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In the 1870s a telegraph station was built on the site of the present town of Karumba – this was during the gold mining boom in the Gulf. The overland telegraph line ran to the Gilbert River, Mt Surprise and on to the more populated centres on the East Coast. Initially the settlement was known simply as Norman Mouth being at the entrance of the Norman River into the Gulf waters.

In 1937 the Flying Boat service operated by Qantas and BOAC established a base in Karumba to accommodate and refuel the Short Sunderland aircraft on their routes to London. The port then served as an RAAF Catalina base during WWII – the Catalinas operated from Karumba into the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), New Guinea and Timor. Parts of the infrastructure still exist today.

Karumba Flying Boat Base

By 1954 Lloyd Clarke pioneered fishing in the area and was soon exporting over 130,000 lbs (58,967 kg) of barramundi and king salmon from the Gulf. Clarke was the first person to fish commercially in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In the 1960s and 1970s the town became the centre for the Gulf fishing industry. Today it is still home to extensive prawn, mud crab and the barramundi fishing fleets.

In 1976 the biggest flood in living memory caused huge damage to the town.

1974 Floods

Waymark Hotels, a privately-owned Australian hotel and property group, acquired Sunset Tavern in 2023. Waymark’s heritage has been built over a period of more than 60 years, originating in the Northern Territory and Queensland outbacks. Waymark Hotels has been leading projects that have brought vital infrastructure and amenities to communities since the 1950’s.