The Town

The Three Townships of Katherine

The Kath-rhyne 1

The original settlement of Katherine was known by its river (usually pronounced Kath – rhyne) and perched on its south bank at the ford now known as Knott’s Crossing. As early as 1870, when the first Overland Telegraph people arrived, there was a shack at the crossing belonging to Barney Murphy.

In 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line and Telegraph Station were established, and the population increased. A Post Office was opened at the station in 1883. By 1888 Barney Murphy had expanded his business to become the pioneer Cash Store and the licensed Sportsman’s Hotel.

Katherine Township 2

Between 1914 and 1917, a second settlement began to develop, 3 km downstream form the original settlement at Knott’s Crossing. It was called Emungalan (indigenous name for “Place of Stone”) and was the railhead for the North Australian Railway from 1917 to 1926.
After the town site was surveyed in 1917 the township quickly grew. Within a short time it had over 200 people. 90% of who were male. It consisted of a school, hotel, 3 saddlers, a blacksmith, general stores, ganger’s huts and a cattle yard. An airstrip was constructed just south west of the town and a racetrack was used for regular meetings.
There were a number of Chinese owned stores and the store operated by Charlie Rundle and Bernard was later transferred across the river to become Cox’s (Now Woolworth’s).
School, which was held in the railway station, closed every Friday due to the train arrival. The first teacher was Miss Ellen May Elliott and she had an average attendance of 8 pupils. The railway station also served as the unofficial Post Office. A Billiard saloon and dining room built by Tim O’Shea in 1917 served the local area though the premises were unlicensed until 1924.
In that year O’Shea built their licensed Railway Hotel. Police were stationed at Emungalan for a short time but were transferred back to the crossing. As there was no goal, prisoners and lepers awaiting rail transportation to Darwin, were chained to what is known as “Prisoner Tree”. Emungalan in 1925, the town’s population had dropped to 165. With the completion of the high-level railway bridge in 1926 the town eventually became a ghost town as residents moved across the river to the newly created township of Katherine.
Today little evidence remains on Emungalan except a small cemetery and a few scattered building remains.

Katherine Moves Yet Again – Township 3

The year was 1926 and once again Katherine was on the move this time from Emungalan on the north bank across the newly opened railway bridge to the south bank. On this site, the new town of Katherine had been planned and shops, hotels and residents moved in masses.

With the construction of the new railway station and facilities and the increased use of aeroplanes, Katherine became an important centre in a transportation network.

By 1930, the town was striving, but the depression was not far off. Soon the economy slumped, jobs became scarce and people moved on. The school was even forced to close for lack of students. Katherine remained in the economic doldrums until it was given new purpose and life ironically, by World War 2.

Telegraph Station
Telegraph Station
Emungalan School
Emungalan School
Township of Emungalan
Township of Emungalan
Emungalan Township
Emungalan Township
The First Township of Katherine
The First Township of Katherine

Katherine Today

Katherine is an attractive modern town situated by the permanent waters of the Katherine River, 300 km down the Stuart Highway from Darwin.

Traditionally it has been the service town for the large pastoral properties if the “Top End”. Cattle raising and horse breeding have long been important industries of the area. More recently Katherine has also become an important agricultural center for both cropping and market gardening.

Tourism has rapidly increased and is today Katherine’s largest industry. The main tourist attractions are the Katherine Gorge National Park (Nitmiluk), Cutta Cutta limestone Caves, Springvale Homestead and the Low Level reserve.

Other attractions of the region include the thermal springs and other features of Mataranka, the Elsey Cemetery, both south of Katherine, and the Edith Falls, north of Katherine.

The climate of Katherine is monsoonal with a short ‘Wet ‘ season from December to April, and a long ‘Dry ‘ season from May to November. Annual temperatures are quite high, the average maximum being 34.2 deg .C and the average minimum 20.3 deg. C.

The Naming of Katherine

Explorer John McDouall Stuart passed through the region in 1862 and named the river ‘Katherine’ after the daughter of his sponsor, James Chambers. Her name was actually spelt with a ‘C’.  It was never changed.

Our Traditional Owners

The first people to inhabit the Katherine region were the Jawoyn, Dogamen, Walpiri and Wardaman  Indigenous people. Nitmiluk Gorge was formally handed to the Jawoyn on the 10th of September 1989.

For further information click here.

Additional Information about Katherine

Select from the options below to view more:

Katherine Visitors Centre
Katherine Town Council

The Museum

Located only 3km from the Katherine Post Office on the way to Katherine Gorge is the fascinating Katherine Outback Heritage Museum - a 'must see' tourist stop to visitors of this region. Share our yesterday’s today!

Get in touch

20 Christie Road
Katherine NT 0850

P. 08 8972 3945
F. 08 8972 3946

Opening Hours

Opening Hours.

The Katherine Museum is closed during the wetseason. Follow us on Facebook for updates on events and re-opening hours.
For large group bookings please call 0889 723 945. 
For updates, check our Facebook page.

 Admission Fees Apply