Officially known as the National Hotel, the Purple Pub was established in the early 1900s. The west wing was previously the Exchange Hotel in Croydon and was relocated here. Originally painted a light mauve in 1968, then a few shades darker in 1975, it gained its current purple in 1979, and now attracts tourists from all over. It’s one of the most photographed buildings in town.
Population: 1210 (2016 census)
- 70km from Karumba
- 490km from Mt Isa
- 700km from Cairns
Normanton is the capital of the 68,111km2 Carpentaria Shire and part of the only sealed access to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The shire is as large as Tasmania and only has two towns. The town of Normanton was founded as a port to the pastoral and mining ventures in 1870. Normanton is the third oldest town in Queensland north of Bowen and is home to the historic Gulflander Railway.
Being so far north, the town of Normanton experiences distinct Monsoon and dry seasons. The Monsoon starts in November or December and brings spectacular storms and can even bring cyclones. The temperatures during this time hover in the high thirties and low forties and are accentuated by the oppressive humidity. The wet can play havoc with traffic attempting to use any of the non-sealed roads in the district. It is for this reason that tourist season is during the dry season. This dry season is from April to November and brings magnificent sunny days, with temperatures in the mid twenties and occasionally the low thirties.
Abel Tasman was the first European to explore the Normanton region, sighting the entrance to the Norman River in 1664 and naming it “Van Diemen’s Inlet”. Burke and Wills came within 40km of Normanton and 30km of the Gulf of Carpentaria in their ill-fated transcontinental journey in 1860. The first European to navigate the Norman River was William Landsborough in January 1867. It was then that he chose the site of the township, high above the apparent flood levels on an iron stone ridge, and in May the first settlers arrived. An outbreak of ‘the fever’ in the Albert River settlement (near the present-day Burketown) ensured the success of Normanton as the supply port for booming mining and pastoral properties.
Construction of a rail line to Cloncurry was undertaken, but the gold rush in Croydon saw it diverted east. Construction of this 152km rail line began in 1888 and took only three years to complete. The original steel sleepers, track, station and goods sheds of this line still remain in use, making this the oldest rail line in Australia, if not the world. Tourists and a small amount of freight depart every Wednesday from the Normanton Station for the return journey to Croydon.
A Town Walk brochure and map listing 30 places of historic interest is available from the Visitor Information Centre.
This area was used by the old Norman River punt that ferried anything and everything across the river. On the opposite side, the landing area can still be seen. In the late 1880s, a winch-type punt was used. This progressed to a diesel-driven punt which was still in use up to the opening of the Norman River Bridge in 1966. Mr Fred Brandcrouch was the last punt operator. The house allocated to the punt operator was moved from its location on the riverbank to the caravan park. This is the residence that the caravan park owners now reside in. The last dummy punt used was taken to Karumba and used with a barge to bring loads of prawn vats to Markwell’s Factory in Normanton. The vats would hold 1 tonne in weight, 1500lb of prawns packed well in ice.
Registered in 1883, it was closely associated with both mining and pastoral development in and about Normanton. The Burns Philp building is original and one of the last left of its kind. For many years a supermarket, the building was purchased by Council and now houses the Visitor Information Centre and Town Library. The building is also home to an intriguing display of local memorabilia.
Cast Iron Gutter Covers
Forged at the foundry in Croydon in the early 1880s, they have the inscription “Normanton Municipal Council”. These plates are over various guttering around town. Some of the locations are at the Normanton Traders, in front of the Gulf Service Station, and in front of the Shire Council Building.
A corduroy is a bridge built by placing logs alongside one another to create a crossing over shallow water and/or mudflats. The built up stretch of road now replaces the old corduroy, although logs can still be seen. This area is tidal and is an ever-popular fishing spot.
The first four cells of the Normanton Gaol were constructed in the early 1890s. Normanton become the main penal establishment for the entire Gulf region during the Croydon gold rush era.
The gaol was constructed using concrete and iron railway rails in the walls and framework of the ceiling – this was because of the availability of materials left over from the construction of the Normanton to Croydon railway, and the white ants which are so prevalent in the area. It has 8in thick walls, iron doors and limited exercise yards. The first four cells were constructed as follows – two cells were 16ft by 12ft and the other two were 12ft by 8ft. The two smaller cells share an exercise yard. The hipped roof of the cells were constructed using corrugated iron with roof ventilators which kept it cool and well-ventilated. The cells were constructed in this manner to segregate prisoners by the nature of the offence or gender.
