Traditionally home of the Jawoyn and Dagoman people, the Katherine River area must have been a sight for explorer John McDouall Stuart's sore eyes as he struggled north in 1862. Having got this far, he named the river after a benefactor's daughter, and within ten years the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line (OTL) encouraged European settlement, as drovers and prospectors converged on the first reliable water north of the Davenport Ranges. In 1926 a railway from Darwin finally spanned the river and KATHERINE was established on its present site. It's essentially a "one-street" town, though in January 1998 when the river rose to 22m and broke its banks that street found itself under 2m of water when two cyclones dumped a Wet-season's worth of rain over southern Arnhem Land – a crocodile was even spotted cruising lazily past the semi-submerged Woolworths. April 2006 saw the river rise again to 19m but fortunately it subsided as quickly as it rose with nowhere near the devastation and loss of 1998.
The Stuart Highway becomes Katherine Terrace, the main street, as it passes through town. Along it lie most of the shops and services, as well as several excellent Aboriginal art and craft galleries, giving Katherine a compact and unexpectedly busy feel. If you want to base yourself here for a while, the town is also a good place to pick up casual work at the surrounding stations and market gardens.