Darling Downs

"Southern Downs" redirects here. For the Queensland electoral division, see Electoral district of Southern Downs.
This article is about the region of Queensland, Australia. For the suburb of Perth, Australia, see Darling Downs, Western Australia.
Darling Downs
Population 241,537 (2010)[1]
 • Density 3.121089/km2 (8.083583/sq mi)
Established 1840
Area 77,388.7 km2 (29,879.9 sq mi)
LGA(s) Goondiwindi, Southern Downs, Toowoomba, Western Downs
State electorate(s) Condamine, Nanango, Southern Downs, Toowoomba North, Toowoomba South, Warrego
Federal Division(s) Groom, Maranoa
Localities around Darling Downs:
South West Queensland Central Queensland Wide Bay–Burnett
South West Queensland Darling Downs South East Queensland
New South Wales New South Wales New South Wales

The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland, Australia. The Downs are to the west of South East Queensland and are one of the major regions of Queensland. The name was generally applied to an area approximating to that of the Condamine River catchment upstream of Condamine township but is now applied to a wider region comprising the Southern Downs, Western Downs, Toowoomba and Goondiwindi local authority areas.[2] The name Darling Downs was given in 1827 by Allan Cunningham, the first European explorer to reach the area and recognises the then Governor of New South Wales, Ralph Darling.[3]

The region has developed a strong and diverse agricultural industry largely due to the extensive areas of Vertosols (cracking clay soils), particularly Black Vertosols, of moderate to high fertility and available water capacity.[4] Manufacturing and mining, particularly coal mining are also important, and coal seam gas extraction experienced significant growth in the decade to 2016.

The landscape is dominated by rolling hills covered by pastures of many different species, vegetables, legumes such as soy beans and chick peas, and other crops including cotton, wheat, barley and sorghum. Between the farmlands there are long stretches of crisscrossing roads, bushy ridges, winding creeks and herds of cattle. There are farms with beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and lamb stock. Other typical sights include irrigation systems, windmills serving as water well pumps to get water from the Great Artesian Basin, light planes crop-dusting, rusty old woolsheds and other scattered remnants from a bygone era of early exploration and settlement.


The central business district of the region's largest city, Toowoomba
Aerial view of Bell, 2010

The largest city and commercial centre of the Darling Downs is Toowoomba[5] about 132 km west of Brisbane. Other towns situated on what is now called the Downs include Dalby, Warwick, Stanthorpe, Wallangarra, Goondiwindi, Oakey, Miles, Pittsworth, Allora, Clifton, Cecil Plains, Drayton, Millmerran, Nobby, and Chinchilla. The New England Highway, Gore Highway and the Warrego Highway traverse the region. The Toowoomba Second Range Crossing is being constructed so that heavy traffic can avoid passing through Toowoomba. Coolmunda Dam, Leslie Dam, Cooby Dam, Perseverance Dam, Cressbrook Dam, Storm King Dam and the Glenlyon Dam are some of the major water storage facilities in the area. West of Toowoomba is the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport.

A wide street in the small town of Nobby

The Darling Down is situated in the drainage basins of the Condamine River and Maranoa River and tributaries. The Condamine River flood plain is noted for its good soils formed by basaltic alluvium.[6] On the northern boundaries of the Downs are the Bunya Mountains and the Bunya Mountains National Park. The region to the north is the South Burnett and the Maranoa lies to the west. A section of the western downs lies over coal deposits of the Surat Basin. Towards the coast, the mountains of the Scenic Rim form the headwaters of the westward flowing Condamine.


The majority of the Darling Downs has a humid subtropical climate although some areas experience a semi-arid or subtropical highland climate. Summer maximum temperatures range from 28 °C (82 °F) to 34 °C (93 °F), while winter maximums range from 13 °C (55 °F) to 19 °C (66 °F). The annual rainfall ranges from 600 mm (24 in) in the far west of the region, to 1,000 mm (39 in) in the east. In the south-east of the Darling Downs winter temperatures can drop below −5 °C (23 °F) with heavy frost and occasional snow, while in the north-west summer temperatures can surpass 45 °C (113 °F). Severe thunderstorms and damaging floods are a threat at times, as are bushfires in dry years.

Southern Downs

Part of the Darling Downs, which includes the towns of Allora, Clifton, Warwick, Killarney and the rocky district in the south known as the Granite Belt, is known as the Southern Downs. The phrase is also used to define political boundaries and in the promotion of tourism in the area. The Dumaresq and the MacIntyre are found in this part of the region. (This is different to the IBRA subregion also known as The Southern Downs Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia, which is further west, around the towns of Roma, Mitchell and Injune).


