Batchelor lies 98 km south of Darwin. It came to prominence with the discovery of uranium at Rum Jungle. Today it is the entrance to the magnificent Litchfield Park with its series of spectacular spring-fed creeks and falls.
The town was named after the South Australian Labour politician Egerton Lee Batchelor (1865-1911) who became Minister for the Northern Territory in 1911. The town was of little consequence until it became a large Allied airforce base during World War II. Prior to that it has seen brief periods of mining activity and at one point, in order to try and encourage settlement of the area, the South Australian government had given away blocks of land. At another time it was a centre for market gardening when Chinese gardeners moved into the area.
Batchelor's moment of glory occurred in 1949 when Jack White discovered uranium at Rum Jungle. Mining in the area began in 1952 and the town grew rapidly during the early 1950s. The mine was closed in 1963 and the uranium treatment plant closed down in 1971.
Today, with a population of 358, the town's survives on tourism (particularly as a major access point to Litchfield Park) and the Batchelor TAFE, a unique residential tertiary college specifically catering for Aboriginal students.
Things to do
11 km to the north of Batchelor is the area known as Rum Jungle. The origin of the name 'Rum Jungle' is unclear. There are at least three stories, equally hilarious, vying for credibility. One argues that the area got its name because a group of teamsters, taking rum to the miners at Pine Creek, managed to drink 80 gallons of their cargo while passing through the area. Another, as recounted by Jessie Litchfield in her Far-North Memories, suggests that the area got its name 'because a party of government officials once went there on important departmental business. They were lost among their empty bottles, and a relief party was sent out to show the way to go home'. A version recounted by the Northern Territory Historical Society claims that the local hotel keeper once ran out of all liquor apart from rum when there were a lot of campers around. The campers were all forced to drink rum leading to one man remarking 'This is a rum place to camp at'. Either way Rum Jungle acquired its name through some incident where rum was drunk to excess.
Rum Jungle came into existence in 1872 when the Overland Telegraph construction party found gold at Yam Creek. The first miners arrived in the area after trekking down the road made by the telegraph parties. It subsequently became a popular resting place for teamsters because the area had good feed and water. In 1874 a Mr Lithgow built The Rum Jungle Hotel out of rough timber and sheets of stringy bark. The completion of the railway from Darwin to Pine Creek led to the demise of the hotel which was closed down in 1889. During its brief fifteen year history the hotel saw one teamster killed when he accidentally drank carbolic acid thinking it was rum, another teamster was killed after an argument about a game of cards, and in 1884 the teamsters massacred an undetermined number of local Aborigines (men, women and children) to revenge the deaths of four white prospectors at the Daly River copper mine.
The town, thinly disguised as Black Adder Creek, appears in Xavier Herbert's novel Capricornia. Herbert worked in the area as a railway fettler in the 1920s.
Rum Jungle Mine is not open to visitors.
Apparently the town was revitalised for tourists but some 4WD 'hoons' drove in and damaged the area so it was closed and locked. There are moves by the Batchelor Tourist Association to open Rum Jungle to conducted tours. For further information ask as the Rum Jungle Motor Inn in Batchelor.
The area's newest tourist attraction is Litchfield Park which, if its roads are upgraded and its development controlled, could well rival Kakadu. Certainly its falls, and the swimming holes at the base of the falls, are more accessible and equally as attractive as those at Jim Jim in Kakadu. Already the Park, which is only 2 hours drive from Darwin, is becoming a popular weekend drive for the locals. The picnic area at Wangi Falls, with its large natural pool, its interesting walking trails, and its twin falls, is an ideal place for a day out. There is a real feeling of being in a tropical paradise. The vegetation around the falls is thick and luxuriant and the water is beautifully clear.
For more information check out: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/litchfield.html