Samstag, 6. Februar 2010

.. The Nassau River, section that crosses the coastal plains until it`s Carpentaria Gulf Estuary. Image with kind permission of Google Earth

Geographical, Ecological and Historical Facts about the

Cape York Peninsula
Queensland / Australia

The Nassau River runs over a distance of about 144 kilometers through the `Western Lower Mitchell Plains` and `Coastal Plains` of Cape York Province (Queensland / Australia) and flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria at Latitude -15.9085082 and Longitude 141.3954163. It`s spring creeks well in the surroundings of Dunbar Station Airport at a height of about 50 meters over sea level and form together with the northern Scrutton River and the southern Station Creek the Nassau River Watershed.

The Nassau River Watershed, situated between the settlements of Kowanyama, Dunbar / Maramie, Highbury and Yagoonya is limited by the northern Mitchell River & Alice River Watershed and the southern Staaten River Watershed. The country is a flat open plain with little relief. The Nassau River itself remains a creek that runs in an narrow bed until the coastal plains where it begins to form together with it`s confluents a broader stream in it`s estuary delta over the last 25 kilometers of it`s total length.

The more elevated area of the Lower Plains is chararcterized by eucalypt dominated savannah meanwhile the Coastal Plainlands are seasonal swamps, floodlands or estuary salt-marshes with mangrove (Avicennia sp.) river bank vegetation.

Mangrove river bank vegetation and saltmarshes of the Nassau River Estuary - Air view by Google Earth

Estuary Floodlands of Mitchel River in Carpentaria Gulf Coastal Plains

The Nassau River Watershed area in southwestern York Peninsula is very sparsely populated, depending that this census area doesn`t include greater settlements. The whole population following the 2006 national census was 40 persons (26 males, 14 females, 3 children and no one over 65 years). In 2001 the population number still was over 100 percent higher (85 / 65 / 20 / 3 / 6). Also the percentage of indigenous habitants with 4 (2001 - 5) persons is astonishing low, considering that the Cape York Peninsula population has a 60 % proportion of Australian indigenous / Aborigene and Torres Street Islander habitants. The Nassau River area belongs administratively to the indigenous Kowanyama Shire and Carpentaria Shire.
Language groups associated with countries in the Kowanyama region are Yir Yoront, Yirrk Thangalkl, Koko Bera, Uw Oykangand, and Olkola. Aboriginal groups habiting the region are Koko Bera, Kunjen, Koknar and Kokominjena.

The history of explorers, discoverers and the geographical site namesgiving.

The written history of Carpentaria Gulf and Cape York Peninsula region began with the early sistematic discovery expeditions of european explorers, so that the actual namegiving of geographical caracteristics dates mostly in that time. As originary `discoverer` or better said `first european who landed in Austalia` is seen Willem Jansz who sailed to Southeastasia serving the Dutch `VOC` (United Eastindia Company). Her reached Australia in 1606 on board of his ship `Duyfken` (Pigeon) at Carpentaria Gulf, believing to be still in New Guinee because he oversaw the existence of the Torres Strait. His registered landing site was the Pennefather River mouth at northwestern Cape York Peninsula.

The second registered european who reached the Carpentaria Gulf was in 1623 captain Jan Carstensz (Jan Carstenszoon) on board of the VOC ship `Pera` accompanied by the `Arnhem`. He charted part of the gulf`s coast and to him is attributed the naming of the `Staten River`, without mentioning it`s northern neighbour, the Nassau River, meanwhile other historical sources focus more the records of the abduction of indigenous habitants of the visited, charted and named region, commited by his crew under his command.

In 1644 and on his second expedition the also Dutch Abel Janszoon Tasman, commanding the ships `Zeemeuw`, `Limmen` and `Bracq` contributed widely to the completion of the charting of northern and western Australia, so that based on the dates of Tasman and Jansz in 1659 a first nearly complete map of the Netherland`s territories in South East Asia was composed by Willem Jan Blaeu that first mentioned an `Rivier Nassau` besides an `Staten Rivier` at the South West Coast of Cape York Peninsula. The map copied by Melchisedech Thevenot was published as
Hollandia Nova detecta 1644; Terre Australe decovuerte l'an 1644, in Paris in 1663 by l'imprimerie de Iaqves Langlois.

