Towns in Australia

Exploring Australia, town by town

Borroloola NT


Postcode: 0854

Borroloola is a town in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located on the McArthur River, about 50 km upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria. At the 2001 census, Borroloola had a population of 769, of whom 479 declared themselves indigenous.

Borroloola lies on the coastal plain between the Barkly Tablelands and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Rivers that run from the Tablelands escarpment to the Gulf regularly flood in the wet season, making travel on the unsealed section of Highway One along the coastal plain to Queensland impossible. This ‘Coast Track’ follows the path of cattle drovers of the late 19th century as they moved herds from north-west Queensland to stock the new stations of the Northern Territory. The drovers in turn followed a well-worn Aboriginal path. There is strong though not well-publicised evidence of drovers and station workers displacing and massacring the local Aboriginal tribes.

The rivers of this region have carved spectacular gorges through sandstone deposits in their upper reaches. The rivers and coastal areas are host to barramundi, earning Borroloola a reputation among sports fisherman, and also to the deadly saltwater crocodile. The region has little rain from May to September, and is characterised by lightly treed Savanna grasslands.

The King Ash Bay fishing club is situated on the McArthur River about 40km downstream (north-east) from Borroloola by river, just over 40km from Borroloola by road. Their boat ramp provides access to the mangrove-lined waterways of the McArthur estuary and the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The largely self-contained village houses a small permanent population during the wet season, but numbers swell as tourists, mostly retired and semi-retired, arrive in April and May to enjoy the mild dry season weather. The Fishing Classic competition, held over the Easter weekend each year (weather and road access permitting), marks the end of the wet season.

McArthur River Mine, a zinc, lead and silver mine about 70kms south-west of Borroloola, is operated by McArthur River Mining (MRM), which is wholly owned by the Swiss mining company Xstrata. In October 2006, MRM had an application approved by the Northern Territory Government to expand the mine to include an open-pit excavation. This expansion will include a diversion of part of the McArthur River. Some local indigenous people, mainly the Yanyuwa saltwater people living in the Pellew Group of islands, protested the expansion application on environmental grounds. In April 2007 the Territory Supreme Court found that the approval of the expansion of the McArthur River mine was invalid because Mines Minister Chris Natt did not follow the proper process. Within days of the Supreme Court judgement, the Clare Martin Territory government rammed through legislation to sidestep the objection and ensure the continued operation of the mine. Several indigenous MLAs, including a Yanyuwa woman, opposed the passage of the amended legislation, but most other members of the Parliament, including members of the opposition CLP, voted for the amendment.