Hot and stuffy TOWNSVILLE sprawls around a broad spit of land between the isolated hump of Castle Hill and swampy Ross Creek. Industrial in make-up, the town has a rough edge and an air of racial tension, a hangover of the riots that broke out on Palm Island in 2004 after an Aboriginal man died in police custody; reports of stabbings, predominantly by belligerent out-of-towners hanging around Flinders Mall after dark, now appear in the news on an almost weekly basis. Whilst most travellers skip town altogether and head straight out to the beaches of laid-back Magnetic Island, just offshore, the city does have its moments: there's a visible maritime history; long sea views from the Strand promenade; and the muggy, salty evening air and old pile houses on the surrounding hills which mark out Townsville as the coast's first really tropical city.
Townsville was founded in 1864 by John Melton Black and Robert Towns, entrepreneurs who felt that a settlement was needed for northern stockmen who couldn't reach Bowen when the Burdekin River was in flood. Despite an inferior harbour, the town soon outstripped Bowen in terms of both size and prosperity, its growth accelerated by gold finds inland at Ravenswood and Charters Towers. Today, it's the gateway to the far north and transit point for routes west to Mount Isa and the Northern Territory; it's also an important military centre, seat of a university and home to substantial Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities.