Physical information

General description

Area: 53,710 km²
Population: 12,000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012)

The Daly region is located in the Top End of Australia, approximately 200km south of Darwin (Figure P1). Katherine is the major population centre in the region. Other townships include Daly River and Pine Creek.

The boundary of the region is physically defined by the Daly River surface water catchment (Figure P2).

Figure P1  Location map of the Daly region in Australia
Figure P1  Location map of the Daly region in Australia

Figure P2  Contextual map of the Daly region
Figure P2  Contextual map of the Daly region

All major rivers of the region flow into the Daly River. The Katherine River is the main tributary to the Daly River, while the Flora, Fergusson, Edith, King, Dry and Douglas rivers are also important contributors. To the east of the region, in the upper reaches of the Katherine River, is the Arnhem Land Plateau (indicated by the dark brown shading in Figure P2). The Daly River discharges into the Timor Sea in the northwest of the region.

Key groundwater stores within the region include the Oolloo, Jinduckin and Tindall aquifers. These aquifers discharge into many of the rivers within the region, providing dry season flow for parts of the river system and some culturally significant springs. Consequently, these rivers have strong environmental, cultural and recreational significance. The aquifers are also a source of public and water for self-supply.

The Daly region primarily contains areas of conservation and pastoralism, but is also an important area for tourism. The Daly region also contains large areas of Aboriginal freehold land. There are at least 11 discrete groups of Aboriginal people within the Daly River Catchment region. These include: Wadjigiyn; Maranunngu; Malak Malak; Kamu; Warai; Nanggiwumerri; Wagiman; Wardaman; Dagoman; Jawoyn; Yangman.

Description of the region

The Daly region is physically defined by the Daly River catchment boundary and includes all water resources within or beneath the physical area.

The region includes water stored in and transactions related to:

  • surface water storages in the region
  • rivers within the region
  • groundwater aquifers beneath the region.

The Daly region excludes water stored in and transactions related to:

  • water held in pipes and infrastructure of the urban water system;
  • off-channel water storages and rainwater tanks, such as farm dams and private commercial water storages used to harvest runoff or collect rainwater; and
  • water held in the landscape, such as soil moisture.

For more information regarding items in this water accounting report, please refer to the Water accounting policies note.

Land use

There are several towns in the Daly region of which Katherine is the regional centre. Other towns include Pine Creek and Daly River (Nauiyu).

Over one third of the population of the Daly Region is Indigenous. Table P1 shows total population and Indigenous population as reported in the 2006 census. The population includes people whose traditional country is in the Daly Region and Indigenous people who have moved to the region for economic and social reasons.  The Indigenous population is often underrepresented in census data because of the challenges of recording populations in remote regions (Sullivan and Stacy 2012).

Table P1 Population statistics for the Daly River Catchment area based on 2006 ABS Census data

Total Population
Indigenous population
Pine Creek
Daly River (Nauiyu)
Hayes creek

Table P2 shows land tenure in the Daly region in 2004. Pastoral lease holds the majority of land tenure at 45% of total area and there is a range of Aboriginal land tenures in the Daly Region. The Table P2 shows that 37% of the total area is held in some form of Aboriginal tenure.

Table P2  Land tenure in the in the Daly region 
Terms of Reference Area
Area (km2)
Total (%)
Pastoral lease
Aboriginal Land Trust
Crown lease perpetual
Vacant crown land to be granted as Aboriginal Land Trust Land
Freehold (excluding Aboriginal Land Trust land)
Aboriginal Land Trust
Crown lease term
Vacant crown land
Special purpose lease
Source: Daly Region Community Reference Group 2004

In the Ooloo Aquifer planning area 24% of land ownership is recognised as Aboriginal Land Trust land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. While current Aboriginal land ownership in the Tindall Aquifer plan area is 1 % the outcomes of two registered native title claims may significantly influence the extent of landownership in the future (Water Allocation Plan for the Tinall Limestone Aquifer, Katherine).

Land use in the Daly region includes:

  • conservation
  • pastoral grazing
  • horticulture
  • recreation
  • cultural uses.

The major land use activities in the Daly region are shown in Table P3 (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences 2010). Figure P3 shows the distribution of these land uses.

