[hr]Weipa is one of the friendliest and most hospitable towns in the state, writes long time local Barra Dave. And don’t get him started on the fishing…[hr]
Where in the world is Weipa?
Queensland’s Gulf of Carpentaria coast, extending from its border with the Northern Territory to Australia’s most northerly point, Cape York, is 1479km long, represents 24% of the state’s coastline, and is sparsely populated.
With a population of approximately 3,500, Weipa is the largest of just three towns, the others being Karumba (population 600) and Bamaga (Northern Peninsula Area population 2300), that are situated along what is locally known as the Western Cape (Cape York Peninsula).
Weipa, nestled on the shores of Albatross Bay between the Embley and Mission Rivers, is the site of Rio Tinto Alcan’s mine reputed to contain the world’s largest bauxite deposit. Consequently the majority of the town residents are employed either directly or indirectly in the extraction/export process. Apart from the minor impact of mining and port operation, the coastline for hundreds of kilometres on each side of the town is subjected to no other primary or secondary industry except for limited grazing and commercial fishing and is usually considered to be in a near pristine state.
This effectively simplifies any management initiatives throughout the region being far removed from the complex land and coastal environmental issues impacting the eastern coast from Cooktown south to the New South Wales border.
The Western Cape and Cape York Peninsula (CYP) compares more favourably to the Northern Territory than other sections of regional Queensland, having a similar climate and sharing the coastline of a unique and extensive body of water, the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Seasons & access
Situated just 12.5 degrees south of the equator, Weipa has a tropical monsoon climate with two distinctive seasons: the ‘wet’ generally from late November to April, and the dry season from May onwards. The town has an average rainfall of 2007mm annually, most of which falls from December to March.
Vehicular access is via the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) from Cairns, an 840 kilometre trip that includes approximately 500 kilometres of unsealed gravel, and is usually limited to dry season access. Travel, once the road closes, is restricted to the regular daily air service or charter flights; the 580 kilometres direct from Cairns taking approximately an hour and a half by the Qantas Link Dash 8.
Freight is delivered by sea all year round, except during cyclonic events, but road transport is limited by the condition of the PDR. Local barge services supply outlying coastal communities when roads are impassable.
Weipa was established by Comalco to mine the extensive deposits of bauxite surrounding the shores of Albatross Bay in 1963. The area continues to be a major world supplier of this product under the current ownership of Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) with 26 million tonnes of ore reportedly shipped during 2013. As well as employing the majority of the town’s workforce, RTA Weipa also contributes large amounts to state and federal coffers, including $60 million in royalties, payroll tax, fringe benefits tax and indigenous agreement payments in 2008, as well as substantial port costs.
Most other large employers in town rely principally on contracts with RTA for a major part of their income with the result that their workforces can fluctuate substantially during periods of mine expansion and contraction.
The retail business sector, once heavily reliant on the current status of the mining economy, now has increasing revenue from tourism to thank for better viability, with an estimated 35-55% increase in turnover during the dry season months.
Being the major population centre of CYP, Weipa’s importance as a major hub for public services is steadily increasing. The building of a new hospital as well as a major expansion of facilities at the Western Cape College has also contributed to a marked rise in the number of ancillary workers being based in the town. A proposed new residential college, the Scherger Air Base and the imminent expansion by RTA south of the Embley are indicators that Weipa’s future is one of very significant growth.
The small, isolated community of Weipa has limited opportunities to engage in social venues that are normally associated with larger outback centres so its workforce relies heavily on outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, camping, hunting, horse riding, exploring, four-wheel driving and trail bike riding to satisfy their leisure time. It is vitally important that the quality of these experiences be preserved and even enhanced, if possible. All the major employers are well aware of this need and its importance in helping them retain and attract workers.
In terms of participation, recreational fishing is the number one activity and this, combined with an average household income that puts Weipa at the top of Queensland towns in terms of per capita earnings, has led to the centre having the highest level of boat ownership in the state with an estimated 70% of households owning at least one vessel. Boating and fishing provide an ideal environment for family groups to engage in a healthy and interesting outdoor pastime that actively involves all ages and often involves a plethora of educational opportunities, both practical and social.
A fascinating history
The following history of Weipa and the Cape York area has been kindly provided by Cape York Sustainable Futures.
