Mataranka – the Never Never Land

Monday, Jul 27, 2009 at 00:00

Motherhen

Reaching Mataranka we were captivated by the hot springs, wetlands and lush tropical vegetation.














We turned off the Highway to visit the historic Elsey Cemetery, which is also a memorial to the station people on which Mrs Aeneas (Jeannie) Gunn based the characters in her book ‘We of the Never Never’. She wrote about her life on the station in the year following her marriage to Aeneas Gunn and prior to his early death a year later. When her beloved husband died, Jeannie returned to Melbourne and never saw Elsey again. The Elsey Station homestead was nearby, on the edge of Warloch Ponds.

Mrs Aeneas Gunn had also written another book, ‘The Little Black Princess” about a girl she called Bett Bett in the book, based on a young Aboriginal servant girl with whom she had formed a special bond whilst at Elsey Station.

No more watching the sunset over the far horizon, as we were now amongst tropical trees such as Bouhinia and the deciduous Kurrajong. Birds were abundant and their calls had the ring of a rainforest. It was beautiful, but I felt a real sadness at leaving the semi arid areas.

We stayed at the Mataranka Cabins and Camping; three kilometres from the small townsite along Martin Road. See our campsite review. This campground closed each day when their limit of 42 rigs had been reached. The grounds were enormous, with most campers informally camped near the amenities block where power poles scattered around gave campers access to power. We looked out from the caravan through tropical vegetation to a swampy wetland close by. The grassy ground was damp and water birds roamed through the campsites. For self sufficient campers, the grounds stretched some way to the Little Roper River (Roper Creek on some maps). The river was quite wide, and wetlands drained in the river. Wallabies grazed on the grassy campsites. The campground had been a WWII army base, and large concrete slabs remain near the reception building and cabins and around the tropical fruit farm. Tall termite mounds were in the nearby paddocks.

Martin Road takes its name from Stan Martin, an Aboriginal stockman of whom there is a life sized horseback mounted statue in Stan Martin Park at the junction of the Highway and Martin Road.

A short walk took us to Bitter Springs, where fast flowing water come out of the ground at 32º Celsius and rushes down a fairly narrow stream. Across the other side from the first landing are flat rocks to sit on while partially immersed in the comfortably warm blue water. Some people floated downstream with their thongs on the end if their floaty noodles so they could walk back. I swam as far as the second landing, about half way along the stream, but no further as the ground was too prickly to walk on to return and as the stream narrowed the current was very strong and would have been too difficult for a poor swimmer like me to return all the way. Even swimming back from this half way point was not easy, particularly where the channel narrowed. Every time I stopped to allow a family on noodles to pass I was washed backwards, so progress was slow. Signage at Bitter Springs shows the water being discharged into the Springs at the rate of 300 litres per second.

At Territory Manor, another caravan park closer to the town along Martin Road, they have a pond where there have barramundi feeding demonstrations at set times. Fish do not feed much during the cooler months so only occasionally would one snatch the offered pilchard – usually when another fish was approaching.Barramundi only breed in sea water. Outside guests are welcome at these displays.

Mataranka Homestead (1816) is now the centre of a resort with accommodation and a camping area. We noticed flood lines marked in the bar area which is at ground level under the homestead – almost to the ceiling in one case.The pool close by was concreted during WWII, and tourists sat as the warm shallow water flowed past them. The deep waters flowing through a natural channel at Bitter Springs is far more impressive. A little further Rainbow Springs is the main source where 30.5 million litres of turquoise-blue mineralized water comes to the surface each day. All around, the ground oozes with water.

A short walk from the homestead to the springs is on a boardwalk amongst impressive tall Mataranka palms. Beware of flying fox droppings from above.

On display at Mataranka Homestead Resort is a replica of the small cottage that was the station homestead where Aeneas and Jeannie Gunn lived, as constructed for the movie made of her book, ‘We of the Never Never’.

John Hauser Drive continues past the Mataranka Homestead turn off through the Elsey National Park, with points of interest signed along the way. The first stop was the Botanic Walk, through a tropical rainforest with fast flowing spring fed streams forest and wetlands oozing with water through to the Little Roper River at a point shortly before where it is joined by the Waterhouse River to form the Roper River. There were information panels to identify the species of various trees. Sulphur crested cockatoos squawked from the tops to the palms near the river’s edge. Butterflies were abundant in the shade of the trees.

We passed the ruins of an Aboriginal internment camp. Following the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the Aboriginal settlement near Darwin was taken over for use principally by the Army, and Aboriginal residents were moved to a number of other locations including one on the Roper River near Mataranka.

At the Four Mile, a short walk and a paddle across two shallow creek crossings took us to the Roper River where there is a boat ramp. While people fish in the Roper, caution is needed as it is not guaranteed to be crocodile free.

A little further along the road an old plunge sheep dip from the station days was of interest. To get rid of external parasites, sheep would be dipped through a chemical added bath following shearing. Sheep swam through a narrow trough, being pushing under the water with a stick to ensure complete cover by the chemical. 1913 was the start of an experimental flock of sheep on Mataranka Station. Floods and droughts took their toll and in 1920 the last of the remaining sheep were sold.

A short walk to a pool on the pandanus lined Roper River at Wabalarr is another fishing opportunity. Mulurak is also a fishing spot on the Roper River, where the contrasts of this country come together. From a sandy beach, looking upstream the river is wide and downstream it become shallow as it runs across a series of rapids. Across the river the north side a dry red stony hill typical of this harsh land. People were fishing, but caught nothing while we watched. Lots of tiny fish; some sparkling silver and with some stripes or spots, darted in the shallows.

The National Park Campground of Jalmurark is near the 12 Mile Yards. The Park Campground has amenities with hot showers, but like other National Park campgrounds there is no power and generators are not permitted. A concrete boat ramp has been provided at the river near the cattle yards. The cattle yards were built alongside the river in 1969 with a one way gate to trap the station cattle as they came to the river for water. The gate was usually left open, but engaged when it was time to mark calves, separate cows from calves, or select cattle to market. Cattle for sale were driven on foot into Mataranka, then trucked to Darwin. This part of the station was destocked and declared a National Park in 1991.

There is a sixteen kilometre long walk trail commencing at the Little Roper River where accessed from the Botanic Walk then following along the Roper River, linking all the riverside points we took short walks to, and on beyond the 12 mile yards to Korowan; Mataranka Falls.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues


Motherhen

Red desert dreaming

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