History of Julia Creek
In 1859, Queensland became a separate colony from New South Wales. At the time there were approximately 30,000 people in the colony, most of those were in the South-East corner, with the most Northern settlement being Rockhampton.
The newly created Queensland Government began opening up the land for settlement, sparking what has been identified as Australia’s most intense land rush.
By 1861 two explorers had come through to the Julia Creek region. McKinlay came up the Diamantina River in search of Burke and Wills, travelling to the east of Julia Creek, and Landsborough had travelled along the Flinders River, reporting on good pastoral land. By 1862 Donald and Duncan (whom our Dunnarts have been named after) McIntyre had taken up Dalgonally Station near Julia Creek, and brought their first herd of cattle up from Coopers Creek.
Water for stock was an issue until the first artesian bore was put down in 1884. After this, the land became more sustainable for stocking cattle, which were then taken to market south to Adelaide. Burketown was then established as a port.
Two major economic activities opened up North Queensland, pastoralism and mining. Copper was discovered near Cloncurry by Ernest Henry in 1867, with mining being underway in the following decade. While the pastoralists had been lobbying for a railway for many years, the mineral discovery was really the catalyst for the railway from Townsville. It had commenced in the 1870’s to Charters Towers, then continued onto Hughenden reaching there by 1887. The next section wasn’t approved until 1900, actually reaching Richmond in 1904. Then it was onto Julia Creek with the first official train arriving on 29th February 1908. The railway then continued to Cloncurry, which became the terminus for many years.
Julia Creek didn’t exist prior to the railway but was established as a maintenance town for the railway line. Fettlers were settled in little cottages (some of which are located at the Visitor Information Centre) within working distance to the tracks, and steam trains required a considerable amount of water. So a bore had to be put down in 1907 and more men to operate and maintain the water supply as well as the railway line and facilities.
History hasn’t given a clear reason as to why the location of Julia Creek was chosen. Logically, the railway was surveyed in a straight line from Richmond and it would be cheaper to establish a new settlement on that line, rather than to veer. Although the land looks flat, there are minor rises and Julia Creek township is settled on a rise in relation to the creek. It’s likely that the surveyors selected a slightly higher site to avoid wet season flooding. The town was surveyed in July 1907 and renamed Julia Creek in August that same year. (It’s alleged that the town was named Julia after the McKinlay brothers niece). The town plan was a simple rectangular grid, with the main street adjacent to, and facing the railway line.
Goldring Street, next to the railway, was originally the main street where all the pubs and shops were located. By 1920, there were four food shops, a chemist, an accountant, a solicitor, tailor, three garages, three cafes, two hotels, two market gardeners, a blacksmith and a one room school. The railway yards include a large goods shed (still standing) railway station, station masters house and a large water tank for locomotives. Community activity flourished in the 1920’s – the first picture theatre was built, the Country Women’s Association, Masonic Lodge, Boy Scouts, Anglican and Catholic Churches and the wool scour was relocated to Julia Creek from Toorak Station in 1924. Although the 1920’s provided growth for the town, Health services were provided by only one Bush Nurse and a rail ambulance that could be brought into quick service. However in 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service commenced at Cloncurry with the first call out being to Julia Creek.
By 1930, changes were beginning to occur, with the main street changing to Burke Street. The 1907 town survey was amended with an area facing Burke Street being surrendered to the Crown. There had been no government reserve identified in the original survey, which was relatively common in Queensland, as many proposed towns had not flourished and there seemed to be an unwritten policy of waiting to see the level of development prior to utilising government resources. The McKinlay Shire Council moved to Julia Creek from McKinlay and the post office was relocated to Burke Street. A steady flow of businesses were established after this.
The 1930’s saw a number of important events. The newly relocated McKinlay Shire Council was able to give better attention to improving the major town. One major important task was to bitumen the town streets, not only to relieve the dust issue, but to alleviate the muddy mess that occurred each time it rained. After this came the flower beds and beautification of the main street of town. The school also expanded, the brand new hospital was opened with improved health services, which meant women no longer had to travel to Hughenden to have their babies.
World War was soon upon Australia and Julia Creek was not excluded. Over 100 young men from the shire enlisted to fight for our country. Rail traffic increased dramatically through Julia Creek with trains taking troops, equipment, supplies and aviation fuel to Cloncurry, where they would then continue onto Darwin by road. Troop trains would stop in Julia Creek and soldiers would purchase sweets and bottles of cordial. The war ended and by the late 1940’s towns were recovering from war time shortages, but the recovery was short lived as a severe drought hit the region in the early 1950’s.
1952 brought the most significant event – the completion of a power house and the switching on of the town electricity. As people could afford it, homes now had access to modern day comforts such as ceiling fans and refrigeration. A modern swimming pool was also constructed and locals happily abandoned the former ‘mud pool’.
Sewerage was installed in the town in 1960, a Fire Brigade was established in 1962, a new doctor’s surgery opened in 1966, continuing operation until the Medical Centre opened in 2004. A new brick, air conditioned hospital was opened in 1972.
Julia Creek had many ups and downs with the 1974 flood and bushfires in 1976 with 27 fires burning between Julia Creek and McKinlay. The High School later closed down causing many families to move away, followed by the closure of the Convent School, then the banks. However, with a current population of 511 people, Julia Creek continues to be a vibrant community where their festivals are enjoyed by people far and wide. The town now boasts a Council Chambers, hospital, police station, ambulance, railway station, 25metre lap pool, kids pool, splash pad, water slide, skate park, caravan park, RV park, footy oval, indoor sports centre, tennis courts, well equipped 24 hour access GYM, dance school, Suncorp Bank, a range of accommodation places, 2 hotels, bottle shop, a bakery, newsagent, clothing, gift and furniture shops, hardware, 2 tyre services centre, butchery, 2 supermarkets, rural supplies, Visitor Information Centre, Library with internet access, Artesian Bath Houses, 2 Churches, a kids bicycle learn to ride course with sheltered sitting area for parents, Early Learning Centre (Kindy), showgrounds, race course, pony club, sports club, swimming club, aqua-aerobics, museum, SES service, cafes, roadhouse that makes Australia wide popular beef jerky and much more.
Julia Creek is part of the outback and therefor the weather can become quite hot, but also has some beautiful winters. Please read the letter below written by a lady about the winter and summer in 1934!