Johnstone River

The Johnstone River, comprising the North Johnstone River and the South Johnstone River, is a river system located in Far North and North Queensland, Australia.

North Johnstone
South Johnstone
Johnstone River at Innisfail, 2006
Location of Johnstone River river mouth in Queensland
EtymologyRobert Johnstone, a colonial Native Police officer
RegionFar North Queensland, North Queensland
Physical characteristics
SourceAtherton Tableland
2nd sourceNorth Johnstone River
  coordinates17°25′24″S 145°31′25″E
  elevation760 m (2,490 ft)
3rd sourceSouth Johnstone River
  locationbelow Mount Father Clancy
  coordinates17°35′37″S 145°36′32″E
  elevation755 m (2,477 ft)
Source confluenceSouth Johnstone River and North Johnstone River
  coordinates17°31′25″S 146°02′1″E
  elevation1 m (3 ft 3 in)
MouthCoral Sea
between Flying Fish Point and Coquette Point
17°30′39″S 146°04′36″E
0 m (0 ft)
Length200 km (120 mi)
Basin size2,320 km2 (900 sq mi)
Basin features
  leftNorth Beatrice River, Ithaca River
  rightDowney Creek
WaterfallsMalanda Falls, Jones Falls, Binda Falls
National parksElla Bay, Eubenangee Swamp, Herberton Range, Japoon, Malaan, Moresby Range, Palmerston Rocks, Topaz Road, Tully Falls, Tully Gorge and Wooroonooran

The headwaters of the river system rise in the Atherton Tablelands. The north branch of the river system rises below Merivale, flows over the Malanda Falls and through the town of Malanda and then flows generally south by east, around Francis Range and over the Jones Falls, before flowing east, covering a distance of 114 kilometres (71 mi). The south branch of the river system rises below Mount Father Clancy, southwest of Mungalli, and generally flows east over Binda Falls, through the settlement of South Johnstone, before flowing north, covering a distance of 88 kilometres (55 mi). The two rivers reach their confluence to form the Johnstone River east of the town of Innisfail, and just 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) west of the river mouth. The main river then flows east, north of the Moresby Range National Park, and empties into the Coral Sea.

Together, the combined rivers flow over 200 kilometres (120 mi) from source to mouth and descend approximately 760 metres (2,490 ft),[1][2][3] with a catchment area of 2,320 square kilometres (900 sq mi).[5] Crocodiles swim & live in all areas in the Johnstone River and swimming is not recommended in any part of the river.

Course and features

The North and South Johnstone Rivers rise in the tablelands of the north tropical coast and flow through steep narrow gorges to their junction on the coastal plain at Innisfail. The head waters of the catchments are located in high rainfall areas and the rivers are capable of producing severe flooding, especially in the Innisfail area. The North and South Johnstone Rivers have a combined catchment area of about 1,600 square kilometres (620 sq mi) at Innisfail;[6] with the North Johnstone being the larger of the two with a catchment of about 1,030 square kilometres (400 sq mi).[7][8]

Major tributaries of the river system include the North Beatrice River and the Ithaca River that both flow into the North Johnstone River. This branch is the longest and its catchment is drawn from the Malanda Falls Conservation Park, and the following national parks: Ella Bay, Eubenangee Swamp, Herberton Range, Japoon, Malaan, Palmerston Rocks, Topaz Road, Tully Falls, Tully Gorge and Wooroonooran.[8] Malanda Falls is located in the upper reaches of the North Johnstone River. Downey Creek is the only major tributary on the South Johnstone River.[4]

There are no dams or reservoirs in the catchment area. However water is taken from the river for town water supply, dairy farming and sugar cane production.[4]

The river is subject to periodic flooding[6] (On the 8th of March 2018 the Johnstone burst its banks cutting off Innisfail from Cairns) popular for white-water rafting, and other tourist activities.


1872 map of the Gladys River (Johnstone River) showing Mamu settlements

The junction of the two river branches is considered to be a sacred area to the indigenous Mamu people.[9]

The area was first identified by colonial Europeans in 1872 by Captain John Morseby during the search for survivors of the shipwreck Maria, when he named the river the Gladys .[10] Later, in 1873, Dalrymple renamed the river after Sub-Inspector Robert Johnstone while he was on an expedition searching for an alternative port for the Palmer River goldfields. Robert Johnstone was along on both trips as the sub-inspector in charge of the Native Mounted Police at Cardwell.[11]

In 1881 the first sugar cane plantation and mill were established at Innisfail after G. E. Dalrymple reported suitable land on the Johnstone River.[12]


The Jubilee Bridge was built across the river at Innisfail in 1923, replacing a ferry service. The old Jubilee Bridge was closed on 21 May 2010 after a review found the bridge to be unsafe.[13] A new bridge was opened on 2 September 2011 with a ceremony attended by the then Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, Queensland MP Curtis Pitt and local Mayor Bill Shannon.[14]

The opening of the railway bridge across the North Johnstone river at Daradgee in December 1924 provided the final link in the North Coast railway line from Townsville to Cairns.[15]

The North Johnstone River also has two crossings on the Bruce Hwy and Shaw Rd.

See also


  1. "Map of Johnstone River, QLD". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  2. "Map of North Johnstone River, QLD". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  3. "Map of South Johnstone River, QLD". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  4. "Basin & Surface Water Management Area: Johnstone River". Australian Natural Resources Atlas. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. Archived from the original on 22 June 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2009.
  5. "Johnstone River catchment". Fisheries Atlas. James Cook University. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  6. "Johnstone River Flooding". Flood warning system. Australia: Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  7. Michna, Paul (2015). "Background to Flood Study: Johnstone River Flood Study". Earth Science Australia. Australia. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  8. "North Johnstone River drainage sub-basin — facts and maps". WetlandInfo. Australia: Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland Government. 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  9. Flynn, John (24 July 2010). "Innisfail split in half". The Cairns Post. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  10. ""Bortle Frere" Talks of". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Vol. LXXII. Queensland, Australia. 22 February 1952. p. 5. Retrieved 4 January 2021 via National Library of Australia.
  11. "NORTH-EAST COAST EXPEDITION". Rockhampton Bulletin. Vol. XIII, no. 1951. Queensland, Australia. 23 April 1874. p. 5. Retrieved 2 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  12. Munns, Cec F.; McLay, A.; Sparkes, J.; Logue, W.; Paul, S.; Short, B. (1987). The way we were. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria: Brooks Waterlook Publicaters. p. 274. ISBN 0-85568-507-7.
  13. Mawer, Jessica (21 May 2010). "Jubilee Bridge to close tonight". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  14. "Innisfail's Jubilee Bridge is Open to Traffic". Cassowary Coast Regional Council. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  15. "A Chronology of Innisfail and District, Far North Queensland". Leslie's Legends. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
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