Hollandia Nova detecta 1644
by M. Thevenot 1663 based on W.J.Blaeu 1659

Hollandia Nova detecta 1644
Extract with registered Nassau River

The next systematic explorations of Carpentaria Gulf Coasts dates about 150 years later, when the french ships `Geographe, `Naturaliste` and `Casuarina` under Nicolas Baudin and Louis de Freycinet in 1800 as well as the british ships `HMS Investigator`, commanded by Matthew Flinders in 1802/03 followed by the `HMS Beagle` under captain John Stokes in 1844 touched the region. More exact and complete maps resulted from this explorations such as the `Map of Australia from surveys made by order of the British Government combined with those of D`Entrecasteaux, Baudin, Freycinet & c. & c.` composed by John Arrowsmith in 1838.

Map by John Arrowsmith 1838

Map by John Arrowsmith 1838
Section with Nassau River

Besides these popular well known seaside explorations of the australian coast only two historic landside expeditions brought registered informations about the landscape and ecology from the Nassau River region in Queensland. One is the first great expedition of Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt over 4.800 kilometers through the Australian Northern Territory from Moreton Bay to Port Essington in 1844/45. The german botanist and natural scientist registered and mapped in meticulous manner flora, fauna, geology and environment during his voyage that crossed the Nassau River, coming from the northern Mitchell River named in this occasion by Leichhard after the Scotish explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell, the 28th of June of 1845.

Nassau River surrounded by small lagoons aproximately where Ludwig Leichhardt and his companions Roper, Calvert & Gilbert established their camp at 28th of June 1845. Airview from Google Earth (Source - Fieldbook used by Dr. L. Leichhardt on his exploration journey from Moreton Bay to Port Essington 1844-1845 pages 37, 38 & 39 Album View)

The Nassau River itself is described by Leichhardt as `large creek` crossing `plains, open forestlands with lagoons full of fish and covered with broad leaves and showy blossoms of Nymphacea` giving `a great variety to this fine country, well adapted to the breeding of cattle and particulary of horses, so deficient of good timber`.

Map of the 1st Expedition of Ludwig Leichhardt 1844/45

The native population of the Nassau River region appear in Leichhardts descriptions as somewhat mystified `blackfellows`. Some days before arriving at Nassau River the expedition registered in an river bed several abandoned fireplaces of native Australians, surrounded by empty shells of fruits of a Cycas species. Another aborigene nutritional plant registered by Leichhardt in his travel diary (page 12) is a Nymphacea (Lotus) species flowering in the numerous water lagoons. Their seeds are characterized as repellent, their rhizoma described as `principal food of numerous blackfellows`, what inspired the investigator to name the country as `The Valley of Lagoons` and `The Country of Lotophagians`.

During the expeditions traverse of the plains between Mitchel River and Caron River three `intercourses` with natives are described by Leichhardt. The aborigenes of the third meeting near `Yappar` are caracterized (diary page 18) as `very friendly`, a fact that inspires in Leichhardt the evidence, that `they had never seen either Malays neither White Man before`.

The german botanist finally re-named the traversed coastland territory as `Nonda Country`, name deduced from the yellow-fruited Nonda-tree, one of the numerous arboreous species registered by him like Pandanus, Bloodwood, Tea-Tree-Grum, Rawsberry Yam, Ironbark, Gumtree (Eucalyptus) and the already mentioned Cycas Palmtrees beneath others.

The second mentioned expedition through the Nassau River region started 14th of May 1864, when Frank and Alexander Jardine left the town of Rockhampton in opposite direction as the former explorators on the Leichhard route northward. They must have reached the Nassau River about December 13 and 14 but even if several geographical characteristics in the area between Staten and Mitchell River are mentioned (Narrative of the overland expedition - Chapter III), the Nassau River itself isn`t described explicitely. Both brothers have been awarded by the National Geographical Society with the Murchison Award for the naturalist descriptions gained besides the cattle-trailing of 250 heads of cattle and 40 horses to Somerset, Queensland, even if a considerable loss of human lifes and animals during this `trip` was parallely mentioned.

Some notes about natural characteristics.

