Avon Downs Police Station
Avon Downs is situated on the Barkly Highway, approximately 415 kilometres east of Threeways and 70 kilometres west of Camooweal.
There is no infrastructure whatsoever at Avon Downs. No service station, motel, hotel or shop just the Police Station complex - which is a bright and attractive complex with excellent facilities.
Electricity is provided from generators at the station. Members are responsible for the general servicing and maintenance of these generator sets. One set is 150 kva while the other is 85 kva.
Domestic water is supplied from a bore, which is 122 metres deep. The water is rather brackish and contains high levels of calcium. It is fine for showering and washing, but barely suitable for gardening. There is an electric submersible pump down the bore with an automatic float switch in the tank. This switch engages the pump when the water level is reduced. The bore provides (2.5) litres per second, which is ample water for this complex.
The drinking water is supplied from rainwater tanks situated at various positions around the complex.
There is a large area of lawn, which is constantly in need of maintenance. Most of the planted lawn is signal grass, with a large percentage of natural couch grass.
A septic system services all buildings. The waste water is pumped to an open pit on the north western side of the complex, where the water is evaporated. This is due to the black soil of the Barkly area having poor infiltration qualities. Each septic tank is fitted with an electric submersible pump, which can give problems at times. People are discouraged from tipping fat, tealeaves and solids into the system.
A general handyman approach is needed at the station. It is too distant from immediate assistance, so it is generally up to the members to fix items, to maintain some quality of life. It is an unwritten rule never to dispose of anything useful, as it may just be what is needed to fix something else!
Members are required to become Special Constables in the state of Queensland. Throughout the year, members are called upon to help the Queensland members in Camooweal and Mt Isa Rodeo. Members have a good rapport with their Queensland counterparts - which should maintained at all times, as we all help each other in times of difficulty.
The workload of the Avon Downs Police Station is largely impacted upon by the seasonal cattle industry and tourism. About March each year, an influx of new station staff arrive on the Tablelands. The new arrivals require Northern Territory drivers licences, vehicle registration and shooter's licences.
The cattle season lasts through to November/December each year. Once the cattle season is over, the Barkly Tablelands becomes a rather lonely neighbourhood.
Avon Downs has started a local initiative, where a 'litterbag' of information on Territory roads, general information and good driving tips is handed to tourists entering the Northern Territory. This initiative has been well accepted by the public.
Overtime at this Station is limited. Patrols are conducted of the District so as to be cost effective. Gone are the days when money was no object and overtime endless.
Because of the nature of the work at Avon Downs, a give and take attitude has been adopted.
Should members wish to undertake study of some form while at Avon Downs, it is an opportunity too good to be missed. During the latter part of the year, the workload becomes such that allows time for this endeavour.
Avon Downs has an annual budget of over $93 000. As with all Sections and Departments, this finance has to be accounted for and the Officer in Charge is accountable. While this figure may seem extraordinary, the main cost is in providing fuel for the generators, and as such, expenditure must be kept to a minimum.
The people situated around the Barkly area are generally good people, very friendly, but they keep to themselves. Cattle stations dont constantly require police attendance and are happy with the three visits each season.
Good community relations are encouraged at all times with the local people. While some of these people may not be well educated, they are very astute and good judges of character. They dont suffer fools easily.
Avon Downs is proud of its heritage and its standing within the Police Department and with the local population.
The Barkly Highway at the front of the complex is an excellent carriageway, averaging eight metres in width. The highway deteriorates rather drastically when you cross the Queensland border; however, work is currently under way to realign this portion of highway.
The cattle industry has the greatest impact on police duties, particularly during the cattle season which brings the workers into town in droves. In late February to early March, many new staff arrive in the District to start the cattle season on the various stations.
Avon Downs has reduced the patrol system to three major patrols annually, of all cattle stations. This is due directly to financial reason.
Motor Vehicle Registry duties are an important part of this Police Stations routine, as with Firearms and Clerk of Courts duties.
Public relations play a very important part in the harmony of this Police Station. It is the first, or last, depending on direction of travel, Police Station for many people travelling in the Northern Territory.
