Toonooba (Fitzroy River)
The Fitzroy River passes through Rockhampton before discharging into Keppel Bay. It is becoming increasingly known as Toonooba, a Yetimarala word of the local Darumbal tribes which means ‘big river’.
The Fitzroy River catchment area contains extensive tributaries and wetlands, including eight other rivers and twenty-eight major watercourses that eventually flow into the Fitzroy. Hence, it is the second-largest river catchment area in Australia, and by far, the largest outflow on the east coast of Australia.
The river system is a hugely important habitat for many species of animal and plant life. Saltwater crocodiles inhabit both the salt and freshwater sections of the river and many of its upstream tributaries for several hundred kilometres, particularly the Dawson River. Bottle-nose dolphins and dugong are found near the river mouth.
The purpose of this article is to focus on the lower reaches of the Fitzroy, i.e. the last fifty or so kilometres of its length, from Six Mile to Keppel Bay, around twenty kilometres south of Joskeleigh.
Approximately two kilometres upstream from Rockhampton City, is a barrage built in 1970, designed to drought-proof Rockhampton and provide irrigation upstream, and also to help with flood mitigation. Above the barrage is fresh water. Water sports such as rowing, kayaking and skiing are popular.
Below the barrage is tidal and salt. Large rocks are visible at low tide, which prevented early attempts to navigate large vessels upstream, and also gave Rockhampton its name, i.e. a Hampton (village) of rocks.
This lower section of the river is extremely popular for fishing and crabbing, particularly barramundi. Annual competitions are held and fishing charter boats are plentiful. The river is host to quite a large number of permanent and semi-permanent house boats.
For the keen explorer, further downstream can be found the odd WW2 remnant from US encampments on both sides of the river at Thompson Point and across the river near Midgee. These lower sections of the river have seen a stead rise in population in recent years with people building sensible and simple properties designed to survive the Fitzroy’s reasonably frequent flooding.
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Andrew Thompson, editor | historian