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The indigenous knowledge of the Brisbane River was shared with lost timber getters Pamphlet & Finnegan who in turn shared it with the explorer John Oxley in 1823. By 1825 the new penal colony of Brisbane was established there. Lockyer, Cunningham and Commandant Patrick Logan had mapped the Brisbane River valley as far as Kilcoy Creek by 1830 and Lieutenant Owen Gorman found Gorman’s Gap that was a more practical way over the Great Dividing Range from the Darling Downs to Moreton Bay. With the closure of the penal colony early settlers came from the Downs via Gorman’s Gap and Lockyer Creek to settle on the Brisbane River. These were the McConnel brothers, the MacKenzie brothers and the Brothers Bigge (inevitably nicknamed Big and Little) as well as the Archer brothers.
Some, like Ferriter & Uhr of Wivenhoe and Borthwick & Oliver of Buaraba, moved north to establish Barambah, Tarong & Nanango at the headwaters of the Brisbane River. The Archers moved to Cooyar and Emu Creek (and eventually Eidsvold & Gracemere), and Walter Scott joined his nephew Simon Scott at Taromeo Station on the Blackbutt Range…
Before 1859, “roads”, bridges and mail were provided to the Brisbane Valley by the New South Wales Government but expenditure on behalf of the northern settlers was meagre and travel was slow. Accommodation houses were developed to provide shelter and safety and to act as unofficial post offices, most famously at Ipswich (licensee George Thorn) and Nanango (licensee and mail contractor Jacob Goode).
Plans for a new colony of Northern Australia without either the Darling Downs or the Brisbane Valley were approved by British Parliament in 1846 but New South Wales vetoed this and agreed instead to the northern state of Queensland in 1859. By 1860 the new state of Queensland had both Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament and the Brisbane River Valley was included with Ipswich and Laidley in the electorate of West Moreton that had three elected representatives in the Legislative Assembly (Lower House). In the Upper House (Legislative Council) the Biggs and McConnels were appointed as well as the Balfours of Colinton and Louis Hope of Kilcoy Station who had obtained Kilcoy after the infamous ‘poison pudding’ killing of local indigenous people.
The new Queensland government reclaimed crown land for resettlement with three Crown Lands Alienation Act; mapped and built new roads and extended mail services. By 1875 Charles Lilley & Samuel Griffith had provided compulsory, free education to children between 6 and 12 years old. Teachers wrote extraordinary letters about the living conditions in rural settlements at that time and a new Premier, Thomas McIlwraith, provided local government through a new Divisional Board structure with the Divisional Boards Act 1879. This divided all of Queensland that did not have the status of municipalities like Ipswich and Brisbane into 74 divisions governed by a divisional board. The communities of the Brisbane River Valley were included in two divisions – Durundur/Esk and Barambah/Nanango Divisional Boards. McIlwraith also planned a comprehensive Queensland railway network and work on the Brisbane Valley Rail Line commenced in 1882. It opened to Lowood in 1884 and to Esk in 1886. The financial crisis of 1893 and the flooding of the Brisbane River in the same year retarded further development and the rest of the rail line was not finished until just before WWI.
In the referendum for the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1899, Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and the Brisbane Valley (now mostly included in the electorate of Stanley) voted consistently against Federation, but were outvoted by their northern neighbours including those in the Burnett and Wide Bay electorates.
The lure of the timber in the Blackbutt Range continued to drive the Brisbane Valley Rail Line towards Yarraman despite delays, strikes, unskilled immigrant labour and deaths. At the same time Government timber reserves were established that restricted supply to millers without government contracts like those given to the Yarraman sawmills.
Smaller sawmills closed or moved to greener pastures. Cattle grazed on recently cleared land and milk or butter factories flourished. Brisbane Valley land owners were sworn in as special constables to break the Tramways strike in 1912 and Queensland voters endorsed a series of Labour governments. The Brisbane Valley (electorate of Stanley) was represented by an independent candidate, H.P. Somerset (See People menu) from 1904-1920.
Many young men from the Brisbane Valley enlisted for WWI after 1915 and Colinton erected the first war memorial outside a cemetery there in 1917. Many more were to follow. Soldier Settlements for returned servicemen were established at Coominya, Mt. Stanley and Taromeo, almost all of which, except Taromeo, failed. The timber on the Blackbutt Range was largely cut out by 1920 and the Queensland Government bought several sawmills, including those at Yarraman and Taromeo.
In 1920 the Country Party was established and endorsed L. Nott who won the seat of Stanley from H.P. Somerset. Electricity was supplied to Toogoolawah from the Nestles Condensed Milk Factory in 1927 that closed two years later. The Stanley Dam was recommended in 1928 and provided jobs to unemployed men during the Great Depression. Electricity was later provided to Lowood (1932), Nanango (1933), Coominya & Somerset Dam (1936) and Yarraman (1939). WWII decimated small towns everywhere. A defence road was built over the Blackbutt Range and pilots were trained at Lowood and Watts bridge (Toogoolawah) airfields. Returned service men were provided with educational and trade allowances and these newly skilled tradesmen moved to work in the cities. The population of the Esk Shire declined rapidly. Nanango followed suit.
Post-war reconstruction demanded rationalisation of services to rural areas. Small rural schools were closed and school busses delivered children to schools in larger towns. Subsidies on butter were removed and the Esk and Nanango Butter and Cheese Factories closed. The Timber Corporation mill at Nanango closed soon afterwards, but these job losses were more than offset by the construction of the Tarong Power Station in the Nanango Shire. Nanango census figures rose dramatically. The Esk Council sub-divided larger holdings to increase their rate-payer base and developers moved in. Land in the Esk Shire was resumed for the Wivenhoe Dam after the 1974 floods in Brisbane, and the dairying town of Murrumba disappeared. The National Trust of Queensland recommended heritage listing of buildings in the Esk Shire, three of which have now disappeared.
The Brisbane Valley Rail Line was closed in 1989 and the Federal Government initiated an Inquiry into Competitive Policy in Australia. Victoria determined that their milk subsidies were anti-competitive and deregulated their milk industry in 2000. Interstate trading by Victorian milk wholesalers forced the complete deregulation of the Dairy Industry Australia wide.
A Dairy Adjustment Program was introduced to assist with deregulation that included Dairy Exit Payments for those who chose to leave the industry. Forty per cent of the dairy farms operating before 2000 ceased production in the Toogoolawah district where the sawmill has also closed. Mills were also closed at Fernvale and Linville. Both the Esk and the Nanango Councils were amalgamated with neighbouring shires in 2008; Esk joining Kilcoy to become Somerset Regional Council and Nanango joining Kingaroy, Murgon and Wondai to become South Burnett Regional Council. Conversion of the Brisbane Valley Rail line to a recreational Rail Trail commenced in 2007 with an investment of $3.6m from the Queensland Government. By the time it was finished in 2018 there were additional rail trails from Nanango to Wondai & Kilkivan and the old stock routes provided link trails from Yarraman to Nanango and Nanango to Kingaroy. The flooding of the Brisbane River in 2011 caused significant damage to the towns and the trails throughout the Brisbane Valley. The heritage listed rail bridge over Maronghi creek at Harlin was destroyed in more flooding in 2013. Licenses to explore for coal over a large area of the Brisbane River Valley were granted to Coalbank that was bought out by Lodestone in 2011. Public alarm at the prospect of coal seam gas emissions already apparent on the Darling Downs hardened into organised protest. Conservation of the waterways throughout the Brisbane Valley competed with prospective business opportunities in a mining community in heated debate. The history of the Brisbane River Valley continues to evolve. Watch this space.
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