Words by Desmond Fittock. Photography by Beverley Fittock
We arrived at Leichhardt Lagoon caravan and camping park on 31st July 2015, 170 years almost to the day since Ludwig Leichhardt camped by the Norman River on 19th July 1845. Leichhardt was one of Australia’s early explorers at the time of his camp there he was on his 1844/45 expedition from Morton Bay to Port Essington, NE of Darwin. I have read that Leichhardt camped at latitude 17 degrees 49 minutes, Leichhardt Lagoon is at latitude 17 degrees 51 minutes. This may be why he is reported to have rejoiced at “green feed by lagoons” near today’s Normanton.
By zooming in on the digital map at this site, http://adb.anu.edu.au/entity/8843 ,
You will see Leichhardt Lagoon just a short distance from his camp site.
Leichhardt Lagoon is situated 128 km west of Croydon and 24 km south west of Normanton, on The Gulf Development Road.
We were greeted by the jovial caretakers Pat and Wayne. I have known Pat for probably just over 50 years, so there was a lot of reminiscing to be done. This is a low cost camping spot with extremely clean hot showers and septic toilets. Toilets and showers are also located in a new separate block a short distance away in the North West area of the park. A facility for emptying your cassette toilet is also provided. There is a washing machine provided in the laundry. Bring your own generator to power it!
The water is not of drinkable quality, but good drinking water is readily available in Normanton either from a tap at the dump point at the council depot in Old Hospital Road, or from a tap adjacent to the toilet block at the rear of the Normanton library and Visitors Information Center, corner of Landsborough and Caroline Street Normanton.
Whilst the lagoon is situated on private land and no fishing is allowed in the lagoon the Norman River is just a very short distance away where this can be done. There is also a weir within walking distance where the water for Normanton and Karumba is collected. The water is piped to Normanton where there is a very efficient water treatment plant which provides an excellent water supply for both townships.
At the weir people set traps for Cherabin and Red Claw which can be quite sizeable and are very good eating. There are various places around the area where Barramundi can be caught; maybe some of the other campers will point you in the right direction. But, BEWARE of crocodiles. There are very large numbers of big freshwater crocs breeding in the area.
The camp is a bird watchers paradise with a large variety of water birds, birds of prey, large wading birds and small varieties fluttering around most of the day.
Each afternoon small wallabies pass through the camp to the lagoon for water and to feed on the water weed at the edge of the lagoon. There is seating provided at Ludwig’s Place, next to the covered fish cleaning table, where you can sit and watch the superb sunsets. Even after the sun has gone below the horizon the colours continue to change for some time. Take a cool drink and some nibbles along and relax and have a bit of a chat with some of the other campers. The covered fish cleaning area has bench tops covered with heavy rubber. There is a stainless steel kitchen sink fitted into one bench with running water provided, a waste drain takes the small rubbish away. Nearby there is a BBQ provided to cook your fresh fish, or might I dare to suggest, meat if you so desire. The caretakers try to arrange a social BBQ gathering for the campers at least once a week. The hi-lite of this evening is when some of the men arrange a part of a hollow log on a steel spike within an enclosed fire area.
The log stays slightly raised from the ground and they set a small fire in the base. Once the fire takes hold, the inside of the hollow log catches fire and the resulting smoke and some sparks provide a chimney effect. This then becomes quite a talking point among those gathered, or so I was told. Unfortunately there was a fairly strong dry wind blowing on the night that we had our BBQ night. This did not deter from the very enjoyable Barramundi and salad that we had to eat!
Whilst based at Leichhardt Lagoon day trips to Normanton and Karumbah are possible to do. We did a day trip west ward toward Bourketown on the Savannah Way to the junction of the Bynoe and Little Bynoe Rivers. There is a small camp site at the Little Boynoe River low level crossing. This was a good bitumen road as far as we went. The Flinders River is also out there. On the way home we had a look around where Bourke & Wills, (other early Australian explorers) had made their camp 119 in February 1861. There are very informative notice boards erected there and a number of concrete blocks with plaques attached describing what had been there at the time of their camp. It is amazing just how many Bourke and Wills monuments, and campsites, we have come across during our travels. They must have been very resilient people to have traversed such virgin country.
One of the “must do” things while in the area is to take a trip on The Gulflander train from Normanton to Critters Camp. (Just a couple of k’s along the road to Croydon from Leichardt Lagoon.) The journey takes about an hour each way and passes right past your camping area. We even had the driver blow the horn, yes horn, not whistle, to stir the other campers up a bit. The train is turned around at Critters Camp using a triangular section of track to reverse the train onto so that it travels forward for both journeys. This also allows the diesel engine to get more air and hopefully it does not over heat. The train also does a 2 day trip to Croydon and return on certain days. Further information can be sought at the Normanton railway station, the home of The Gulflander. Pat and Wayne as well as three other campers came along for the trip with us. Pensioner discounts are available.
We were only at Leichhardt Lagoon for a week as we had other commitments that we needed to attend to but we packed a lot into our short stay. The camp is usually only open from April until September. I have been informed that following the large amount of rain up there earlier in 2015 that the lagoon has been filled to overflowing and now should have plenty of water still in it for this season. The grass has greened up but will probably diminish a bit by the time “winter” sets in. We southerners don’t seem to experience winter in those areas!
If you happen to drop in there some time please say G’day to from Des and Bev.
If you are travelling East, Croydon has water available at the park on the corner opposite the hotel.
Further East at Georgetown, don’t fail to see TerrEstrial, The Ted Elliott mineral collection. This is one of the biggest collection of rock, fossils, gems etc that you might ever come across!
The Gulflander train from Normanton to Critters Camp