Table P3  Major land use activities in the Daly region

Land use activity

Area (km2)

Total area (%)


Conservation and natural environments






Dryland agriculture






Irrigated agriculture





Other intensive uses






The Daly region has been recognised both for its high conservation values as well as its potential for further development in the areas of agriculture and mining. There are several national parks in the region including Litchfield National Park, Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park, Nitmiluk Gorge, Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park and Douglas Hot Springs Nature Park. These areas provide environmental and cultural value as well as being popular for tourism, fishing, camping, bushwalking and other recreational activities.

Pastoralism, primarily beef cattle grazing, occurs extensively in the area. Horticultural crops grown in the region include sorghum, peanuts and mangoes. Mining occurs sporadically throughout the region with several mines near the Pine Creek township including the decommissioned Mt. Todd gold mine, Frances Creek Iron ore project and Union Reefs.

  Figure P3  Map of land use in the Daly region
Figure P3  Map of land use in the Daly region

Significant aquatic ecosystems

The Daly region contains three important wetlands as identified by the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields project (Knapton et al. 2010) as shown in Figure P4:

  • Daly-Reynolds Floodplain-Estuary System: a major floodplain-tidal wetland system with the largest catchment of any major freshwater floodplain system
  • Daly River Middle Reaches: a permanent freshwater river
  • Katherine River Gorge: a major permanent river-pool system situated in one of the largest gorges in the Northern Territory.

Each of these wetlands is home to a variety of aquatic and birdlife, providing dry season refuge for waterbirds including magpie geese, herons and allies.

Figure P4 Map of significant wetlands in the Daly region
Figure P4 Map of significant wetlands in the Daly region

Significant indigenous cultural places and practices

The Creation Story of the Wardaman mythology attributes the waterscapes of the country to the creative powers of the Rainbow Serpent (Jackson, 2004). The Dreaming also established the law on which behaviour, rights, responsibilities and values are based (Cooper and Jackson, 2008). Such beliefs are common to Indigenous people of the Daly region.

The rainbow serpents are recognised by Jawoyn and Wardaman religious traditions as being 'important and potentially-dangerous creation-beings' that reside in 'permanent deep green pools, at springs, and at locations underground, particularly those associated with underground water'. They are believed to be the drivers of the hydrological cycle and bringer of the monsoon floods (Cooper and Jackson, 2008).

The quality of water as 'living' or as having 'life-giving' qualities is conveyed through Dreamtime stories. A Malak Malak story about the Dreamtime origins of the Daly River reveals the way in which flowing water is considered to provide the basis for life and dispense collective good and well-being (Jackson, 2004).

Many of the sacred sites in the Daly River region are associated with rivers, tributaries and dependent ecosystems such as billabongs. Sacred sites are landscape features 'created either by the metamorphosis of Dreamtime figures into rocks, boulders, trees, etc., or by the action of such an ancestor, or ancestors, sometimes when interacting with each other'. Some of those ancestors were species that would automatically associate with water: black water hens, barramundi, frogs, freshwater sharks, crocodiles or bamboo. (Jackson and O'Leary 2006, citing Northern Land Council 2004). Significant sites include 'rivers and creeks and their associated features, including gorges, waterfalls, plunge pools, waterholes, billabongs and springs, and areas away from river and creek beds such as seasonally inundated swampy areas and isolated rockholes and springs' (Cooper and Jackson, 2008). The Daly River itself has been described as a 'significant ceremonial track' (Jackson and O'Leary, 2006).

Significant cultural water sites falling under the definition of sacred site are protected under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 and Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act(Northern Territory) 1989.The Oolloo water-planning area includes 576 sites, of which 91 are recorded sites, 242 are registered sites and 243 are place names or archaeological sites (Northern Territory Government, 2012a).

Cultural practices and responsibilities relating to water in the Daly Region include:

  • Talking to country;
  • Watering strangers and others;
  • Restricting behaviour and activities (such as swimming or fishing) at certain water sites;
  • Protecting others from harm by taking measures to prevent strangers from accessing or behaving inappropriately at sacred sites;
  • Looking after and maintaining significant cultural sites (Cooper and Jackson, 2008).