Originally, the Darling Downs was covered with a wealth of indigenous grasses which created an ideal verdure for stock eight months of the year. The Darling Downs Aborigines had an annual burning season at the time when the indigenous grasses were ripe and dry. The annual fires gave the local Aborigines of the Darling Downs the name "Goonneeburra" or "Fire Blacks" - "goonnee" being a name for fire and "burra" a generic word for the whole race. This is what the Downs tribes were known as to the coastal Aborigines who inhabited the Moreton Bay area. Murri is a wider-spread generic word meaning the whole race but in the Kamabroi dialect. The Downs tribes spoke one common dialect, called Waccah and so to all other surrounding tribes were known as the Wacca-burra. The Goonnee-burra were once situated where Warwick stands today. Goonnee meant "the ones who hunt with fire".[7]

Windmill on the Darling Downs, Queensland

Allan Cunningham set out to explore the area to the west of Moreton Bay in 1827, crossing to the west of the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Region and travelling north. In June 1827, Cunningham climbed to the top of Mount Dumaresque[8] (near what is now Clintonvale close to Maryvale) and after wrote in his diary that this lush area was ideal for settlement. Exploring around Mount Dumaresque, Cunningham found a pass, now known as Cunninghams Gap. Cunningham returned to Moreton Bay in 1828 and with Charles Fraser charted the route through the pass to the Darling Downs.[9] Ludwig Leichhardt in 1844 saw the remains of a camp showing the signs of white men through ridge poles and steel axes.

News of the lush pastures quickly spread resulting in a land grab that authorities in the distant New South Wales colony found difficult to stop.[10] Patrick Leslie was the first person to settle on the Darling Downs in 1840, establishing a sheep property at Canning Downs on the Condamine River in 1846. Other well-established residences on the southern downs include Glengallan Homestead, Talgai Homestead, Pringle Cottage and Rosenthal Homestead. One of the first stations to be established was Jimbour House. It was also the point where Leichhardt launched his expedition to the Northern Territory in 1844.[11]

Railway lines on the Darling Downs
From To Line Opened Closed
Toowoomba Dalby Western 1868 -
Toowoomba Warwick Southern 1871 -
Toowoomba Miles Western 1878 -
Warwick Stanthorpe Southern 1881 -
Toowoomba Cabarlah Crows Nest 1883 1961
Warwick Killarney Killarney 1885 1964
Toowoomba Crows Nest Crows Nest 1886 1961
Warwick Allora Goomburra 1897 1995
Hendon Goomburra Goomburra 1897 1995
Wyreema Millmerran Millmerran 1897 -
Warwick Goondiwindi South Western 1904 -
Dalby Bell Bell 1906 1972
Kingsthorpe Haden Haden 1910 1964
Dalby Tara Glenmorgan 1911 -
Warwick Maryvale Maryvale 1911 1960
Oakey Cooyar Cooyar 1913 1969
Miles Wandoan Wandoan 1913 -
Dalby Jandowae Jandowae 1914 2013
Oakey Cecil Plains Cecil Plains 1915 1984
Cottonvale Amiens Amiens 1920 1974

By 1844 there 26 properties including a number of sheep stations with more than 150,000 head.[12] Local aboriginals and European squatters co-settled the area from the late 1840s onwards.[13]

In 1854, Charles Douglas Eastaughffe settled in the area. Spicers Gap Road opened up the area in the 1850s. Later the expansion of Queensland Rail's train networks and Cobb and Co's stagecoach transport greatly assisted access to the region. Gold was found in the district around this time, however it was agricultural activity that provided for the boom times ahead.

The 1891 Australian shearers' strike started at Jondaryan. The Darling Downs experienced a water crisis as the Condamine River dried up during the severe drought of 1994/1995.[14]

During the early 20th century dairy was a significant industry for Queensland. The 1930s saw the peaking of the dairy industry on the Downs with 6,500 farms and over 200,000 milking cows.[6] The Downs Co-operative Dairy Association expanded, constructed or purchased at least 10 butter and cheese factories across the Darling Downs.[15] The Downs Co-operative Dairy Association Limited Factory in Toowoomba remain in operation today.


The Queensland Gas Pipeline oil pipeline and the Roma to Brisbane Pipeline, Australia's first natural gas pipeline both cross the region from west to east. There are two coal mines, New Acland Mine and Cameby Downs coal mine and a number of power stations situated on the Downs, including the Millmerran Power Station, Oakey Power Station, Darling Downs Power Station and the Kogan Creek Power Station. The Dingo Fence starts at the town of Jimbour across the country to the Great Australian Bight. Mining exploration leases cover more than 90% of the Darling Downs.[16]

After agriculture and mining, manufacturing is the next most important sector. Manufacturing focuses on food and beverages but also the production of machinery, equipment and metal products.[17]


The region produces around one quarter of the state's agricultural output.[18] Water for irrigation is mostly sourced from groundwater from alluvial aquifers. Water is also extracted from streams, off-stream reservoirs and on-farm dams.[19] The lower temperatures of the milder summers in the Stanthorpe and Killarney regions allows farmers to grow lettuce, celery, brassicas and potato.[19]

The Darling Downs contains the largest deposit of rich black agricultural soils in Australia.[16] A commonly grown grass species Panicum coloratum, also known as Bambatsi, is well-suited for pastures used for grazing because it is suitable to the heavy-cracking clay soils found in the area.[20] The eastern Downs feature a wide range of soil types.[19]