A common occurrence is to have older people call in stating: "I didnt think you would get many visitors here, so I thought we would just stop for a yarn!"
Because of the nature of the Avon Downs Police District, there is often extended travel required.
The Police Station is basically situated on the eastern side of the District, and to effectively police the area, members are often away from the station for varying periods of time.
Prior to 2 October 1963, the Avon Downs Police District was known as the Rankine River Police District. This old complex is still much as it was, and is set on the banks of the Rankine River on the Barkly Stock Route.
On 2 October 1963, the complex was handed over to the Animal Industries Branch - now Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries - for use by the regional Stock Inspector of the time. The new one-man Police complex was opened at its present site some 100 metres north of the Barkly Highway at the James River.
This complex served the Police Force well until 1980 when, due to constant movement in the black soil of the Barkly Tablelands, the buildings became beyond repair, and the current complex was established.
Avon Downs has by far the most up to date Police complex in the Northern Territory for two staff. It was established in 1980 and opened in 1982 by (then) Chief Minister Paul Everingham.
It was designed as the turn-around point of the Police Highway Patrol scheme however, due to the financial costs involved in providing this service, the Highway Patrol scheme was abandoned. About 1982, the Avon Downs Police Station became a two person station. This was due to Anthony Lagoon and Lake Nash Police Stations being closed and their areas absorbed into the Avon Downs Police District.
Permanent Police presence on the Barkly Tablelands was first established in about 1958 when an area of two acres and three roads was surrendered by the Peel River Land and Mining Company for the sole use by the Government of the time to establish a Police Station. This was on the Rankine River.
The need for a permanent Police presence on the Barkly Tablelands was first noted as early as 19 January, 1911 when Mr. Thomas Guthrie, the founder and original occupant of Avon Downs Station, wrote to the Secretary of the Interior, Department of External Affairs in Melbourne:
Guthrie was particularly concerned with a common horse thief, Paddy Lemmy. Although Lemmy died before he could be brought to justice, he was credited with the theft of over 1000 horses which he was selling in South Australia and Adelaide for ten pounds per head.
The original Avon Downs Station was an area of 2300 square miles. Guthrie first stocked it with 14,500 sheep. In time the flock grew to over 70,000. In 1919, the sheep were disposed of through a clearing sale and cattle introduced in large numbers.
It was found the black soil downs of the Barkly Tablelands were unsuitable for sheep as there was excess foreign matter - grass seeds and dust - contaminating the wool. All sheep were hand shorn with manual shears and the wool was washed, sun bleached and scoured adjacent to the billabong behind the current Avon Downs Police Station. This paddock is still referred to as Washpool.
Surface water was also a major problem affecting the livelihood of the sheep industry. The creeks and rivers on the Barkly Tablelands would dry up during the summer, leaving the sheep with little or no water.
Bores were put down and good quality water was located. However, in the Barkly Tablelands region, there is no artesian water supply, and another problem arose: getting the water from the bores to the surface.
Dozens of steam engines were brought out from England on ships, and distributed around the Tablelands to pump the water from the bores. Therein arose another problem. The graziers were carting wood up to 25 miles to feed the fires in the steam engines. This method was proving costly and labour intensive. Then, along came a very new invention - the windmill. Diesel Kubota engines have now replaced windmills, as wind to drive the windmills is provided only when God feels the need.
Many old rusting steam engines are still visible across the Tablelands. They are put to a variety of uses, from mailboxes to curio pieces at different cattle stations.
Avon Downs Station today boasts an excellent herd of 14,000 Santa Gertrudis breeders. The Australian Agricultural Company, which was purchased by the Elders Group in 1995, now owns the station. The AA Company also owns Brunette Downs Station, Austral Downs Station and Rockhampton Downs Station in the Northern Territory. All stations are excellent grazing properties, consisting mainly of open rolling downs country, grassed with Mitchell and Flinders grasses. These grasses are very high in protein, even when dry, and will fatten cattle throughout the year.
