Fitzroy Basin

The Fitzroy Basin region is over 156,000 square kilometres in size and supports significant agricultural and mining industries. It’s both the largest river basin to flow into the iconic Great Barrier Reef lagoon, and the largest river system to drain Australia’s east coast.

Where is the Fitzroy Basin?

About half-way up the coast of Queensland, adjacent to the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef marine park, is the Fitzroy Basin. Taking in most of the region known as central Queensland, the basin encompasses six major river systems running through an area of just over 140,000 square kilometres. The catchment stretches from the Carnarvon Ranges in the west to the river mouth in Keppel Bay, near Rockhampton.

Rockhampton is the only major city with a population of around 65,000 located along the banks of the Fitzroy River near its delta. To the north, the basin includes Nebo and communities along the Isaac and Connors Rivers. It includes creeks that originate just past Emerald to the west. It extends south to land that drains into the Dawson River, which flows through the town of Biloela and smaller rural communities like Wowan and Injune, more than 500km south of Rockhampton.

It’s a big area and Fitzroy Basin Association works across its vast reaches to promote sustainable planning, farming and the protection of special places and species. Communities within the coastal areas that border the basin and within the catchments of the Boyne and Calliope Rivers are also supported by Fitzroy Basin Association. In total, Fitzroy Basin Association coordinates activities across 156,000 square km. This includes 125 islands of the Capricorn Coast.

Major rivers of the Fitzroy Basin

  • Connors River joins the Isaac River, both rivers start in the north of the basin
  • Nogoa River originates out west and combines to form the Mackenzie River
  • Dawson River starts in the south-west of the basin in the Carnarvon Range
  • Fitzroy River is formed where the Mackenzie and Dawson Rivers meet

How big is the Fitzroy Basin?

The Fitzroy Basin in central Queensland is 142, 665 square kilometres in size. It is the largest catchment draining to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

  • More than 20,000 kilometres of waterways flow through the Fitzroy Basin, all tributaries feed the mighty Fitzroy River which flows out to sea near Rockhampton.
  • When rain falls in the western-most part of the basin and flows into the Nogoa River, it will travel about 960 kilometres to reach the mouth of the Fitzroy River.
  • The Dawson River is the largest tributary of the Fitzroy River at about 650km in length.
  • The amount of water that flows from the Fitzroy Basin into the ocean each year is about 4800 gigalitres. One gigalitre (1000 million litres) is enough liquid to fill about 444 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

What are the main industries and features?

Around 230,000 people live and work in the communities of the Fitzroy Basin. Agriculture is the major land use, up to 90% of the landscape is used to produce food and fibre. Local grazing and farming enterprises are worth $1.2 billion annually to Queensland’s economy. The region includes 40 of Queensland’s 55 coal mines – a multi-billion dollar industry.

We’ve got mountain ranges, native grasslands, brigalow forests and internationally significant wetlands all teeming with wildlife, some only found in this part of the world. Running through these landscapes and funnelling into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon is a massive network of rivers and streams: more than 20,000km of waterways. Everything in the Basin is connected by and relies on this water.

What is a river basin?

A basin is also referred to as a catchment. Like the name suggests, a basin or catchment ‘catches’ water and funnels it towards a drain. When rain falls on the landscape, some of it is absorbed by the soil for plants to use, some evaporates. The remainder runs across the surface and is funnelled by natural land formations into streams, wetlands and rivers. A basin encompasses the land and waterways that channel water to a common end point.

All water that falls in the landscapes within the Fitzroy Basin eventual reaches the Fitzroy River which flows into to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

Where does the Fitzroy River start?

The Fitzroy Basin’s namesake, the Fitzroy River, is formed by the joining of the Mackenzie and Dawson rivers at Duaringa.

The Fitzroy River was named by explorers Charles and William Archer in 1853 in honour of Sir Charles FitzRoy, Governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Queensland did not become a separate colony until 1859.

Where does the Dawson River start?

Dawson River originates in the Carnarvon Range and flows south-east for approximately 650 km where it meets the Mackenzie River to become the Fitzroy River, north of Duaringa.

The towns of Baralaba, Theodore and Taroom lie on the banks of the Dawson River. Several weirs have been constructed along the river to provide water for cotton and dairy farming in the region. The area was explored in 1844 by Ludwig Leichhardt, and the river was named for Robert Dawson, one of the expedition’s backers.

Where does the Great Barrier Reef start and finish?

The Great Barrier Reef’s northern end begins just south of Papua New Guinea. It includes more than 3000 separate coral reefs and some 900 islands extending along Queensland’s east coast. The reef’s southern end is near Lady Elliott Island, north-east of the city of Bundaberg or Rules Beach on the coast. So the total length of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is about 2,300 km, or 1,430 miles.

What is the plan for protecting the basin’s natural assets?

Central Queensland is experiencing profound change in industry, land use, community and climate. Planning allows us to capitalise on the opportunities while managing risks.

The Central Queensland Sustainability Strategy 2030 (CQSS:2030) draws on the best available knowledge so we can work together to protect our natural assets: it’s vital for our region’s continued balanced growth. CQSS:2030 provides a blueprint for how we can work together to better manage and protect our natural assets.

What are Australia’s other important river basins?

One of Australia’s largest and probably most talked-about river basins is the Murray-Darling Basin, located in the south-east of Australia covering 1,061,469 square kilometres – that’s 14 per cent of the country’s total area.

At 1,200,000 square kilometres in size, Lake Eyre is Australia’s largest endorheic basin, which means it retains water in a closed system. The basin does not drain to a river or the ocean – instead water evaporates or seeps into the ground.