Grain silos at Purrawunda, 2014

The area is home to Australia’s largest concentration of feedlots.[21] In 2010, two abbatoirs at Pittsworth and Killarney owned by Dudley Leitch were closed.[22] Several other plants in the area were also closed leaving the remaining meat processor at Yangan in high demand. By late 2012, the industry was recovering with smaller processing facilities at Crows Nest and Inglewood opening.[23] In 2014, the Oakey Abattoir which is the fourth largest meat processing plant in Australia,[24] launched an environmental initiative to extract green energy biogas from its waste water streams.[25] It was the first ever use of a covered lagoon to treat effluent.[25]


In the Southern Downs region surrounding Stanthorpe in an area called the Granite Belt there are now over sixty cellar doors, wineries, and vineyards. The industry first began as a table grape growing region that by the mid-1960s was starting to plant wine grape cultivars. This region has a subtropical highland climate atypical to the rest of Queensland due to its elevation. Altitudes from 680 m to over 1200 m above sea level make it ideally suited to premium wine production.


The region is popular with tourists because of its many natural and heritage attractions, including the Goomburra State Forest, Cunninghams Gap, Spicers Gap and the Queen Mary Falls near Killarney in the Main Range National Park. Lake Broadwater is the only natural lake on the tablelands.

The town of Jandowae gained fame after offering vacant blocks of land for just $1. This was done to encourage residents to settle in the small town which had less than 1,000 people in 2001.

The Cobb & Co Museum has displays of horse-drawn vehicles and material on the history of the Darling Downs. The Jondaryan Woolshed is a heritage-listed shearing shed situated at a site where a tourist operator has collected numerous related structures. The region has also a small zoo, Darling Downs Zoo near Clifton.

The region has uncovered important megafauna fossil finds.[26] The rich discoveries have lent weight to the theory that humans were not a factor in the extinction of the ancient megafauna species.[27]

The Darling Downs Golf Association has 21 affiliated golf clubs on the Darling Downs.

Darling Downs viewed from the Bunya Mountains


Before European settlement many areas on the Darling Downs were fertile wilderness. For example, around Ma Ma Creek, rich swampy wetlands provided a haven for many animal species not currently found on the downs. The Darling Downs hopping mouse and paradise parrot have both become extinct since cattle farming begun.

In fiction

Steele Rudd (Arthur Davis) wrote a series of comic novels on rural life, starting with On Our Selection (1899), about Dad, Mother and Dave Rudd of Snake Gully. The Rudds had four (or six) acres adjoining a sheep run in Darling Downs. They were made into films and a radio series.

See also


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 March 2011). "Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2009–10". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  2. "Darling Downs and Granite Belt tourist map c1935". = Queensland Historical Atlas. = Queensland Museum and others. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  3. "Darling Downs | region, Queensland, Australia". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  4. Isbell, Ray (26 February 2016). "Vertosols - Australian Soil Classification". Australian Soil Classification.
  5. "Darling Downs". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  6. 1 2 "Darling Downs". Queensland Places. Centre for the Government of Queensland. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  7. "A brief history of the Indigenous People of the Darling Downs". Local history library. Toowoomba Regional Council. 21 March 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  8. "Moogerah Peaks National Park: Nature, culture and history". Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  9. Lee, Ida (1925), Early Explorers In Australia, Methuen, retrieved 9 November 2012
  10. Evans, Raymond (2007). A History of Queensland. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-0-521-87692-6.
  11. Cook, Penny (2006). Discover Queensland Heritage. Corinda, Queensland: Pictorial Press Australia. p. 9. ISBN 1876561424.
  12. Parsonson, Ian (1998). The Australian Ark: A History of Domesticated Animals in Australia. Csiro Publishing. p. 83. ISBN 0643102388. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  13. May, Dawn (1994). Aboriginal Labour and the Cattle Industry: Queensland from White Settlement to the Present. CUP Archive. p. 40. ISBN 0521469155. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  14. Collie, Gordon. Water crisis threatens towns. The Courier Mail p. 3. 3 June 1995.
  15. "The Downs Co-operative Dairy Association Limited Factory (former) (entry 602596)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  16. 1 2 "Darling Downs farmers get dirty over invasion". The Australian. News Limited. 3 September 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  17. "Business and Industry Portal: Darling Downs". Government of Queensland. 6 November 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  18. "Darling Downs Regional Plan". Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning. 18 August 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  19. 1 2 3 "Vegetable production in South East Queensland". Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  20. "Selecting the right pasture species". Grazing and pasture management. The State of Queensland. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  21. "Darling Downs & South West Queensland". Government of Queensland. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  22. Jon Condon (10 February 2010). "Pittsworth, Killarney abattoirs close". Queensland Country Life. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  23. Jon Condon (27 September 2012). "Small country abattoirs making a comeback". Beef Central. Nascon Media. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  24. Arlie Felton-Taylor (11 May 2012). "Hopes Oakey abattoir strike could end next week". ABC Rural. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  25. 1 2 Kate Stark (7 March 2014). "Oakey Abattoir's world first". Queensland Country Life. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  26. "Australia's fossil past". Retrieved 2008-06-23.
  27. "Study clears humans over megafauna extinction". ABC News. 30 May 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-24.

External links

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Coordinates: 27°49′S 151°38′E / 27.817°S 151.633°E / -27.817; 151.633

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