The extensive ethnobiological knowledge of the Malak Malak and Matngala from the Daly region has been documented (Jackson 2004). This study described the use of a diversity of plants, animals and fish as well as fishing practices and land management activities. The Daly River Fish and Flows project similarly documented the extensive knowledge of Traditional Owners in the Daly region of species and their environmental interactions. This included species sensitivity to changes in water quality and quantity (CSIRO, 2007).

Water resources

Surface water (rivers) and groundwater are the primary water resources in the Daly region. Both water resources are used to support the main water users in the region, including public water supply and individual users in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The water resources are described in more detail in the Surface water and Groundwater sections below.

Surface water


The Daly River and its tributaries is one of the Northern Territory's largest river systems and one of the few in northern Australia to have perennial flow. The main tributary of the Daly River is the Katherine River. Other important tributaries are the Flora, Fergusson, Edith and Douglas rivers. The King and Dry rivers, located in the southern part of the region, have large catchments but are in a lower rainfall area and contribute little to the dry season flow of the Daly River (Faulks 1998).

Seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the Daly region reflect the annual rainfall pattern of the region. Most of the rainfall occurs during the wet season (November–March). Consequently, most of the streamflow within the region occurs between January and May (Figure P5). The location of the two gauging stations used to represent the general seasonal flow patterns of the Daly region in Figure P5 are shown in Figure P6. There are other gauging stations in the Daly region though they are not shown in this map.

Figure P5  Mean monthly flows along the Katherine and Daly rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Daly region
Figure P5  Mean monthly flows along the Katherine and Daly rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Daly region

Figure P6  Location map of gauging stations along the Katherine and Daly rivers within the Daly region
Figure P6  Location map of gauging stations along the Katherine and Daly rivers within the Daly region

The Katherine River headwaters are formed in the high relief sandstone escarpment country of the Arnhem Land Plateau, approximately 150 km upstream of the town of Katherine. The river drops down from the escarpment through a series of sandstone gorges, which make up the Katherine Gorge, before reaching the lowlands upstream of Katherine. Approximately 60 km west of Katherine, the Katherine and Flora rivers join to become the Daly River, which continues westward for 354 km before entering the Timor Sea at Anson Bay (Faulks 1998).

Water from the Tindall Aquifer discharges into many of the rivers within the Daly region, including the Katherine, Flora, and Douglas rivers (Groundwater in the Daly Basin, 2009), and provides flow into the rivers throughout the dry season. The perennial rivers of the region support endemic wildlife, irrigation development and domestic and stock use, and are of high cultural and heritage value. Dry season flow is mostly dominated by input of groundwater from the two underlying limestone aquifers, Tindall and Oolloo, which also have an intervening siltstone aquitard.


Copperfield Dam is the only storage in the Daly region. The dam is used for public water supply to the nearby town of Pine Creek (Figure P7). It was originally developed for water supply to nearby mining developments. The capacity of the Copperfield Dam is approximately 500 ML (see line item 1.1).

Figure P7  Map of major storages in the Daly region
Figure P7  Map of major storages in the Daly region

There are also two weirs along the Katherine River, both located upstream of the town of Katherine at Knott's Crossing and Donkey Camp Pool respectively. These weirs were developed for surface water supply access to Katherine.


Underlying the Daly River surface water catchment are the Daly Basin aquifers, made up of four layered geological formations. The upper most aquifer is the Florina and is the youngest and smallest of the four. Below the Florina formation are the Oolloo, Jinduckin and Tindall aquifers (Figure P8).

Figure P8 Map of groundwater aquifers in the Daly region
Figure P8 Map of groundwater aquifers in the Daly region

Both the Oolloo and Tindall aquifers are made up largely of limestone and are majorly fractured and cavernous. Large volumes of water can be stored within the fractures of these types of geologic formations and water flows relatively easily through them resulting in the potential to extract water from these aquifers at high rates of 50L/s or more (Tickell 2009).

The Tindall Aquifer is confined by the Jinduckin and Oolloo Dolostone formations as water does not infiltrate through them to the Tindall Aquifer. Recharge to the Tindall Aquifer only occurs in areas where it is in direct contact with the ground surface (e.g. near Katherine). These areas are described as unconfined zones of the Tindall Aquifer (Tickell 2009). The Jinduckin formation is made up of siltstone, which is largely impermeable to water.

Other water resources and systems

There are no other water resources, such as recycled wastewater, in the Daly region.