Atherton Tablelands History

Atherton Tablelands has a fascinating history and in the book the River of Gold, you can read an exciting tale of the North Queensland Gold Rush.

From the stunning rainforest to rolling country hills

Lush rainforest once covered the region. However, over the generations, these areas have been repurposed. They have adapted to pastoral, cropping and residential activities. Some protected remnants of the rainforest survive in national park enclaves.

There are marked differences across the Tablelands between seasons and between areas. The high rainfall mountains of the coastal ranges are to the east. To the south lies the green dairy country. Out to the west, you will find the open savannah.

Such topographical and climate diversity in a small region is unique. You can see this in the cultural differences displayed in the activities of each of its small communities. It is, therefore, fascinating to explore and experience.

The early settlers

The early European incursion into the area involved the Irish-born explorer and prospector James Mulligan (1875). He was closely followed by John Atherton (1877), after who one of the region’s two main towns is named.

These early explorers were looking for the potential of tin and gold. One of the most extended surviving industries became forestry from red cedar and other rainforest trees.

This activity supported many logging communities throughout the area. The cleared land eventually made way for establishing farming pursuits and the community centres they endorsed.

Agriculture and pastoral continue to be the prime economic drivers of the Atherton Tablelands, followed closely by tourism.

The Chinese were early settler pioneers in Atherton. They rushed from the remote northern Palmer River goldfields. Digging wells for irrigation and setting up market gardens to support the new settlements.

They were the region’s early pioneers of agriculture. Including starting dairying and establishing a wide range of support services. Such as medical, general merchandising and food supply.

The Chinese influence was a cornerstone of the region’s development from the late 1880s into the early decades of the 20th century.

You can explore relics of the town’s Chinese past at Hou Wang Chinese Temple and Museum.

Discover an ancient culture

In addition to its incredible beauty, the Atherton Tablelands has a diverse and exciting history. The region has a strong indigenous history. Evoking traditional Aboriginal land use and culture is maintained to varying degrees today.

More than a dozen Aboriginal tribes who thrived on rainforest animals, fish and lush vegetation called these mountains home.

Perfect conditions for farming

The fertile, red soil and elevation provide the ideal environment for producing crops and raising cattle.

Today’s produce includes bananasugar cane, corn/maise, avocados, strawberries, macadamia nuts, mangoes, and citrus — much of the annual harvest is exported to overseas markets.

Dairying, beef cattle and poultry farming remain vigorous activities. However, the dominant and lucrative tobacco industry is no longer.