EMERALD Emerald is located on the Nogoa River 263 km west of Rockhampton and 909 km from Brisbane (via Rockhampton). Emerald is now considered the ‘hub’ for the Central Highlands and the ‘gateway’ to the Sapphire Gemfields; the largest, and one of the richest, sapphire fields in the southern hemisphere. It is a typical thriving rural centre with a good sized TAFE college, a rural training college (in very pleasant surroundings), a large number of farm machinery sales outlets, a cotton gin, a huge irrigation dam and an airport.
Like most of the towns of the Central Highlands, Emerald claims that Ludwig Leichhardt was the first European in the area. After Leichhardt’s glowing reports on the fertility of the region (who could not be impressed by the rich black clay soils) land was taken up and in 1860 one of the local properties was named ‘Emerald Downs’ by the area’s first settler P. F. MacDonald who was impressed with the lush greenness of the district after rain.
In the 1860s both gold and copper were found in the area and there was a brief flurry of interest. The town was established in 1879 as a base for the railway line which was reaching out from Rockhampton into the Central West.
Emerald would have continued as a small town had it not been for a decision made in 1948 by the British Food Corporation to grow sorghum in the area. This highlighted the suitability of the local soil to crop growing. To strengthen the agricultural base of the area the huge Fairbairn Dam, located south of the town, on the road to Springsure, was built in 1972 with a storage capacity of 1, 440, 000 ML. The construction of Fairbairn Dam and the Emerald Irrigation Scheme allowed for the significant development and expansion of agriculture across the region. The dam construction, and its associated Lake Maraboon, also initiated large-scale coal mining within the Bowen Basin in 1977, which at present, produces a significant proportion of Queensland’s total coal exports.
Fairbairn Dam is a holiday destination in itself with a selection of cabin, caravan and camping accommodation. The lake is stocked with eight different kinds of fish including barramundi, but is famous for the Red Claw Crayfish. Relax by the lake or take a swim. Picnic tables and free electric and wood barbecues are available.
Once famous for its reputation as a major sunflower producer, Emerald is now home to the world’s biggest Van Gogh sunflower painting on an easel located in Morton Park at the western end of Clermont Street (Capricorn Highway). The superstructure is 25 metres high with approximately 13.6 tonnes of steel involved in its construction. Adjacent you’ll find the ‘straw bale’ Visitor Information Centre where the friendly volunteer staff can provide information on exploring emerald and the surrounding Central Highlands.
Built in 1900 and restored in 1986, the National Trust listed Railway Station with its wrought iron lacework and pillared portico provides visitors with great photo opportunities. At the Emerald Town Hall view an ancient fossilised tree aged 250 million years.