do with “European exploration”, not a word about the previous 50,000 or so years of human occupation in the area. It isn’t easy to find information. I’ve just spent 20 mins with Google and have at least established that the area was home to five distinct Aboriginal groups, all of whom had a seperate language, all of which are now officially classed as extinct.

What our tour guide also didn’t mention is that the locals refer to the period when the first white settlers moved in to Karumba as “the shooting time”. The Native Police were pretty active here! Four groups of traditional owners also had a stake in the local mine. The name Karumba is even taken from the local aboriginal word meaning “this place”. I know it’s not easy to find things out about a history that is inaccessible to us who rely on the written language to pass information around, but at least acknowledge the history prior to white settlement. I’ve sent then some feedback – will be interested to see the response.

So we did see lots of bird life, including black and whistling kites, white bellied sea eagles, osprey, black-necked storks (often incorrectly called Jabiru) and crocodiles…Drinks were passed around as we watched the sun dip into the Gulf. At this moment the nearest capital city to us is Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, not Darwin.

Karumba has a real end of the road feeling, which we actually like. Almost all the tourists are fishermen and women, who like to drink beer from about noon, and talk constantly about lures and catches etc. Its interesting for us to observe as non-fisher folk, but one more day here will be sufficient though.

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