As this gaol was the centre for the areas from Georgetown to Cloncurry and out to Burketown, in 1895 a kitchen and two more cells were added. The last cell was added in 1899.
Looking at the gaol from Haig St, the first two doors on the left are the two larger cells with an exercise yard for each. The next door leads into the exercise yard for the two smaller cells, the kitchen and two newer cells and solitary confinement. The three newer cells have no windows, but one has a doorway to the exercise yard and the other two look out onto the area covered by security mesh.
In June of 1945 the Normanton Gaol was declared closed and the goal was handed back to the local police. The building was then used only as a watch house until the 1990s.
The Gaol is situated next to the shire office in Haig St and is open weekdays from 8:30am to 5:00pm.
The Normanton to Croydon line is of great historical and technical importance. It is not connected to any other part of the Australian railway system and has left a remarkable legacy of relics. Although it is a tourist attraction of considerable significance, it provides a valuable service to the community, delivering mail to properties between Normanton and Croydon. One of the most unusual features of the railway line is its inverted U-shaped steel sleepers filled with dirt. The line was completed on the 20th July 1891, with the station being completed a week later. The station building is a classic example of Victorian architecture.
Locomotives have been running for more than 110 years in the original line made from the famous submersible Phillips Steel Sleepers. The RM93, known to thousands as the Gulflander, makes the trip between Normanton and Croydon at least once a week. A former Gulflander – the early version – RM60, can be see at the railway station. RM60 has been around since 1931, and needs a crank-handle start!
Built on the site of the old racecourse where “Australia Remembers” signage states that the area was used as a base camp for the Northern Australian Observer Unit and C Company – 23rd regiment of the Volunteer Defense Corp and 22 men of the Light Horse. This is an all-weather strip and can cater for night landings and heavy aircraft.
Shire Council Chambers
The Carpentaria Divisional Board was constituted on the 11th January 1883. The Board’s premises were completed in 1890. Locally made bricks were used in the construction of this three-story building. The cost of the building was £1000 and was built by Andrew Murphy. Although built in the style of older hotels, this building has never been a pub. In 1903, the Carpentaria Divisional Board became known as the Carpentaria Shire Council. The 1974 flood level came to just under the door handle of the front door. A Meteorology Water Level Indicator is on the outside of the building facing the LEW Henry Park, showing the 1974 flood level was at the 9.1-9.2 mark.
The office has undergone facelifts over the years with major extensions being undertaken in 1996 at an approximate cost of $800,000. On display in the foyer are photographs of yesteryear.
Stone Pitched Gutters
Stone from the Normanton quarry (located behind the hospital) was the material used for pitching the guttering that was laid in the 1880s. This gutter starts from the Burns Philp building and can be seen to the Post Office, then on the opposite side of the road from Jack’s Carlec and Fuels to the Westpac Bank.
“Krys” the Savannah King
This is a life-size model of a 28ft 4in saltwater crocodile with a girth of 13ft situated in the LEW Henry Park behind the council chambers. Krystina Pawloski, a famous crocodile hunter in the Gulf region, shot the actual crocodile that “Krys” is modelled on.
Normanton’s Artesian Bore
The bore was put down in the year 1895. Contractor was IBC (International Boring Company) with License No: N333. The depth was 2330ft. The supply was 293,800 gallons per day. The temperature was 151ºF. The casing consisted of: 160ft x 10in, 1984ft x 6in, 306ft x 4in, 71ft hole in granite. The exact position of the bore is 141º 5.4m east, 18º 22.0m north.
Because the core was leaking very badly, in line with the government’s policy of capping or repairing bores in order to conserve our underground water supply, it was decided to renew the casing. In April 1998, work was started on renewing the casing. A contractor from Longreach Well Drillers was contracted to do the job, Bill & Dianne Balkey. The work was done through the Department of Natural Resources, Bruce Keogh. At the time of completion on the 1st May 1998, the flow was measured at 140,360 gallons per day. The temperature was 154ºF. The bore was relined with 606 metres of 127mm steel casing. They then pumped slurry concrete 460 metres between the two casings to seal the leak.
