Katherine is a town situated 320 km southeast of Darwin
in the "Top End" of the Northern Territory, Australia.
It is the third largest settlement in the territory
after the capital Darwin and Alice Springs. At the 2001
census, Katherine had a population of 6,488. Set in
promising grazing and future agricultural country, the
town's main economic source has often been gold, but
this has lessened after the closing of the mine at Mt
There is increasing tourism and the RAAF Base Tindal
17 km southeast of town is also contributing to the
economy. The town has several churches, sporting clubs,
parks, a well kept golf course, and a showground.
Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park
The well known and spectacular Katherine Gorge in the
Nitmiluk National Park near the town has many ancient
rock paintings. These often become flooded during "the
wet season" as the river can rise 18 m in the narrow
passage. In a particularly wet season, the paintings
higher up can become flooded, damaging these ancient
treasures. The Park features many activities such as
camping, swimming, fishing (lures only), sightseeing,
canoeing, boat cruises and bush walk trails. Butterfly
Gorge, within a 6 km walk across the escarpment from
the visitor centre, features a large valley filled with
lush monsoon rainforest that extends down to the river.
The Jatbula Trail
Nitmiluk also features the country's ultimate buswalking
experience, the Jatbula Trail, an extended trail winding
some 46 km over stunning landscapes stretching from
the gorge to Edith Falls to the north. The town was
given its name after the daughter of one of the sponsors
of John McDouall Stuart who first saw the area in 1862.
The original inhabitants of the area belong to the Jawoyn,
Dagoman and Wardaman language groups. Katherine is situated
on the banks of the Katherine River, which is part of
the Daly River system. The upper reaches rise into the
Arnhem Land escarpment and Kakadu to the north east.
The topography of the region is predominantly tropical
savanna woodland. The township of Katherine is set amongst
a Karst landscape of ancient limestone formations, outcrops,
and subterranean caves. Other ecosystems include open
eucalypt forest and rocky escarpment country and isolated
pockets of monsoon rainforest/vine thickets.
Katherine is located 320 km south of Darwin and has
a monsoonal subtropical climate with distinct wet and
dry seasons. The annual rainfall is 1,132mm and daily
temperatures normally range from 24° - 35°C, occasionally
reaching 40°C with very high humidity at times during
the build-up period to the wet season, when the region
begins to receive some of the country's most spectacular
electrical storms along with vigorous lightning displays.
Dry season nights can get quite cool, regularly dropping
to 7°C overnight in the middle of the dry season.
Low elevation and frequent rainfall, as well as the
town's situation on the banks of a river, means that
the area is prone to flooding. A flood on Australia
Day in 1998 was particularly destructive. Ex-Tropical
Cyclone Les produced between 300 and 400 millimetres
of rainfall during a 48 hour period, causing the Katherine
River to rise to 21.3 metres and claim the lives of
three people Floods are not just the only threat the
town faces every wet season. Severe thunderstorms and
lightning are also familiar dangers every wet season.
Large hail to 2,5cm diameter has also been reported
within the area. Katherine is also located in one of
the most lightning struck areas in the southern hemisphere
and caution should be heeded outdoors in the summer
months. The central business district of Katherine is
set 350 metres from the banks of the Katherine River.
The township services the other regional centres of
Pine Creek, Mataranka, Borooloola, Douglas Daly, Daly
River and Timber Creek.
The RAAF Tindal Base is located 17 km from Katherine
and plays a significant part in the local economy. Tindal
Airbase officially opened on 1 October 1988.
Springvale Homestead, built in 1879, is the oldest
original homestead in the Northern Territory. The homestead
was originally managed by Alfred Giles, an ex-Overland
Telegraph linesman, but is now open to visitors.
Old Katherine Railway Station
The Old Katherine Railway Station is another historic
attraction that served Vestey's Meatworks during their
operation in Darwin and was a major hub of transport
during World War II.
Another historic site is the O'Keeffe Residence. Originally
built as a recreation hut in 1943 for army officers
during the Second World War, it is a good example of
local construction practice, using local materials like
Cypress pine and corrugated iron. Since the establishment
of Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine has developed into
a tourism destination.
Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park
Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park attracts
large numbers of visitors each year. The town is well-equipped
with a shopping centre and other modern conveniences
and services. Katherine town and surrounds provide plenty
of park and garden areas. Dakota Park, Giles Park, Jurassic
Cycad Gardens, Jukes Park and O'Shea Park are in the
Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, Kintore Caves
Tourist attractions include Nitmiluk National Park
and Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, Kintore Caves Nature
Park with its populations of endangered cycads, Low
Level Nature Park, Springvale Homestead and Katherine
Katherine Hot Springs
Along Riverbank Drive on the Katherine River, Katherine
Hot Springs provide swimming, shaded picnic tables and
BBQ facilities set amongst monsoon forest and tall paperpark
trees where you can sit back and relax or enjoy the
abundant birds and wildlife. Fishing for barramundi,
tarpon and sooty grunter is also popular along the Katherine
The low level Nature Reserve and the hot springs
The low level Nature Reserve and the hot springs are
regarded safe to swim. Both freshwater and saltwater
crocodiles inhabit the river, always make sure you swim
in recommended safe areas and avoid swimming in remote
'suspicious' waters. The town has had several locations
since its settlement by John McDouall Stuart, and the
present site was gazetted on 15 July 1926.
The original post office and the Overland Telegraph
station were set just above Knott's Crossing and next
to the Sportsman's Arms Hotel that had quarters for
the station master at the Overland Telegraph station
and a single room police station.
The Katherine River
The Katherine River, after which the town and the nearby
gorge are named, was named by John McDouall Stuart when
he passed through the area in 1862 on his sixth successful
journey across the continent. On 4 July 1862, Stuart
crossed the Katherine River and recorded in his diary:
"Came upon another large creek, having a running stream
to the south of west and coming from the north of east.
This I have named 'Katherine', in honour of the second
daughter of James Chambers Esq." There is some conjecture
over Stuart's accuracy. Chambers's wife's name was Katherine
but, according to most sources, his The next stage of
development of Katherine was the establishment of the
Katherine Telegraph Station on 22 August 1872 and the
completion of the Overland Telegraph Line later in 1872.
It was not until 1923 that construction began on the
Katherine railway bridge, with construction completed
in 1926. All shops were then moved to the opposite side
of the river, where the town of Katherine now sits.
The first train crossed the bridge on 21 January 1926.
Construction began on a new rail line in July 2001.
On 13 September 2003, the line was finished with a continuous
track from Adelaide to Darwin. The Ghan passenger train
commenced on 4 February 2004 and runs several times
It stops in Katherine on both the northbound and southbound
journeys. Dr. Clyde Fenton of Katherine became one of
the first Flying Doctors in Australia when he raised
£500 to buy a plane for his medical run. He soon earned
himself the name of "Speed Gordon of the Territory Skies".
During World War II, the Australian Army set up two
hospitals around Katherine, the 101st Australian General
Hospital and 121st Australian General Hospital.
The army also set up a Katherine Area Headquarters.
On 22 March 1942, Katherine sustained its only air raid
during World War II. One man was killed when a Japanese
aircraft bombed the town. Katherine has a history of
flooding, with documented accounts in 1957, 1974, and
1998 (on Australia Day).
The 1998 flood devastated the town, and the area was
declared a national disaster. The flood resulted from
the 300-400 mm of rainwater brought by Cyclone Les that
caused the already full Katherine River to rise an additional
21.3 metres. The floodwaters inundated the town and
much of the surrounding region, requiring the evacuation
of many residents. Katherine suffered another serious
flood in April 2006 with the floodwaters peaking at
19 metres. Damage, however, was not extensive, and the
town recovered quickly.
Katherine is an important meeting place to
the local Aboriginal people.
Katherine is an important meeting place to the local
Aboriginal people. It is the point where the traditional
lands of the Jawoyn (sometimes spelt Djauan), Dagoman,
and Wardaman converged. With Katherine being the largest
town in the region, it remains a meeting point for Aboriginal
people from across the Katherine Region.
Today Katherine is a key regional centre supporting
the cattle, horticulture, agriculture and tourism industries.
Located at the junction of major tourism drives, Central
Arnhem Road, the Savannah Way and the Explorers Way,
Katherine is an important visitor gateway for the Northern