Ancient Aboriginal history is recorded orally in the stories and ceremonies of the numerous clan groups of Cape York Peninsula. These tell of hunting, gathering and nurturing the land, sea and resources of the region. The oral history also records momentous events, such as rising sea levels, cyclones, droughts, fires and the arrival of the Europeans.
The earliest recorded contact between Aboriginal people of Cape York Peninsula and the European explorers occurred in 1606 when William Janz visited the Wik people at Cape Keer-weer, just south of the current day Weipa township.
From the latter part of the nineteenth century, many Aboriginal people moved to missions, with some of them moving hundreds of kilometres from their homelands and subsequently living on land belonging to other clan groups who spoke different languages. These moves were at variance with Aboriginal custom and caused hitherto unknown conflict over land use.
In 1955 a geologist, Harry Evans with the assistance of Aboriginal men Piiramu (George Wilson), Lea Wassell and Wakmatha (Old Matthew) discovered that the red cliffs on the Aboriginal reserve, previously remarked on by the early Dutch explorers and Matthew Flinders, were actually enormous deposits of bauxite – the ore from which aluminium is made – and to a lesser extent tungsten.
In 1963 the Aboriginal residents of Mapoon on the west coast were forcibly moved to a new place near Bamaga, which was called New Mapoon. Also in the mid 1960s, an opportunity was given to the people resident at Lockhart River Mission to move to the Northern Peninsula Area and a small number of people voluntarily established the new community of Umagico.
In 1988 a Deed of Grant in Trust was issued to the Weipa Aboriginal Council (now called the Napranum Aboriginal Community Council). Over the last two decades, relations between mining companies and Aboriginal peoples have improved, as evidenced by agreements entered into including the Western Cape Communities Coexistence Agreement which include royalties, employment and a framework for negotiations to be undertaken in collaboration with Traditional Owners.
Recent changes in Aboriginal and Islander land tenure legislation and recognition of native title have given indigenous people a stronger position relating to land use of Cape York Peninsula. Improvements in education and training including a new residential college adjacent to the Weipa’s Western Cape College, will increase opportunities for indigenous employment in the mine and other local businesses.
Weipa’s second most important industry is tourism, the importance of which is increasing with every new dry season. Aussies have a fascination with Cape York that has made it one of the country’s favourite ‘adventure’ tourism destinations and each year thousands of visitors make the journey up the Peninsula Development Road to the most northern Tip of Australia, many dropping in at Weipa along the way. This influx of travellers floods the camping ground and other accommodation providing an economic boon for local retail businesses.
With Weipa holding the reputation of being Queensland’s best fishing spot, it’s little wonder many of the tourists want to join the locals and wet a line while they are here. Many tow their own boats up the dirt but there are others who choose to take the easy option and fly up for a week or so to fish with the charter fleet that includes professional guides, mother ships and houseboats.[pullQuote]”The Weipa Fishing Classic is held every year over the June long weekend for three days of non-stop fishing action.”[/pullQuote]
Other activities available include mine tours, croc spotting and sunset cruises. While there are currently no scheduled bird watching activities, the Weipa area is host to many unique endemic and migratory species including the palm cockatoo, great billed heron and rainbow bee eater.[hr]
Weipa Fishing Classic
The Weipa Fishing Classic is held every year over the June long weekend for three days of non-stop fishing action.
The Weipa Fishing Classic is Cape York’s premier and most exciting fishing competition.
Local and interstate anglers compete for a record prize pool of more than $100,000!
And that’s just in the water – throw in activities for the kids, casting competitions, tug of war showdowns, live entertainment, dance groups, community displays, exhibits, food, drinks and you have got three days of non-stop fun for all the family!
Whether you’re a mad keen angler or just want to enjoy the weekend, the Classic has something for everyone – everyone has a chance of winning a prize.
The Classic is Cape York’s largest community event with approximately $150,000 given back to the community.
Each year, business and community groups embrace the event by sponsoring, volunteering or getting in the various activities, stalls and exhibits. The annual Fishing Classic is a great opportunity for local community and sporting groups to raise much-needed funds.
For more information visit:
Top Fishing Tops
The Weipa township is situated on a point, surrounded by two huge estuaries, the Embley River to the south and Mission River to the north. Also nearby is another large river system, the Pine. Anglers regularly marvel at the amount of readily accessible water for fishing close to the town boat ramps.
