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Katherine

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Click here to read about organised day trips from Darwin to Katherine Gorge.

 

Katherine is one of only two towns of any size between Darwin and Alice Springs. Leichhardt was the first European to reach here, in 1844, on his exploratory journey to Port Essington, but it was the explorer Stuart who gave the town its name in 1862.

Darwin to Katherine Gorge

He called the river here the Catherine, after the second daughter of his benefactor, James Chambers. However, it seems that spelling was not the strong point of the residents, as the town was first known as Kathryn and then later as Katherine, as at present.

 

As throughout the Territory, it was the building of the Overland Telegraph Line which breathed life into the town. In 1878, Alfred Giles arrived with 12,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle and set up Springvale Station, eight kilometres outside Katherine. It was the cattle which prospered here, as the conditions were too hot for sheep, and this was the start of the cattle industry in the Northern Territory.

 

The railway from Darwin arrived in 1917, but stayed on the northern side of the river. It was not until 1926 that a bridge was built and a station constructed on the south side, where the present town centre lies.

 

During the war, Katherine was regarded as sufficiently important to suffer a bombing raid in 1942. The present airport at Tindal, south of the main town, was built at that time, and is still in use as a military air base, the runway being shared with civilian flights. Tindal was the name of the first pilot lost in action in the defence of Darwin.

 

Katherine is the place where the road west to Broome, and eventually to Perth , diverges from The Track ( Stuart Highway ) south to Alice Springs. The Track, until recent years, was just that a narrow strip of bitumen laid down by the American forces during the war as a tenuous link with the south. Only in the last twenty five years has it become a highway of ample width for two vehicles for its entire length to Alice Springs.

 

The road west to Perth and Broome, however, was far worse, being sealed only as far as the Western Australian border, from where it became impassable during the Wet Season and all links between the two states were severed, sometimes for months at a time. Now, though, that road is sealed and of a good standard all the way to Perth.

 

In the last few years, Katherine has expanded rapidly. In 1963, Northmeat Export Abattoirs started operations in Katherine. Although the works has changed ownership more than once, it has been a consistent and major source of employment in the area.

 

Katherine's great attraction is the Katherine Gorge, 29 kilometres from the town. Actually, there is not just a single gorge, but a string of thirteen of them, and they are now a part of the Nitmiluk National Park. In 1989, the aborigines of the area lodged a land claim, in which they were successful, and the title to the land was vested in them on condition that they allowed its use as a National Park and shared management responsibilities with the Parks and Wildlife Commission and the local council.

 

The gorges are filled with water and cruises operate regularly on the river which flows through, although occasionally, at the height of the Wet Season, water levels become too high to permit cruises. The cruises usually travel through at least two of the gorges, with a walk involved in between.

 

There is a Visitor Centre and there are walking tracks totalling 100 kilometres in length. There are also aerial tours of the gorge, by light aircraft or by helicopter.

 

Within the town, there are a few things to see. There is a Museum near the Hospital, but that is some four kilometres from the town centre. The building which houses the Museum was originally the terminal building at the Katherine airfield in 1944. The most interesting exhibit is the Gypsy Moth aeroplane used by the first flying doctor, Dr. Clyde Fenton, in 1934.

 

There is a walking and cycling path which leads beside the river to a point near the Museum. On the way there, you will pass the School of the Air, which can be visited. A little further along the river beyond the Museum is the site of the former Telegraph Station. The Telegraph Pylons remain and can be seen at Knott's Crossing, which is the original crossing point of the river and the location of the first town.

 

Moving south from the town centre, there is an Orchid Nursery in Stutterd Street, with about 25,000 plants, which can be viewed. Then, continuing south beside the river, you will reach O'Keeffe House, one of the few original buildings still surviving in the town. Then you come to the Hot Springs, a thermal creek where one can swim.

 

 
 

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