The Barkly Tableland is a large plain stretching from the middle of the Northern Territory across to the western edge of Queensland. It was encountered by explorer William Landsborough in 1862, while he was leading a party in search of Burke and Wills, who had both perished after being the first non-indigenous people to cross the continent from south to north in the previous year. Landsborough named the plain after Sir Henry Barkly, the then governor of Victoria. Incidentally, here’s one for the trivia buffs: Landsborough was the first non-indigenous person to cross the continent from north to south.
And here’s another trivia gem: In later life, Landsborough and his wife Carolyn settled on Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where they had a child which they named Sweersena. “And why” I hear you ask “was the island called Sweers in the first place, causing the poor child to end up with such a name?” Just don’t you worry about that.
Now, back to the Tableland: In 1877, Nat Buchanan, widely regarded as Australia’s greatest drover, started exploring the Barkly Tableland for its potential to become cattle country, and subsequently moved large herds of up to 20,000 cattle through the region. In 1883, Harry Readford, the cattle duffer immortalised as “Captain Starlight” in Rolph Boldrewood’s book “Robbery Under Arms”, drove cattle up through the Barkly area to establish Brunette Downs Station, which at 12,200 square miles in area, is still the ninth largest cattle station in Australia.
The Tableland is a vast stretch of semi-arid plains, with Mitchell grass the predominant vegetation. There’s not much natural wildlife, apart from possums, snakes and lizards. The Spencer’s goanna (pictured) can be up to 120 cm long, and it’s said can knock people out by using its large muscular tail.
The drive east along the Barkly Highway from Tennant Creek on the Stuart Highway across the Tableland to Camooweal just over the Queensland border is a run of 450 kms, with great views of the Tableland, but not a lot else to see. The Barkly Homestead roadhouse appears at about the 190 kms mark. I couldn’t resist buying a postcard there showing an aerial view of the roadhouse and station buildings, the air strip, and a long straight stretch of road. It would have been harder for Landsborough.