Karumba (including Sweers Island)
The major fishing port on the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Located on the banks of the Norman River 69 km from Normanton and 443 km north of Cloncurry, Karumba is a fishing town. It is nothing more than a port, a few shops, a pub, a lot of inexpensive accommodation for fishermen and a river front which abounds with wharves, refrigerated storage areas, slipways and engineering services.
In the 1870s a telegraph station was built on the site of the present town. It was known simply as Norman Mouth. It served a purpose but was hardly reason for a settlement to develop. Karumba first came to importance in the 1930s when it became a stopover point for flying boats on the run from London to Australia. By the 1950s it had become a popular spot for people eager to go fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The town went through something of a boom period in the 1960s and 1970s when it became the centre for the Gulf fishing industry. Today the prawn fishing industry and the barramundi industry earn over $130 million each year.
Karumba itself is an unimpressive town. It looks like any hastily thrown together coastal settlement. Lots of fibro and haphazard urgency. Most of the houses look like holiday homes and the town has a temporary feeling about it.
Karumba’s existence is connected to the simple fact that it is on the banks of the river and it is set on sand ridges which allow direct access to the river and the sea. As Burke and Wills found out in 1861 large areas of the Gulf’s coastline are inpenetrable because of the dense mangrove swamps. In fact the bank of the river opposite the town is still inpenetrable mangroves.
The journey to the town from Normanton passes over an area of very flat Gulf Country. The land is alive with birdlife and it is common to see flocks of cranes and brolgas feeding beside the road.
A sign outside the town seems to sum it up ‘Welcome to Karumba – population small’. As the road enters the town the all-pervading fishing industry becomes obvious with signs like – Karumba Marine Service, Karumba Charter, Net Mending and Seafood Supplies. Even the police station has a boat outside it.
In spite of its industry there is something quite beautiful and exotic about the place.