The Nassau River regions climate is classified as `Tropical Savannah Climate`. The winter season, when average lowest temperatures oscillate between 15 until 18 degrees C. during the month of June - September, has lowest precipitation rates of 2.5 - 4.4 mm per month. From December until March the precipitation oscillates between over 100 mm and until 400 mm. The mean maximum day temperature reaches over 30 degrees C. during all month of the year with an average of 33.2 degrees C., meanwhile at 85 days per year temperatures over 35 degrees C. are measured. The region belongs to the Tropical Cyclone-Storm Area.

Eucalypt dominated Savannah at Nassau River Plains
Image from Royal Geographic Society of Queensland

Some caracteristic plant species of the plains and floodlands have already been mentioned in this article. The existence of more seldom or unknown species suggests an complete botanical survey of the region to obtain more information about plants of medical and or agricultural significance. The caracteristic natural land fauna, consisting in Nailtail and Agile Wallaby, feral pigs, termites, several finch and parrot species is anthropogenic amplified by extensive raised cattle. The river and seashore fauna is more or less important in the estuary. Most important species of the Carpentaria Gulf seashore and floodland estuary is the Dugong as worldwide protected and extremely endangered species.

Dugong dugon (SIRENIA - Dugongidae)

The known fishes of Nassau River are mostly species that live in the estuary and flooded coastal plains, fishes that are adapted to brackish water of the mangrove swamp ecosystem, i.e. water of an oscillating degree of salinity as mixture of river water with ocean salt water.

Lates calcarifer (BLOCH, 1790)
Actinoperygii / Perciformes / Latidae
-->Silver Barramundi / Barra / Barramunda / Palmer / Giant Perch / Riesenbarsch
Sclerophages leichardti GUENTHER, 1864
Actinoperygii / Osteoglossiformes / Osteoglossidae

-->Spotted Barramundi / Southern Saratoga / Australian Arowana / Spotted Bonytongue / Gepunkteter Barramundi
Eleutheronema tetradactylum (SHAW, 1804)
Actinoperygii / Perciformes / Polynemidae
Fourfinger Threadfin / Threadfin / Blue Salmon / Riesenfederflosser

Scomberoides tala (Cuvier, 1832)

Actinoperygii / Perciformes / Carangidae
Barred Queenfish

Pomadasys kaakan (Cuvier, 1830)

Actinoperygii / Perciformes / Haemulidae
Grunter / Javelin Grunter / Queensland Trumpeter / Spotted Javelinfish

Neoarius graeffei (Kner & Steindachner, 1876)

Actinoperygii / Siluriformes / Ariidae
Blue Salmon Catfish / Blue Catfish / Salmon Catfish / Berneys Kreuzwels / Lachswels

The here given list is based on common fish names listed by the Dept. of Primary Industries and Fisheries of Queensland Government for the Nassau River fish habitat area.

In the etnobiologic fauna of the Nassau River region an reptile species is well known and of considerable mythological importance. The serpent isn`t yet described scientifically and probably will remain part of the oral tradtion also during the following decades. It`s indigenous name in Yir-Yoront language is Nhawrr Yirrpa what could be translated with `Rainbow Snake`. The animal appears with the beginnng of the monsoon rain season and to it`s arrival is attributed `the life` spended by the water to the dry lands. The rainfalls during the month of December until May can transform the roads through the region into impassable tracks so that certain settlements such as Kowanyama only maintain an connection to the other parts of Queensland by airports and planes. During dry seasons the roads from Chillagoe to Kowanyama and the `Burke Developmental Road` from Yagoonya to Dunbar / Maramie form the most important streets of the districts.

The Great Rainbow Snake
after Sonda Turner Nampitjinpa
Acrilic on fiberboard 18x11 in.
Copyright by Larry Brown NY 2005

Meanwhile the australian Nhawrr Yirrpa remains without aboriginal analogy in the scientific zoological world, an `Rainbow Snake` named serpent lives in the coastal plains of the United States of America. The Colubridae species known as Farancia erytrogramma is found in acuatic habitats such as cypress swamps, marshes and slow-moving streams from Southern Maryland to southeastern Louisiana, also in northern Florida, where the second river named `Nassau` exists, which will be described in another article of this series, that will be continued espontaneously.

For more complete and exact dates the redaction of CID Investigation - Oranges & Nassaus of the World Documentation Project is grateful.

7th of February 2010

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