1950 to 2000
In the 1970s, the Esk Shire followed the advice of Report of Royal Commission on Pastoral Lands Settlement (Queensland), and encouraged subdivision of rural properties to increase their rate payer base. Property was eagerly bought by developers in the Esk Shire before the additional cost of providing services to these new developments had been carefully assessed. Dairy farms were sold and in 1973 the Esk butter factory closed as government subsidies were removed and production costs increased.
By 1981 the Esk Council was refusing 16 hectares subdivisions because the ‘blockies’ were now seen to be ‘detrimental to grazing for pastoral amenity in the area’ and by a mysterious inversion of logic the Council was supporting rural residential subdivision with a significantly smaller preferred minimum size. The old families were realising on their ‘land banks’. The Esk Council requested that the new highway being mooted in 1985 take up the whole of the surveyed town of Ottaba ‘to prevent developers getting and selling lots’.
Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield is located near Toogoolawah in South East Queensland, Australia. The runways and associated infrastructure were originally built in 1942 as part of the Australian World War II defense program. At the cessation of hostilities the airfield was no longer required by the military so the buildings were removed and the field returned to agricultural usage.
Nanango Shire, on the other hand, encouraged those people with small holdings in the shire to take advantage of available bank finance at favourable rates of interest to enlarge their properties and ensure financial viability. Many bought their neighbours out and effectively halved the population of the Shire. By the late 1960’s the sawmill and the butter factory there had closed. The establishment of the Tarong Power station in the 1980’s saved Nanango Shire from an uncertain future.
Services were rationalised in all rural areas. Small state schools were closed and pupils were bussed to larger central schools. Beef producers changed from rail services to trucking cattle and the freight on timber alone did not warrant continued service. Freight train services were reduced and stations closed as trucks delivered ‘door to door’ and the cost of road maintenance skyrocketed. Young people accepted Prime Minister Whitlam’s offer of free tertiary education and the infamous ballot system provided unwilling conscripts for the Vietnam War, neither of which fostered rural development or rural diversification.
The Esk Shire, however, did have the development of the Wivenhoe Dam. Its long term value to the shire is incalculable, but the immediate cost to the shire was the resumption of the dairying township of Murrumba in the 1970s. Government buildings like the Toogoolawah Court House were encouraged, but there were few new industries of any moment. The initial tourist catch cry for Esk was “Life Style”. To this end Ramblers Drop Zone was established privately in 1979 to offer parachute jumping as a recreational sport from an airfield outside Toogoolawah beside the Brisbane Valley Highway. Its popularity continues unabated into the 21st century.
In 1990 the old Watts Bridge airfield, abandoned since WWII, was restored by a small committee of flying enthusiasts and renamed the Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield. Its aim was to provide an open, affordable, recreation aviation centre for private pilots. Its popularity increases annually and in 2016 it held the first public Brisbane Valley Air Show there to large crowds.
The developments in the southern parts of the Esk Shire were planned as ‘dormitory settlements’ for Brisbane and a Blue Care Aged facility was introduced at Toogoolawah. Beef prices had crashed in 1974 and there continued to be limited job opportunities in the shire. Breadwinners travelled elsewhere for work.
Attempts were made to conserve the physical history of the region and the National Trust identified fourteen buildings in the Esk Shire for possible heritage listing in 1976. Six were placed on the heritage register, one was later removed and three of the original fourteen considered significant have now disappeared. Nanango, with its proud boast of being the fourth oldest town in Queensland, lovingly maintains several heritage buildings including the beautifully restored Ringsfield House.
In 1989 the state government discontinued the last rail motor service on the Brisbane Valley line between Toogoolawah and Ipswich. It was replaced by a workers’ bus service daily. The northern end of the shire is served by a daily bus service from Nanango to Caboolture.
Census numbers in both Shires in the Brisbane Valley increased in the 1980s & 1990s. Prosperity was more problematic. The microeconomic reforms of both the Hawke and Keating governments that followed the floating of the Australian dollar did not favour small farmers in the Brisbane Valley. The Federal Inquiry into Competition Policy in Australia in 1992 lead to the establishment of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 1995. Prior to this time the restrictive practice of establishing fixed milk quotas for dairy farmers had been deemed to be “in the public interest”, but this was not found to be so in Victoria in 1999. This state removed its restrictions on milk production and its producers were free to compete for market share in other states. Inevitably there was no choice but to deregulate the dairy industry in all Australian states.