A Brief History of the Somerset Region1820 When John Oxley discovered the Brisbane River in 1823, the beautiful thickly forested Brisbane Valley had been home to a vibrant Aboriginal economy for several thousand years. According to J G Steele approximately ten tribes and sub-tribes lived along the Brisbane River from the source to the mouth, the area etched with walking tracks. Oxley described the men as fine and athletic – ‘some of the strongest and best-made muscular men I have seen in any country’.
Following John Oxley’s discovery of the river, the British Government established a penal settlement where the city of Brisbane now stands. Explorations up the Brisbane Valley followed: John Oxley and Alan Cunningham as far as Pine Mountain in 1824, John Gray to Fernvale and Edmund Lockyer as far as Cressbrook in 1825, Alan Cunningham to Cressbrook in 1829 and Patrick Logan in 1830 as far as Mount Irwin and Mount Brisbane.
1840 Because until 1842 Brisbane was a ‘closed’ convict settlement, adventurous young men with money to invest travelled from Sydney via New England and the Darling Downs, bringing sheep to settle on the rich pastures of the upper Brisbane Valley. The very earliest of these settlers, in 1841, were the McConnells at Cressbrook, the Balfours at Colinton, the Mackenzies at Kilcoy, the Archers at Durundur, and the Norths at Fairney View. Under “Licences to Occupy Crown Lands’ they took up sizeable runs of many thousands of acres. By 1848 eighteen such runs had been taken up in the Brisbane Valley region. There was resistance from the aborigines, and some tragic deaths.
1860 In 1859 Queensland became a separate colony from New South Wales, and the new government set about attracting immigrants to Queensland with offers of cheap land, encouraging farmers from Germany, Denmark, Scotland and England. The graziers subdivided parts of their original runs, and as the new immigrants arrived the Brisbane valley formed into districts according to racial and cultural heritage, and became a region of dairying, timber getting and agriculture. Cotton, grapes, sugar, fruit, maize, vegetables, were grown. Hotels, houses, barns, fences were built; small townships took shape. And transport became a problem.
Further north the Gympie gold rush brought immigrants from China as well as from Europe.Good workable gold was found as far south as Jimna, but in the Brisbane Valley only small deposits were found, at Eskdale and Cressbrook.
1880 In 1871 construction began on road bridges, drains and gravel roads, but horse and bullock teams and farm wagons made maintenance a problem in wet weather. In 1879 the Durundur Divisional Board, later to become the Esk Shire Council, was established, incorporating the whole of the Brisbane and Stanley River valleys. Funding was given by the Queensland Government towards the building of better roads, and the new council set about providing sanitation and clean drinking water for residents. Medical assistance in the valley, especially for children, meant home treatment or travel to Brisbane. In 1878 Mrs Mary McConnell, of Cressbrook, raised funds and founded the Brisbane Children’s Hospital. Many years later, her daughter Katherine Somerset of Caboonbah, with Mrs Lumley Hill of Bellevue, was co-founder of the Stanley Memorial Hospital (now Esk and District Hospital), which finally opened in 1926.
In 1884 a railway was constructed as far as Lowood, continuing on to Esk in 1886, and finally as far as Linville in 1910, opening new areas to farming, and enabling faster transport of crops, dairy produce and timber to markets in Brisbane and Ipswich. As communities grew and districts prospered the first churches were built, followed by the first simple schools – Fernvale in 1872, Esk in 1875, Lowood in 1881, and soon throughout the shire, schools and community halls saw a growing social life of concerts, debates and dances, and horse racing clubs were established. In 1888 a local military Volunteer Corps was established in Esk, followed by Lowood, where a rifle range and drill ground were created, and in 1900 fundraising enabled a bushmen’s contingent to be sent to the Boer War.
1900 Despite the destruction caused by occasional droughts and floods, especially the two great floods of 1893, the people of the Brisbane Valley continued to prosper. The condensed milk and butter factories of Lowood, Toogoolawah and Esk, sawmill owners such as Lars Andersen and Blank Brothers, and the construction of the railway, provided employment and attracted new workers. Banks, doctors, solicitors, dressmakers, jewellers, confectioners, even large stores, began to open in the towns. On 1st January 1901 the people of Australia gathered in the streets to celebrate Federation, and three weeks later Queen Victoria died. The world outside the valley was changing.
When World War 1 was declared, many Brisbane Valley men joined the Fifth Light Horse Regiment, taking their own horses overseas. The Fifth Light Horse were taken by ship to Egypt where they became part of the Australian New Zealand Army Corps and in April 1915 were sent to Gallipoli. At home in the valley, fundraising and the Red Cross provided support, returned and wounded servicemen were given assistance, and some German land-holders were interned. In 1918 the first Brisbane River district Campdrafting competition was held in honour of the returned soldiers. Campdrafting was pioneered in the Brisbane Valley, and is now an annual event.
1930 In 1931 another devastating flood occurred, and the decision was finally made to build the Somerset Dam. A site was selected on the Stanley River, land was cleared, access roads built, geological tests carried out, and the Stanley River was diverted with bags of clay, brought in on trucks. The village of Somerset was established to house the workers, and was named after Henry Somerset of Caboonbah, Member for Stanley in the Queensland Parliament. During the Depression the dam provided employment for men from all over South East Queensland. The actual pouring of cement for the dam wall, at twelve buckets per hour, brought in by flying fox, commenced in 1937, and was completed by 1941. By that time Australia was at war again, and major work on the dam was suspended until 1947.
North of Kilcoy, clearing began of the forests which had been logged for cedar since the beginning of the century, and in 1938 the first of the Hoop Pine plantations was planted.
1940 During the Second World War two RAAF aerodromes were located in the Brisbane Valley, at Toogoolawah and Lowood. The Lowood airbase, actually located at Mount Tarampa, began as a flying training school, changing in 1942 to an operational base and intelligence centre.
In the years following the war, a shortage of men and materials created hard times everywhere. Work resumed on the Somerset Dam, which was completed in 1953, and farming continued to be the mainstay of the valley, with bumper harvests of potatoes, grapes, onions, carrots, and lucerne.
The dairy industry gradually declined, and in 1973 the Esk milk condensory finally closed. Young people were leaving country areas to find work in the cities, and dairy farmers began switching to beef production. To the north Arthur Leis began building his famous fire towers in the volatile Hoop Pine forests around Jimna, and at Mount Tarampa the wartime airbase became the Lowood Motor Racing Circuit.
1955 saw another Brisbane River flood, with catastrophic results in the region despite the existence of the Somerset Dam.
1970 In 1967, following several years discussion, the Queensland Cabinet approved the formation of a committee to investigate the best use of all water resources in the Moreton Region. The site for a dam on the Brisbane River at Wivenhoe was chosen from several others, and Government approval was officially granted in November 1971. Resumption of 28,000 hectares of some of the best grazing land in the valley, involving 128 landholders, commenced in March 1973. Detailed investigations and design of the dam works began in 1974 and the first construction contract was let in March 1977. Storage of water commenced in September 1983 and the dam structure was completed by August 1985. In conjuction with the dam, the first pumped storage hydro-electric power station was built at Splityard Creek, to augment the Queensland Electricity supply in peak periods.
In February 2008 the Esk and Kilcoy Shires were united to form the Somerset Region. No doubt the region will continue to grow and prosper as new families come to continue the history of the beautiful Brisbane Valley.
|© 2010 Somerset Regional Tourism Assn. Inc.|