Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park
In Queensland’s arid far north-west lies a place of such unexpected and arresting beauty that its remoteness appears to be no impediment to travellers. Lawn Hill Gorge, with its multicoloured sandstone cliffs towering over a palm-fringed, emerald-green river, is the oasis-like centrepiece of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
Formerly known as Lawn Hill National Park, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) is one of Queensland’s largest parks and one of the most scenic, with creeks and waterholes lined with lush tropical vegetation. Essentially a wilderness area, much of the park is inaccessible to visitors except for the magniﬁcent gorge and its immediate surrounds. The Riversleigh World Heritage Site to the south-east protects internationally signiﬁcant fossil deposits.
If possible avoid visiting the park in the wet season from October to March. Heavy rains can cause dramatic rises in creek levels and you may ﬁnd yourself stranded for several days. This is a remote area with limited communication, so you must be self-sufﬁcient and carry an excess of fuel, food and water.
From Burketown or Mt Isa, to Lawn Hill Gorge, is via 4WD-only unsealed roads that can be extremely rough in dry conditions and impassable after rain; 2WD and off-road van access is possible via Cloncurry and Gregory Downs, but 4WD recommended
April to October; summer is hot and wet
1770 km north-west of Brisbane (to Lawn Hill Gorge); 340 km north-west of Mt Isa; 220 km south-west of Burketown; 425 km north-west of Cloncurry; Riversleigh World Heritage Site is 51 km south of the gorge
NPRSR 13 7468
Camping permit and fees apply; bookings essential
388 334 ha
Adels Grove (07) 4748 5502
Burketown (07) 4745 5111
Featured Activities in the National Park
Hire a canoe and paddle up the emerald-green waters of Lawn Hill Creek
See Aboriginal rock art on the Wild Dog Dreaming track and look out for freshwater crocodiles in the waters of the lower gorge
Learn about the extraordinary fossils at Riversleigh D Site on the self-guided trail
Watch for the jet spray of archerﬁsh as they attempt to catch insects
A look at the past
The park has a long pastoral history. The Gulf region has been home to vast cattle stations since the 1860s, with the most famous of the area’s cattle kings being pastoralist and explorer Frank Hann. From 1875, Hann’s huge 9000-square-kilometre property was known as the Lawn Hill Riversleigh Pastoral Holding Company. After a run of very bad seasons, Hann walked off the station in 1894 and overlanded to Western Australia in search of more suitable country. His wanderings in the interior and north-west of that state are legendary, and many outback features in Western Australia bear his name.
In 1976 the Brazilian-born 'cattle king' Sebastião Maia took over the lease of Lawn Hill station. Having grown to 11 000 square kilometres, it was one of the largest cattle stations in Queensland. In 1984, Maia gave 12 200 hectares of his Lawn Hill holding to the government for a national park. In 1992 the park was extended to include the Riversleigh World Heritage Site.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) is an area rich in Aboriginal culture and the original inhabitants have left an impressive legacy in the form of mussel middens, stone relics and rock art. The Waanyi people have lived in the gorge area for over 17 000 years, and possibly up to 30 000 years – one of the longest continual occupations of an area in Australia. They know this place as the country of Boodjamulla, the rainbow serpent. The serpent created the land and, to keep his skin wet, also formed the permanent springs that ﬂow into the creek.
In the past, the Waanyi lived in rock shelters during the wet months and camped along the watercourses during the dry season. They travelled short distances in canoes crafted from paperbark, the men hunting and ﬁshing and the women collecting edible plants and fruit. Lawn Hill Gorge is considered a sacred place, used by the Indigenous people for ceremonial and celebratory purposes only. Today, the Waanyi help manage the park and own 50 per cent of Lawn Hill Riversleigh Pastoral Holding Company.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) lies on the ancient sandstone plateau of the Constance Range, its escarpment rising 100 metres above the surrounding grass-covered plains. This is the eastern extremity of the Barkly Tablelands. Into the escarpment, the Lawn Hill Creek has carved a spectacular 60-metre-high ravine. Lawn Hill Gorge, with its permanent spring-fed creek and lush vegetation, is an extraordinary sight in this vast landscape of parched plains. In the south-east, the beautiful Gregory River, which winds through the Riversleigh section of the park, and the O’Shannassy River also ﬂow year-round. The highland plains to the north-west of the gorge are a remote wilderness area, inaccessible by public roads. The World Heritage-listed Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Site protects an environment dating back 25 million years. Preserved in limestone outcrops are mammalian fossils – including creatures such as giant snakes and carnivorous kangaroos – making this one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.
This undulating plateau country is covered with tropical semiarid eucalypt woodlands, dominated typically by western bloodwood and spinifex. Hardy acacias, grevilleas, native gardenia and turkey bush are also able to survive in the sandstone terrain and rocky hillsides. Fringing the waterways is wet riverine forest of pandanus, cluster ﬁgs, Leichhardt pine (Nauclea orientalis), tall Livistona palms and large paperbarks. The creek supports a range of aquatic plants such as waterlilies, ferns, mosses, sedges and bulrushes. Mitchell grass thrives on the plains.
