Nature, culture and history
Barron Gorge National Park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450 km between Cooktown and Townsville. Consisting of nearly 900,000 ha, vegetation is primarily tropical rainforest, but also includes open eucalypt forest, wetlands and mangrove forests. The WTWHA meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. These criteria recognise the area’s exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species. The WTWHA also has cultural significance for Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
Find out more about the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
The park encompasses a diversity of plant communities stretching from the coastal lowlands to the valleys and mountains on the Atherton Tableland. The area, however, is renowned for its tropical rainforests along with the seasonal rain and mist upon which it depends. Other plant communities in the park include open woodlands, with groves of she-oaks, found on the foothills and upland slopes. Grassland patches grow on the coastal foothills and adjacent to the railway line. Patches of upland heath are restricted to the plateau and peaks.
Mammals found here include striped possums, long-tailed pygmy-possums, Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos, musky rat-kangaroos and spotted-tailed quolls. Insectivorous bats occur in the park along with flying-foxes, notably the distinctive spectacled flying-fox. Egg-laying mammals, the platypus and its prickly relative, the short-beaked echidna, also live in the park.
Birds and butterflies are abundant, flying between and within the different vegetation communities. Vibrant rainbow and scaly-breasted lorikeets screech in the treetops. Quieter emerald doves can be seen on the forest floor. The distinctive 'wallock-a-woo' call of the elusive wompoo fruit-dove echoes down from the rainforest canopy. Australian brush-turkeys and orange-footed scrubfowl scratch around on the forest floor. Both birds use leaf litter to build huge nesting mounds. The imposing flightless southern cassowary also inhabits the park, and plays a vital role in distributing the seeds of rainforest trees, by feeding on a variety of rainforest fruits. The brilliant blue Ulysses butterfly and the vivid green of the Cairns birdwing butterfly provide flashes of colour among the trees.
The landscape of Barron Gorge National Park began to form about 400 million years ago under the sea, when Australia was still part of the great super-continent, Gondwana. Ancient rivers carried sediments to the coast, which was then more than 100 km west of its present position.
Earth movements at the edge of the continent uplifted and compressed the sandwich of sediments and volcanic rocks, forming the metamorphics—low-grade slates, greywackes and siltstone. Subsequently, the Barron River eroded areas of weakness and a deep gorge was formed. Where the underlying rock was more resistant, the river water tumbled over the sharp edge to form a broken waterfall more than 250 m high.
Culture and history
The Djabugandji Bama (Aboriginal people) are the Traditional Owners of the area known as Djirri Nyundu Nyrrumba, which includes Barron Gorge National Park
On 17 December 2004 the Federal Court of Australia handed down the Djabugay people's native title determination over Barron Gorge National Park. This is the first park in Queensland to have a native title determination. The determination recognises the interests and rights under customary law and tradition that already exist. A formal Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) has been registered to ensure that park management and native title interests are properly integrated.
The Traditional Owners ask that you take care and respect their country during your visit. Find out more about the culture and country of the Djabugay community.
Gold rushes in the 1870s drew thousands of prospectors from all over the world to the region. Cairns was founded as a port and the Douglas and Smiths tracks were established through Barron Gorge as the first links between the goldfields and the port. Miners even fossicked in Barron Gorge itself—remains of mining shafts and diggings can still be found.
Valuable red cedar, known as 'red gold', was logged in the Barron Gorge in the 1880s and sometimes sent down the river—over the falls! It became obvious that a better means of transport for timber and also minerals, produce and cattle was needed. The Barron Valley was selected as the site for a rail link to the Atherton Tableland. This formidable task was undertaken between 1886 and 1891 by 1500 men in steep, rocky terrain, dense forest and seasonal wet weather conditions. Incredible by today's standards; much of the original construction work was done by hand.
A small hydro-electric station, the first underground power station in Australia, was built in 1935 to harness the immense force of water surging over Barron Falls. It was replaced by the Barron Gorge Hydro-Power Station further down the gorge in 1963 after the construction of the Tinaroo Dam upstream on the Barron River. Only by a release of water or during flood events can tourists today have some idea of the former grandeur of the falls.
From the late 1800s the network of tracks was adopted by gold miners, cattle drovers, timber haulers and railway workers to cater for drays and pack-horses. Evidence of these past users can be seen along the tracks—Aboriginal nut cracking stones, miners' bottle dumps and the remains of shanties and rail workers' camps.
- Safety advice: electrical tower works, McDonald and Douglas tracks, Barron Gorge National Park 9 July to 30 November 2021