Aboriginal custodians of the Townsville region were the sole occupiers of the land until 1864 when European settlement of Townsville took place. This followed the opening up of the Kennedy pastoral district in the interior and was motivated by the entrepreneurial ambitions of, among others, the town’s ‘founder’, John Melton Black. Black had previously operated on Victorian goldfields as a carrier and had been involved in a number of entrepreneurial schemes in that colony. He made his way north in 1861, later entering into a partnership with Robert Towns (after whom the town was named). Black was the managing partner of properties in the Woodstock area while Towns remained in Sydney. In early 1864, some of Black’s employees found their way to the coastal land adjacent to what is now Ross Creek and reported that this seemed like a good location for a port. At that time, there were two potential ports to service the Kennedy district: Port Denison (Bowen) to the south which was founded in 1861 and Port Hinchinbrook (Cardwell) to the north founded earlier in 1864. As there were access problems in relation to both of these, Black recognized that an opportunity existed for a port with an access road to the interior.
In late 1864, Black and a number of settlers established the town on the banks of Ross Creek which served as the port. In 1865 he began forging a road from the port via Hervey’s Range to the township of Dalrymple which had been also established in 1864 to serve the Kennedy District. It took several days for the bullock drays to complete the journey from the port, stopping at hotels located at the Bohle and Alice Rivers and the bottom of Hervey’s Range. At the base of the Range, a small hamlet sprang up around the Range Hotel where travelers broke the journey. From here the road ascended the Range, crossing via Thornton’s Gap (which took a day), stopping at the Eureka Hotel (now the Heritage Tea Rooms) at the top. From here travelers proceeded west to the Plum Tree hotel and then onto Dalrymple on the western arm of the Burdekin River.
The road became all the more important in 1867 when gold was discovered at Cape River (the first goldfield in North Queensland). The road was critical to the success of Townsville over other contemporary settlements. Funding to construct the road had been obtained from the colonial government and in 1867 they installed a tollgate at the base of the Range in an attempt to claw some of this back. However in 1868, the good citizens of Townsville set up a petition against the toll (see copy of the petition).
The hamlet around the Range hotel included the hotel itself, a blacksmith, a butcher’s shop, a bullocky’s camp, several residences, a cemetery and later the tollgate. The hamlet was necessary as the drays sometimes had to wait several days for their turn to ascend the steep, narrow track. The hamlet survives today only as an archaeological site. Only the Eureka hotel, at the top of the Range, has survived as a structure – the oldest surviving timber structure in North Queensland.
Parts of the road are still in use today. It was converted to a stock route after the ‘new’ route was established following the discovery of gold at Ravenswood and Charters Towers. However, ‘Dalrymple Rd’, which is a remnant of the old road is today a busy thoroughfare. During World War Two, the section from Duckworth St to Pilkington St was used as a runway for the large aircraft maintenance base that was established by the US Army Air Force in that area. This maintenance base was critical to the victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
This information has been drawn from Gibson-Wilde (1984) and Griffin (2014) which provide histories of early Townsville and the surrounding area.
Gibson-Wilde, Dorothy 1984. Gateway to a Golden Land: Townsville to 1884. History Department, James Cook University: Townsville
Griffin, Helga 2014. Frontier Town: a history of early Townsville and hinterland 1864-1884. North Queensland History Preservation Society: Townsville.