Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula, far north Queensland, Australia. Cape York, at the tip of the peninsula, is the northernmost point of mainland Australia. It was named by Lt. James Cook in 1770 after HRH the Duke of York.

At its tip it is only about 140 km to the New Guinea mainland across the island-studded Torres Strait. The west coast borders the Gulf of Carpentaria and the east coast borders the Coral Sea. Cape York Peninsula is approximately 137,000 km² in total (which is larger than either Greece or England), but with a population of only about 18,000.

Geographically, it an extremely eroded, almost level plain, with some very low hills on the eastern side. The highest of these form the Iron Range, noted for its unusual tropical rainforests, which feature a number of species, such as the palm cockatoo, otherwise found only in New Guinea. The soils are remarkably infertile even compared to other areas of Australia, being almost entirely laterised and in most cases so old and weathered that very little development is apparent today (classified in USA soil taxonomy as Orthents). It is because of this extraordinary soil poverty that the region is so thinly settled: the soils are so unworkable and unresponsive to fertilisation that attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed.

Climatically, Cape York Peninsula is monsoonal, with a wet season extendng from November to April and a dry season from May to October. Annual rainfall is high, ranging from over 2000 millimetres in the Iron Range and north of Weipa to about 700 millimetres at the southern border.

There are many rivers, amongst them the Endeavour, Annan, Bloomfield, Pascoe, Jardine, Wenlock, Archer, Holdroyd, Mitchell, and Staaten. In fact, Cape York Peninsula contributes as much as a quarter of Australia's surface runoff - indeed it produces more runoff than all of Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Because it is uneconomic to build sealed roads or bridges through all the sparsely settled peninsula, road transport to northern areas is possible only between June and October since the rivers become completely impassable during the wet season. Work is proceeding quickly, however, on sealing the main highway north which now extends as far as Lakeland Downs, and the section between Lakeland Downs and Cooktown should be completed by the end of 2005.

It is 430 km from the Bloomfield River, in the southeast, across to the west coast (just south of Kowanyama), and some 660 km from the southern border of Cook Shire, to the tip of Cape York.

Some of the world's most extensive and ancient rock painting galleries surround the tiny town of Laura, some of which are available for public viewing. There is also an impressive new Interpretive Centre from which information on the rock art and local Aboriginal culture is available and tours can be arranged.

There are extensive deposits of bauxite along the west or Gulf of Carpentaria coast. Weipa is the centre for this mining activity.

Although much of the Cape is sparsely populated, there are settlements at Cooktown, Lakeland, Laura, Coen, and Weipa, and Aboriginal communities at Wujal Wujal, Hopevale, Lockhart River, Injinoo, New Mapoon, Umagico, Old Mapoon, Napranum, Aurukun, Pormparaaw, and Kowanyama. Torres Strait Islander communities on the mainland are Bamaga and Seisia.

The main industries are tourism, mining, fishing and cattle.

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  • Hough, Richard. 1994. Captain James Cook: a biography. Hodder and Stroughton, London. ISBN 0-340-58598-6.
  • Pike, Glenville. 1979. Queen of the North: A Pictorial History of Cooktown and Cape York Peninsula. G. Pike. ISBN 0959896058.
  • Moon, Ron & Viv. 2003. Cape York: An Adventurer's Guide. 9th edition. Moon Adventure Publications, Pearcedale, Victoria. ISBN 0-9578766-4-5
  • Moore, David R. 1979. Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 'Rattlesnake' Journals of O. W. Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra. ISBN 0-85575-076-6 (hbk); 0-85575-082-0 (pbk). USA edition ISBN 0-391-00946-X (hbk); 0-391-00948-6 (pbk).
  • Pohlner, Peter. 1986. gangaurru. Hopevale Mission Board, Milton, Queensland. ISBN 1-86252-311-8
  • Trezise, P.J. 1969. Quinkan Country: Adventures in Search of Aboriginal Cave Paintings in Cape York. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney.
  • Trezise, Percy. 1973. Last Days of a Wilderness. William Collins (Aust) Ltd., Brisbane. ISBN 0-00-211434-8.
  • Trezise, P.J. 1993. Dream Road: A Journey of Discovery. Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, Sydney.
  • Haviland, John B. with Hart, Roger. 1998. Old Man Fog and the Last Aborigines of Barrow Point. Crawford House Publishing, Bathurst.
  • Premier's Department (prepared by Connell Wagner). 1989. Cape York Peninsula Resource Analysis. Cairns. (1989). ISBN 0-7242-7008-8.
  • Roth, W.E. 1897. The Queensland Aborigines. 3 Vols. Reprint: Facsimilie Edition, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, W.A., 1984. ISBN 085905-054-8
  • Ryan, Michelle and Burwell, Colin, eds. 2000. Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland: Cooktown to Mackay. Queensland Museum, Brisbane. ISBN 085905-045-9 (set of 3 vols).
  • Scarth-Johnson, Vera. 2000. National Treasures: Flowering plants of Cooktown and Northern Australia. Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association, Cooktown. ISBN 0646397265 (pbk); ISBN 0646397257 Limited Edition - Leather Bound.
  • Sutton, Peter (ed). Languages of Cape York: Papers presented to a Symposium organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. (1976). ISBN 0-85575-046-4
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2000. Nomads of the 19th Century Queensland Goldfields. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-875998-89-6
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2003. Cape York Penninsula: A History of Unlauded Heroes 1845-2003. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-876780-43-6
  • Wynter, Jo and Hill, John. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development. The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.

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