Alfred Giles and family, with Springvale Homestead in the background, 1894
The town of Katherine, often called The Kath-er-ine by the locals, is located on the banks of the great Katherine River. This river can rise nearly 20m in the Wet, creating flooding in the town but also, over millennia, the scenic gorge in nearby Nitmiluk National Park.
Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. Nitmiluk National Park is Aboriginal land but open to visitors and contains many rock art sites, and other sites of cultural significance to Jawoyn Aboriginal people. The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service, under the guidance of the traditional owners through the Nitmiluk National Park Board, administers the Park.
The original Overland Telegraph Repeater Station was located at Knott’s Crossing. Springvale Homestead originally managed by Alfred Giles, who worked on the Line, is the oldest original homestead in the Territory dating back to 1879.
Before a bridge was built across the Katherine River, a small town called Emungalan was located on the northern side. In 1923 construction on the Katherine railway bridge began which was completed in 1926. Most of the residents of Emungalan then moved to the southern side of the river where the town of Katherine now stands.
During the war, the Australian Army set up two hospitals there as well as Katherine Area Headquarters. On 22 March 1942 Katherine was bombed by Japanese aircraft and one man killed.
The land around Katherine is very fertile and has been used extensively for agriculture, including the growing of fruit and vegetables, in the pre- and post-war periods.
Most famously of all, Jeannie Gunn popularized the region in the iconic novel of the Northern Territory, We of the Never Never. The grave of her husband, Aeneas or the ‘Maluka’, who died after of malaria in 1903, remains at nearby Elsey Cemetery close to Elsey Station.