In 1929 an unkind journal described the area around Mataranka and Birdum in rather uncomplimentary terms - "... one of the most desolate places in the whole Territory; in the wet season it is a sea of mud, inhabited by sarcastic frogs and vicious mosquitos, and in the dry it is hardly even a place within the meaning of the Act. It is simply a wilderness but it isn't paradise... why anyone should want to go there at all is a mystery."
The Northern Territory 'top end' can be an unsympathetic landscape and pioneering settlements like Mataranka must have seemed uncivilised places compared to the luxury on offer in Darwin or Adelaide.
The same article describes a series of uncommon deaths - " The Reaper has been busy again. This time it was Joe Gaynor, the well known Katherine Blacksmith. Joe went to bed hale and hearty and was found dead in the morning. It is a remarkable fact that semi-invalids often reach a ripe old age while powerfully-built men fall by the way. Joe Gaynor was one of the most powerfully built men in the North. Len Adams, another Hercules, dropped whilst speaking to a friend. Paddy Ryan - a six-footer - was found dead in his bed at Warlock. Ryan and Gaynor were a little over 50; Adams only 40."
Malaria, typhoid, smallpox and the associated dysentery that accompanied these diseases was rampant around the turn of the 20th century and isolated places like Mataranka were even more susceptible.
Early visitors to the region need only have looked 10km east of the Mataranka townsite to find the tropical oasis's that helped bring a touch of comfort to an otherwise harsh environment. Bitter Springs and Rainbow Springs are commonly known as Mataranka Hot Springs and together form the major tourist drawcard for the region. These thermal springs flow at a constant 32-34°C and the crystal waters are home to abundant birds, turtles and fish.
The springs are part of Elsey National Park which features the Roper River as the major geological feature. The area is also famous for being the setting for Jeannie Gunn's autobiographical novel -'We of the Never Never'. A replica of the Elsey Station homestead was built for the filming of the 'Never Never' movie and remains at Mataranka today. Another Australian classic was filmed around Mataranka in the 1950's. Scenes from 'Jedda' were shot here. Jedda has a 'Romeo and Juliet' like plot starring two aboriginal actors who abscond through the wilds of the Northern Territory outback.
The first pastoral claim in the Mataranka area was made as early as 1879 when Abraham Wallace drove 2800 head of cattle onto what was to become Elsie Station. The railway threatened to make it to Mataranka but eventually finished at Birdum, 80km south. The 'Elsie Inn' was built around 1927 and is today known as The Mataranka Hotel.
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