Barrow Creek, Northern Territory

Barrow Creek, Northern Territory

Barrow Creek is a very small town, current population of 11, in the southern Northern Territory of Australia. It is located on the Stuart Highway, about 280 km north of Alice Springs, about half way from there to Tennant Creek. The main feature of the town is the roadhouse/hotel. A number of mining companies are currently exploring in the area, although none of the current residents are involved in the mining industry.


Indigenous people

The Barrow Creek area is the traditional home of the Kaytetye Aboriginal people; humans have lived in Australian, and perhaps this area, for at least 40,000 years.

European settlement

The arrival of Europeans in the latter part of the nineteenth century saw a period of much hardship and bloodshed for the Kaytetye. []

John McDouall Stuart passed through the area in 1860, and named a creek near the current town after John Henry Barrow, a preacher, journalist and politician who was born in England in 1817 and migrated to South Australia in 1853. At the time of first European habitation of the site he was Treasurer of South Australia.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Repeater Station

Barrow Creek was chosen as a site for a Overland Telegraph morse repeater station by John Ross in September 1871. The station was officially opened on 16 August 1872 by Charles Todd. It was one of 15 such repeater stations on a network traversing Australia and linking to Europe, providing essential communication services. The Telegraph Station has been preserved and is now a monument to the troubles which beset the early days of the Territory.

Arrival of graziers in the area

In 1873, 5,000 sheep were overlanded from Adelaide by Alfred Giles for distribution to Telegraph Stations along the line. During 1877 and 1878 Alfred Giles and Arthur Giles overlanded stock for Dr W.J. Browne to the Katherine River. On the 1878 journey Frank Withall, a young Englishman, was included on the suggestion of Browne "to gather some colonial experience". Alfred Giles later started Springvale,disambiguation needed Delamere and the Newcastle Waters runs.

World War II

During World War II Barrow Creek was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies, which was known as No. 5 Australian Personnel Staging Camp. It was the first overnight stop on the northern trip from Alice Springs to Birdum.

Water limits Barrow Creek population

Barrow Creek has always had a problem with both quantity and quality of groundwater supplies. This problem was already recognized in the 1870s, and only 20 years after the Telegraph Station was built there is evidence of plans to shift it about 40 kilometres further north to the crossing at Taylor Creek because of better groundwater supplies. There is still a bore at that locality called New Barrow Bore. Today, the only good water at Barrow Creek is rainwater and that is limited due to the arid climate.


1870 killing

During 1870 some 3,000 sheep from the Lake Hope area in South Australia were overlanded to the Northern Territory, for the men working on the line at Roper River, by Ralph and John Milner. Near Wauchope Creek they lost 900 sheep which had eaten poisonous herbage. John Milner was killed by the Aborigines and Ralph arrived at the Roper River with only 1,000 sheep.

1874 killings

In February 1874 Mounted Constable Samuel Gason arrived at Barrow Creek and a police station was also opened. Eight days later a group of Kaytetye men attacked the station resulting in the death of two white men and the wounding of Ernest Flint.

Some believe the attack was retaliation for the white men's treatment of Kaytetye women. Others say it occurred because the white men had fenced off a major waterhole and refused the Kaytetye access to water and rations during a time of drought. Indeed, it is probable that both these issues were grievances for the Kaytetye.

On 22 February Gason cabled to Adelaide, "This Station has been attacked by natives at 8. Stapleton has been mortally wounded, one of the men, named John Franks, just died from wounds. Civilised Native Boy has had three spear wounds. Mr Flint, assistant operator one spear wound in leg, not serious. Full particulars in morning". In Adelaide Dr William Gosse advised treatment for the wounded which was telegraphed back to Barrow Creek.

Samuel Gason later mounted a large police hunt against the Aborigines resulting in the slaughter of up to ninety men, women and children. [] No prisoners were taken.

See also: List of massacres of indigenous Australians

1928 Coniston Massacre

Barrow Creek was central to the last major Aboriginal massacre in the Northern Territory. In the 1920s Mounted Constable William George Murray was in charge of the local Police Station and also the "Chief Protector of Aborigines" in the area. When an old dingo trapper, Fred Brooks, was killed by Aborigines on Coniston Station, Murray led a posse which killed an estimated 70 Aborigines in a series of bloody reprisals. When Murray was called to Darwin to explain his actions he was greeted like a conquering hero. When asked why he had taken no prisoners he expressed the racist attitudes which prevailed in the territory at the time by telling the Darwin court "What use is a wounded black feller a hundred miles from civilization?" He was totally exonerated of all charges.

2001 Peter Falconio disappearance

Barrow Creek has recently become famous for being the closest town to the location of where Peter Falconio was murdered by Bradley John Murdoch, and Joanne Lees was abducted. The actual location of the crime was a few kilometres away from Barrow Creek, and it was not in the town itself.

Tourist spots

The Graves

The graves are marked by a wall around the graves and headstones. They are well looked after. In a small graveyard at the front are remains of two telegraph station workers killed in a surprise attack by Aboriginals last century.

The Pub

The old pub was built in 1926 by Joe Kilgariff, uncle of Northern Territorian senator Bernie Kilgariff, and it still has the original old bar, underground cellar, and tin ceilings. There is demountable accommodation outside and rooms inside and a caravan park. On the wall in the kitchen of the building is a cartoon of two Australian comic icons, "Bluey and Curley", drawn by the artist John Gurney [] when he passed through during World War II. The hotel is a popular stop for travellers along the highway and contains a tremendous collection of memorabilia and items of interest which have been gathered over the years.

The Telegraph Station

For many years the Telegraph Station was the home of a linesman from Charters Towers who lived in the building and repaired breakdowns in the line from time to time. Now deceased, a corner of the hotel is devoted to his memory and his story is a fascinating one.



The population of Barrow Creek at the moment is 11 people all of whom work together at the roadhouse. There are two Aboriginal communities - the Tara community which is 12 km northeast and Pmatajunata at Stirling Station which is about 35 km from Barrow Creek. There are about 120 people there and 80 people at Tara.


*On 19 March 2001 Glengarry Resources NL were issued with an exploration licence for Tantalite in Barrow Creek. []
*On 17 November 2003 Barrow Creek Central Land Council agreed to allow Newmont Gold Exploration Pty Ltd and Normandy NFM Limited to use an area north-west of Barrow Creek for exploration and mining for a period of 20 years. []
*On 26 May 2005 BHP Billiton commenced drilling at Barrow Creek to explore and develop nickel sulphide deposits. []

External links

* [ Driving along the Stuart Highway] - includes a snippet on Barrow Creek
* [ Walkabout]
* [ AU info]
* [ Barkly Tourism]
* [ Sydney Morning Herald Travel]
* [ Wilkins Tourist Maps]
* [ Repeater Stations along the Stuart Highway]

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