Other cattle stations on the Barkly Tablelands are Alexandria Station, owned by the North Australian Pastoral Company, Alroy Downs, Rocklands, Lake Nash and Georgina stations owned by Standbroke Pastoral Company and Anthony Lagoon and Eva stations, owned by Heytesbury Pastoral. There are a few privately owned stations, such as Mittiebah and Benmara stations. Walhallow station is owned by Prudential Insurance Company.
The soils are mainly a black, self-mulching soil - it ploughs itself over a period of 12 months. The country is interspersed with the odd stony ridge and most, if not all, contain large deposits of surface ribbon stone.
Once wet, the soils become very sticky and totally impassable. If not boggy, the soil will stick to vehicle tyres and build up under the wheel arches, and eventually the vehicle will not move.
Avon Downs Police Station is on the banks of the James River, 50 kilometres west of the Queensland border on the Barkly Highway. The Police District is one of the largest for two members to police. It covers an area of about 147,000 square kilometres, from Benmara Station to Calvert Hills in the north, Brunette Downs and Rockhampton Downs Stations to the west and Lake Nash and Georgina Stations on the Sandover Highway to the south.
In all, there are 15 large cattle stations to be taken care of throughout the year, with a large Aboriginal community (population of about 700) at Alpurrurulam. Alpurrurulam is a 1000 acre excision from the Lake Nash station and was commenced in 1982. There are a number of smaller Aboriginal communities being established at No. 47 bore - Alexandria Station - Connells Lagoon, Corella Creek, Alroy Downs Station and adjacent to the old Frewena Roadhouse site.
In an attempt to draw a mental picture of the areas covered by this Police Station, Alexandria Cattle Station covers 4.8 million acres, Brunette Downs Station 3.4 million acres and Avon Downs Station 1.4 million acres.
The main Barkly Highway and the Tablelands Highway dissect the district and vehicles of all types travel these roads. With the establishment of the Macarthur River Mine at Cape Crawford, there are many road-trains and tourist coaches on these Highways at any given time.
There is 640 kilometres of bitumen surface carriageway policed from Avon Downs.
The population of Avon Downs is eight at present, consisting of Police and families. In 1997, the Regional Stock Inspector transferred to Elliott, as the Tick Line from the Northern Territory through to Queensland moved from the border to Mt Isa.
The population of the District however varies throughout the year. It is generally agreed that there are about 350-500 non-Aboriginal and 800 -1000 Aborigines within the District.
The cattle industry and annual cattle season directly affect the population. Commencing late February to early March there is an influx of seasonal station staff. All of these people are from interstate and will require drivers licences, vehicle registrations and firearm licences to be transferred to the Northern Territory.
Alpurrurulam, pronounced Al-purr-rule-am, has a steady population of around eight hundred (800) people, however, this number varies greatly throughout the year with many transients staying at the community for short periods.
There are approved grants in place to establish 40 new homes at Alpurrurulam within the next three years.
It is well known amongst the Aboriginal people that Alpurrurulam is a safe, quiet and good place for older people to live. The Georgina River lagoons are next to the community and fishing and hunting are popular activities for these people.
There is an Aboriginal Community Police Officer at Alpurrurulam, who works with the Night Patrol to create a good family atmosphere. Little trouble is experienced from Alpurrurulam as the community has been encouraged to accept more responsibility and become more autonomous.
Because of its proximity to Mt Isa, Alpurrurulam often becomes a haven for people wanted for various matters in Queensland. Police from Camooweal and Dajarra in Queensland become Special Constables in the Northern Territory. This alone solves many problems.
Larger cattle stations have a small population of Aboriginal people, however, station managers always look after their own problems and very rarely are police called to the stations. The managers deal with minor indiscretions.
Other Population Groups
Because of the excellent highway system the Northern Territory has established over recent years, many travellers use the Barkly Highway from other States. These people are mainly Australians escaping the winter months in southern States; however, there is a marked increase in European people to these areas.
These people will travel on bicycles, motorbikes, in older motor vehicles and modern hire cars. It is not uncommon for them to experience some difficulty and call at the Police Station seeking fuel, minor repairs, windscreens, tyres, food, water, or advice on how far it is to Ayers Rock!
