Black River Catchment

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The Black River Catchment feeds into Halifax Bay north of the Townsville. The catchment encompasses an area of approximately 29872 hectares.The upper reaches of the catchment commence from Hervey Range, north west from Pattersons Gorge and south east from The Pinnacles. Drainage from these upper reaches are through the watercourses of the Black River , Log Creek, Scrubby Creek and Alice River. Elevation falls quickly at the top of the catchment from around 600 metres above mean sea level (ASL) to 100 metres ASL before extending through across a flat coastal plain with isolated hills.

The Black River Catchment is part of Bindal and Wulgurukaba country. Both traditional owner groups have connection to this catchment and surrounding country. The aboriginal name for Black River is "Bang-ar-ee". Significant natural features include South Pinnacle at 729m ASL, Mount Cataract at 721m ASL, Mount Black at 410m ASL, Mount Margaret at 264m ASL and Mount Kulburn at 139m ASL.

The average annual rainfall and temperature for the catchment differs between the higher and lower parts of the catchment. The average annual rainfall at Yabulu (in the lower part of the catchment) is 1136mm with a high average of 303mm in February and a low average of 12mm in August. The average annual temperature for the greater Townsville area is 28.2°C with highs averages of 31°C in January and low averages of 13.6°C in July. Major urban areas of the Black River Catchment are Black River, Alice River/Rupertswood, Jensen and the western edge of Bushland Beach.Major industrial sites in the region are the Queensland Nickel Refinery at Yabulu and the Black River Quarry Plant. The Queensland Nickel Refinery opened in 1971 and between 1974 and 1992 the refinery processed ore produced from the Greenvale Mine. Huge quantities of sand had been removed from the Black River and Alice River to feed the rapidly expanding development of Townsville/Thuringowa.

There are three main transport passages within this catchment. The Bruce Highway is the national transport arterial extending east-west at the lower part of the catchment. The Bruce carries traffic along the Queensland sea-board. Locally it carries traffic primarily between Townsville and the northern beach suburbs. The Herveys Range Road (named after Matthew Hervey of Dotswood Station), is located in the upper part of the catchment and carries traffic from Townsville through to the Gregory Development Road. Herveys Range Road is primarily used by Defence, mining and graziers beyond the Hervey Range. It is rumoured that sometimes a hundred wagons or more would be strung out along the length of Hervey Range Road in the late part of the 19th century. Black River Road provides a linkage between the Bruce Highway and Herveys Range Road.

The North Coast Railway runs parallel to the Bruce Highway and carries both trains for the transport of resources and people along the eastern sea-board. This includes a Tilt Train service between Brisbane and Cairns, and products of the nickel refinery of Yabulu to and from the Port of Townsville. The Greenvale Branch railway passes through the upper western corner of the Black River Catchment. This line carried nickel laterite ore from Greenvale from 1974 through to 1992 which was processed at the Queensland Nickel Refinery at Yabulu. This line is no longer operational.

John Melton Black who had claimed the area that was to become Townsville, was contracted by the Queensland Government to survey a road, over Hervey Range via Thornton's Gap and on the Upper Burdekin. It is however William Ross who is credited with finding access over the range from Fanning Station. Prior to the building of a new road to Ravenswood and Charters Towers, all traffic to the gold fields, Diamantina, Western Rivers, Hughenden, Etheridge and Dalrymple used the route through Hervey Range. Shanty pubs and hotels sprang up along the track to cater for weary travelers. The two main hotels were the Alice River Hotel and the Eureka Hotel.

Early land use within this catchment may have included sheep, cattle, cotton, coffee and sugar. In an attempt to make a living from this strange land, pastoralists over stocked when the seasons were good, only to find that when the seasons changed the land was rapidly overgrazed. Gully erosion became more and more common, and unwanted weeds crept in to replace the native vegetation. Trees were removed in an attempt to farm or crop the strange soils, and new grasses were introduced to feed the stock. Many of the weeds now outcome the native species for the little water left in the soils. These include lantana, rubber vine, chinee apple and snakeweed.

Although the middle and lower parts of the Black River are occupied with urban and peri-urban blocks, the upper reaches of the Black River Catchment are still predominately used as larger grazing blocks. Much of this upper reaches of the catchment still remain in relatively good condition, with a high proportion of the vegetation still remaining in a relatively natural state. Residential and rural development in the Black River Catchment have increased in keeping with the expansion of Townsville and Thuringowa. Land has been cleared and roads built. Rainfall that previously seeped into the soil profile now fell on either bare soil or hard, impenetrable surfaces. Runoff increased, and erosion with it. The loss of native vegetation has impacted on native fauna that depend on natural environments for survival. Birds commonly seen by the early settlers such as the Squatter pigeon, Red Backed Fairy-wren and the Black Throated Finch cannot compete against development and introduced species such as foxes, feral cats an wild pigs.

Sustainable use of the land is being seen as the future for the upper Black River catchment. The future will depend on the value of the land to the owners, and in turn, on the value of the land to alternative uses. The latter will rely on the ability of the area to attract passive users to the area. Many ideas have been raised for the potential use of the upper catchment of the Black River. For example :

  • re-establishing the railway line as a tourist venture between Thornton Gap and the coast;
  • linking tourism to the remnant historic Eureka Hotel;
  • developing a series of walking trails through the non-remnant vegetation; and
  • encouraging the use of the picnic area at the bottom of the gorge.

Black River Locality Diagram
Black River Locality Diagram

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