Warrego River in Charleville.
Charleville, capital of the Mulga Country.
Charleville with its 3,300 residents is the last major town west of Brisbane. There are no towns between Charleville and the Western Australian coast on the line of latitude except for the small town of Quilpie 160 kms to the west. Charleville is about 550 kms east of Innamincka in SA and 450 kms from the SA border as the crow flies. The life blood of Charleville is the Warrego River, one of the many tributaries of the Darling River and eventually the Murray. The district was first sighted by white men in 1847 when Edmund Kennedy passed through here on his explorations to the north. His goal was to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria but he turned west and followed rivers into Cooper Creek. On his next expedition he reached Cape York Peninsula but died there of Aboriginal spear wounds. Kennedy showed little interest in the country through which he traversed but the next explorer did. He was William Landsborough in 1862 when he set out to find new pastoral lands in the west of the newly formed state of QLD. As a result of his reports of the land near the Warrego River the Gowrie run was established in 1863. Two years later in 1865 a town was gazetted on the Warrego River and a hotel opened here but no town developed. The town site was not surveyed until 1868. The QLD Surveyor General was William Tully in 1868 and as an Irishman he chose to name the new town after a place in his home county of Cork in Ireland, hence Charleville.
During the 1870s a town emerged with the first store, blacksmith and police station. A sign of growth was the first Cobb and Co coach service from Roma in 1876. Charleville was a crossroads town and in 1886 Cobb and Co established a coach building workshop in Charleville. It operated until 1897 as the largest coach factory for the company which preferred the dry wood from the dry interior as they knew it would not crack in the hot outback areas. In the decade of the 1880s Charleville came of age as a town with its first school ( 1884), newspaper ( 1883), hospital (1885) and both Anglican and Catholic churches. Before the railway reached Charleville in 1888 much of the freight was transported to the town by bullock drays from Bourke in NSW on the banks of the Darling River. Some of these goods would have been transported upstream from the river ports of SA- Morgan, Mannum, Milang or Murray Bridge! Around 500 bullock teams operated these trade routes which were easier than trying to transport goods overland to Brisbane. According to the bullockies Charleville in the early 1880s was a town of “girls, goats, galahs and glass bottles” ie prostitutes, milk producers, fools and beer. Perhaps Jenkin Collier was one of these as this wealthy pastoralist and developer had grandiose plans for Charleville in the early 1880s. He wanted to build a railway from Charleville to the NSW border in 1881 using the land grant system which had been used in America. That is how the American West financed its railways. Investors built rail lines on the basis of being granted a strip of land each side of the railway line that they could then sell to settlers, at high prices, to recoup their investment costs. The idea was also taken up by Sir Thomas McIlwraith and he took it to the QLD parliament in 1881 when he was Premier. The QLD parliament rejected the proposal and Sir Samuel Griffith forced McIlwraith out and became Premier as he convinced Queenslanders the company railway would be built by Indian coolies or other cheap labour.
In 1888 the railway reached Charleville from Roma and then Charleville sheep runs then had a direct rail link with the port of Brisbane. Charleville continued to grow and it became a municipality in 1894. As the rail head Charleville had reduced freight charges to encourage sheep stations from near and far to bring their wool to Charleville. But in 1898 Charleville lost this privilege when the railway was extended south to Cunnamulla. Prior to 1898 Charleville freight rates to Brisbane were £2 a ton for wool but they jumped to over £4 per ton after 1898. But despite losing the rail head Charleville was still a major centre for Cobb and Co coach journeys to start. Coaches met train services and carted people and goods to other western towns such as Thargomindah, Tambo, Augathella etc. The last Cobb and Co coach services departed Charleville in the 1922. At the same time another form of transport came to Charleville. In 1922 Charleville became the terminus for the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services mail runs from Cloncurry to Charleville via Longreach. Qantas had arrived!
By 1900 Charleville had around 1,500 people. As the 20th century dawned new services came to Charleville. In 1916 a boy’s hostel was opened so that rural boys could attend school and it was followed by a girl’s hostel in 1927. A convent school opened in Charleville in 1913 in addition to the earlier state school (1885). It was 1935 before the town got a high school. About that same time the town got a rebuilt and expanded hospital and in 1943 the Royal Flying Doctor Service established a base in Charleville. To complement this service, the School for the Air also established a base in Charleville too in 1960.