Because the water comes up under its own pressure, the contractors had to stop the flow of water so they could do the work. They did this by pumping a special mud slurry into the bore so the weight of the mud would be heavy for the flow of water. Then they could lower the new casing into the bore and weld every joint. To break the mud seal, the contractors lowered a long drilling ram into the hole.
The water from the bore used to flow into a round pond at the bore, and from there it would flow into the swimming pool. The overflow would then flow into the bore drain and finish up waterings stock down on the flats. The water is now used to supply hot water for the caravan park, and also top up the town water supply.
The bore is fed from the Great Artesian Basin, which covers most of inland Queensland and parts of New South Wales, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. The Great Artesian Basin is divided into three main basins, the Carpentaria, Eromanga, and Surat Basins. Depending on where the bore is located governs the depth of the bore. The range varies from 0-600m to 2400-3000m. The Normanton bore is 699m.
This information was collected by Mr Len Taylor, who managed the Normanton Caravan Park on Brown St during the 1990’s.
Originally the Bank of New South Wales, this branch opened for business on 23 July 1884. This historical building once serviced the wealth of the goldfields of Croydon and the thriving seaport economy of Normanton. The building was built in 1886. At this time Normanton boasted five banks. Today the Westpac is the sole survivor. The Bank has on display old scales once used to weigh the Croydon gold.
In the 1880s the Town Wharf played a big part in Normanton’s history. It was a busy place to be. The first regular service began with James Burns’ schooner Elsea.
Original sections of the wharf still stand today. They are rarely used by boats but are a regular fishing haunt for both locals and visitors alike. Markwell’s Fisheries built a prawn packing factory to the left of the wharf in 1968. Prawns were packed into vats of ice and transported from Karumba to Normanton by barge, where they were processed in the factory and transported south by freezer trucks. All the buildings were washed away in the 1974 floods and never replaced. Concrete slabs where the sheds used to stand and the electricity pole are all that remain.
Burke and Wills Camp #119
In early February of 1861, Burke and Wills left King and Grey at camp #119 with the equipment and cables and set out together to reach the ocean. They took a horse each and provisions for three days. They never saw the ocean, only vast rivers that they were unable to cross and they returned to King and Grey. The four men left camp #119 with only a quarter of their original rations left. King was the only man to return alive from the expedition from an original party of 19 men.
Norman River Bridge
In 1966 this single-lane bridge, The Captain WH Norman Bridge, was completed at a cost of $204,000 and was opened by CJ Pennyquick BE EMIE (Aust) District Engineer, Main Roads Department on 3rd August 1967. It replaced the punt which ferried vehicles across the Norman River. In 2001 this bridge started to show its age and faults appeared in the deck. As a result the bridge was load limited, affecting the amount of road freight which could be carried across and impeding road transport, the life blood of the region. As a result the EB Whyte Bridge was commissioned. Construction began in 2001 and finished in 2002. The “old bridge” is now a popular fishing spot.
Normanton Trackers Quarters
Situated next to the Carpentaria Shire Council office is the Normanton Trackers Quarters. The Trackers Quarters are a feature of the early administration of justice in Normanton. Trackers were introduced into the Police Force in Queensland in 1874 where they played a major role in the forces in more remote parts of the country.
Indigenous males were employed as trackers owning to their excellent skills in bushcraft. Trackers were known for their ability to track down people who were fleeing from the law and were also used to search for missing persons and stolen or lost stock. Documents indicate a trackers hut existed on this site by the 1900s.
It is know that these particular Trackers Quarters have been on this site since 1953. The Trackers Quarters are a simple two-roomed structure with a crude shower recess and a separate outhouse located nearby.
Singer/songwriter Slim Dusty paid tribute to one of Normanton’s famous trackers in his song “Nardoo Burns”.
This 4WD tour takes you from Normanton, the Gulf’s largest settlement, along the coastal plains to Burketown. From there, travellers can either continue west to the Northern Territory, or follow a loop south and east to return to Normanton. About half of the look tour is sealed, but the road along the Gulf and into the Northern Territory is rough going in places, and a 4WD is recommended.