Two hundred kilometres west of Avon Downs is the Barkly Roadhouse, at the junction of the Barkly and Tablelands Highways. This premises offer limited mechanical repairs, fuel, food, refreshments and accommodation in the form of motel units to camping sites and caravan park facilities.
The climate on the Barkly Tablelands varies throughout the year. During the summer months the temperature can reach 50 degrees with hot north-westerly winds. During the winter months, a cold south-easterly wind blows through the plains at an average of thirty-two (32) knots. The temperature in the winter can reach the minus's.
The area receives an average of 300 mm of rain annually. Usually, this starts in February and ends in March. Storms can be experienced as early as October, bringing with them lightening strikes which cause fires within the surrounding district. Members can expect to find themselves alongside fire station staff fighting these fires on occasions.
Local flooding can be experienced during February/March, and major disruption will occur to road traffic, particularly at the Georgina River crossing at the border.
During these months police receive dozens of telephone calls, seeking up to date advice on present road conditions. This is mainly due to the fact that prior to 1980, when the Barkly Highway was an old winding road with many creek crossings, the road was impassable many times during rain. It is not uncommon to receive calls also, requesting information on the road conditions eight months hence!
During the hotter months, it is advisable to wear protective clothing, as the heat and wind can cause considerable discomfort with sun, as well as wind burn. It is advisable to carry fresh water in Police vehicles when carrying out patrols.
Industry in the District
The most common industry in the District is, no doubt, cattle, with associated industries such as road train operators, helicopter and fixed wing contract mustering operators.
There has been a significant increase in tourist coaches on the Barkly Highway in recent years, and it has become common practice for some of these coaches to stop at the Police Station and seek information relating to the district as well as the most commonly asked question - Why is there a Police Station here?
No regular air services operate within this District. There is a weekly air service to most cattle stations from Mt Isa for delivery of the mail.
There is a private airstrip of one thousand (1000) metres, three (3) kilometres east of the Station. The Police aircraft, as well as the RFDS use this strip when carrying out medical evacuations. It has been provided with flares for evening operations, kerosene flares are held at Avon Downs cattle station and battery operated ones are held at the Police complex.
Commercial air charter companies are located at Mt Isa, 265 kilometres from Avon Downs, and Tennant Creek provides a feeder service to the major capitals.
Each day, four coaches pass the police station from either Tennant Creek or Mt Isa. General freight can be placed on these coaches and it will be delivered at the front gate.
Other freight services are trucking companies such as TNT, Liddell or Shaws Transport.
Banks and Banking
There are no banking or passport facilities at Avon Downs. Camooweal, 70 kilometres to the east, has a Commonwealth and Westpac agency and the Shell and BP Roadhouses have EFTPOS facilities. It is recommended that a cheque book/account or telephone banking system be privately established for payment of normal accounts.
Major banks are situated in Mt Isa and Tennant Creek.
Personal shopping is usually carried out in Mt Isa or Tennant Creek in conjunction with a vehicle service of one of the Police vehicles.
Tennant Creek has a supermarket, butcher, chemist, newsagent and various other stores. Mt Isa has a number of speciality shops as well as a K Mart Plaza, which incorporates a Coles Supermarket. There is a newly renovated Woolworths store.
Emergency shopping can be carried out by facsimile to either Coles or Woolworths in Mt Isa or Tennant Foodbarn in Tennant Creek. They will freeze perishables and forward them out on one of the coaches.
Fresh fruit and vegetables is best ordered through Lamberts Produce in Mt. Isa. The service and quality are excellent and they will put your fruit and vegetables on the bus for you.
Fresh milk can be obtained through Mt. Isa Malanda by the crate (9 x 2lts) and will be brought out in a refrigerated truck once a week (or on whatever basis you set up). This works out cheaper than buying the milk in Camooweal.
There is a butcher in Camooweal however Mt. Isa Butchers will pack your order into family lots, freeze it down and freight it out to you
There are small Uniting and Roman Catholic churches in Camooweal, which are visited by a Minister every month. Australian Inland Missions has a permanent representative in Camooweal.
The Police Chaplain is based in Darwin and visits the region twice yearly. He generally is happy with a cup of tea and is a likeable fellow with plenty of stories about the bush.
There are limited recreation facilities at Avon Downs. There are various water holes in the rivers within the district, but most dry up around October, and are often muddy.
There is at Junction Water Hole, Big Hole and the Rankine River. Spotted Perch and Yellow Belly are common in the rivers with the odd Catfish. Keen fishermen are advised to travel to Lawn Hill or Riversleigh for good fishing.
There are no areas suitable for shooting as all paddocks are stocked with cattle and managers are loath to allow shooting.
BBQ and general get togethers with the staff from Avon Downs station, Soudan station, and various residents of Camooweal are generally good fun and enjoyed by all.
In June each year, there is the annual ABC races on Brunette Downs Station. This meeting is over four days and is similar to the Birdsville Races. It is the only time of year that station staff gets four days off. The behaviour of these staff can be a problem; however, the individual managers and head stockmen generally keep their own staff under control. Avon Downs police perform crowd control duties, however, very little trouble is reported.
Also an annual event, Avon Downs Police Station hosts a cricket match between Camooweal and the Barkly cattle stations. Mt Isa Police also participate and money is raised for the RFDS, the Mt Isa Police Youth and Citizens Club, and the remainder goes towards the Comooweal and Brunette Downs Rodeo's. It is a great social event attracting participation by Territory police from Darwin to Tennant Creek, as well as the Cattle Station workers from around the local area.
Avon Downs cattle station boasts an official cricket ground, complete with concrete pitch, members' stand and toilets.
Both accommodation buildings at Avon Downs are equipped with a satellite dish receiver and a decoder unit, compliments of the Police Department. These facilities are excellent for receiving the ABC from Adelaide and Darwin and Imparja from Alice Springs.
The decoder units are fitted with outlets for connecting to a stereo unit for radio reception. It is mostly the ABC from Darwin. Very overcast and rainy weather affect the reception, but this is a small price to pay for the benefit of year round reception.
Video cassettes can be hired privately from Tennant Creek or Mt Isa. The videos are delivered by coach to this Station and returned in a similar way.
The Avon Downs Police Station has a Royal Flying Doctor Service white box. This medical kit contains all relevant drugs and equipment to treat most ailments. It also contains a diagram of a body to either fax or phone a doctor, who will talk the First Aider through treatment of a patient.
Every Tuesday, the RFDS holds a clinic at the Camooweal Base Hospital. This clinic is from 8.30 am to 12 midday. They also bring out a Paediatric Nurse for baby/infant immunisations and consultations.
Dentists visit Camooweal once every three months and other specialists visit during the year. Camooweal hospital always advises when these visits are happening so you can make appointments as necessary.
The hospital at Mt. Isa is very efficient and fully equipped, on a par with most larger city hospitals. Anything they are unable to handle is transferred to Townsville.
There is a Director of Nursing and qualified nursing sister permanently on staff at the Camooweal Base Hospital. These people are very qualified in treatments of various conditions, and liaise directly with the RFDS in Mt Isa for transport of seriously injured patients. There is also an Ambulance stationed at the Hospital.
The Avon Downs Police Station staff has built up a tremendous rapport with the RFDS in Mt Isa, and they are always ready to attend to vehicle accidents and other injured /ill people.
Pharmaceuticals can be obtained from Menzies chemist in Mt. Isa or Tennant Creek Pharmacy and they will be sent out on the bus services. In an emergency Camooweal Clinic will try to assist.
The closest Post Office is in Camooweal. Avon Downs buys money orders from the Post Office at the end of each month, so as remittances can be forwarded to the various other Departments.
Stamps are held at this station and supplies purchased from the Post Office in Camooweal.
Incoming and outgoing mail from is forwarded through Tennant Creek Post Office.
Tennant Creek Post Office will accept parcels with no postage on it and advise cost to you through prior arrangement.
The current contractor, Greyhound Coaches, delivers the incoming mail at 3.30 am every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday morning.
Outgoing mail can be placed in the mailbox at the front gate for pick up prior to 1pm each weekday.
This is as per the Police Determination.
Avon Downs has the Fares Out of Isolated Localities (FOILS) entitlement, and is as per the Determination.
