Barrow Creek is a small settlement, on the Stuart Highway, about half way between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. It was named after John Barrow treasurer of South Australia, by explorer John McDouall Stuart in 1860 when he led a small party to Central Australia.
The area is home to the Kaytetye Aboriginal people who call the area Thangkenharenge. The buildings at Barrow Creek include the Hotel/Service Station, Telegraph Station and the Kaytetye Community Centre. A number of pastoral leases and Aboriginal communities are in the area. Mining companies are currently exploring the region for Tantalite, a rust preventative on steel.
In the 1870s Barrow Creek became the site of one of the repeater stations along the overland telegraph line. It was officially opened by Charles Todd in August 1872. Several morse code operators and a linesman lived there.
On the hot evening of Sunday 23rd February, operator James Stapleton took his violin and sat out the front of the telegraph station with staff and police trooper Sam Gason. Around 8pm a number of Kaititji warriors crept down the gully behind the buildings and attacked. John Franks was speared through the chest and died soon afterwards. James Stapleton, Ebenezer Flint and Jemmy, a young Aboriginal from South Australia were wounded. The men managed to get inside and close the courtyard gates. They gabbed their guns and fired a volley of shots, killing some of their attackers.
By morning Stapleton’s condition had worsened and in the afternoon his wife was called to the telegraph office in Adelaide. The badly wounded Stapleton was lifted to the key where he tapped out a message “God bless you and the children.” He died that night. The men’s graves can be seen there.
World War II
During World War II Barrow Creek was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies, which was known as No. 5 Australian Personnel Staging Camp. It was the first overnight stop on the northern trip from Alice Springs to Birdum.