Aurukun Shire Profile

The Aurukun shire is a very remote area of Queensland which is starkly different to most other Queensland shires. Its community is among the most disadvantaged in Australia but it has outstanding potentials for growth and prosperity.

The shire comprises some 7,500 square kilometres.  


The community of Aurukun is located on the north-west coast of the Cape York Peninsula, 178km (2hrs 30mins) by road south of the mining town of Weipa and 811km (11hrs) from Cairns. Nearly the entire population (99.6%) lives within the township.
The shire has an area of 7500 sq. km. and is bounded by the Holroyd River and Pormpuraaw Deed of Grant in Trust lands to the south, Cook shire and Archer Bend National Park to the east, the Gulf of Carpentaria to the west and Cook shire to the north. It has about 107 km of Gulf of Carpentaria coastline.


The Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA) rates Aurukun in the highest category of remoteness. Aurukun is rated as:

5. Very Remote (ARIA score greater than 10.53 to <=15) – very little accessibility of goods, services and opportunities for social interaction.

The ARIA rating is based on road distance. It does not recognise: the low rate of vehicle ownership in the community; the half year annual road closures due to flooding and also cultural barriers limiting residents’ access to goods, services and opportunities for social interaction.
The alternative to road access, air travel, is expensive.

    Aurukun is a Welfare Reform Community

    Aurukun is one of only four Welfare Reform Communities in this state. Possession of alcohol within the shire is illegal and Family Income Management is applied to families who do not satisfy certain criteria related to child care, home maintenance and good order.

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    Aurukun experiences extreme heat and has an annual wet season with very high temperatures and rainfall. The average maximum temperature is 32.3°C and the average minimum is 21.8°C. The average annual rainfall is approximately 1.77 metres. Most of this falls between December and March.
    As Aurukun is in the cyclone area of Queensland it has a cyclone season from November to May each year.

    Services Available in Aurukun

    Aurukun has the following services available to residents and visitors:

    • Post Office Agency
    • Bendigo Bank Agency
    • Aurukun Primary Health Care Centre – support by the Royal Flying Doctor Service
    • Island & Cape General Store
    • School P-10
    • Koolkan early Childhood Centre and Family Support Hub
    • Airport and Skytrans Agency – daily weekday flights to and from Cairns


    Aurukun is one of the larger communities in the Cape with a population of approximately 1200. Most residents are Traditional owners of the shire and surrounding lands. There are 5 spiritual clan groups:

    • Apalech
    • Winchanam
    • Wanam
    • Chara
    • Puutch

    Aurukun Shire Population

    Aurukun is one of the larger communities in the Cape with a population of approximately 1200. Most residents are Traditional owners of the shire and surrounding lands. There are 5 spiritual clan groups: Apalech, Winchanam, Wanam, Chara and Puutch. There are 15 outstations that are occupied during the dry season. one feature in common with many other Indigenous communities is a very stable (immobile) population. Many Aurukun residents have little opportunity to move away from the area – many lack recognised education or training and to do so would also deprive them of their family and clan supports.

    The graphs below are based on published ABs Census 2006 data. They contrast statistics from the Aurukun Indigenous Community, the Aurukun Non-Indigenous Community and the whole Queensland population. There are interesting contrasts in relation to age distribution, especially:

    • The very young age of the Aurukun Indigenous population
    • The relative size of the “working age” and “dependant age” populations (comparing those ages between 15 and 64 with the sum of the younger and older age-groups)
    • the relative size of the “elder” age-group (those aged 45 of more compared with the younger age-group). The Aurukun Non-Indigenous population primarily comprises persons recruited into the area for a specific job. In most cases the characteristics of this group are closer to the “Queensland” population than the “Aurukun Indigenous” population.

    Age Distribution

    Over 50% of the Aurukun population was under 25 in 2006, compared to less than 35% of the Queensland population. on the other hand less than 17% of the Aurukun population was over 44 years of age compared to over 37% of Queenslanders. only 3.07% of the Aurukun population was over 65 years of age, compared to 12.37% of Queenslanders.


    Cape Keerweer, on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, was the site of the first attempted European settlement in Australia.

    In 1605, the Dutch ship Duyfken, under Captain Willem Janszoon, sailed down the west coast of Cape York Peninsula and made the first recorded Dutch landing in Australia at Cape Keerweer, south of Aurukun. Janszoon planned to build a city at the site. However, after exploitative actions by the crew, fighting broke out with the local people, several sailors were killed and the Duyfken departed.

    The following information has been sourced from the State Library of Queensland.
    Aurukun was originally known as Archer River Mission Settlement.  It was originally established in 1904 for the Presbyterian Church by the Reverend Arthur and Mrs Richter who were assisted in the early settlement period by T W Holmes.  The Richters led the establishment of the settlement up until 1913 when they returned to Germany, apparently for a short visit or holiday, intending to return in due course. However, due to the outbreak of the First World War, they were unable to return to Australia and were eventually replaced by Mr and Mrs Holmes.  The reserve was expanded in 1922 to include the Kendall River area located to the south.  The town eventually became known as Aurukun which is said to have local meaning associated with a large lagoon on the Watson River, to the south. 

    At the beginning, the majority of the buildings, including the church and mission house were constructed of local materials by residents using a range of traditional skills.  Over time however, stronger and more permanent buildings were constructed using materials brought in from elsewhere.  The below photograph, taken in 1913, shows the mission house in its more permanent form, replacing the earlier structure.

    Mission House, Aurukun, 1913

    Mission House, Aurukun, 1913

    On 22 May 1978, the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act came into force, constituting the Aurukun Shire Council. The Act granted a 50-year lease to the Council over most of the land in the original Reserve, a large part of the traditional lands of the Aurukun people.

    Challenges & Disadvantages

    The isolation of Aurukun limits its ability to attract skilled workers. The cost of materials and services is high due to freight costs and the distance from regional centres.


      The Council provides housing within Aurukun with a stock of 182 community houses and 16 staff houses.

      The new federally funded 10 year housing programme commenced this year. The Federal Government has allocated money to the Queensland state Government to build 91 houses and complete 247 refurbishments over the next 10 years in Aurukun. This will have a significant impact on the current level of overcrowding in community housing. The Remote Indigenous Land and Infrastructure Program office assists in removing impediments that may impact on the program. This program will relieve overcrowding and facilitate social and economic development in Aurukun.

      Houses are closed by the relatives for cultural reasons upon the passing of a resident. After a Council-prescribed rent free period of up to three months an opening Ceremony is held. The five clan groups come together at the opening to celebrate this event with traditional dancing and a smoking ceremony. After this ceremony the family returns to reside within the house.


      The climate creates special challenges. Roads outside of  the community are impassable during the wet season. This greatly increases freight costs – which flow through and raise the cost of just about everything. extreme isolation for nearly half of the year also causes social and community stresses.

      The Aurukun Project

      Wik & Kugu Recent Exhibitions 2023

      Aurukun All Around 360

      Aurukun From The Air