There are no hairdressers in the Avon Downs area. Mt Isa and Tennant Creek have hairdressers and barbers.
Library books can be forwarded on the coach from the Tennant Creek Library however, make sure you are a member of the library first.
Alexandria Station offers a small library in the form of soft cover novels. Once again, it would be the responsibility of the individual member to arrange this loan of books.
Newspapers and magazines are the responsibility of the individual member. Tennant Creek Newsagency is only too happy to provide such items on account.
Other magazines and papers can be obtained from the Camooweal Shell or BP Roadhouses.
Aboriginal Land Permits
Alpurrurulam and the Nicholson River area, are the only fully developed Aboriginal excisions in this District.
No entry permits are needed for either area, or to enter these communities. Alpurrurulam is situated on the last leg of the Sandover Highway, before entering Queensland, and fuel is often supplied to the travelling public.
Alpurrurulam is a dry area within the meaning of the Northern Territory Liquor Act. Nicholson River is generally inaccessible to the general public.
Bulk diesel fuel is supplied to the station from the current contractor, BP Tennant Creek. One Police vehicle is fitted with a diesel engine. The other, a Falcon station wagon, is unleaded. Fuel is held in 200 litre drums in the workshop. The only other petrol required is for the lawn mower, and this is purchased on VMO from Camooweal in jerry cans.
This Station holds up to 16,000 litres of bulk diesel fuel at any given time.
Private fuel supplies are arranged through Camooweal. In the event of travellers running out of fuel, Camooweal Shell Roadhouse will forward a jerry can of fuel on the next road train.
The accommodation supplied at Avon Downs is excellent. The home supplied for the Officer in Charge is a large three-bedroom house, fitted with ceiling fans and reverse cycle air conditioners. It has a child proof fence and a concreted verandah on three sides. The window glass is tinted to keep out the glare during the summer months.
A tool shed, laundry and carport are situated on the eastern end of the dwelling.
The home also boasts a large pantry, refrigerators and freezer. There is no bath as such, however, the shower well is suitable for bathing children.
The second members accommodation is a large three-bedroom house with a large pantry, air conditioning, a stove, refrigerator and freezer. There is a breezeway at the front and an enclosed verandah at the rear.
This dwelling is also supplied with a satellite receiver and decoder unit for television reception.
There is also a smaller two bedroom house on the western side of the Police property. This home was used by the Police Trackers for accommodation, but is now occupied by the Aboriginal Community Police Officer. Three VOQ's (Visiting Officers' Quarters) are often used by travelling Police members and also used as emergency accommodation for vehicle accident victims.
The Police complex is fitted with a Commander NT telephone system. There is a hand set in the lounge room and bedroom of each house, and several other sets around the office.
An intercom is incorporated into the system between all extensions.
There is a public telephone at the front of the complex. While
it is for the general publics use, it is the responsibility
of a nominated member or wife to empty the coin tray and bank the
contents. Ten per cent is allowed for this exercise, however, it
is generally more trouble that it is worth.
There are no schooling facilities available at Avon Downs. School of the Air is available from Alice Springs or Mt Isa, and the Northern Territory Secondary Correspondence School provides an excellent service for senior students.
Remote Area Family Services (RAFS) visits the area every couple of months and conducts playgroups.
Creche's and playgroups are available in Mt. Isa for use by remote area families on a temporary basis, (i.e. when you go in shopping). These facilities are excellent and inexpensive.
There are no jobs in the Avon Downs area for wives or partners. The odd casual employment is available in Camooweal during the tourist season however, with travelling expenses, this is thought not viable.
Partners are encouraged to have hobbies and personal interests, otherwise boredom can easily set in with disastrous results, however, they will often be called upon in the event of a disaster, to assist with the operation of the Emergency Operations Centre and First Aid, if qualified.
Partners are also expected to work together to assist with morning teas and lunches when visiting officers arrive for inspections or official visits.
On the occasions that the members are called away from the station, or extremely busy, partners are required to answer telephones and assist as best they can. Travellers frequently call in requiring information and assistance.
Numerous officers, other Government workers and VIPs either stay overnight or call in and it is hoped that partners assist in welcoming these people.