Barramundi is the species most sought by fishers heading north and Weipa’s rivers have this fighting fish in abundance, however there are also lots of other species to catch including mangrove jack, fingermark, threadfin salmon, estuary cod, grunter, queenfish, trevally and pikey bream. Much of the fishing is done using live baits such as mullet or garfish, while others prefer to cast lures or flies.
Weipa’s inshore waters are protected from the south east trade winds that blow in the dry season as these winds blow offshore, providing excellent conditions for lure and bait fishing in nearby Gulf of Carpentaria waters. Sportfishing for pelagic species such as tuna, mackerel, cobia, trevally and queenfish is proving extremely popular while the reef areas produce coral trout, fingermark, sweetlip, trevally, cod and black jewfish.
A number of options are available to anglers wishing to visit the Weipa area for its great fishing. Flying in for four to ten days to fish with one of the town’s reputable professional guides is very popular with those anglers keen to maximise their available time. As one of the longest established guides in the area, I’ve become used to seeing plenty of smiling faces at the airport on their way home, with many of them returning year after year.
Those wishing to DIY can still fly in and hire a vehicle and dinghy or make up a party for one of the town’s excellent houseboats. Accommodation is available at the Weipa camping ground, Heritage Resort, Albatross Bay Resort, Weipa Palms or the new fishing lodge. If you decide to drive, make sure your trailer is off-road capable and your gear is well packed to avoid damage on the corrugated roads.
The fishing season usually gets underway in late March, peaks from April to November, then slows down with the approach of the wet season. More information can be found on web sites like www.weipafishing.com or in Fishfinder magazine.
When setting out on a Cape York adventure please remember that various places on the Cape are classed as Traditional Aboriginal Land, Mining Lease, Pastoral Lease or National Park land, so permission or permits may be required before camping in some areas.
Camping areas may be closed from time to time due to traditional ceremonies, therefore, you should check with the issuer of the permit before going camping. Permits and information on areas surrounding Weipa can be obtained from www.weipatownoffice.com.
Weipa is approximately 800kms from Cairns, accessed by the Peninsular Development Road (PDR). It is possible to drive to and from Weipa but it is advisable to check the condition of the road prior to travelling, especially during the wet season. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for travel outside the Weipa Township.
It is also possible for you to barge your vehicle, by sea, from Cairns to Weipa while you seek other travel methods.
Most people travel to and from Weipa by air via a daily Qantaslink air service which connects with southern flights. The Weipa airport is located 15mins from the township. For more information and all airline bookings, contact the Weipa Airport on (07) 4069 7289 or visit this website www.qantas.com.
There are also several charter airlines which operate out of Weipa and are available for passenger and freight transport.[hr]
David Donald, known locally as Barra Dave, has lived and fished in Weipa for the past 18 years. He understands the waters of the Gulf better than most and knows where the fish are biting.
Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa
The mine is located on Western Cape York Peninsula. In 2013, the mine shipped a record 26.4 million tonnes of bauxite.
Three Aboriginal agreements underpin all mining operations and activities by Rio Tinto Alcan. These agreements provide economic, education and employment benefits, as well as cultural heritage support and formal consultation processes with the Traditional Owners of the land. Indigenous people make up around 22 per cent of the mine’s more than 1000 employees, with a long-term commitment from Rio Tinto Alcan to increasing the participation, retention and advancement of local Aboriginal people in its operation.
The Weipa operations consist of two continuous mining operations at East Weipa and Andoom, two beneficiation plants, 19 kilometres of railway to transport mined bauxite to the port area, and two ship loaders.
Some product is shipped to international customers but the majority of Weipa bauxite is supplied to the Queensland Alumina Limited and Rio Tinto Alcan Yarwun refineries, both located in Gladstone, Queensland.
- Employees (2013): 1100 full time employees
- Production (2013): 26.4 million dry product tonnes shipped
- Primary Markets: Rio Tinto Alcan’s Yarwun refinery in Glastone, Queensland Alumina Limited refinry in Gladstone and overseas customers
- Products: Metal grade bauxite
- Ore reserves: 3,860 square kilometres
- Ownership: Rio Tinto Alcan 100%