The European association with the Boyne Valley began with John Oxley’s naming of the Boyne River in 1823. John Unaike noted, “We had a beautiful and extensive view of the river for many miles, through a rich brush country, the banks in many parts well clothed with timber”.
The Original Occupants
A cultural heritage assessment published in 2000 proves that the Boyne Valley was home to aboriginal people for thousands of years prior to European discovery.
The first recorded meeting of the two cultures was on Curtis Island in 1802. After showering Matthew Flinders and his party with rocks and stones on their arrival, the “Indians” observed them for a fortnight before making contact. Two seamen became lost and spent a night tortured by mosquitoes in the mangrove swamps. They were rescued, fed, examined in a “personal manner” and guided safely back to their ship. Living on a diet of seafood, kangaroo and bird life they were described as, “stout, muscular men who went entirely naked, understood bartering better than most and were curious but not over excitable”.
The first white settlers in the Boyne Valley referred to a large permanent aboriginal camp on Raggote Creek. Their lands extended along the river between the Boyne and Many Peaks Ranges, downstream to within a few miles of the coast and upstream to The Bluff. Beyond this point a related tribe of several hundred individuals had camps around the numerous waterholes paralleling the river. One hole was called Euboba. The name remains as Ubobo, the adaptation used in 1899 by W.A.F. McDonald to name his 4000-acre selection.
Little is recorded of the life of these people but in less than thirty years their populations were decimated. McDonald (1988) reports, “The Toolooa, which still numbered about 700 in 1854, had dwindled to forty-three in 1882. The Byelee in the same period were reduced from 300 to thirty-two.”
European settlement of the valley came in waves. First came the pastoralists lead by William Henry Walsh. He claimed the Milton Run in July 1853 then added the Radley and Weitalaba Runs. When the first official land survey was undertaken in 1868 it shows Milton Run occupying 659 square miles of the Boyne Valley heartland.
The present parishes of Milton, Weitalaba, Radley, Degalgil, and Pemberton are the names of leases held by Walsh. Bompa is the name given to the second station formed when Milton was divided into two in 1871 and Rule is the name of the original settler on Nevertire.
Next came the miners. In March 1862 Mrs Brennan had found a 3oz nugget on the northern slopes of the Boyne Range but it was not until the proclamation of the Calliope Gold field ten years later that the rush began.
The Milton Goldfield was proclaimed in 1879. Norton Township grew on the site and with a population of several thousand boasted a police station, School of Arts, two hotels and a brick furnace. Estimates show the mine produced over 20 000 ounces of gold before it closed. Other mines followed at Eastern Boyne, Barmundoo, Mt Jacob and Monal.
Following names through the various fields allows the timeline of mining development to unfold. Mark Mansfield was listed as registered proprietor of the Grassvale Hotel at Ten Mile in 1892, The Miners Arms, Mt Jacob in 1894, The Milton Hotel at Lakeview in 1989 and The Commercial Hotel, Norton in 1905.
The discovery of copper and gold at Many Peaks and Glassford Creek in the late 1890s led to the construction of the Gladstone – Many Peaks railway line by The Mount Morgan Gold Company who used the local ore as flux in their Mount Morgan gold smelters. The Governor of Queensland opened the railway line at a gala function on the 25th July 1910.
At its height, the population of Many Peaks rose to over 3 000. Lamplighter Mr T Tighe lighted the streets. The school had a head master and four assistant teachers. There were 5 hotels, a hospital, stores, cordial works and café. A brass band provided entertainment and a horse-drawn cab transported passengers about town.
Only Many Peaks remains as testimony to this bygone era. The police station, which began life at Glassford Creek, still serves the valley. The Grand Hotel, which was originally the Railway Hotel in Gladstone, was systematically numbered, dismantled and carted by horse team to its present site in 1907. Here it was re-erected and still operates. The hospital and school remain although no longer serving their original purposes. The railway dam and gravity fed water tank used to water steam driven trains are also able to be seen. The Post Office, removed first to Littlemore as a Memorial Hall then to Ubobo now serves as a QCWA hall.
Closer settlement began when the large leasehold runs were resumed and broken into smaller leases. Properties such as Glengarry, Box Vale, Nevertire and Newry were created.
With the turn of the century and the opening of the railway came the teamsters and the timber industry. Horse and bullock teams hauled pine and hardwood to the rail heads at Boynedale, Weitalaba, Nagoorin, Littlemore, Builyan and Many Peaks supplying Mt Morgan mines with the props for their underground mines.
The 21-year leases expired on the cattle stations of Ubobo, Hybla, Melrose, Degalgil and Cluden in 1920 when they were all resumed for the Ubobo Soldier Settlement. They were surveyed into small blocks and offered to returned service personnel at the end of World War I. The Australian Government introduced the Soldier Settler Scheme to help returning soldiers by providing each soldier with a newly built house and financial assistance to enable them to establish themselves as farmers. Fifty-four settlement blocks were allocated in the Boyne Valley. The settlers came from every walk of life from shop assistant, to plantation manager, to champion Scottish ploughman. Dairy and agricultural industries begun. Cotton and potato growing were introduced. Tobacco was grown with some success. But times were hard and the small blocks unviable. Disillusioned many left within the first five years.
The depression, falling prices and World War II forced further departures. The properties were sold and amalgamated to make larger holdings again. Lands with river frontage were retained for agricultural purposes; the others reverted to their former purpose, cattle grazing.
While Many Peaks prospered, the railway also created permanent settlements around the major stations.
Land sales at Nagoorin led the way in 1911. Old timber houses from Norton were moved in and the smaller settlements at Lakeview and Rosa Glen fell under Nagoorin’s umbrella. Classified as a marketing town Nagoorin soon had a butchery, slaughterhouse, bakery, shop and hall. Mrs Viney ran a boarding house and there was a racecourse on Gentle Annie Road.
In the 1920s Ubobo grew as a service centre for the soldier settlers with shops, hall, Masonic Lodge and Bush Nursing Home. Later cattle sale yards were built outside the town.
The early 194o’s saw young men and women from the Valley caught up with the rest of the world in war again, some never to return. Although residents didn’t know it until 1994, the war came to the Valley when an American bomber crashed on the Kroombit Tops in 1945.
Meanwhile Builyan became the centre for the timber industry. Up to 80 000 super feet of raw logs were freighted through the Builyan rail yard each week at the peak of production in the late 1950s.
England’s entry into the European Common Market in the 1970’s saw the death of the dairy industry almost overnight. Irregular rainfall forced an end to dry land farming. The twenty-first century finds the land described by John Uniake gone. It’s inundated by the Awoonga Dam constructed to meet Gladstone’s growing water demands. The Valley is slipping back to its pastoral beginnings. It looks to tourism as a focus for its next wave of development. The role of the villages is changing. New residents find a great place to buy or build a new home to retire, or commute to work. The new bitumen highway enables an easy drive to town.