Lawn Hill Gorge’s spring water and surrounding vegetation attract an abundance of native animals, such as kangaroos, wallabies and short-beaked echidnas. Here, too, you may see the unusual rock ringtail possum, which lives in rock shelters and climbs trees only to feed. Boodjamulla is the most easterly range of this creature, which is most common around the East and South Alligator rivers of the Northern Territory and the Kimberley in Western Australia. The possum is nocturnal, venturing out at night when you might catch its very bright eyeshine in the glare of a spotlight. It has been recorded in the park feeding on the nuts and blossoms of the native almond tree (Terminalia canescens).
The park’s birdlife is varied and proliﬁc, with more than 140 recorded species including rare purple-crowned fairy-wrens, white-browed robins, crimson ﬁnches, double-barred ﬁnches, great bowerbirds, rainbow and varied lorikeets and red-winged parrots. The abundance of water in Lawn Hill Gorge means that it is one of the few places in Australia where the channel-billed cuckoo can be found year-round. Waterbirds drawn to Lawn Hill Creek include great egrets and cormorants, while the Australian darter, with its snake-like kinked neck, is often sighted drying its outstretched wings in the sun. At night, the park echoes with the distinctive call of the barking owl.
Non-venomous olive pythons and the small ‘arm-waving’ Gilbert’s dragon (also known as the tata lizard because of its arm gestures) are among the reptiles that reside in the rocky habitats of the area. The creek is home to red-bellied short-necked turtles, northern snapping turtles, frogs, and ﬁsh with extraordinary names such as bony bream, long toms, black-striped grunters and sooty grunters. A jet spray shooting out of the creek will be a spotted archerﬁsh spitting for its supper, as it attempts to knock insects down onto the surface of the water. Freshwater crocodiles also live in the creek and swimmers need to be wary, despite the general assumption that these creatures are harmless. They can be aggressive if disturbed when mating or guarding their young (see guidelines for being crocodile-wise, page 361).
The major attractions of Boodjamulla are camping, bushwalking, canoeing and wildlife-watching. Visitors may swim in the middle and upper sections of the gorge but these waters are also inhabited by freshwater crocodiles. While generally considered to be harmless these creatures are best left alone.
There are 20 kilometres of walking tracks through the park, with several short and long trails in the Lawn Hill Gorge section. The Wild Dog Dreaming track (4.5 km return, 1½ hours, easy) leads to Aboriginal rock-art shelters through the lower gorge, where you are likely to see freshwater crocodiles. The Waanyi people ask you to respect this area by refraining from taking photos of the rock art. Island Stack track (4 km return, 2 hours, difﬁcult), best tackled in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day, has a steep climb and descent but rewards with marvellous views from the top of the plateau. The Cascades Track (2 km return, 1 hour, easy) leads to pools and the chance to swim, and observe the interesting tufa formations (porous masses of mineral calcium carbonate deposited around the springs and, over time, forming natural dams). Indarri Falls track (3.8-km circuit, 1½ hours, medium difﬁculty), which has a steep descent, leads to a waterfall. Returning along the creek line watch out for birds – crimson ﬁnches and fairy-wrens are often ﬂitting about the water’s edge. The longest of the trails is the Upper Gorge track (7 km return, 3½ hours, difﬁcult), which has excellent views over the gorge; ﬁt bushwalkers are advised to make an early-morning start on this hike. Away from the gorge, Constance Range track (4 km return, 3 hours, medium difﬁculty) offers beautiful views, which are at their best at sunrise or sunset – don't forget to take a torch.
Hire a canoe near the campsite or take your own for a paddle through the emerald-green waters of Duwadarri Waterhole in the upper reaches of Lawn Hill Gorge, a distance of up to 6 kilometres return. This is an exhilarating yet peaceful way to study the ﬂora and fauna of the gorge environment. Canoeing is not permitted in the Cascades area or at the Lower Gorge. Canoers should remain alert for crocodiles.
Fishing is not permitted in Lawn Hill Creek, but is allowed in other waterways throughout the park, subject to bag and size limits. The Gregory River, in the Riversleigh section of the park, contains barramundi, perch, cod, catﬁsh and more. Contact the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF) on 13 7468 or visit their website (www.daff.qld.gov.au) for details of current fishing restrictions and bag and size limites.
The fossil ﬁelds of Riversleigh, still within the park, are an hour’s drive (51 km) south of Lawn Hill Gorge. At the Riversleighs D Site there is an information shelter, toilets and a short, self-guided interpretive trail (800-metre loop, 1 hour, easy). You will not see a great deal here, apart from some indistinguishable pieces of bone fragment protruding from the limestone rocks, and nothing should be disturbed or taken from the site (fines apply for unauthorised fossicking). For a better understanding of the mammal and marsupial fossil discoveries here you can take a guided tour (regular tours depart from Adels Grove). If possible, a visit to the Riversleigh Fossils Interpretive Centre in Mount Isa is worthwhile (see feature).
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