We crossed the ford of the Normanby River, its clear, quiet waters portrayed a peaceful place. However, in the 1870s during the Palmer River gold rush, meetings between the miners and the local Aboriginal people in the area were anything but peaceful.
On 3 November, 1873, a group of miners camped above the ford. With the arrival of some local Aboriginals, twenty five of the miners’ horses disappeared After retrieving the horses, the Aboriginals approached the miners, giving the illusion of wanting to ‘parley’ or talk. Some miners reported at the time, that the meeting seemed peaceful, however, it deteriorated rapidly as the command was given to mounted riders to charge into the middle of the visitors. Grabbing their spears, the Aboriginals ran into the bush.
The miners moved south, unaware that approximately 500 Aboriginals were following them. While watering at the river, fresh footprints were discovered rapidly filling with water. This indicated to the miners that the camp was being observed and guards were put in place.
Early on the morning of 5 November, the Aboriginals were sighted, surrounding the miners’ camp. A pitched battle began, with the Aboriginals quite overpowered by the miners’ guns against their spears. Apparently unaware of the effectiveness of gunpowder over their primitive weapons, the Aboriginals suffered devastating losses. This is recorded as the only battle fought between the Aboriginals and the miners in which the Aboriginals formed ranks and charged in an organized formation. Future encounters would be conducted relentlessly in ambush and sneak attacks.